Today’s post was inspired by some real questions I had a few years ago when I started my blog and still continue to ask today as I start a new freelancing career. How do you start your own business? And what does it take to become successful? The funny thing is, I never asked anyone for advice on how to start my own business. I googled, I tried things, and did my research, but I never actually talked to anyone about how to start one. So I finally did. I asked nine talented female entrepreneurs in the decor, kids and fashion space, about THE best things they did when starting their own businesses. And what I learned was absolutely golden and not to mention diverse. All of them are truly inspiring and I’m so fortunate to have crossed paths with them, whether in person or on Instagram. If you’re thinking about making that leap, get ready because you’re about to get proven, solid advice on how to successfully start and grow your business from nine different women who did it.
Decor and Interior Design
Lauren McCaul, founder and curator of Department of Agra Culture (And Interior Designer for the US Army Corps of Engineers) says that the best things she did was to:
1. Hire a business coach.
2. Make sure you have all the tools necessary to handle the business. i.e. Quickbooks, checking account.
I did all of that before the “Fun pretty” stuff like logos and website.”
Ash No, founder of SFRugs (And serial entrepreneur! She founded 10 companies, few of which she sold) gives some solid advice:
3. Start your company the smallest, cheapest way possible.
We all have a vision of what we want our company to be or how we want it to look. And typically, that vision is about 10 years ahead of what you should be doing now.
Don’t spend too much time and money on your logo, because no one cares. Don’t go too deep into your site design, because it will change. Just start and start as cheap as possible – you have the next few years or decades to get it just right (and trust me you’ll need every penny to “get it right”).
4. Put your blinders on.
Yes, your competitors are way ahead of you. And their website, branding, and everything else is amazing.
You can’t care. There is a smart and healthy level of awareness you should have about your competitors, but watch them too much and it becomes a distraction. Put your blinders on, focus on what makes you great and you’ll be surprised at how far ahead of the competitor you’ll be in a few years.
Besides, watching your competitors too much will get you far away from your vision of your company and it’s a surefire way to be a bad, watered-down clone of your competitor.
5. Get ready to be dedicated for at least 2 years.
Repeat after me: Overnight success does not exist. Everyone you see today “all of a sudden” making millions after “just starting their business” most likely started 10 years ago.
I would say expect to fail and fail hard for the first two years at minimum. This is if you’re lucky. There will be some days with major wins and the rest will be mediocre failures. Just spend a minimum of 40-60 hours a week failing for 2 years and see where you end up in 2 years. Even then you will still need more years just to take in everything you’ve learned.
6. You don’t have to love it, but you do have to live it.
I hear one school of thought on business.
“Start a business around something you’re passionate about”
I think this helps, but is absolutely not required. To be frank, I doubt the founders of sanitation companies are passionate about garbage. Or the founders of zipper companies or concrete companies are passionate about what they do. But the SUCCESSFUL ones have found a way to be dedicated to it. They’ve attached themselves to something in the business (yes this could be the money, I doubt it though) that drives them.
As long as you find a motivator, which is something that can keep you going for 60 hours a week for 100-300 weeks, then go ahead and start that zipper company, road sign company, voting system, or hair color company – because to be honest those are the companies that we need and they are around profitably for hundreds of years.
Sara Pavao, Macrame artist and founder of Sadies Knots creates stunning Macrame pieces for the modern bohemian home. And her advice is:
7. Work on your Instagram “Brand” and at the same time make connections on that social media platform.
“I’m sure that all of my Etsy Sales Have Come from promotion on Instagram.
I really love what I do. It never feels like work. Its a total creative outlet that feeds my soul, whether it is styling products in my home or creating macrame wall hangings. I know that is a complete cliche by it turns out that it is totally true for me. And it all happened organically. I didn’t set out to use my Instagram account for product promotion and I initially learned macrame because I was curious about it.”
Lauren Williams, artist and creator of dip dyed fiber art Boho By Lauren, is an inspiration both as an artist and business woman. She like, Sara also advises on using Instagram and setting up an account that you can be proud of.
“Use your favorite accounts as inspiration and follow their lead in terms of hashtags used and style of posts. Make sure you pay attention to the photos you like, love, comment on, tag friends to and repost on Instagram. These are the types of posts that gain followers, and help to grow an account. Whether it’s your iPhone or a fancy camera, learn to take good photos like the accounts your follow and respect.”
8. Build a tribe!
“Wherever you are growing your biz, find like-minded business owners who can share in your victories, stresses, collaborate on projects, share tips and tricks and support you. You will need all the help you can get, and knowing others who are going down this road too, will provide a much needed shoulder on tough days and high-five on good days. These will be the people who understand when your mom or best friend has no idea what you are talking about when you get an email from your dream publication to interview you or the post office loses a giant shipment to a new client. Its all about a support system who can relate and investing time in building that tribe as you build your biz is well worth it!”
Kamela Hurley, founder of Madison & White began with the invention of a satin pillow case with both hair care and skin care benefits. From there she expanded into other lines. We’ve both seen each other grow from a distance, on you guessed it: Instagram! She is such a supporter of empowering other women to start on their dreams. Her advice is:
9. Don’t be afraid of not having all the skills to start a business. You will learn as you go.
10. Find the product or service that differentiates from everything out there.
Sandra Dejanovic, launched Happy French Gang in June 2013: “Combining French vision with California creation, these textiles have the easy chic style you crave, no matter where you live.” Residing here in San Francisco, she has made a name for herself both as a local artist and decor expert who has partnered with One Kings Lane, West Elm and ABC Carpet and Home. Her advice:
11. Enlarge your network and increase traffic by creating a blog.
When I started Happy French Gang I was new in the city and didn’t know too many creative people or entrepreneurs. I started a blog with a main section where I was interviewing creative people. It was super interesting to do, I met people in the creative field and as a bonus it drove some traffic to my web shop! The last 2 years I was caught by my work and kind of stopped but I am re-launching it in a different way (shorter version) and I’m really excited about it.
Check out her blog: http://blog.happyfrenchgang.com/
12. It is not the idea that you have that will make your business a good one it is the way you manage it.
An entrepreneur friend of mine back in France told me that, way before I was thinking to create my own business but it stayed on my mind and I thing it’s really true!
Maia McDonald Smith, co-founder of e-commerce kids boutique Bitte, another Bay Area local business owner has such an eye for great quality kids goods and design. Here’s what she said:
13. Ask for advice.
“I tried to reach out to many of the entrepreneurs, especially female entrepreneurs I knew. For little questions like ‘where did you source your packaging’, to big questions, like ‘what’s 1 mistake you wish you didn’t make?’. As a natural introvert, I often find it hard to reach out to others for advice, but I think building a community in the business world is invaluable when starting your own business. And hopefully those relationships will last years if not decades, and maybe some day I can provide some advice in return.”
14. Be flexible; with timelines, expectations, everything!
“You have to always be thinking on your feet and sometimes change your approach when starting a small business.”
Connie Nimmon Howes, founder of Poème Clothing is someone I was also fortunate to meet on Instagram (Do you see a trend here?). Poème Clothing has a modern bohemian vibe, designed in Vancouver B.C. and ethically made in Bali, Indonesia.
15. Start slow.
“I’m happy I started slow. Being realistic about what I could achieve took a lot of stress off starting a new business. Setting smaller goals and being patient with them has made the process a lot more enjoyable.”
16. Hire a good photographer.
“I’m glad I hired a good photographer. Having good quality photos to work with while I’ve been starting out has made a big difference in knowing that I can feel good about what i”m putting out there. Those photos are needed in so many different areas from my website, promotions, to social media. The photos were definitely a worthwhile investment.”
Speaking of hiring a photographer. I’m available! 😉
And finally, Natasha Wong co-founder of Seldom Seen, an “urban prep” fashion e-commerce and brick and mortar store in Hayes Valley, San Francisco shares the biggest lesson she learned when she started. Did I mention that I think their stuff is really cool?
17. In order to succeed, you must be willing to push through the discomfort and fear.
“Looking back to when Daniel and I first wanted to open a Seldom Seen store, we were worried about putting a store in Hayes. Why? The competition was fierce, established and there was an existing community of amazing boutiques. Fast forward a year and half later; we are building a community and our business is growing.
The lesson? We learned that business and competition can be uncomfortable. In order to succeed, you must be willing to push through the discomfort and fear, while strategically planning the evolution of your business model and focusing on never losing sight on your initial vision”
I’m blown away by the diverse offerings of advice from each of these amazing women, who courageously chose their paths to be their own bosses and business owners. Learning from their real world experiences is like sitting in a crash course MBA program, provided generously and humbly for free. Wow, a big thank you to all these ladies. I will certainly take what they’ve said and apply it to my own freelance journey. How about you? Please share your thoughts or follow up questions, I’m sure they’d love to hear and connect with you about them.
Best of luck to you!
Like what you read? Read how I overcame self-doubt and decided to just start freelancing.
And for more business tools, check out Quickbooks.
Disclaimer: Photos were not taken by me. They were provided or sourced and used with permission from the respective owners. This post was not sponsored in anyway by any of these companies. I reached out to them in hopes that they would like to contribute to this article. Thankfully, all of them said yes.