Four years. Four years ago today, I left the corporate world to start my own business. I left a job with a great company, a job with health insurance and PTO and a 401k, to start off with none of those things. It was uncertain and risky. It was the smartest career choice I have ever made.
December 21st is always a day full of emotion and reflection for me. I think about how certain I felt about the decision, even though I knew nothing. I think about the people who told me it was a great idea and those that told me it would never work. I feel thankful for each and every person who has helped me along the way, and there are many. I feel proud that I did this.
Since starting the company, I have found another passion in speaking to people who want to start their own company. I'm still figuring it out myself, but I love being their cheerleader. I love giving them tips for success and encouragement. I remember what it felt like (and still feels like) when someone is standing in your corner, cheering you on, helping you along the way. The following lessons are ones I try to pass on to people who want to become an entrepreneur.
Talk about it. When I first was starting the company, I spoke to anyone who would listen about my idea. I've heard from other entrepreneurs that it's risky to talk about your idea before it's a business because people might steal it. In my case, I knew that the success (or failure) of my business was based on my talents so i didn't worry about sharing. I talked about it to anyone and everyone. Because I did this, I received client referrals from people who had been searching for a service like mine, and some great advice. I also was able to form a more concrete idea while refining my elevator pitch which I gave over and over again. I'm an expert in designing homes with art but I can't be an expert in everything, so I talked to people in marketing, in SEO, in accounting, and on and on. I received their take and some excellent advice. I also received terrible advice, and words of discouragement. Your job is to be able to tell the good advice from the bad, and which to listen to.
Haters gonna hate. Bees are going to buzz, birds are going to sing, and haters gonna hate. It's inevitable that at some point you will receive some negative feedback. Whether it's in person, behind your back, or very publicly on the internet as it was for me, it's going to happen some time. Keep going anyway. You are going to be told "no" more times than "yes." Keep going anyway. Anyone who has the courage to put themselves out there has this happen to them. I am told "no" multiple times a week, and it comes in different forms, but I know that clients will also say "yes" and it's suddenly all worth it. Don't let the haters effect you--keep going.
Have a dream and a plan. This seems like an obvious one, right? Well, apparently not. The idea of being an entrepreneur is sexy to some. They see themselves leaving the corporate world behind for a life of freedom and sweatpants (I won't kid you, I am wearing sweatpants as I write this so that part is kind of true). I've had many people come to me and say, "Liz, I want to start a business but I don't know what it's going to be." Red flag. The people who I know will be successful as small business owners are the owns who have a dream. Before I started Liz Lidgett Fine Art, it was all could I think about. I couldn't sleep at night or focus on anything else. It was driving me. You need that drive because being an entrepreneur is the hardest thing I have ever done. I left the world of 9-5 to become a part of the 24/7/365 world. I work long hours, weekends, nights, and even on vacations. It never stops but if you have the dream, it's alright. But the dream isn't enough, you have to have a plan too. When I started LLFA, I had one client but it was enough to pay my half of the rent and feed myself. I worked on a business plan with friends who knew what they were talking about, and with the local small business development center. Look for resources in your area, often times you can find a free service to help you. The dream drives you, and the plan keeps you on track.
Remember why you started. I started my company on a few beliefs. I believe everyone can afford great art. I believe people should have access to great art everywhere they go--their home, their office, in their community. I believe the art world should be transparent and not intimidate people. Though my company has expanded and changed, my core beliefs and principles have stayed the same. Everything I do relates back to them, and it's helped keep me on the path. Your business will grow, you will get new opportunities, so if you remember why you started you won't go astray.
There's so much more I could write about--It's only business, don't take it personally. Be kind to people. Find mentors. Find a peer circle that supports you and vice versa. Do only what you can only do, and find excellent people for the rest. But all of that will have to wait for another time, because I have a company to run and another four years to plan.