Saturday, August 11, 2012

Before You Start a Business

Prior to jumping into the world of running your own business, it's important to understand just what it is that you're getting yourself into - and how you can make the most out of it. Today's post focuses on what I believe to be one of the most important lessons vital to understanding before you start a business - you get out what you put in. Things will not happen on their own, and if you want to see things in your business change (for the better), it is up to you to make it happen.

In many ways, working as an employee for a big company tends to give you the feeling that you are simply another piece to the puzzle. Jobs working for another man can make you feel that what you do isn't important, that no matter how you try to alter your work ethic, it ultimately fails to affect the grand scheme of things. You have good ideas, but nobody ever gets to hear them! You might think that the majority of your job is smoke and mirrors, and that the only hope for progress is through playing your cards right in the game of inner-office politics.

Okay, so I might be a bit biased. But I'm willing to bet that maybe, just maybe, I am not that far off! While some employers are better than others in giving their employees a firm sense of responsibility and motivation, there is certainly something to be said for lack of accountability and how harmful it can be on a person's morale. Quite simply, nobody likes to feel like they are just another brick in the wall. Nobody likes to feel like what they do doesn't matter. When you are the owner of your own business, you are not just given a bit of added responsibility. You are given all of the responsibility.

The best analogy that effectively illustrates this point can be seen in the comparisons between team sports and individual athletics. Let's pretend for a moment that you are the member of a basketball team. The success of your team certainly depends on your individual skill set, but it does not hinge solely on your ability to put the ball in the hoop. You must work as one cohesive unit. Even if you are a stand-out player, a talented team to play alongside you is absolutely crucial if you hope to win the championship game.

Playing on a basketball team is much like working for a large company. Generally speaking, the success of your team is not completely dependent on your individual skill set. Additionally, if you have an off game, your team will not necessarily lose the game. Your role is important, but no matter how you look at it, you will only be a contributing factor! Just remember, even LeBron James was unable to win a championship with a sub-par team that surrounded him in 2011. The Dallas Mavericks played as a cohesive unit, and ended up hoisting the trophy into the air as the best basketball team in the world.

Individual sports, on the other hand, are different entirely. Your success, or lack thereof, is dependent on how rigorous your training routine is and how dedicated you are to a committed regiment. If you work hard, day in and day out, your passion for excellence will come to light as you start to win races. If you do not work hard, your performance will suffer.

Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France seven consecutive times because he worked harder than his opponents. He rode his bicycle for six hours a day, committed to a stringent diet, and had a mental toughness that propelled him to the top of the sport. Individual sports can be incredibly liberating. If the star player on a failing basketball team decides to take up marathon running, they are no longer bound by the talent of their contributing members! Their success is up to them! In many ways, however, this can be unbelievably intimidating and pressure filled.

There are no smoke and mirrors to hide behind if you fail to perform. There is nobody to point your finger at, and no excuse to muster up in the face of your accusers. This is what it feels like to own your own company. You are no longer part of a team, playing a small role in the overall success of the organization. You are now the only one on the track. It is you against the world. If you put in the effort, you will reap the rewards.

Like so many other concepts relevant to running a small business, accepting this sense of responsibility is often very difficult for new business owners. Of course, it is far easier to close your eyes and hope for the best, rather than grabbing the bull by the horns and making things happen.

As I built my clothing company from the ground up, I traveled to cities near my home state of Minnesota to pitch my brand to store owners. I visited retailers in Milwaukee, Madison, and Chicago with a backpack full of t-shirts, a catalog displaying our pricing information, and an order form that I hoped would soon be filled out. In additional to my local sales strategy, I developed a spreadsheet that contained contact information for buyers across the country in cities that I was unable to meet with in person. With each release, I relentlessly pursued each buyer with my new product offerings, hoping to close deals and develop relationships with those interested in the brand.

As a small brand, the going was rough. Incredibly rough. But with persistent, relentless contact methods, I was eventually able to develop relationships with many retailers that I continue to work with today. These relationships do not exist because they were handed to me. They exist because I was relentless in my pursuit to build a solid chain of retailers.

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