Last week I had the opportunity to speak virtually to an entrepreneurial marketing class at my alma mater, Bryant University. I was asked to speak about social media but since I’ve also started several companies, the professor also requested I share some tips on what I wish I knew when I was at Bryant based off what I actually know now. So today, I’m going to share some of that insight with you!
Success isn’t linear like it is in school
This is probably something I knew on a subconscious level but not something I spent a lot of time thinking about. We were often told at Bryant that the majority of first-time businesses fail but I refused to believe it. Then I refused to be part of that statistic so I held onto that first business much too long. I would never consider both my first two businesses failures because I learned SO much from both which I truly believe has helped us with Bold & Pop, but I think I had this unrealistic expectation of how success looked.
But here's the thing, I’m no stranger to hard work. The last two years have been the first time since I was 16 to have only one job. I graduated college a semester early. I started my first company in college. You get the picture. But in school, you move from one grade to another. You do the work and you’re basically guaranteed to move on to the next grade. Business is a little more like the Wild Wild West. There are numerous factors to consider when it comes to success in business. There’s no roadmap that will work for everyone. This means you first, can’t try to copy anyone else’s success. It’s just not going to happen the same way for anyone else. And second, when you see someone else’s success you need to consider all the ups and downs, twists and turns, sleepless nights, etc. before you compare yourself to them. Because I can straight guarantee that success didn’t happen overnight (and if it did, they are some kind of magician).
Stack the deck in your favor
Just because success doesn’t happen overnight or is the same for anyone, doesn’t mean you can’t stack the deck in your favor. I was lucky enough to go to a really great business school with TONS of resources but here’s the thing, if you don’t take advantage of those resources, nothing will come from them.
A few of the resources and opportunities I took advantage of in college included:
Getting comfortable being uncomfortable. This mainly meant presentations and group projects for me. I hated presentations but I was required to give presentations in every single class. I also hated group projects because you were pretty much always guaranteed to have one person in your group to slack off. But here’s the thing, both of these taught me interpersonal skills and essential speaking skills that I would need even if I weren’t an entrepreneur. It also forced me to get comfortable being uncomfortable, which I don’t have to tell you is a pretty essential skill to have as a business owner. So while I was forced into these situations in college, you can still put yourself in uncomfortable situations to help you grow as a person and business owner. This is something I’d highly recommend doing as it will have countless benefits for your brand in the future!
Developing relationships and networking. This is by far the best thing Bryant gave me. I’m not talking about forming friendships and relationships with your peers here. I’m talking about forming relationships with professors, administrators, alumni, etc. I really used the resources available to me by asking for their help and expertise when I need it. This is also something you can do now even if you’re not in college. If there’s a specific question or topic you really need help with, seek out a person that is an expert in the field and shoot them a very specific message with your question (they'll be more likely to answer than a generic, "Can I pick your brain?" message). Sometimes you’ll receive a response, sometimes you won’t but you’ll never form these valuable types of relationships if you don’t reach out to others. Also, remember this when others reach out to you!
Keep a healthy desire to learn more. While college is actually the time to learn, I decided to go a step further than most of my peers and take additional classes. While I was halfway through my sophomore year, I became obsessed with the idea of starting a shoe company. I first wanted to create custom handmade shoes which lead me to finding an intensive course I could take through a London-based accessory design school. They held classes in San Francisco and I decided to head out there to learn what I could. After realizing my business plan would be next to impossible, I then came up with the idea for hand painting shoes which meant I needed to learn about importing (I used the resources I had at Bryant for guidance with this!). You see where I’m going with this and there’s no doubt you’ve had to teach yourself a thing or two as a business owner. This is exactly how you get better at what you do and have a successful business if you ask me.
Being resourceful is the best way to stack the deck in your favor and is a true test of how you’ll fair as a business owner.
Don’t say yes to everything
This is admittedly a mistake I make over and over and over again. Mainly because I get really excited and commit prior to really looking into an opportunity. But this has been something I’ve really worked on since starting out in business. I wasted a lot of money and time on opportunities that didn’t necessarily work for me solely because I didn’t do my due diligence. When I first started out, I thought building brand awareness was essential and I just took any opportunity that came my way. But I wasn’t really thinking to myself, is this opportunity putting me before my target market? Is it the right fit for me?
I’ve slowly started asking more questions when opportunities arise and have become the master of asking when they need an answer by so I don’t commit right off the bat without looking into it more. I highly recommend adopting this kind of practice when opportunities arise. Ask yourself if this will put you in front of your target audience? What is your estimated ROI? Will you receive social media shout outs to grow those communities? Do you have the opportunity to get your product in the hands of potential customers? Etc. Really take your time evaluating if this is the right opportunity for you before saying yes.
And there you have it! These are 3 of the main things I wish I knew back in college when I started my first business. There are countless others but I’ll leave you with these. But now I’m curious, what are some things you wish you knew back when you were first starting out in your business journey? Share in the comments!