Your first year in business is possibly one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences you'll ever have. Whether it's your first, second, or fifth time starting a business, the ups and downs are filled with feelings of adrenaline, stress, and (hopefully) joy - often overlapping each other.
This is because, ultimately, no matter what the precedents are in your industry that you may look to base your model on, the core and critical responsibilities relating to the day-to-day rest squarely with you. Every startup brings with it uncharted territory, and knowing what to expect in terms of processes can help you make the most of the experience.
Let me tell you about my own experience as co-founder of the Miss Expo, a nationwide exhibition company dedicated to serving young women.
Preparation is essential, but one learns to adapt.
When we started the Miss Expo, I thought we were doing something great. We had a well-written and thorough business plan, a strong team, and a whole lot of determination. This was until we tried to host our first event in Washington, DC.
As I pitched the event on the different features and outcomes that the Miss Expo would provide for young women, I was cut off mid-way through my sentence. "I don't think this right for our company" "We are unable to participate," she said. My heart dropped as I tried to think of a way to salvage the conversation.
As she hung up the phone, I was confused. Was all the planning for nothing? How could I not predict this? It's around this time that self-doubt can kick in, and you might find yourself wanting to pack it all up. It's hard not to take these criticisms to heart, but you should aim to separate your self-worth from the business's performance - despite how much effort you might have invested in it.
In retrospect, plans never survive their first attempt. It's essential to prepare, but it's also necessary to build up your resilience. Business plans can't be created in a vacuum. They are reactive to the customer, and every rejection is an opportunity to refine and iterate how you do business.
As you adapt your business plan and your product, the rejections will seem fewer and farther between, and you should start seeing some small wins. Remember to celebrate these small wins as much as possible - they'll keep you going.
The importance of support networks
As a business owner, you must have someone to confide in when the going gets tough - someone who understands the daily operations and who you can frankly discuss problems with. Even then, rarely is one person enough, and it's a good idea to have an outside opinion - perhaps from a friend or a family member who isn't affected by the same stresses.
I was fortunate enough to have a supporting partner, but the impartial views of those who knew me well helped me get out of my head - both in times of getting carried away when close to scoring a big deal and when things were looking pretty grim. They were able to remind me of my reasons for starting the business in the first place.
Running a small business is often painted to gain work-life independence and financial freedom from the 9-to-5. This won't happen overnight, but that's okay. To keep operating and sustain growth, remember to be always organized and well prepared and find a reliable support network to build strength when things inevitably don't go to plan.