I will never forget my first, only, and perhaps last hike across Knifes Edge on Mt Katahdin. That hike not only tested my physical endurance, but also taught me many life lessons that I still hold on to today.
The biggest lesson I learned was I had no business being up there being so unprepared. I was with a group of novice hikers -not one of us had hiked Katahdin before. We didn’t have any flashlights, extra food or extra water. We didn’t have a first aid kit, emergency blanket or extra clothes. In our minds, this hike was going to be “an easy day-trip.” About the time a member of our team blew out his knee… a sense of doom set in. We watched the sunset as we crossed Chimney Peak. I had one small pen light in my pack, and it was with that small beam of light we hiked down the Helen Taylor Trail at 2am. At one point, one of my party said “As long as we stay on the trail, we will be ok – right?” – to which I answered “Lady, this trail goes all the way to Georgia – we could get ourselves pretty screwed up out here.”
It took me a long time to shake off the feeling from that trip. The realization that my lack of preparedness could have resulted in serious injury, loss or death really shook me up. I vowed I would never go into the woods again without a flashlight, compass and first aid kit.
This lesson of being prepared applies to everything life -including starting a business.
Six years ago, when I was faced with a corporate downsizing, I figured all I needed was the coaching certification I had earned, and the severance check in my hand to get started in a coaching business. Unfortunately, a year later, I found myself feeling just as panicked as I did that day on Knifes Edge. I had no business being there. I was unprepared, I had no one on my team who could lead the way, and I was in great jeopardy of getting lost, hurt, or worse, losing everything.
So, if I were to do it all again, what would I do differently?
Start with a plan: I know this doesn’t sound like sage advice, it seems logical for any business owner to have a business plan, but you would be surprised at how many business owners answer “no” when I ask if they have a written business plan. Now, I am not one for filling out 30 page documents that you never look at again. I am a visual person who loves maps – so I recommend reading Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder – and using the Business Model Canvas. These are your maps so you won’t get lost while building your business. If you want to learn more about how to use these tools for your business, sign up for a Mapping Session.
Have an emergency fund: We’ve all heard it takes 3-5 years to turn a profit with a new business, but if you are ambitious like me, you believe you can beat those odds. I am here to tell you, even if you believe you will be profitable sooner, be prepared to not make any money or pay yourself for a long time. Begin by building up a 3-6 month emergency fund so you can pay your bills, eat, and handle any major expenses that come your way while building your business. Also, take a look at your Business Model Canvas and determine what your business expenses will be, and create a sinking fund for the major expenses like building a website, obtaining certifications and licenses, or hiring a coach. And, if you have debt, get it knocked out BEFORE you start your business. Yes, I am encouraging you to hold off on your dream for a little while. Debt is a distraction. It is an energy sucker, and it will cause you to make fear based decisions that can be costly for your business. If you need help getting out of debt, I highly recommend Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Class.
Get a good team of experts: Find people who are already successful in doing what you want to do, and ask them to mentor you. Hire a coach, join a mastermind group, and get connected to successful people. Attend workshops and seminars to get brushed up in the skills you will need to market, sell, and run your business. Even if you are in a position to hire someone to do things for you, learn how the processes are done so you can effectively manage your business.
Keep Your Day Job: Sound defeatist? No way. Earning an income while building a business is called survival. If you have other income streams, or, if you have built up a large start-up and emergency fund, this tip may not apply to you. However, more often than not, the business owners I see just starting out do not have enough funds to properly launch their business, and put food on the table. You are putting yourself and your family at risk. Furthermore, if your answer is “I don’t have the money” each time an opportunity comes up that might grow your business – such as advertising, workshops, seminars, travel or hiring someone…. you are not feeding your dream enough to keep it alive. Find ways of streaming money in, until your business is sustainable to live on it’s own. The peace of mind alone will be worth the investment of the time spent at another job.
Whether you’ve been in business a while, and you need to shake the panicky feeling of “I’m not going to make it…” or if you are just starting out and wondering how to get started, being prepared can help get you ready and able to tackle the journey of being a business owner. It’s a rewarding journey, albeit scary at times. No matter where you are in your journey, take some time to look at your business plan, your finances, and your ability to create long term sustainability. If you want help getting started, or just want to talk about your experiences, send me a note. Meanwhile, hit the heights!
Priscilla Hansen Mahoney
The Natural Leadership & Business Guide