In a world of Instagram experiences, hashtagged vacations and overwhelmingly social moments, sometimes people know the glory but not the insane story behind your perfect photos. During my recent years of growth as an entrepreneur, I’ve found that the journey to success isn’t like Google maps, with turn-by-turn directions. There are nails in the road, dead ends and confusion. I’ve learned a number of lessons — some of which were ugly, all of which were important for my growth — that I call my 10 Small Business Commandments.
I started my business through a series of unfortunate events; it was almost an accident. I began my career with a full-time position, but later left to pursue a path in television. This eventually led to freelance gigs with MTV, TLC, Discovery Health and more. I then moved to PR, back to TV and fell victim to a round of layoffs. There I was — married and pregnant with my second child — unemployed and trying to plot my next move.
It was then that I started my own business. Over the next five years, I worked feverishly on building a brand, networking and creatively growing my company. Now, we’re a multimedia communications agency staffed by 11 amazing people, with an all-star client roster of brands like Uber, Forbes and Serena Williams Signature Statement for HSN. The following is what I learned through this process, both before starting my own company and during the years I’ve spent working on it.
- Be your authentic self. People want to work with the real you. When I began acting from a place of authenticity, my intentions became clear, natural and effortless. The outcome was meaningful relationships with people I actually enjoyed working with.
- Be honest both with yourself and others about failures. You never know who you can inspire by sharing a mistake that you’ve made.
- Be ready with numerous backup plans. You need to have a plan B, C and D and next steps. Nowadays, the climate is that failure is an option, but you can’t dwell on it. You must be mindful and ready to put in the work and move forward. When I found myself unemployed, I didn’t have the time or luxury to remain idle. The logic of having to keep moving steered me towards success.
- Know your strengths, limits and unique value proposition. What is your competitive advantage? How do you stand out from the rest of the crowd? Figuring out my unique strengths — from time in both TV and PR — led me to start a multimedia company where I knew I could add value.
- Surround yourself with people who believe in your purpose and plan. They determine your success. Seek mentors and people you admire, whether or not they work in the same industry. Their support is invaluable, and you can learn from them.
- Be transparent. People have to see through you to get to you. Encourage transparency in the workplace. It will foster a creative and collaborative work environment among your team as well.
- Know when to hold back. Although you should be transparent, you also need to know when to cover. Because I’m in the public spotlight, I’m open to praise and accolades, but I’m also very susceptible to people with negative intentions. You have to learn how to keep an open-door vibe, but still implement very clear boundaries.
- Be careful of complaining. Running your mouth will get you into trouble. Not every “hello, how are you?” and “how are things going?” is an opportunity to vent.
- Make yourself a commodity and an in-demand product. People want more of you when they have access to less of you. At the beginning of my business, I said yes to everyone who wanted to be a client, and so watered down the business because I was so focused on generating revenue. By year three, I discovered that it was better for us to narrow our focus and take on the role of a jury when choosing clients. We have more (and better) business as a result.
- Make a realistic plan. When you want to be great, you have to create the steps that it will take to get there. Change doesn’t happen without a strategic plan.
The road to business success may be riddled with unexpected detours and other hazards. But if you dig deep, plan well and open yourself to failure, you’ll ultimately be able to succeed in carving your own path.