I can still remember the day that I thought of my business idea. That ah-ha moment of pure clarity, and terror, and dreams, and panic, and optimism, and balls. Yes, I know, I said balls. But let’s be really real for a moment—any entrepreneur of any age will tell you one of the biggest things starting your own business requires is BALLS. Big ones. And not the bouncy kind. We’re talking the knock me down, pick myself back up, risk-taking, no sleeping, hard-working, bad-ass determination kind of balls. If you don’t have them, find them. Grow them. Do whatever you have to do to make sure they are there because, trust me, you’ll need them—a lot.
But anyway, enough about balls… back to the story, so I was driving on the highway trying desperately to summon the creative Gods for a clue (any clue) as to what product I could make in the baby industry that would be a sure success. Oh, I was so naïve, which was probably a good thing. Looking back now, I realize how much guts it took just to believe it was as simple as an idea.
I remember sitting on my living room floor, all hours of the night, assembling my first round of line sheets that I would pass out to the stores as I tried to convince them to carry my brand new line of diaper bags. I remember using diaper pins to hold the pages together because I thought it would help make the brochures stand out in a pile of papers. Lol, I typed brochures. OMG, how things change in 10 years.
I remember answering the phone in my pajamas, with a newborn on my boob, “Good morning, Caden Lane, how can I help you . . . ” and then putting the buyer of Nordstrom on hold while I got “Katy” on the phone.
I’ve been a Mompreneur for 12 years now, even a little longer if you count all the time I spent in the prep work, research, brand and product development. There were times I thought I’d never make it through the first year. “It takes 3 years to be profitable in small business.” If I had a dollar every time someone told me that, I wouldn’t have had to worry about sales. I learned so many valuable lessons in that first year, some harder than others, yet somehow I managed to get through them all. So much can change even overnight in business, and we have to be resilient and strong.
As business owners, we can only have control over so much, and I wish I could go back and tell my younger self what I needed to let go of, what I needed to focus more on, and most importantly, that everything, ultimately, will turn out just as it should. I wish I could sit down with that newly exhausted first-time working mom. I’d pour her a big glass of wine and tell her what I’ve learned over the years. And maybe, just maybe, save her some of the doubt and worry that crept in every time she was scared to make another big jump.
1. Done is better than perfect.
Invest in notepads. There’s a LOT of to-do lists in your future. You will constantly have ideas, new products, new websites, new everything–and time, oh TIME, will be your best friend and worst enemy. Execution is the key, and sometimes it’s okay to 75% finish it. Heck, that means at least you started it. And after all, you’ll never know if it’s a great idea until you try it. And something is better than nothing. So stop planning and start DOING.
2. Fake it until you make it.
Look, don’t underestimate or undersell yourself. You’re only as badass as you THINK you are. So the next time someone is asking about your distribution center, which you know is your garage, answer with the confidence you wish you felt, and you’ll probably start to believe in yourself a lot more. “My distribution center is centrally located, clean and simple! All we really need is room for all of our inventory, boxes, and shipping labels. It’s been a great distribution center for our company, and we are very excited about the room for growth . . . ” (a third garage is always a possibility!) Also, everything is figureoutable. You have a great gut instinct in your industry. Trust it.
3. Your kids will be just fine.
Oh, sweet Jesus. The children. As if starting a business isn’t hard enough by itself. The mom guilt is almost unbearable, and it’s real. Very real. Like slap-you-in-the-face-when-you-least-expect-it real. I mean, yeah, they see you all the time in your “home office,” but are you reeaaallly spending quality time with them? Are those microwave chicken nuggets as healthy as the homemade crap you see all over Pinterest? Is every other mom doing it better? Maybe. Or maybe not. And honestly, who cares? All those sweet babies need is love. Who cares that their favorite toy is your calculator, and they color on legal size notepads.
Know this: you are showing your kids how strong their mom is. They are learning by osmosis. Some of the days will be hard, in fact downright horrifying. You can, and will, work on very little sleep. You’re going to be tested, my friend, and you will survive. And, ten years from now, when your daughter says, “Mom, I want to own my own business just like you when I grow up…” your heart will explode, and you’ll know that somewhere along the lines, you did just fine.
(P.S. In 2012, your oldest child will write on his Kindergarten homework that his mom’s favorite thing to do is work. All the other kids write things like “read to me” or “play with me.” You’ll cry and then take the opportunity to reassure him that Mom likes to work because she LOVES what she does–and one of the most important things in life is to figure out what makes you really happy . . . and if you’re lucky enough . . . discover a way to make money doing it. BAM. Let’s see them teach that sh*t in school!)
4. Wait as LONG as you can to get your first employee.
I know three kids seems like a lot sometimes, but in 10 years, you’ll feel like you’re raising 13 kids: the three you birthed and 10 you hired. Employees can be your best friends or your worst nightmare. You will hire a few bad ones and quickly learn what qualities are important in an employee. They will become family. Help them. Teach them. Heck, sometimes you will feel like all you do is counsel them. You will need them more than you think, and they will need you. And as each comes into your life, you’ll wonder what you ever did without them. Oh, and sometimes they aren’t as valuable as you think – just know that when one leaves, a better one is waiting around the corner. This actually applies to a lot of things in your life. Remember it.
5. Running your own business is the hardest thing you’ll ever do and the most rewarding.
You’re going to be pulled in a thousand directions, and many, MANY times, you’ll think you can’t handle it anymore. And then you get more to handle. You will go to sleep thinking and worrying about work and wake up excited to get to work to start the day. You will email yourself notes for years so that you can get them out of your brain. It’s actually a pretty smart strategy and helps you keep your work-life balance. And there will be days that you wish you could sell it all, and days that you wish you had 10 more hours in the day… but at the end of the day, you will always talk about work with great passion. And that is rare. Cherish it.
6. You will re-invent your company several times.
Sounds super fun, right? Well, you have no control over the economy, but you do have control over how you handle it. And each time you re-invent, you will grow so much (personally and professionally). It’s not gonna be easy, sister, but nothing worth having comes easy. And you will be challenged in more ways than one. (Remember when I told you to trust your gut? For real, trust it.) The comeback is ALWAYS stronger than the setback. Let the nay-sayers drive you. Dream big. Believe you can do anything you set your mind to. You can.
7. Just because you have a slow day or week doesn’t mean it’s over.
So, I have no better way to tell you this, but here’s the deal. When it’s good, you’re going to be waiting for the bottom to drop out. And when it’s bad, you’ll be wishing you cherished the good more. And you will cycle through this multiple times a year. And it will drive you crazy. Slow your roll. Enjoy the process. It’s pretty freakin’ fabulous, and remember, you are doing this all by yourself. You are so strong, and vodka helps. Oh yeah, you start to like vodka more than wine somewhere along the road… but you don’t discriminate. Both get the job done.
8. I hope you like hats because you’ll be wearing a lot of them.
And they aren’t for hiding your two-day-old unwashed hair. You’ll wear a sales hat, an accounting hat, an HR hat, a toilet cleaning hat, a mom hat, a do-a-little-bit-of-everything hat….. and that’s just on a Monday. You’ll rock your mom hat when needed and when it’s most important. And sometimes you’ll have to wear two hats at once, you trendsetter you.
Twelve years will pass in the blink of an eye, even though some of the days and nights seem as if they will never end. Oh, and just a heads up, in 2016, you’ll get a divorce. You will lose yourself for just a few months while you settle your life again, but, oh baby, you’ll come out stronger than you ever thought was possible.
So, to my younger pre-work, pre-baby self, hang in there. You’ve got this. And, you’re in for one hell of a ride. But don’t worry, I’m here waiting for you 10 years from now. I work smarter, harder, and better now than ever before. It’s all going to be okay, and you will love your job more today than ever before. It doesn’t necessarily get easier, but it does get better. I promise.