When I considered writing this article I had to stop and reflect on what it meant to be an entrepreneur. As an autism advocate, author and founder of The No Small Victories Autism Awareness Initiative I often think of myself more in terms as a community servant than entrepreneur. However, I realize that it has taken much more than my passion to promote understanding and education of autism and my determination to combat diagnostic disparities faced by African Americans and Hispanics to get me where I am today. I have learned that the services I provide are a business, and that it was not enough just to be passionate about my goals; I have to do the work.
- Education. Education is the foundation of any business. In order to know your market you have to be educated about your product. This may entail vocational school, secondary education or internships. If your understanding of your product and market does not extend beyond layman’s knowledge then you are not an entrepreneur, you are a dreamer! It is imperative to know what services in your field of interest are currently provided so that you can understand what niche to fill when it comes to providing a marketable services and product longevity and sustainability. If there are four cupcake shops in your service market area you need to think about what will draw customers to you, what makes your product different and superior?
- Investment. When it comes to starting your business your investment must be resolute: invest your time. This is the no brainer. You may have a full time job to meet your living expenses, most entrepreneurs do. You have to commit to investing a portion of your time to your business on a consistent basis. Schedule time within your week as your office hours and let others know that you will be “working” during that time and unavailable. To be a boss, you have to think like a boss. Hang up that do not disturb sign and get to work! Invest your money and prioritize your expenses. While you may at some point become able to qualify for grants initially, a business owner must invest financially. Look at your expenses realistically. Instant coffee and an insulated coffee cup from the dollar store is definitely not as appealing as that Starbuck’s coffee or even the dollar coffee from McDonald’s, but at the end of the week it will save you a few bucks to invest in your business. Start small but make changes with those savings earmarked for your business alone.
- Finding your support team. There will always be someone telling why you can’t start your own business. Change is hard and often the hardest change comes when others around you see your growth. Just because those around you have found their comfort zone do not let them discourage you; you will encounter many no’s before you get the yes you need to move forward. You will experience failure. If being an entrepreneur was easy, everyone would work for themselves! Leave the Saturday night Susie’s home with their remotes and find a support team of like-minded individuals. An excellent means of doing this may be joining an entrepreneurial social group. Not only will you find other business owners to support you, you may encounter others with whom you can barter services. Nobody starts a business all alone!
- Stepping out on faith. OK, so you have educated yourself, invested your time and money, and found that support team to help propel you forward. The ground work is done and now you get a great big ole case of the “what if’s.” What if I fail, what if I can’t pay my bills, what if no one wants my services? What if the sky falls tomorrow? C’mon. Time to put on your big business person’s undies and step out on faith. Be that little engine or what ever it is in your head that moves you forward. Ask yourself, “Can I stay where I am for the rest of my life?”
- Fake it until you make it. Every day wake up and say to your reflection, “I am the founder, owner, sole proprietor,” whatever title you choose that is who you are. Do this now, not after you make your first million, hundred thousand or even first dollar. If you believe it others will too.
- Tenacity! I always think in terms of childbirth. When you conceive you are so excited but somewhere along the third trimester you are so tired you just want to see the fruits of your labor (pun intended). Then the birth process begins and shut the front door, nobody told you it was going to be this painful. And just about the time you are ready to give birth you find that you have exhausted your reserves, and you just want someone to “take it out” or get it down for you. That is when you have to really dig deep and push like you have never pushed before! Sounds funny but most of you who have children will get the analogy. Right when you are feeling like you want to give up is usually when you are just about there. Keep pushing!