I Accidentally Became a Successful Entrepreneur. Here Are 5 Mistakes I Learned to Avoid When Starting a Business PR is, at its core, storytelling. And the story of my now-thriving solo-owned business has been fraught with as many mistakes as successes, as many fall down the ladder as steps up. It's from my missteps, in fact, that I learned even more than from my triumphs, and this article presents 5 of my biggest blunders on the road to a flourishing small business.
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I hardly know how I got to be a boss in the first place. Though I'm a public relations specialist now, I actually earned degrees in philosophy, psychology and social work. My future sights were set on making the world a cheerier place; I suppose, one trip abroad, one unexpected adventure and one conversation at a time. I intended to travel forever, meet as many people as possible, and somehow land a career that would endlessly feed my endless curiosity.
A book I was invited to co-author in grad school, Beyond Burning Bras, sparked an interest in writing, and before long, I found myself with a food-writing gig at Taste magazine in Texas, which led to a few more related freelance projects.
But the next thing I knew, I was a divorced mother of two with no financial support and no full-time job, so much for cheery. Desperation led me to take the first offer I got at a PR firm in Austin, and that was the turning point after which I never looked back.
Looking forward a few years later, I felt compelled by some unknown force to venture out on my own. I had no idea how to pay the rent, but I strongly desired to apply what I'd learned thus far — namely, the power of telling stories. Of hearing stories. Of sharing stories.
PR is nothing if not storytelling, and my own story has been fraught with as many pitfalls as triumphs. Now that I'm comfortably situated on the perch of my own firm — surrounded by an incredible team, with a different husband and with three more kids added to the mix — here's a handful of invaluable "do not" lessons for aspiring entrepreneurs that I learned from falling down the ladder I climbed.
The five biggest missteps in starting your own business
Misstep #1: Launching a company without a business plan. Even though I had a few marketing courses under my belt, I had absolutely no business knowledge when I opened up shop. How many hours would I need to work weekly to get my startup off the ground? What essential staff did I need to have in place? What metrics would indicate growth? Clueless, I had to learn all this by trial and error (mostly by error). Get a clue. Write up a plan.
Related: How to Write a Business Plan
Misstep #2: Starting a business with no capital. I had no money when I went out on my own. Zilch. I crashed into some — literally — when I totaled my car and got $15,000 for it. Don't do that. Don't count on a miracle, a big casino win or a lawsuit to fund your business. Prioritize the cost of living for your family and wait to hang your shingle until you have enough seed money saved up or have secured a reasonable line of credit.
Misstep #3: Hiring too fast. As soon as I had enough business to bring on support staff, I did so frantically and rather indiscriminately. See, it was a catch-22: I couldn't deliver on the client contract until I had enough personnel on board, but I couldn't hire the personnel until the contract was in place. So I was always rushing to fill spots and find specialists.
I remember seeing a post on Facebook one day: "I cannot believe my boss just hired me after one day of interning." Guess who the boss was? Eventually, a mentor of mine gave me a game-changing nugget of advice: "Hire slow, fire fast," instead of the other way around.
Misstep #4: Taking out a $100K loan for someone else's expertise. I can admit it now: I was a terrible boss in the beginning. I was calling my team at all hours of the day and night, expecting so much of them without providing any direction or training. In turn, their output was disappointing, and they were exiting faster than I could replace them.
I realized I needed help learning how to be a boss, and I convinced myself that paying my friend's husband a massive fee for his business coaching was something I should do. Ultimately, it was just too great an investment for skills I eventually would have learned on my own if I'd just been more equipped from the get-go (see misstep #1). Be prepared before you leap … and you won't have to pay someone else to catch you when you fall.
Misstep #5: Trying to cover all the bases, playing all positions. When I started, I offered too many skills to potential clients, figuring the more services I provided, the better my chances of landing them: marketing, PR, brand development, advertising, promotion — you name it, I'd sell it.
But if you try to do too many things, you'll never gain mastery over just one. I remember pitching to a large hotel group once, and the CEO told me he'd settled on my firm because I'd presented on only PR. From that day on, I decided PR would be our primary specialty area, and to this day, it constitutes 90% of my business.
Yeah, I had more than my share of slipups on my entrepreneurial path. But through it all, I've been driven by three things: Social connection is my muse. Creating community is my motivation. And scripting stories is my mojo.
It's challenging raising five kids (not an exaggeration either; at last count, that's how many heads were at the dinner table), coaching sports teams and serving on several boards while running a five-city PR firm out of my home office. But I've never shied away from challenges — they got me where I am today … and I really like the view from here.