I hope this post meets you in impeccable health.
Today I’m going to do something slightly different than what I normally do; I’m going to be talking about my experiences and struggles as a small business owner.
Before I dive into this post, I’ll like to give a little backstory. I started by selling air fresheners last year. I supplied nurses in the University College Hospital, Ibadan and a woman I knew who owned a school. Soon enough, they started asking me to get them other things and I made a little money here and there. It was fun but to be honest, I didn’t know what I was doing.
Towards the end of last year, I met two amazing people and they were the ones that talked to me about starting a business for real, doing something besides writing and the little “side hustle” I already had. My ETR 301 project then gave me the opportunity to draw a business plan and I had a lot of fun with it. I especially loved choosing the name, Virago.
When I started out on this journey, knowing next to nothing about doing business, the only thing I had was a dream, my savings and a lot of excitement. I didn’t know it then, but I was about to enter one of the most difficult periods of my entire life. Unprepared and ignorant, I underestimated how hard it was going to be. When you start a business, you have all the optimism about how well things are going to work but I soon learnt the hard way that it’s okay to mess up.
I’ve been learning on the job and I must say that it has taught me a lot of patience. Truth be told, I am not fearless. Far from it. I think about everything a million times before I take a step. Sometimes I don’t even act on ideas that I spend tons of time researching and that have some real market potential.
I used to think that entrepreneurship was going to be a breeze but now I like to think of it as a journey. A journey that can be riddled with pain and failure. A journey that can be long and arduous.
I constantly go through what Paul Graham calls the trough of sorrow. The trough of sorrow refers to the period after some initial success, during which all of your dreams about how quickly you’ll grow your business are crushed. You’ve gotten some much needed exposure, you’ve made a few big sales… but then the momentum stalls. When this happens, you wonder, ‘How can I have nothing to show for all my hard work? What have I been doing all these for?’
I felt like I was uniquely failing but it turns out every startup has to go through this, but not every startup survives it. I blamed myself for failing. Well, some of it was my fault, but I learnt from those mistakes.
There have been many scary moments and I must say I have learnt a lot.
I’ve learnt that quitting, starting over, executing a big pivot, and other avoidance strategies won’t keep you from hitting a difficult point again, it’ll just delay the inevitable. I learnt that I just had to figure out how to work through it somehow. I’ve learnt also never to forget about my long-term vision, and to always be ready to fight for my business.
One of my struggles is that I have a serial entrepreneur mindest. This means I am always looking for opportunities to improve, grow, build, maximize, optimize various opportunities, but I’ve learnt to improvise. For instance, it seemed like doing business online alone was not doing much good so I decided to go from room to room in hostels to advertise my wares. At the moment, I showcase them in my mum’s shop because the street I live on is one of the busiest in the estate and her shop easily the most frequented. I have also continued my apprenticeship at a unisex salon where I’ve been learning how to make wigs since the last time there was a strike, and I get to advertise my business to the people that visit. All these have helped a lot and I’m very happy.
I’ve learnt to keep my ego in check. I’ve learnt how to deal with different types of customers and clients and how to never let my feelings get in the way no matter how upset I get while dealing with some of them.
I have learnt and am still learning better planning and at the same time, never assuming that I’ll achieve the goals in the exact same way I have planned. I’m learning prudence, stress management and time management. I’m learning to think on my feet when small but pivotal issues crop up in myriad manners. I’ve learnt to never make up my mind without thinking twice.
I’ve learnt how to do business with my friends. When a friend is your client or customer, you can be pretty sure that the stakes are higher. If everything happens as planned, then it is fine. But in the event of a glitch, like a bad product, less than ideal customer service or worse, a heated argument over the issue of payment, your friendship will suffer. I always remember that money comes and money goes, but friendship is meant to last.
I’ve learnt to be open to new ideas but not to fall for it easily. I’m learning how to always re-invent myself, shed old feathers like eagles do and come out better.
I’ve learnt that giving up is not an option and I am leaving no stone unturned in actively testing various marketing strategies in order to find one that would produce new clients profitably.
Every entrepreneur has an almost-failed story and this is the beginning of mine.
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