Tips for entrepreneurs

Tips for entrepreneurs

Hi there. Jessica here - founder of LUXTRA.
For something different, today I'm sharing an article I wrote for non-profit Global Connections for Women Foundation (GC4W). They're working to educate, connect and empower women and girls to create new opportunities for themselves and their communities.
GC4W's mission is one I whole heartedly support as I believe the world would be a much better place if women were in more seats of power. Here are my top tips for anyone thinking about taking control of their career.
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My Top 10 Nuggets for Entrepreneurs:


ONE: START 
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If people ask me about starting a business, the first word from my lips is: start. Mind you, it makes for sound advice at any stage of a business; break it down, work out your next baby step, then make it happen. You learn so much more by doing than by plotting and planning. For example, when I started my first business, ETHOS, a healthy eating restaurant in central London, I:
  • Was 25 and had no industry experience
  • Decided to move... and then moved to the UK within 3 months
  • Had never managed anyone, let alone the team of 25 I cobbled together for day 1
  • Didn’t really know what a P&L was
  • Was most certainly not a chef
But! I was full of beans and full of determination. I broke it down, step after baby step. Sure, it was the hardest time in my life, and I cried a lot, but through the most trying moments I repeated to myself, “I am NOT a quitter.” I am very proud of what I achieved. You can do anything. You simply have to start, learn fast, pivot, and not waste too much money (more on that later).
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My restaurant ETHOS, in central London.
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TWO: INTUITION
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Following my intuition is still a work in progress. It’s easy to get side-tracked and to second guess yourself. One thing is true, however: when I follow what my intuition tells me, things tend to work out pretty well. 
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Everyone you speak to will have a point of view (see point seven, below). You, however, know your situation and what is relevant to you at this point in timeEvery experience in building a brand is different. There is no right way. 
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Don’t know what your intuition is saying? Play heads or tails. Allocate one possible decision to each side of the coin: if it comes up tails and your stomach sinks, you probably never wanted that outcome. If it comes up heads and you think, “Woohoo!,” well, you’ve probably just discovered what your intuition is telling you. I carry a coin in my pencil case for precisely this purpose. 
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THREE: IF IT’S NOT WORKING…THEN START FROM SCRATCH (AGAIN)
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When you know something is not right and you’re feeling dissatisfied, why don’t you tear it up, rub it out, or delete it and go back to the drawing board? Rather than tweaking an existing version, starting with a blank canvas will generate new ideas.  
As a simple example, we changed our website last week, and the product descriptions no longer fit neatly in the new layout. I tinkered briefly getting nowhere and then decided to delete it all and write them from scratch. And hey, presto! The copy was tighter and fresher. It’s not as scary as it sounds. Promise.  
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FOUR: BE WILLING TO CHANGE YOUR MIND
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It’s totally okay to change your mind. If something is not working, perhaps a new angle is needed. The dangers of dogged attachment to one strategy are neatly illustrated in the podcast Cautionary Tales. The episode “Buried by the Crash” tells the story of two world-famous economists in the 1930s: John Maynard Keynes and Irving Fisher. Everyone has heard of Maynard Keynes. Fisher, however, has fallen off the radar despite being the “bigger man” at the time. In a nutshell, when Keynes saw his predictions beginning to falter, he changed tack, and it saved his reputation and investments. Fisher, on the other hand, clung doggedly to his original strategy, hoping it would eventually come good. It didn’t, and he lost his reputation and died pennilessly. The podcast explains it better, so please do give it a listen.
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FIVE: PARTNERS
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Choose your business partner with great care. Finding the person who will share the same vision for your company over the long term is no easy task. I had an unfortunate break with the partner in my first business and have heard similar stories from many entrepreneurs I know personally. Now that I’m working on my second business, guess what: I’m doing it on my own.
Partners can be great – don’t get me wrong – but it has to be the right fit. With the stress of running a business, things between you are likely to get harder, not easier. So choose with your eyes wide open. 
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SIX: SHOESTRINGS
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Cash is Queen, ladies, and gentlemen, and it slips through our sweaty, stress-wrung hands quicker than you can say “FINITO!” Make the shoestring your new best friend because there is so much you can do yourself. 
For example, I don’t use Photoshop or CAD to create my designs or technical drawings for my manufacturer. I use good old fashioned Microsoft PowerPoint and hand-drawn sketches. And they work just fine. You can mock things up in almost any industry from lay materials. Save your money as much as you can. You’re going to need it.  
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SEVEN: BE WARY OF “ADVICE”
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When people give me advice, the question I ask myself is: have they PERSONALLY built a business from scratch? 
There’s a quote I love: “Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.” Harsh, but fairly accurate. 
Linking in with intuition, people outside your brain and your business have no idea about the realities of your situation. Only YOU know what is possible with the limited resources you have. I suggest treading carefully when encountering those from a corporate background who are trying to give you advice. Corporates have decent (often huge) budgets, all kinds of set processes and separate legal, financial and HR departments to which they can outsource unappealing tasks. They are unfamiliar with the realities of wearing all those hats at once, whilst also playing saleswoman hiding your nervousness at being able to pay the rent this month. 
If advice feels right, then give it some ear time. If it feels off, take whatever they are saying with a big pinch of salt.
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EIGHT: NETWORK
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I used to be a networking hater. But guess what? I changed my mind. And whilst it’s a fact I hate to concede, it’s true: who you know is vitally important. Contacts open doors you would otherwise knock at for months or years. 
I’ve always felt like an outsider. No posh British school, no fashion chums, I’m not cool and I’m an introvert. BUT! I have started to garner myself a nice little network of fairly heavy hitters simply by going out to a lot of events and taking notice of who is who. I then spend time and a little bit of money cultivating those connections (I did a double-take when I looked at how much I’d spent on coffee meetings last year). I also reach out to more VIP type people very politely and write honest letters. Yep, I write letters rather than emails for those who are harder to reach. More often than not, I’ve had a positive reply.
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NINE: BE IMPATIENT
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Repeat after me: this works best when it’s done politely. Okay?
Sure, you could wait for someone to get back to you, but, if after a little bit of time has passed and they have not replied, I see absolutely no harm in politely prompting them. They’ll get the signal that you’re not going away. You can even call yourself out on it and say, “Yes, your friendly nuisance is back to bother you!” Humour also goes a long way. 
A high-profile British businesswoman once told me that she won’t reply to someone unless they contact her five times. Food for thought. But remember: ALWAYS be polite. The world owes you nothing.
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TEN: SMILE!
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Okay… so this should have been number one. Forgive me. 
People, we’ve got it pretty good. As I’m typing these words, I can see outside the window a poor soul on the tarmac who has been standing out there in the rain and cold for hours… and probably has many more hours to go. As I said, we’ve got it pretty good. 
Keep in mind that no matter what stage of your journey you’re at, it can and should be fun. It’s all about your attitude. Any “bad” experience can be seen as learning. Keep things as light as you can muster. If no one is going to die, then any problem can be fixed. Just try not to make the same mistake too many times over. And if you do make the same mistake again (as I sometimes do), then why not share a wry smile with yourself, knowing you are only human? Oops… you did it again! No biggie.
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Catch you later.
J.

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