I had the opportunity this week to chat with a small business owner from my local farmers market. Three years ago, she launched a coffee roasting company which sources its beans from Colombia — her country of origin, and the place her family has grown coffee for generations. Her story is inspirational for many reasons, but it also offers practical wisdom about what it really takes to be a small business owner. I’d like to share a few lessons I gleaned from our conversation. My hope is that those of you who are just starting (or dreaming of starting) a small business will walk away with practical advice and encouragement from someone who is already ‘in the trenches.’
Tip #1: Start Where Your Knowledge, Education and Experience Meet
My friend Maria’s business concept is a combination of her knowledge, career path (she studied agricultural engineering) and family heritage. In other words, she started with what she knows and loves. You could also add personal positioning to this combination — location, business contacts, social connections, etc. The crossroads where your natural ability, experience, training and opportunities meet should be the source of your small business idea and the place to start your groundwork. Where is that ‘sweet spot,’ for you?
Tip #2: Don’t Be Intimidated By Other ‘Big Fish’ in The Pond: Find Your Place
Choosing to start a coffee roasting business in the city known as the birthplace and international headquarters of Starbucks isn’t for the faint-hearted. Maria didn’t let this intimidation get to her, though. She doesn’t try to do business like, or compete with, a coffee corporation: she knows her place, and that place is local. People buy her product because it’s unique — fair-trade sourced from Colombia, roasted and sold locally, and enhanced with personal touches. It doesn’t hurt, and as I can personally attest to, that it tastes amazing!
What about you? Have you cast aside your business plan because you’re afraid you’ll be overshadowed? Find out what makes your idea, product, or service unique — then capitalize on it.
Tip #3: Ask for Help
Maria shared that one of her biggest challenges was learning to ask for help. Whether it’s asking for advice or direction on how to do something related to setting up your business, or seeking out a business partnership, admitting your own insecurities and inadequacies can be very scary. If you can get over that, you’ll quickly find there are others who’ve been there before and are more than willing to help. You’ll never learn and grow unless you admit what you don’t know.
When it comes to considering a business partnership, it’s important to draw up a solid business plan and confide in people you trust. For instance, Maria’s business is bolstered by an investment partnership consisting of four close families. Creating a team or business partnership with others who have similar goals but unique talents and resources to bring to the table doesn’t just benefit you, but everyone involved.
Tip #4: Start Small, Dream Big
Don’t plan to stay at the bottom rung even if you’re starting out there. You’ll be investing a lot of personal time and energy into your business at the beginning, but it’s important to leave at least a little time to dream, market, network, and plan for the future. Know where you want to be, and start laying the groundwork to get there, even it’s as simple as creating a short-term savings goal or investing in your own education and training.
Tip #5: Share Your Dream
Lastly, don’t stay quiet. No matter how ridiculous or unrealistic it seems, tell people your dream — what you want to do — and things will start to happen. You never know what connections, resources, wisdom or ideas others might be able to contribute, so don’t be afraid to talk about your dreams of the business.
Let us know if you found these tips encouraging. Better yet, go and talk to a local entrepreneur in your area to see what advice their personal experience has to offer.