We are Lisa von Sturmer and Andrew Sutherland, the co-founders of Growing City. Growing City was created to make composting simple, clean and convenient for businesses and office towers. We developed our company with help from the Canadian Youth Business Foundation and we’re excited to pass along the top 5 things we learned about starting a business off right. Take our advice and be prepared for joy, pain, sunshine and rain, because starting a business is one wild ride. We hope our words of wisdom will ease your quest to becoming a super successful entrepreneur!
1. Idea sharing isn’t shady
Once you think of your great idea, make sure to talk about it. Choose a few people who you admire and trust (quality not quantity!). Tell them that you think you might have an awesome business idea and you want their feedback. Your “advice crew” will most probably be flattered that you came to them for help.
Our close friends and family definitely weren’t shy about asking the hard questions and poking holes after we presented them with our initial idea for Growing City. Their feedback helped us cover our bases and see weaknesses we may not have noticed otherwise.
Some things are difficult to hear and some ideas are hard to share, but you’ll divulge eventually, so do it strategically. The idea here is seeking out “constructive criticism”, participating in discussions that help you refine your concept and business plan. Surrounding yourself with a positive and supportive network is one of the most important things anyone starting a business can do.
* Remember, many hugely successful entrepreneurs have had great ideas that we’re initially met with resistance and negativity. It’s about making informed decisions before you prove all your nay-sayers wrong!
2. Build a business that doesn’t bite
Be realistic about who you are and what kind of company you’ll be proud to represent. Never ignore financial goals, but make sure to take into consideration how your company is representing you personally. We’re not saying your business has to save the world (the Snuggie is a great idea!), but your business practices should reflect what’s important to you. Let’s be real: you’re about to spend every minute of every day thinking about, dreaming about, and working for this business of yours – loving it and being proud of it will keep the fires burning.
For us, we knew we wanted to start a business that was sustainably-minded and involved with the greater community. Each month we invite our clients to join us for volunteering opportunities they can use to get their team out of the office and working together in their community. Building a business that you yourself would love to work for is just one of the perks of being the boss!
3. Put it in writing
Enjoy the time you spend exploring your business idea. The dreaming, the research and the excited phone calls with friends are the first steps. Now you’ve got to write a business plan…and you really do, sorry, no rain-checks. Don’t worry though, CYBF makes it easy. You can download a business plan template from their website and then work with a CYBF team member to make it shine.
Writing a business plan will help you see your strengths and weaknesses. Filling in some sections will be easy, while others will feel like brain-numbing agony! It’s important to know where you need help and CYBF has the resources to get your problem areas up to snuff.
Your business plan will not only make you think of all the little things, but it will act as proof that you’re serious and know what you’re talking about. All good things when it comes to acquiring bank funding and convincing friends that you’re not crazy.
4. 99 Problems, but a cashflow ain’t one
Cashflow cashflow cashflow. You are about to hear this word on a daily basis. As an entrepreneur you’ve got to learn it, live it, and love it! Your cashflow is essentially the record of the money coming in and out of your business. You may not be a numbers person, and you may have a trusted accountant to do all the tedious bean-counting you don’t want to do, but you must be able to read your cashflow and understand how it affects your business. Having a cashflow lets you see where your money is (or isn’t!) and helps you create plans of attack – like deciding whether to expand or sit tight for 6 months.
Start getting familiar with excel and find yourself a mentor that can help you create a system and maintain it. It doesn’t have to be super high-tech – a basic spreadsheet document will suffice. As you’ve probably already heard, lack of cash is one of the most common reasons businesses fail in their first year. Keep an eye on yours, plan accordingly and you’ll beat the odds.
5. Surrender to the sacrifice
Starting a business is more work than you’ve ever dreamed. You will miss out on parties, sunny days, and good times. Your friends will miss you – not to mention family and loved ones. You will work day in and day out and you will dream of work when you sleep. Accept this fact and surrender to it early. If you can make it through the initial no-fun gauntlet, the rewards are tremendous!
Conflicts between your social life and being an entrepreneur can make it difficult to focus on what needs to get done. However, if you go into it knowing that you’re playing hermit for a year and warn friends accordingly – it makes it easier to shrug off the conflict and enjoy the work. Listen, your fun-to-work ratio is going to be unbalanced and you’re going to spend a lot of time standing in front of the mirror listening to “Never Surrender”. To avoid total isolation and rocker hair, make sure to schedule in time for fun and friends. All work and no play makes for some really dull entrepreneurs.
Being an entrepreneur is as exciting as it is challenging – so congratulations to those of you that are on your way! You are embarking on a path that most people never do! There are ups and downs, but you can handle it. Follow our advice and work closely with CYBF and you’ll be on the fast track to success. From us at Growing City – we wish you the best of luck!
For more information on our services and our ‘green’ educational programs please visit our website.
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