Business Owner To Business Owner: What I wish I’d known 15 years ago when I started my chocolate company, Chocoley
In January we closed the doors to Chocoley – my chocolate company of 15 years.
In the weeks since I have received messages from former customers who have businesses or are considering starting a business asking for advice. These people are not asking for intuitive advice – they’re asking for advice from another business owner about what to watch out for, what I would have wanted to know when I started my company, and in hindsight what could have helped avoid that failure. One said that she started her business because she was tired of being afraid, and information makes her feel more prepared for what may come.
I decided to turn this topic into a blog post because I am guessing there are a whole lot of business owners out there who would also like to hear the advice I’d share with these people, too.
Here’s what I wish I knew when I started Chocoley over 15 years ago:
1. You can do everything you’re supposed to do and still fail.
Do not let the fear of failure stand in your way. Do it anyway.
2. You’ll get a lot of advice about what you “should” do along the way. Ignore it ALL if it conflicts with your own inner guidance and your own gut feeling.
Whether it’s products you ‘must’ sell, what price you ‘need’ to charge, marketing channels you ‘have to’ utilize if you want to be successful, or one of millions of other things people may tell you they know, everyone will have advice for you.
You will know better than anyone else what your business needs. Honor that. I would have saved myself a lot of headaches if I had just followed my own intuition when it told me others were wrong in what they advised for Chocoley. Instead I was so worried about doing what I was ‘supposed to’ that I chased a lot of rabbits down holes that led nowhere, or worse – to the wrong places – because I was trying too hard to ‘be open’ and listen to the advice of other business owners or the so called experts.
If Facebook isn’t right for you, don’t use Facebook. If free shipping doesn’t work for your business, then please charge for it. If Instagram is more of a headache than a business generator, then forget about it. Your goal isn’t to replicate a path that worked for someone else’s business, it’s to follow the path that’s right for yours.
3. Find and follow some inspiring teachers that know what they’re doing in a specific area.
This may sound like the exact opposite of the advice in #2 above – but find some teachers you can really learn from, in the spaces you feel like you really need to explore more deeply to help your business grow.
There are experts out there who can and will help you take your business to the next level if you’ll allow yourself to learn from their wisdom. Find the teachers that really resonate with you, and follow them. Seek their advice, and don’t be afraid to pay for it.
Be extremely selective in who you choose to listen to and learn from. Not everyone is meant to be your teacher on your business journey. There are probably only a select few who really are. But the ones who are can really catapult your business to the next level. So find the right teacher for where you are, and in what you know you need to learn right now, and learn from them. Implement the ideas that they teach you when your gut says their advice is in fact meant for you.
4. Spend and save your money wisely – even if business is booming.
When the cash starts flowing it can feel like it will always keep going. But always remember businesses have seasons. Years and decades have economic cycles. Save money wherever you can. Don’t increase your spending when things are good just because you can right now. It’s realllly hard to scale back that new higher level of spending when the seasons slow down.
Respect the money in your bank account at all times. Remember it’s a beautiful gift. Don’t take it for granted. Make sure you’re operating profitably and cut what spending you must cut if it’s necessary to make that true – even if those decisions are really hard to do.
And whatever you do, avoid taking on debt – especially high interest debt – any way you can or it may haunt you for years.
When it comes to money in small business, I highly recommend the book Profit First by Mike Michalowicz. (If we’d found the book sooner, Chocoley may just still be here).
5. You can plan all you want – the biggest challenges you’ll face are probably going to be the ones you’ll never see coming or have absolutely no control over.
Do your best to navigate and learn from them when they arrive. These are the moments that are the most likely to lead to business failure. That’s okay, do not be afraid of them. Breathe through them and be grateful for the lessons they’re teaching you. Turn to your faith to get you through. They’re also the moments where you learn and grow and your real character is built and shows.
6. Decide what really matters to you – what are your values? Make sure that shines through every part of your business, no matter what is happening around you.
Chocoley may have ultimately closed but I am so damn proud that we never compromised our integrity or personal values just to make more money in the business. I can hold my head high knowing we always treated our employees and customers right, and provided exceptional high quality products with incredible service – even if it’s possible we could have saved a few bucks by doing things another way. At the end of the day, I will always get to hold onto the fact that we always operated our business from a place of light.
7. Return to #1 regularly. Don’t let a fear of failing stop you from trying – whether that’s trying to start a business, or trying a new marketing idea in your business, or trying to launch a new product.
Starting and growing a business will always mean you’ll have to get out of your comfort zone, and push past those fear limits regularly.
You may very well fail. I failed a lot. I failed at small things and big things, and eventually I failed at the whole thing. I’m not going to sugar coat it and say that failing was ‘fun’ – it sucked in a whole lot of ways. But I can say with 100% certainty that the journey was totally worth it. Everything I learned and all the ways I grew over 15 years was worth it. Every single failure along the way was worth it.
At the end of the day, even failing at the entire business itself actually wasn’t nearly as bad as the fear inside me said it would be if it ever came to that. I am still standing. I am still breathing. I still have an amazing future in front of me. My faith in God is deeper than it has ever been. My trust in my own resilience is higher than it’s ever been, too. I now know I’m stronger now that I ever thought I could be.
So if there’s fear inside of you (and there probably is) – push past it. Do it anyway.