9 Things I Learned in First Year as an Entrepreneur

Once I resigned from my career, I felt a HUGE weight off of my shoulders. I’d known for a long time (i.e. several YEARS) that I was unhappy in my profession but feeling miserable and doing something about it are entirely two different things especially when it involves giving up income. I struggle for adequate words to describe the relief I felt when I hung up the phone after quitting spontaneously one afternoon on a conference call with my vice president. I felt a literal weight, not just a figurative one, off my shoulders. I had secretly started research for Marigold & Grey a few months prior but you can’t exactly get a business off the ground while keeping it a secret. Something had to give.

Since my leaving came as a surprise to the company I worked for and I’d been there for 11 years, I agreed to stay for six weeks in order to help transition my clients. Longest six weeks of my life. I wanted it to be over immediately yet time stood still. I printed out calendars and stuck them to the wall in my office and crossed off each day as it passed. Sometimes I’d cheat and cross a day off atnoon rather than waiting until the end of the day. Couldn’t help myself. It was exhilarating as one week turned into the next and into the next. These sheets of paper are long gone from my wall but I’ll probably hang on to them forever. Hoarder? Maybe.

Once the six weeks were over, time started to fly. Here I sit and it’s an entire YEAR later. Feels like in the time it took me to blink, I launched the e-commerce site, started blogging, did styled shoots, got some press, hosted a launch party and created countless welcome gifts. Oh my goodness…what a difference a year can make!

To celebrate this milestone, I’ve taken some time to reflect upon what I’ve learned.
Renee Hollingshead Photography

 

1. Work/life balance is a myth.

There, I said it. It simply does NOT exist and even more so when you’re getting a startup off the ground. The key is to recognize that the work/life balance is going to be off for a while and be on the same page with friends and family about why you’re pouring all you have into it. For me, it means reassuring my husband Jeff that I’m doing this for US. I’m doing this because if I’m happier in my career, then I’m happier at home. I’m madly, deeply, crazy in love with my business and I’m honest with him about this. At the same time, I try to be extremely on-purpose about the time we spend together and plan ahead for things. We commit to sitting down for at least one meal together each day and no matter how crazy things get, sticking to this has helped. I also try and keep my phone as far from me as possible during this focused time. I’m not going to lie…this last part is easier said than done but I do try.

2. Don’t be shy.

While you may be intimidated, reach out to individuals who inspire you. I’ve noticed that social media has elevated certain individuals to near celebrity status but just because someone has thousands of Instagram followers along with a press page to die for, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re off limits. Nine times out of ten, they’ve been in the business longer, worked hard and networked well. If you reach out and the first, second, or third person denies you, keep trying. Keep asking. Keep connecting. There WILL be people out there to help you and you will be better off for it!

3. Use the buddy system.

While it’s good to surround yourself with people who know more than you, it’s equally as crucial to align yourself with fellow business owners in the same stage as you. Find your “small business buddy” and put them on speed dial. Use one another to bounce ideas off of, vent about your level of exhaustion, crack up about an unfortunate mishap or share your excitement when you get the biggest order in the history of your company. Business ownership can be lonely. Having a trusted friend is one thing but having a friend who is ALSO a small business owner has made all the difference in the world for me.

4. Welcome criticism.

No one likes to hear negative things about themselves and especially not about their business that they pour their heart and soul into. But behind each criticism, especially from clients, lies a truth. The faster you listen, the faster you can act to fix it. If you live in a bubble where you shut out the negative and only listen to the positive, your business will remain status quo. Even if a client seems happy, don’t be afraid to ask clients if there was anything you could’ve done better? Have an actual conversation with them. Reassure them that you WANT to hear what they have to say so you can improve upon your business, even if it’s just something small. Sure, criticism stings but your business will be better off for it!

5. Perfection and progress don’t mix.

This one is tough when you look around and you’re bombarded with seemingly perfect images all throughout the day. Especially in the wedding industry, everything is SUPER visual. I have the tendency to overthink things and want to tweak and re-tweak a gazillion times until I feel it’s absolutely perfect. But at what cost? This often delays my progress throughout the day on other projects and in certain circumstances, I end up not being able to make up my mind and end up procrastinating and crossing nothing off my list at all. There comes a certain point where “perfect enough” has to be what you aspire to or you won’t get anything accomplished.

6. Working from home is dangerous.

Many people think that working from home is the holy grail. But I’ve learned the hard way that it can also be filled with pitfalls. The kitchen is way too accessible. It’s also far too easy to wake up, throw on some yoga pants, take a few steps to the home office and end up staying there all day. No shower. No makeup. No trip to the gym. And all of a sudden it’s 7 pm and you’re still looking like you just rolled out of bed. This lifestyle has certainly taken a toll on me but I am finding ways to get better and have more balance. Forcing a workout in the morning and then immediately showering, getting dressed and doing hair and make-up (even if I’m not scheduled to go anywhere) sets me up for a much better day. And as you may have read in my recent post, I’ve begun work on my new home studio which will allow me to keep my work and personal life a lot more separate!

7. Even if it doesn’t feel like work, you still need a break.

Perhaps you caught my recent recap on my getaway to the Bahamas to attend my friend’s wedding? This is the first vacation I allowed myself to take in over a year. At the time, I questioned whether or not I should even go because I was in the middle of several gifts builds with tons of inquiries flowing in and it just didn’t seem like a good time to indulge in a break. But I, of course, couldn’t miss my friend’s wedding and so we went. I had a BLAST. Even though I adore my work now, I sometimes overwork myself without realizing it because it simply doesn’t feel like work. But, getting away with Jeff recently made me realize that taking breaks is absolutely necessary whether you love your job or not. Jeff and I had amazing quality time together and I came back refreshed and super excited to jump back into my projects!

8. Dreams are pretty but hustle isn’t.

You can’t go a day without seeing a post on Instagram or Facebook referencing creatives and business owners with big dreams. Such social media posts are accompanied by flawless imagery and you can’t help but feeling immediately inspired. But in reality, achieving dreams requires serious hustle and REAL hustle rarely looks pretty. In my case, I own a welcome gift company which involves me on the floor, often late at night, in my yoga pants, working as a one-woman assembly line until the job is done. I’m standing up, sitting down, moving boxes, handling inventory and always work up a sweat. However, the pictures I end up posting on social media aren’t the ones of me looking like a hot mess. I instead post the pictures of the finished gifts looking beautiful.

There have been cases where I’ve completed an entire gift production and don’t 100% love how the ribbon is tied so I cut it all off and start completely over…at 2 in the morning. There have been times when not all of the gifts will fit into the truck of my delivery person and so on a moment’s notice, I have to rearrange my day and make an unexpected gift delivery over two and a half hours away, round trip. Thoughtful, gorgeous, artisan gifts are my dream but the true hustle behind achieving it…not pretty, my friends.

9. GREAT things happen just past your comfort zone.

At the beginning of this year, I decided I wanted to host an official launch party for my company. Even though the website launched in November 2014, I wanted to do something this April to kick off our first official wedding season. When it came time to actually plan it, I procrastinated. I even told myself a few times that maybe I didn’t NEED to have it after all. I was getting some clients quite naturally and felt like I had some good momentum as a new business. But then it hit me. The ONLY reason I was thinking this way was because I was terrified. What if no one showed up? What if I totally messed up my speech? What if, what if, what if, etc etc. The very next day, I had a call with Kruse & Vieira Events and asked them to move forward with the planning. I confided in Caitlin that I was nervous but that my anxiety was not a valid excuse to forego the plans. And guess what?! It ended up being a huge success, more than I could’ve ever imagined. I’m SO grateful I pushed past my fear of failure because what was on the other side was pretty amazing. This is true for a launch party but also for everything else in small business.

Jamie Kutchman

Jamie Kutchman is the founder and owner of Marigold & Grey, an artisan wedding welcome gift company. Though a true Virginia girl at heart, she now enjoys life in the DC area with her golf-smitten husband Jeff. She loves everything about small business ownership, life as a creative, and encouraging others. She only wonders why she didn’t leave the corporate world sooner!

6 comments

  1. These are great tips, Jamie! I’m a little less than 6 months into my (still part-time) entrepreneurial journey and I’ve already learned several of these — especially the ones about work/life balance, reaching out to those who inspire you, and finding a business buddy. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  2. I really enjoyed reading this! There were a lot of really good points made, especially the one where even if it doesn’t feel like work you still need to schedule breaks.Very true. Love this blog!

    Reply
  3. This was great!!!! And you are so true in all of it. To me balance is what feels right to you and your lifestyle while acknowledging that some seasons of life are more demanding than others. I too try to keep my phone away from me when I’m spending QT with friends or fam…or I’m trying to be present in the moment. Not always easy, but so worth it. I launched my new business in November or 2014 too and I can relate to you so much here. Much success to you and keep up the great work!

    Reply
  4. I love this article it was truly inspiring and I’m glad to know other successful small business owners have felt the same way I do!!

    Reply
  5. This was a great read for me. Thank you.

    Reply

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