So I’ve been doing this mom gig for 18 months now and the entrepreneur thing for close to a year. I want to say that I’ve handled both roles with the utmost grace and dignity but truth be told, I’ve thrown some pretty childish tantrums, self-indulgent cry fests and made some embarrassingly dramatic declarations in the past year. Fortunately, my husband is the sole witness to these and thankfully, he’s forgiving of my humanness.
This year, well, it’s been messy. Full of incredible feats and accomplishments albeit, like “yay, I got showered today!”, “yay, my website is live!”, “yay, I prevented a toddler meltdown!” or “yay, I’m sold out of care kits!”. All of which constitute “success” in my book. However, it has been challenging to balance new motherhood and a start-up.
And you might be thinking, why take that on? Why not wait? Well, the simple answer is that I needed this business, as much as it’s injected more chaos and stress into my life – I needed to create something out in the world that connected me to other women, and moms especially. New motherhood can be incredibly lonely and isolating. My business was inspired by this and it’s a constant reminder that my experiences are shared and I believe it’s the driving force behind its success.
Every little and big “success” that I’ve had in this passed year is 100% brought to you by vigorous hustling, perseverance and a sharp decisiveness that I believe developed alongside my son, in utero. However, my vigilant work ethic, commitment and steadfast approach did not save me the impact or inevitability of errors.
Parenthood and entrepreneurship are littered with impending screw ups and the only way out is through. There’s no crystal ball, magic wand or fairy godmother to save you the heartache, pain and embarrassment that’s inescapable when you take risks and embark on new adventures.
Face-plants suck hard, especially those that catch you completely off-guard. You know the ones where you think you’re on a clear, well-marked trail and BAM! You get clothes-lined by a low hanging branch. Or worse yet, you trip over your own bloody feet and go down like a ton of bricks. But really, it doesn’t matter if you had an inkling it was coming, it feels awful and all you want is a re-do.
And guess what?! The cliche is true, we must learn from our mistakes and so, in the spirit of this, I thought I would share some of my face-down in the mud moments, as well as the pivots and redirects that they inspired.
- Launching to crickets. Yep, I’ll admit. I totally underestimated the importance of marketing strategy in the development and launch phase of my business. I was completely wrapped up in the creation and offerings (because that’s the fun part!). I neglected the very real consideration of how I was going to build a following and attract customers. Driven by the mindset that “if I build something spectacular, they will come”, I ignored the reality that no one yet knew I existed and I was sorely disappointed when I launched in April of 2016 to a small pool of people who got on my “notify me – pre-launch” list. Full disclosure: A lot of those people were friends, family and friends of friends, who were more curious about my venture than eager to give me money. It was a slow start that could have had more “oomph” had I delayed my launch to spend more time on the build up and finding my people. Don’t get me wrong, I had sales (most of which had to do with some local media coverage and word of mouth/Facebook sharing) but it was not what I expected. It was devastating at the time. I definitely had moments where I felt like a complete failure. I question the whole business. I considered throwing in the towel – IN THE FIRST MONTH! Yep, pretty ridiculous. I remember agonizing over my start-up struggles and lack of sales to a close friend, saying, “I don’t know if this is going to work” and [thank goodness for her candor] she furrowed her brow and responded without hesitation, “IT’S ONLY BEEN 2 WEEKS!” Patience is a virtue. The simple take-away here is marketing matters and let’s be clear. This isn’t the Mad Men version of marketing where you drink scotch all afternoon to channel a brilliant idea that you then pitch to your creative team and they implement it all to great success. Nope. The marketing that works for most businesses is tirelessly dry, monotonous and damn-hard work to figure out. There’s no formula. There’s no “one way” that’s going to work. Try everything and fail a lot. It’s terribly unglamourous but this is the hustle that will pay off.
- Running cold ads on Facebook. I’m a creative. My husband is a pragmatist. He’s also a digital marketing strategist, but he’d never worked in a market like mine. So, it was all trial and error. He’s amazing with the technical, behind-the-scenes set-up and analytics but it still requires a lot of testing to find what works. I immersed myself in the creation of some clever Facebook ad campaigns that I thought, for sure, would generate so much buzz and my whole business would go completely viral on the interweb. HA! [Face-plant] To be fair, my husband had lots of suggestions and ideas for me but I didn’t want to hear them. It was MY business. Also, he suggested things I wasn’t comfortable with, like making videos of myself and just putting them out there [ick!]. Hundreds of dollars later and literally ZERO sales generated from any cold FB ads, I spiralled into a panic [yet again] that this business was just not going to work. Again, it was only a couple of months in. I was too close to it all and too impatient/desperate for sales to realize that my potentials customers were not going to click a FB ad (upon the first intro to my business) and buy. They needed to be warmed to me and my offerings. I needed a long-game plan. I needed to create content; videos and blogposts and share them far and wide. An important point here is that the content needs to be give and take. If you’re constantly “asking”, people lose interest. I knew I had a lot to offer but it feels icky and uncomfortable to put yourself out there. In my experience thus far, this is what allows you to stand out from the crowd. This is what draws people in and this is how you figure out who is for you in the world of Facebook advertising. Obviously, there is a lot of technical bits about Facebook advertising, remarketing and building audiences that is not straight-forward or common-knowledge. I’m fortunate to be married to a guru so that’s a definite perk. My advice would be to find one of those. You don’t have to marry them. Probably easier if you don’t actually.
- My plate overfloweth. This one is easy. I needed to ask for help more and I didn’t. I’m still not good at this. I packed so many care kits by myself, for no good reason but the fact that I have trust issues. I have a tough time relinquishing certain tasks. Delegating is an important and necessary part of growth and success in business. I have not mastered this yet. Luckily, I’m still small and there is time to ease into such transitions. I anticipate I will have many face-plant moments in 2017 related to overwhelm and not delegating enough.
- Too Many Freebies & Deep discounts. Acting in desperation is no way to run a start-up. I’ve made some crap decisions because I was anxious to make sales and worried I wouldn’t get there quick enough. Obviously, the market does dictate a lot but this takes time to decipher. When I first launched, I had a lot of requests to “donate” and “give” product in the name of “exposure”. I fell prey to this because I thought it made sense. This mythical creature called “exposure” in the start-up world is a dangerous beast. It promises everything and usually offers nothing in the end, except regret. To be fair, I’ve had some great “exposure” moments in my first year but none of them did I have to fork out free products or money to get. I believe they were a reflection of my hard-work, the quality of my offerings and a little bit of “who ya know” (this one never hurts). I also did the deep discount thing and sure, it works but it sets a precedent that is difficult to uphold if you want to grow your business. I also think it cheapens the brand and as a small business, you can’t build something if you’re always giving it away. This is a hard one to stick to but it matters a lot. I know I’m not immune to the temptation and will probably make more of these mistakes again but deep down, I know that I have something great to offer and I’ve valued it accordingly.
- Trying to be something to everyone. You have to believe in what you’re offering and be willing to suffer the critics. You will not be for everyone! Nor can you be. I have haters. People have made snarky comments, because they can and because they probably forget that there’s a human person behind the logo/brand. An important point here is that none of these people are my customers so really, how much should they matter, right?! I don’t have the thickest of skin and so I take a lot of comments and criticisms to heart. Most small start-ups rely on a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get launched. I know this is the case for me. I’ve made a lot of personal, professional and familial sacrifices to give this venture life. However, it has not served me AT ALL to give energy or credibility to the nah-sayers and trolls on the interweb. In fact, it holds me back. What I have learned is that feedback/constructive criticism matters. Absolutely, it does. But there are parameters to it. Feedback is best received, processed and applied when it has been requested from interested/engaged parties (aka your audience, customers and followers). I’d go so far as to say that paying customers have a right to give comments, suggestions and feedback. It helps me to look at it this way. If you’re trying to make an important decision about a direction you want to take in your business, for those who have not invested in you and your offerings, there’s no love lost if they give you off-the-cuff advice/insight. And really, that’s all they can offer anyways. They don’t know you, your brand, your offerings because they’re not your people. Your customers/audience/followers’ have more clout because they’re putting their money where their mouths are and that needs to carry more weight.
- Stolen moments when baby naps do not a business grow. Ok, so most of my face-plants aren’t specific to being a mompreneur. But this one is. Admittedly, I did all my research, correspondence and copywriting for my site on my iPhone while my son nursed and slept in my arms. There came a point, in both my business trajectory and my son’s sleeping habits when this just did not work anymore. There came a point, about 6 months in, where I hit a major cross-roads in the balancing of motherhood and my business. It brought with it a lot of conflicting emotions, depression, anxiety and some anger. I found myself investigating child care options that didn’t feel quite right for us. I was sleep deprived from staying up late to work and guilt-ridden from taking so much time on the weekend, away from my family to work. I’d like to say that I’ve figured it all out but I haven’t. It’s a work in progress. I feel unwilling to sacrifice the full time care of my son right now but I know my business needs the time and attention. So I hustle when and where I can. I’ve negotiated a schedule with my husband, who luckily has some flexibility in his to be home two mornings a week (and work late on the other end) to give me some hours. This isn’t ideal but it’s good enough. And good enough is sometimes the best you get when you’re a mompreneur. Perfection isn’t an option. You’re going to drop balls. You’re going to have to leave ideas on the table. You have to prioritize like a boss and hustle like you’re running from a grizzly bear. It’s not always pretty and truth be told, I have a meltdown about it monthly. The thing I know is that it won’t always be like this. When I think back, a year ago when I first started to now, so much has changed in the business and on the family front. We’re in constant flux. This is somewhat comforting and it keeps me afloat. The lessons in it all is that the time invested in the business is going to fluctuate so I have to stay tuned in to that and adapt where I can.
- Playing copycat/catch-up and comparison games. I do it! It’s human nature, right?! We compare and contrast, largely because we want to know how we’re doing; how we’re measuring up. I try to take the high road whenever possible, because “abundance”. I wholeheartedly believe competition is healthy and I also think there’s enough business to support multiple offerings of a similar vein, as long as they’re all doing their own version of it. When we become obsessed with what our competitors are doing, we’re no longer steering our own ship. I’ve definitely fallen prey to the “well, that business is like mine and they’re doing this so I should do that as well”. It’s a crap-ass strategy in fact. And it always flies back into your face, like spitting into the wind. I think it comes back to the desperation thing. We desperately want to succeed at our ventures but we’re afraid to make the missteps. We don’t want to take the risks. We believe that mimicking what we perceive as success among others will reap equivalent benefits when applied to our scenario. There are many things wrong with this assumption. One, is that we don’t really know the full story of another business’ success. Maybe that ad campaign was a total flop for them but “shiny objects”. I don’t have the solution on how to run your own race on your own terms. Fak! It’s hard. I do know that it’s necessary and that’s what keeps me honest. I have to check in with myself on a regular basis on what my version of “success” looks like. Also, I have certain values I want to uphold in my business and I don’t wish to waiver on those. The only way to stay true to these is be rigorous about teasing out what is and is not for me and my business. Ideally, this should and will differ across the board and that’s okay.
So I’m adding these to my face plant portfolio and taking the lessons with me into 2017. I’m sure I’ll be met with new challenges and more “face down in the arena” (as Brene Brown would put it) moments to add to my scrapbook, but the best takeaway from all this is that perseverance is what makes the magic happen folks. And if that doesn’t do it for ya, maybe this guilty-pleasure 90’s jam will.