What I Wish I Knew When I Started My Own Business

By Gabrielle Savoie

PHOTO: Sisilia Piring for Take Aim

I inadvertently found myself on the entrepreneurial track before even graduating. It wasn’t premeditated, I didn’t have a business plan, and making money wasn’t my focus. Let me paint you the picture: It all started one winter night in 2010, with me sitting on the couch watching TV while scrolling through my favorite design blogs. I need to preface this by saying that despite sounding like a total couch potato, I was actually quite active. While in university, I was hardworking to a fault, tirelessly juggling my school workload with internships that, on a couple of occasions, turned into full-time jobs. In a sense, I had always been a workaholic.

I had taken interior design classes in addition to skimming over a chapter or two on blogs in a communication class (back then it was a somewhat novel phenomenon — especially to my incredulous middle-aged professors). I thought to myself, Surely, starting a blog couldn’t be that hard. Two hours later, my blog Savvy Home was born.

For about a year, I probably had about seven pageviews a day. Then, one day in 2012, traffic started picking up — coincidentally, monetizing a blog became a topic of interest online. At that time, I was entering business school, the perfect opportunity to test out strategies on my burgeoning venture. By the time I graduated, blogging had become my full-time job. While my classmates were busy interviewing for entry-level positions, I was styling photo shoots and collaborating with international brands.

Most entrepreneurs-at-heart start their careers in the corporate world before transitioning into their own endeavour, but I had accidentally found myself doing exactly the opposite. In fact, this side hustle is largely what kick-started my career as an editor. Thinking of dipping your toes in a passion project? Here is some advice to my younger self — what I wish I had known then and what I’ve learned along the way.

There’s this circulating idea that side jobs are like the shining unicorn of the corporate ladder. We know that millennials are more entrepreneurial than previous generations; every other person I meet seems to be blogging or developing an app on the side. In many ways, the digital world has facilitated our gumptious tendencies by breaking barriers of entry in many industries. Does that mean that by pursuing your passion on the side, you’ll be getting ready to say sayonara to your boss, walk your Tom Ford python pumps out the door, and slide into your brand-new preordered Tesla? Probably not.

Whether you’re tackling entrepreneurship full-time or as a weekend project, it will most likely be months before you make a single dollar. In fact, you’ll probably find yourself spending more than you make. If you think your current salary is a laughable injustice, wait until you are solely responsible for bringing home that income. Be comfortable with putting in the work simply for the undying passion you have for your project. If it’s right, money will follow.

You’d be surprised to learn how few people have the time, dedication, or resilience to “steal” your idea, so don’t treat your passion project like a state secret. Working on your side hustle on your own without a team or employee can give you the stir-crazies. So get out, find a mentor, and meet like-minded entrepreneurs and other industry professionals. I have often been guilty of saying no to networking opportunities in the name of getting things done, but as I’ve learned, a single lunch meeting can produce larger results than spending hours maniacally crossing off minute tasks on your to-do list. You’ll be surprised to learn how many small tasks you can outsource to freelancing professionals, freeing up your time to focus on the bigger picture.

On the topic of sharing, the first person who should be aware of this new endeavour is your employer. The last thing you want is to become a competitor to your own company or lose your responsibilities at your day job for your project, so be entirely upfront. My employer was already familiar with my blog when its team approached me, so the conversation was very straightforward and easy — all I had to do was prioritize. And on that note…

The harder you work, the more opportunities will fall into your lap, and before you know it, you’re juggling 20 projects and sleeping three hours a night. Be ruthlessly realistic of how many hours you spend at work, how many hours you want to dedicate to your side venture, and how many hours you need to function as a normal human being. Will you find yourself tirelessly working nights and weekends? Yes. Will you be checking emails on vacations while your friends are frolicking around the pool? Yes — my tan has suffered tremendously. Will you have bouts of anxiety and sleepless nights over setbacks? Sorry to say it, but most likely yes. Will it all be worth it in the end? You might not become the next Leura Fine or Whitney Wolfe, but 100% yes.

What you may find is that you’ve grown your professional network tenfold (which in some cases can come in handy at work), honed your skills twice as fast, and can now enjoy a nice stack of extra cash for those much-needed vacations and treat yo’ self moments.

Your first year is never your best work, but don’t let that deter you. It took me four years to get to a place where I was seriously reaping the rewards of my side hustle, and in many ways, I’m now working harder to take it to the next step. This may sound like a total cliché, but there is no fast track to success — only hard work and perseverance.

Even though in my lower 20s I had an idea of what I wanted my professional life to be like, I had no concept of how all my efforts over the years would unfold. Sometimes, you just have to put in the work, know your passion, and trust that it will all come together. There may be hundreds of people doing exactly what you want to do, but only you to make it different. Find your point of differentiation, and work that angle into every aspect of your burgeoning business. Not only will this make it easier to focus on the one thing you’re seriously great at, but it will also help potential partners identify you as an expert in your niche area.

Losing sleep over the fact that you didn’t manage to cross off the 50 items on your to-do list or answer 300 emails looming in your inbox is entirely unproductive. Accept that some aspects of your life will take precedence over others at times, and that you might need a day of doing absolutely nothing. What’s all that effort worth if not a better quality of life?

Learn to streamline your everyday tasks, and find the hustle/life balance that works for you. Ultimately, don’t ever forget what your ultimate goal is. Are you striving to become the next Mark Zuckerberg, or are you happy with making a little extra cash to round up the month? As my step-father would put it, “If you don’t know where you’re headed, how are you going to get there?” Always work hard, but know how to celebrate your successes.

Do you have any experience in starting your own business? Share some tips you learned along the way in the comments below.

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Originally published at www.mydomaine.com on May 19, 2016.

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