As a business instructor at a local non-profit, adjunct professor at a local university, and business coach and mentor, I work with early-stage entrepreneurs from all walks of life with all sorts of products and services. From folks to make greeting cards to folks to own coffee carts, from coaches to bloggers, I’ve taught ’em all. And I love it!
But one thing I’ve noticed is there are some common “best practices” for building a business that actually works – that is, you serve a market need, you love what you do, and you’re actually making money (or on the path to making money).
So what are these best practices, and how can you apply them to your own business?
I’m so glad you asked. 😉
Here are three things you can do TODAY to set yourself up to build a successful, profitable business:
#1: Check your mindset
The first thing you must do is check your mindset – that is, your attitudes and beliefs – about your ability to create and build your own business.
The term mindset was coined by Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychology professor, in 2006. Dweck wrote about people having a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. She said, “In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that.”
But with a growth mindset, you believe that you can create new opportunities for yourself by dedicating yourself to your learning and growth, and that your current knowledge and talent is simply a starting point. If you have a growth mindset, you’re more likely to continue trying, despite hard setbacks, because you believe your efforts and perseverance will enable you to learn what you need to know to move forward.
A fixed mindset is creative poison. It is fed by fear, and shows up as self-limiting beliefs that constrain us, and stop our growth. When you say to yourself “I can’t do this, because…” or “she can do that, but I can’t, because….”, you are actually limiting yourself from your own very real potential.
Here’s a personal example:
When I first started my business a few years ago, I had decided on a business name and had purchased the URL. I had networked around town and had several invitations to consult on this project or that project.
But I didn’t have a clear path for what I needed to do create a strong foundation for my OWN business. And honestly, I think I was to put myself out there – after all, what if I failed?
And, as the parent of a young child, with a husband who often travels for work, on some days I felt so overwhelmed that it seemed I couldn’t cram anything else into my brain. I even felt tempted to start looking around for a job working for someone else – which, by the way, would go directly against my deepest desire to create something tangible of my own, while still having great freedom and flexibility.
And I’d look at other people’s accomplishments – even though, frankly, I’m a very capable business person – and think, “oh, she’s doing so well, but I couldn’t do that, for this reason or that reason”.
I realized I was letting fear get the best of me, and it was undermining my confidence. I had to quiet the self-limiting beliefs whisper in my head that said horrible things like “Who are you kidding? You can’t do this. Who do you think you are?” and change that message to “I’m creating my own business. I can do this. I have a lot to offer.”
I had to decide that I was going to keep going, and simply learn the stuff I needed to know. And when I consciously decided to do that, everything started to flow. I got super clear on what exactly I wanted to build, who I wanted to build it for, and why I wanted to build it.
And then I moved forward.
- Am I operating from a fixed mindset or a growth mindset?
- Do I have self-limiting beliefs that I may not even say out loud, but deep down, they are killing my confidence and growth?
- Are you willing to evolve your mindset?
#2 Invest in yourself and your business
I strongly believe that if you are serious about starting or scaling your business, then you need invest in your own learning. This might be through things like classes or workshops, or it might be through investing in the services of a professional who can guide you through your choices.
As founders and creators of our businesses, we are the decision makers. And there are so many decisions to make!
- What am I actually selling?
- Who am I selling to, and why do they need my product or my service?
- What’s the best way to reach my customer?
- How do I name by business or program?
- How do I protect my intellectual property?
- How do I set my business up as a legal business entity?
- How do I manage my business finances?
As business owners, we need to make smart, savvy decisions, we first need to understand what we need to do, why we need to do it, and how we do it. To answer these questions (and many, many more,) I had to invest in myself and my business by finding the right teachers.
Finding teachers with a different set of skills from mine significantly shortened my learning curve, taught me exactly what I needed to know, and helped me protect myself, my family, and my business.
Because I’m a busy working mama, my favorite way to learn is through online programs that I can do after my little one has hit the hay. Some of my favorite teachers have great online programs, and over the years, I’ve learned new skills in copywriting, graphic design, and small business law.
Frequently, I need guidance on a legal or tax issue to save me money or keep me legally safe and sound. In these cases, I’m happy to invest in the time of lawyers or tax accounts, because they are the subject matter experts in these areas, and what would take me an hour to research, and hope I had the right answer for, takes them about five minutes to confirm. For these kinds of things, I looked for teachers who had to first and foremost understand, appreciate, and work with a lot of entrepreneurs and small businesses.
Beyond this, my criteria were no suits, no bad haircuts, and I had to be able to envision myself having a glass of wine or coffee with them. In other words, I looked for knowledge, culture and vibe. And, while it’s taken me awhile to find the right people, I now have several go-to folks on my virtual dream team who can guide me whenever I need that helping hand.
And finally, some of teachers I’ve invested are simply hugely talented in areas I am not, and where I’m not really interested in investing the time or money into learning that skill. For example, I had a strong vision of the brand vibe I wanted to put out into the world through my business, but I’m not a graphic designer or web developer. And I don’t want to be either of these things, because my happy place – the stuff that lights me up – is teaching and learning.
So I hired an incredibly talented brand strategist, graphic designer and web developer, all rolled into one. She totally gets me and what I want to put out there, and she was able to visually translate my brand vibe into tangible assets like my website and class materials. Meanwhile, I can focus my energies doing the things I love to do; that is, create and develop valuable, high-quality curriculum for women entrepreneurs.
- Where are my biggest skill or knowledge gaps?
- What are the big to-dos or questions that are causing me the greatest discomfort?
- What steps can I take today to fill those skill or knowledge gaps?
#3 Build your community
Having a supportive community of other entrepreneurs is critical for your successes. You may often hear this referred to as “a tribe”. So what is a tribe, and why do you need one?
A tribe is a group of people who share similar interests, goals and struggles. Having a tribe brings a great sense of being understood and supported. It also provides a safe place to ask questions, get answers, and get encouragement from others who are walking the same path.
Being an entrepreneur can be a very lonely journey. Often, the people who surround us, like our partners or friends, don’t necessarily get what we’re trying to build – and can sometimes even feel threatened by it. Many of us feel overwhelmed by the daunting prospect of trying to do everything by ourselves. (Which never works, by the way.) And most importantly, we can start to doubt ourselves if we don’t have a community of people who really understand our vision, and are tangible proof points about what’s possible for us in our own lives and businesses.
Over the past few years, I’ve served as a coach and mentor for many early-stage companies, with products that range from nut butters and kale chips to Google glasses and enterprise software. As an investor, I’ve sat at the table with many talented people, often older men in khakis and button-down shirts who have made a mint building and selling their own companies. It’s been a wonderful education, but I really felt a need to have a community of women entrepreneurs who have a burning desire to start and scale a profitable business that supports the freedom and flexibility they crave.
I now have a strong community I can lean on, I get great inspiration, support and guidance from my tribe. My tribe gets what I’m building and totally gets me because we share the same goals and struggles.
One example of what my tribe looks like is this picture.(This was taken at a business-building retreat in Tulum, Mexico. We were working. Pinky swear.) These women are doctors, lawyers, graphic designers, PR mavens… we even have a high-end boudoir photographer in the mix!
- Do I have a strong community of people who understand what you’re trying to build, and can provide me with the incredible support, validation and generous guidance we all need to move forward?
- If not, where can I find this community?
Being aware of your mindset and self-limiting beliefs, investing in yourself and your business, and building a community of like-minded, like-hearted women entrepreneurs are critical first steps to building a solid foundation for your business.
To growing a successful business,