The experience in taking an artistic idea and turning it into a viable business has been much like a growing tree branch. There are constantly new limbs and new leaves sprouting in places you did not expect. Sometimes a leaf browns and you have to make decisions: do you add more water or do you trim the browning leaf?
These aren't pieces of advice that I am suggesting will work for everyone-- rather these are the things that I've found helpful to keep in mind throughout the early life of starting a business. My hope is that others can find value in our experiences and relate them to their own work.
1. Be flexible, always. You have to be willing to learn a new skill even if you find it boring. I still dislike using excel, but once I got over that hump, I am now able to compile real information and data that in turn helps me understand where my business is, where it wants to go, and how much time and effort it may take to get to the next milestone. If you think something will take you 2 weeks, and do the smart thing and buffer for 4 weeks, it will actually take you 6 weeks. Always be flexible.
2. Be kind and modest. I have had to rely on countless friends and mentors - not only for emotional support or just as ears willing to listen - but for actions that resulted in business growth. Remaining modest has made it easy for us to find friends or friends of friends who are interested in helping and supporting a vision. Wether it be a photographer to shoot some content, or a web designer to help tweak some code, or a connection to someone in city government. If you are genuine - others will see this, and the resources and people you need will slowly but surely make themselves visible.
3. Fake it till you make it. My mother always told me this adage and for years folks used to laugh at me for simplifying the complex world of business into a one liner. If you want to be a company, talk as a company. Drop "I" and replace it for "We". You think your company is too small to be doing something? You are probably wrong and it's probably time for you to start doing that next level action.
4. Emulate those who you admire. If you want to present like Steve Jobs, you need to watch his videos, take notes, then imagine you are him at your next speech or presentation. Follow what works. Pay attention to what doesn't. You should know your market better than anyone else, which also means you are attuned to what is and is not working within your industry. Find what suits you, borrow from it, and make the changes that fit your business so you can make it your own.
5. Always be preparing for growth. One day we received an email asking for our line sheet and wholesale prices. While we had not created those documents or terms yet, I had saved a few I found online many months back that I was able to reference. This simple preparation allowed us to quickly put together an appropriate wholesale document. Our version 1 lost us some customers - so we asked around and learned from the mistakes. Now we have purchase terms that not only work well for us but that also engage retailers.
6. Entrepreneurship is all about risk mitigation and management. When starting a business you will find you are constantly in a position of making decisions. Do I order 50 or do I order 500? You need to ask your self what the safest, least risky method is for you. If you order 50 and sell out right away - will it set you back 2 months as you wait for more inventory? If you order 500 and it turns out the item is not popular - are you now sitting on a ton of wasted inventory? Do you need to create "tests" so you can measure if something is a worth while expenditure? In our case - we used Kickstarter as a platform to test the market we wanted to enter.
7. Stretch your money. Pay yourself enough to get by, only after you've put the money in the right places for your business. If you weigh the risks properly and keep on building your sweat equity - you'll have the cash you need to cover those unexpected costs.
8. Don't be intimidated. It's easy to beat your self up when you realize maybe your math skills or business skills are rusty. You may compare yourself to other successful endeavors and find it hard to imagine you making it there yourself. Stop that now and re-read #4 and #5 above. You have a creative mind and just maybe that is what will set you apart from the rest.