New small business owners make a lot of mistakes as they learn their way around their new venture, their location, the clientele they serve (or hope to serve), who their competitors are and if they are powerful enough to squeeze them out of the market. Millennials and young Gen Xers were likely raised by parents who worked in the same job for decades, collected a pension, and stayed at said job even if better offers came along for fear of losing benefits or having to roll over 401(k)s. Because of this, today’s young business owners are sometimes running on cerebral “software” handed down from mom and dad rather than jumping into the mix and trusting their intuition. Deciding to open your own business can be so scary it’s actually nauseating, but then there’s that part of the young impresario that doesn’t just want to open a business—s/he can’t shake the feeling that she simply must do it or die trying.
There are two central forces at play here, battling it out within the green entrepreneur. The first is that feeling, “I don’t know what I am doing; I should just stop and go back to work for [insert major mogul name here].” And then there’s the true voice—the voice of the progressive capitalist, which is precisely what has made small businesses the backbone of the global economy—the voice that says, “I’m doing this even if it means I never sleep again and all I ever drink again is coffee.” Not that the latter voice is the voice of healthy lifestyle habits, but for those early days, something’s got to give. But one thing is certain regardless of whether you decide to hydrate and eat supplements all day or grind it out at the yoga studio: today’s young startups have to understand that more than ever before, industries can turn on a dime; if your little engine that could doesn’t have a backup plan for getting up that hill, you better think of one fast, learn to evolve overnight if you have to, or lose your shirt.
All of this means you’ll have to learn more than just how to please customers, how to effectively price your goods and/or services, and how to brand yourself online and off. It means you will in effect have to learn to trust that little voice in your head when it says things like, “I know you love the look of this retail space, but something is off here.” Listen to that voice. There’s a reason it is there and it’s sending you messages. If you don’t listen to the message now and rent that space, a few months from now when earnings are in the basement and you realize all the foot traffic in your demographic is just one block over, you’ll remember that voice and wish you had done enough yoga to be able to kick yourself in the rear.
Beyond that, you must learn the hustle. Not the dance, although it definitely requires plenty of pirouettes and all kinds of financial and intellectual acrobatics and choreography. Learning the hustle isn’t about overpricing your goods, it’s about knowing before you get to the big game how to manage money and people, how to problem solve, and how to diffuse all the proverbial bombs so commonplace in the world of small businesses, including paying the staff on time even when the till is dry, and which kind of loan to accept based on a lot more than just APR.
The successful business owner will be flexible and fluid, and know when and how to change how they play the game to become a game changer. Case in point: look at the few small food companies creating a zag while others zig: instead of making the worn out “gluten-free” promise, they’re making the additional effort to get USDA organic certified, because after market research, they understand Americans care more about getting GMOs out of their diet—wheat is not the new black exactly, but organic wheat—now we’re talking.
For newbies to the world of turning dreams into capital, the name of the game is to know what you have in the bank, know your staff and how they work together better than they do, and trust your gut whether it says, “Fire Jason,” or it exclaims, “Put courier bags in the display window right now!” The only way you’ll stay in the driver’s seat is by listening to your internal GPS.