Starting a Business - 5 Things to Know

I'm so thankful for the years I worked with organizations, helping them maneuver over business obstacles like conflict resolution, change initiatives, and priority management because the many lessons I learned have come in handy in our baking business.

It's true that operating your own business has challenges, but I've noticed 5 hurdles that have been the biggest challenges to starting your own business.

1. Risk Criticism: Huge hurdle--but this is the necessary first step to start and grow your own business. Intellectually, we may know that we can't please everyone, but it's the emotional side that gets hurt when it happens.

Four years ago, after getting the required permits and certifications necessary for a Residential Bakery, it was scary to roll out our Facebook Page and let the public know that we were open for business. We risked criticism.

And everything we do--cake, cupcakes, etc--is to p-l-e-a-s-e the customer. That doubles down on the pain of criticism.

Of course, most of our customers are beyond nice. We truly think we're blessed with the best! But there were a few criticisms and the interesting thing is that you don't forget them.


a. If it's fair, it's a great opportunity to learn and improve.

b. If it's unfair, dismiss it as quickly as you can and move on.

One night a customer called to tell us she had purchased a vanilla cupcake and she just didn't like it - it wasn't dry, it wasn't too sweet/unsweet - she simply didn't like it and wanted her money back. Not going to hurts. We gave her money back and a free box of flavored cupcakes (not vanilla ones, lol).

Fair Criticism? (Not sure any other bakery would give money back simply because a customer didn't like their pastry).

Social Media makes a business even more vulnerable to criticism--both fair and unfair. So if you want to start a business, you have to gird your loins for the long haul. Criticism will happen, but it can never defeat you.

2. Have a Small Support Team: Yes, you are the owner, but you can never do it alone. You have to develop a personal board of directors whose opinions you respect, whose ideas and advice you trust and each of whom has useful skills. They are your goto team to help you make important decisions, determine direction for the business, etc. These also include individuals with whom you can rely on when others may let you down.

I feel fortunate to have a small--very small--impeccable board of directors. My husband, Ed, has had experiences in his career that have helped immensely in our journey. Not only does he take care of our logistics--permits, taxes, insurances, clearances--but also gives great advice and comfort when needed.

A couple years ago, we had a BIG IDEA--a cupcake vending machine. We knew Sprinkles had something similar, but we wanted something different. Our vending machine had to have a robotic arm for 'soft landing' with our delicate cupcakes, WIFI, refrigerated, portable, and beautiful LCD screen. After the Engineers at the University of Pittsburgh told us they couldn't build it, we literally searched the world.

All hands on deck! It took our (small) team of advisors to forge through obstacles--Skyping to different companies in different countries, researching possibilities, getting logistics to do business with a foreign country, and giving moral support to an impossible dream.

**Note: You canNOT have negativists around you. CANNOT. You will need to rely on your self-esteem to get you through downtimes in your business and to maintain your creative edge, so don't have someone around who continually tells you why it won't work.

3. Maintain Joy: Passion and joy are fundamentally necessary to start--and keep doing--in business. Overused, "Passion" sounds cliche, but this is the deep 'belief' that what you do is worthwhile.

If you can answer a resounding yes to three questions, you have it!

Do I like it?

Am I good at it?

Does the world need it?

Most days we like what we do. Most days we believe we are good at it. And we believe the world needs it...because while some may think we're 'simply baking', we make cakes and cupcakes envisioning the happiness on faces, the endearing moments of celebrating life, and intertwining relationships. Yes, we do!

You will need your passion to continue in business and a great test is your resilience--your bounce back ability. On the days when you are have no energy, feeling defeated, frustrated, a new day brings a renewed spirit and sense of hope. Creativity comes back, energy and excitement is restored.

**Your resilience gives you all you need to know about whether to start--and continue--in business.

4. Be practical: While you don't necessarily do it for the money because you love what you do, your sacrifice while being in business has to have a benefit, otherwise you are sacrificing other people's lives. To be an ongoing concern, you have to figure out how to be rewarded for all your work and sacrifice or you won't have a business.

The time--physical and emotional time--that it takes to be in business impacts every family member, and friends. There is only 24 hours in a day and success in business requires a commitment, devotion and prioritizing activities that create revenue for the business. It's a constant cost/benefit analysis to your time and amount of work.

We enjoy surprising people with a cake, cupcakes, or a treat. That's one of joys! It's a struggle to balance what we can do versus what we want to do.

You will disappoint other's expectations of what you should do. (See #1). While balance is important, your time is precious and you must be very discretionary as to who gets it.

**Take care of yourself first so that you can take care of your business. It's the old analogy that when the plane experiences hard turbulence, put your own oxygen mask on first and weather the criticism of what other's expectations are of what you should be doing.

Ultimately, you have to cost/benefit your sacrifice and to continue in business, you have to bring in an income.

5. Manage Your Ego: This is a big one! (no pun intended). Ego can diminish the quality of business and the people in it.. We all have an ego and while I work hard at managing mine, it can still take me in directions I regret, but I've become more aware of the decisions and why I make them.

The illusion of ego is that it can make us believe we're a good person because we pursue charitable acts, when oftentimes we want the recognition that comes with it;

The illusion is that you are "helping out" when in fact, you want the self-importance that comes from being involved.

Ego can make you be a jack of all trades, master of none.

Ego can make the priorities of others seem most important because of the attention you receive, all while neglecting your own real priorites

Ego can make your actions feel like selfless acts when indeed they can be the most selfish--searching for significance.

Ego can drive your "need to be somebody" to places that leave you with nothing in the end.

Most meetings are a great example of wasted time driven by ego. It holds people hostage to know-it-alls, superior thinkers, and lookie what I've done mouthpieces.

When you become the director of your own business, saying "no" to many outside offers will be your best skill and enable you to stay focused on the most important activities for your business.

One last thought--life goes by fast and life turns on a dime. It's time to act on your dreams with no fear...and begin your journey to an exciting business venture. You will learn so many life lessons and mostly, you learn about yourself.

Ellan Toothman


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