Hey guys! Karen Greenoe here! In today’s episode, I am going to share with you the top five pieces of advice I’ve ever received as an entrepreneur. I am constantly in a state of learning and some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten have been from unsuspecting sources. Some have been from business leaders at the top of their industry with years and years of experience under their belts. Some have simply been from friends and family who are far enough removed from my process and, lets be honest, problems, that they can see a solution easier than I ever could. But no matter the source, it is those moments that stop you in your tracks and make you reevaluate how you are operating your business. Those moments can change everything.
The truth is, when you are building a business, you never stop learning. And that is how you grow! I think Chip Wilson, the founder of Lululemon, put it best in his interview with Guy Roz of NPR’s How I Built This. He said that starting and building a business was like earning a ten year long MBA. Chip, I couldn’t agree more! Learning by doing and being open to knowledge all around me is how I’ve been successful. I am always striving to keep learning and to keep growing. There is always a better way and changes to be made.
Before we dive in, I want to give a shout out to Audible for making this episode possible. Audible lets me make the best of every second of my commute to and from the office every day. Its like having unlimited access to the world’s best business coaches in my earbuds! I just finished listening to Marie Forleo’s new book Everything is Figuroutable and it was pure motivational gold! In fact, in a few weeks from now, I’m going to do an episode all about what I learned from Marie’s book. You won’t want to miss it! To get your free trial of Audible, go to karengreenoe.com/audible.
Alright, let’s jump right in!
Tip number one: Treat it like a full-time job.
This little gem that was gifted to me by my dear uncle Don who is one of only two entrepreneurs in my family. He and I sat down for dinner very soon after I graduated from college and when I was trying my hand at wedding planning. If you heard my very first episode of this podcast, you know that the adventures of wedding planning were not for me! However, it did instill in me the love of the wedding industry and a desire to be a part of it. At the time, what my uncle meant by his sage wisdom was that in order to make an entrepreneurial dream succeed, you have to put in the time. You have to be there in the trenches at least as many hours as you’d spend at a full time job. There are very few, if any, true examples of an overnight success. It is very tempting to only work part time or take breaks in the middle of the day, but if you are all in as an entrepreneur, you have to put in the time. There is no substitute for hard work and getting your hands dirty.
I think about this piece of advice now, over 15 years later, when I find myself getting caught up in the Comparison Game. You know, that really icky game you play with yourself on social media where there are no true winners? You find yourself saying “oh man, they have 50,000 followers and I only have 1,000!” or “geeze, I cannot believe they got that opportunity and I didn’t!” But you know what? Social Media is a highlight real. Very rarely do we see the hard work that went into these success stories. I always like to remind myself of the iceberg meme that’s been all over the internet lately. Above the water sits the tiny little iceberg of success while underneath is a huuuuuuge block of ice made up of your sleepless nights, starts and stops, rejection, small victories, persistence and hard work.
I’ll also say that this piece of advice strikes me in a completely different way now that I am over a decade into small business ownership. To me, “treat it like a full time job” means that I am not expected to work around the clock. I’m not expected to burn the candles on both ends. I’m not expected to miss out on family time just to put in a few more hours at the office. No boss, or at least not any boss I would care to work for, would take away your vacation time, make you miss your kids dance recital or require you to stay up until midnight every night working. Treating my business as a full time job now means that I have clearer boundaries between working time and personal time. Yes, sometimes I have to write an email after I put the girls to bed. Yes, sometimes I talk about work at social gatherings (mostly because people ask, not because I bring it up!). But I am very aware that when working time is over, it needs to be over. My family, my relationships and my health are too valuable to ignore.
This next piece of advice comes from my friend and world renowned photographer, Critsey Rowe. Only a year or two into my business, I ran into Critsey at an industry networking event. We struck up a conversation about our workload for the season and I proudly shared with her that I had over 50 weddings booked for that year already! Her eyes nearly popped out of her head! Now, granted, 50 events for a floral designer and 50 events for a photographer are two completely different animals. While I could easily design two smaller weddings by myself and deliver them in the back of my Hyundai Sante Fe in a couple of trips back and forth, the thoughts of double header weekends to a photographer was exhausting. When her shock subsided, Critsey gave me a knowing smile and started shaking her head. I was quite confused. She looked at me and said “Karen, on average, what percentage of people who inquire with your company end up booking?” I, again proudly, stated that my booking average was about 90%! Again, she shook her head and calmly said “Karen, you realize that’s a bad thing, right? With a booking average that high, it means you’re the best deal in town.”
Ouch. That one stung.
She went on to ask me if I was happy doing that many events. The truth was, I did find myself running in 20 different directions on any given day. The clients I was booking weren’t necessarily the best fit for my company. I was underpricing myself just to get the business and build my portfolio. As a result, I was booking a ton of work, but it wasn’t quality work. At the time, I was a soloprenuer and by taking on that many clients and that much work, I was burning myself out. I wasn’t taking care of my clients the way I wanted to. And I was exhausted. All. the. Time.
After this conversation, I reevaluated my pricing. I saw that even though the numbers LOOKED good, I was putting in so many hours to keep it all afloat that I actually wasn’t even profitable. When I broke down what I was actually earning per hour, it was not sustainable and definitely would not support my family long term. By raising my prices just a smidge and really honing in on my ideal client, I was able to cut my client load drastically while increasing my bottom line. I also had a much higher level of job satisfaction because I’d broken out of the “rinse and repeat” design and was actually able to flex my creative muscles. Win win!
Number three comes from the insanely talented floral designer, Karen Tran. I’ve had the opportunity twice now to attend Karen’s master classes in floral design, once in New Orleans and the other at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. On the last day of the New Orleans class, we were talking about how to attract your ideal client. If you refer back to point #2, I never really had a problem getting people in my door, my problem was getting the RIGHT people in my door. After taking a quick scroll through my Instagram feed, which was very new at the time, Karen looked me square in the eye and said “If you try to be everything to everyone, you won’t end up being anything to anyone.”
Oooof. Another ouch.
But she was exactly right! I’d been so concerned with posting to social media every single day that I was throwing up any and all images of work I’d done. It didn’t matter if it was a design I loved or hated. It didn’t matter if the lighting was good or the picture was a little dark and low quality. It didn’t matter that it was a design I wanted to repeat or something that would make me want to burn the building down if anyone asked for it again.
She went on to say that the best thing we can do for ourselves as creatives is to show the world more of the work we WANT to do, not necessarily everything we’ve done. Show what you want to be known for in the future, not necessarily everything you’ve done in the past.
You’d better believe I went on to completely revamp the galleries on my website and changed up my Insta-game after that conversation!
Another thing I changed after that conversation was to really hone in on prequalifying potential clients before sitting down for a meeting. It used to be that I was so excited about each and every potential client that I wasn’t making sure we’d be a good fit for each other before we both invested the time in meeting. And it wasn’t just on my end! Each client I’d meet with would have to take time off of work, drive to my office, spend an hour or two with me before potentially discovering that we were not a good fit. Now, before booking an appointment, I’d ask questions, look at their inspiration and really get to know them a little bit more. By doing this, I was able to tell if they would be a good fit for our company. This saved time and energy in sales meetings and insured that we were focusing our attention on the clients we could best serve.
This next piece of advice I’ve heard from several sources but the first place I ever heard it was from the marketing guru and online educator, Jenna Kutcher. In fact, Jenna is the one that lit the fire under my butt to start this podcast! So a big thank you shout out to you! Jenna says that busy is not a badge of honor. This one hit me square in between the eyes and caused a total mindset shift for me. I had been so focused on filling every minute of every day with business related tasks that I lost sight of whether or not those jobs actually moved me forward. I was busy for the sake of busy. When people would ask me “how have you been, Karen?” my default answer was always “busy!”
But let’s face it, busy is NOT a synonym for productive! In fact, they are often complete opposites! How often have you had a day that is so busy but at the end of it, you couldn’t say with certainty what you did that kept you busy all day. Or if those activities amounted to a hill of beans in the broad scheme of things!
So I changed my mindset. Busy was now a four letter word. It would no longer be my baseline. I would take a few minutes at the beginning of the day to plan instead of plunging into my day like a spastic octapus with my arms flailing everywhere. Busy isn’t worth it. And it doesn’t amount to much. When you’re busy, you tend to rush. You make stupid mistakes. You make simple math errors that make a big difference. You forget to return an important phone call. You forget to pick up your drycleaning. Let’s be honest, a busy mindset will get you nowhere.
When people now ask the obligatory “how have you been Karen?” I now answer “Great! My girls are crazy, but they keep me entertained! Work is wild but it keeps me off the streets!” That last one usually elicits a little laughter, at least! I’m working on eliminating “busy” from my vocabulary and my life in general. Focused productivity is the only way to fly!
For my last piece of advice to share with you today, I will be honest, I have absolutely no clue where I first heard it, But I’ve clung tightly to through my entire journey in my career and my life in general. And that is to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.
To me, this has multiple applications. The first is that you should never be too proud to learn something new. No matter where you are, no matter who you are with, you can always learn something. The second is that nobody is expected to have all of the answers, except for maybe Alexa and Siri, but they are even stumped sometimes. You aren’t meant to fill all of the roles in your business either just because you are the leader of the team. And, even if you are a solopreneur, you can still draw support from experts to fill in the gaps in your knowledge and understanding.
I will be the first to admit that sometimes my stubbornness takes over and I grumble to myself that I can figure it out on my own. But that is not always the best way! Not too long ago, I spent the better part of an afternoon watching YouTube videos on how to create a pop up opt in on my website. Although the instructions were clear and eventually made sense to me, I had to watch the video multiple times in order to get everything right. And you know what? It’s still not perfect! In retrospect, I probably should have found an expert, or at least someone with a skill set a few steps above mine, that I could pay to knock this task out in a fraction of the time. How much more could I have accomplished in that afternoon by working in my genius zone and farming out something I didn’t know the first thing about! But retrospect is always 20/20!
I really do believe that you and your business will be made better by aligning yourself with experts. For example, I’ve had a CPA for my business from the start. Finances and taxes, specifically, was not something I was willing to screw up. My first CPA ended up retiring but I’ve been working with my current CPA for the past seven years. When he and I first sat down, he was asking me all of the expected business questions. But then he asked one that surprised me. He said “Karen, why is your business categorized as retail?” I furrowed my brow, looked confused and said something super graceful like “Uhhh, cause we sell flowers?” I really am good at giving oversimplified and often times rather dumb answers to questions that I don’t acutally understand. Its an amusing character flaw. He saw my confusion, smiled knowingly and said “Well, technically, you are in manufacturing. You are not taking a product and then turning around and selling it as is. You are taking a raw product and with tools and expertise, you are adding value to it and selling it at a higher rate. And that is a pretty basic definition of manufacturing. And did you know that there are tax incentives in the state of North Carolina for manufacturing?” My eyes were about the size of saucers. Who knew! By this one simple change, which I may have never known about without aligning myself with an expert, I saved thousands, just in that first year, on my company taxes!
The moral of the story: never be afraid to keep learning and incorporate that new information into your life and business.
So, to recap, let’s go over those five pieces of advice one more time:
1. Treat it like a full time job. Put in the hours and the hard work, but also give yourself time to rest and recharge. Take PTO seriously.
2. Having a flood of client work can sometimes mean you are the best deal in town and can lead to burnout.
3. If you try to be everything to everyone, you won’t end up being anything to anyone. Hone in on what you want to be known for and make that your marketing presence.
4. Busy is NOT a badge of honor and is certainly not a synonym for productivity.
5. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. Never stop learning and do not be afraid to ask the experts for help.
There you have it! My top five pieces of advice for entrepreneurs as we navigate the wild ride that is small business ownership. I hope this has inspired you to keep learning and growing in your life and your business! And of course, I encourage you to always keep an open mind and an open heart. You never know where you’ll pick up your next “ah ha” moment. I cannot wait to hear about yours!
October 17, 2019