Tales Of A 20-Year Old Business Owner
From 0-100 and back again.
Beware, if you read this article you may uncover some brutal truths regarding running a business out of home. However, with the current global situation forcing us to spend more time indoors, this could be the best time to take a swing at that side hustle business you’ve been dreaming about for who knows how long… At least that’s what I did. So, on January 23rd, 2017, at the ripe-old age of 20, I took the plunge and started my own business from home. Here’s how it went down.
Picture this, you’ve been involved in a niche industry for eight years, working the odd job throughout and barely getting by, but you’re young and careless…so no harm done, right? And then one day you get out of bed and everything becomes apparent – the system is broken. You sit down at your desk and put pen to paper and identify the problems you’re sure you could fix. You spend all day strategising, have dinner, go out that night and voice your opinions with friends involved in the same industry, but some of them shut you down. You return home (from what was admittedly a rather large night out), wrecked and unmotivated and you put the ideas and strategies to bed (as well as yourself).
A year down the track and everything has remained the same. But this time, you wake up again one morning and something tells you to go for it. And then comes the hardest question you have to ask yourself “How do I even start this whole thing?”.
I found it liberating to find three friends who believed in my idea, backed me and wanted in on the concept. Once I had them on my side, the next thing I knew we needed that was crucial to any start-up: CAPITAL. After all, you need money, money talks, and the more you have the louder you can be. Luckily, my parents bought in as “silent investors”, a good friend involved in the same industry bought in, and I had another “silent investor” interested as well. We were on our way.
Implementing and executing strategy is the next most difficult thing you have to do. You have to ask yourself what will set you apart from other industry big shots, what will your brand/company do that is SO different from the others that people will notice you, and lastly you have to settle with yourself that things will no doubt be slow and tedious in the beginning…so it’s probably best to keep your day job. This means you’re going to lose sleep executing your strategy…so get comfortable with that idea, too.
I have to be honest, inserting my brand into a small niche industry, was definitely the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. At the time, the industry was dominated here in Australia by two major players and to squeeze in and gain some market-share took time. I was working with seven individual international companies who had yet to market their product in Australia and I knew of an eighth brand who was already working with a different big player of the industry. So, the solution to me was simple. If I could obtain the eighth brand and take it from the big player, then people would know we were here, and we meant business.
The acquisition of the brand took months, countless sleepless nights and a lot of discussion about what we could offer over the other company. In the end, they bit down, and we had them secured, hook-line-and-sinker. We moved onwards for a while and successfully developed a small team to assist us in daily operations, but I was still effectively running the company solo, behind-the-scenes. There’s another key lesson – which is also a very difficult pill to swallow when owning your own business – and that is that you need to learn that not everyone will share the same amount of passion as you do. And that’s okay, but it just means that you have to work even harder on the daily grind make sure all ends meet.
At the end of the day, it’s a rocky road to success, and most of us know this just from how often it’s said. All the horror stories you hear of a business’s downfall are probably true – it’s not easy and the path to actual success is scary. For me, my biggest downfall was initial capital investment, with only $12.5k to use against the big shots who were operating with $100k+ meant that every time we bought stock, it had to be well thought-out and targeted. Every. Single. Time. Ultimately, we went all-in on an order that our investors thought was the right thing to do. We ended up sitting on this stock for six months without being able to move it, which in the end, wrote us off.
The particular niche industry I was in, meant that fads and trends rolled in quicker than you could ever imagine. Forget ‘seasonal’ trends, things would change fortnightly. If I could go back to the beginning, I would’ve waited a little longer and found another large investor to get myself to about $50k, so I could’ve acquired a broader range of stock to float some of the stuff that wasn’t moving very quickly. I feel that having a broad range of stock can protect your business (in a way), as you can somewhat begin to dictate trends with your marketing strategy if you ever need to rotate stock. In the end, through all the lessons and downfalls, I honestly wouldn’t change a thing. I loved being a business owner, and hope to be one again sometime in the future.
Some important takeaways if you are considering building your own “at home” business:
- Be prepared to spend the first 12 months taking no money out of the business and therefore, no personal salary.
- Find a dedicated and equally passionate partner who can bring their own skills to the table.
- Go slow. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
- You’re going to lose sleep, lots of it probably, especially if you maintain a full-time 9-5 job as well.
- You have to spend money to make money, don’t be afraid of watching the bank account go backwards.
- Take no prisoners, nothing is personal, it’s all business. Resist employing friends, unless you’re ready to lose those friends too.