On Sunday morning, I had the pleasure of taking part in the CRAVE Business Chat: Local Inspiration alongside Sheryl Stewart, Kami Gray and Sandra Colton at Little Urbanites in Portland.
For two hours, we shared our stories with the audience and answered questions about entrepreneurship. CRAVE did a great job of picking an intriguingly diverse cast of speakers. Sheryl Stewart is a local radio personality on 105.1 The Buzz, Kami Gray is a TV / film wardrobe stylist, professional image consultant and author while Sandra Colton is a well known professional dancer, singer and author. Once we began talking, it became apparent that although each of us has taken markedly different career paths, the one thing that tied us together is a sense of passion for what we do.
What I found especially helpful about the CRAVE chat is that each panelist explained how they got started in their respective industries. Often times, when we meet someone and see them for what they are in the present tense, we are left wondering how they achieved their level of success. The women were open and completely willing to share their experiences, both good and bad. The general consensus was that each has put in years of hard work and drilled down their focus to a specific niche. Though highly accomplished in their respective fields now, it was refreshing to hear that none of the panelists were overnight successes. And, some had previous careers that bear no direct relation to their businesses now.
Sometimes, professional networking events can gloss over the hard work it took someone to get where they are and simply refer to a larger-than-life bio of accomplishments. All of the CRAVE ladies kept it real, answered every audience question and even admitted that the balance between work and family is as tough as it seems.
We all noted that while it’s okay to have multiple interests, there still needs to be a commonality that pulls them together into a more defined niche. For instance, though I blog, it is often about design and marketing; the focus tends to revolve around my interests and lifestyle. If you try to cover too many areas and be too many things to too many people, chances are that you will spread yourself too thin and lack a general direction.
To promote their careers, each of the panelists has taken an increased interest in social media to promote their businesses and most of the questions I answered pertained to this topic. I was lucky that I got an early start with blogging (back in 2001) and many of the people I befriended during those years later became influencers in their niches. When I began blogging full-time in 2007, I was still in school and also interning at an ad agency. I didn’t wait until my image or theme were perfect; I didn’t wait until I had more free time; I just jumped in. As time progressed, I was able to drill down to specific topics, columns and content that I wanted pursue. Just like everything, blogging is a natural progression. Online content is constantly shifting and changing. My advice to a few of the audience members was to get started as soon as possible; you can always make refinements as you go.
Entrepreneurship is amazing because it’s completely open-ended. It’s up to you to dream up an idea for your business, to define boundaries, to develop a name and to set your sights on the customer base you’d like to target. Sure, there are general guidelines that you may want to follow, but beyond that, the sky’s the limit. This is precisely what makes entrepreneurship so exciting….and scary.
As a start-up, it’s okay to not throw yourself 100% into your business right away. The reality is that most of us don’t have the means to survive off of what we do immediately. It takes time to build a brand and it’s not fun to be stressed out over money while you’re getting up and running. A local jewelry designer shared her story about how she also keeps another, more stable job while she is building and expanding her business. For many years, I worked jobs completely unrelated to design while in school and interned at an agency before I really took what I did and turned it into a full-time gig.
Some people have a seemingly unlimited pool of luck and talent and their businesses take off right away. I am a little bit more structured and ‘old school’ in my approach; I’ve always felt that slow and steady wins the race. Take your time, define your focus and don’t expect immediate success. Build your business to last.
CRAVE has made me realize how many inspiring women (and men) are out there making their dreams a reality. It’s not easy, but you can do it all. It is possible to have a career, relationship / family and a house. Sure, there are times when your work & life balance will be totally out of whack, but the people who love you and are really looking out for your well being will do their best to be patient and supportive.
In the last year, one of my primary goals has been to work on this balance and in the process, I’ve grown closer with my core support system. The people that couldn’t handle the long hours and sometimes stressful situations have left my life and the ones that believed in what I am doing have filled in the gaps. You can’t just turn off your dreams. If you believe in what you’re doing and share that vision with the world, eventually that energy will come back to you.
In the meet and greet afterwards, I noticed that almost all of the attendees had brought along business cards. Some people claim that they’re so last century but I cannot stress the importance of business cards enough. From an entrepreneurial perspective, my first ever freelance job came to me after I handed a photographer my card in a New York club. The magazine I designed for him helped me get one of my next jobs. On Sunday, as we all exchanged cards, I ended up with the contact information of many local business owners and students, some of which have services and products that I may very well seek out in the future.
I’d also like to point out that the power of face-to face networking is still very much alive and important in this digitally obsessed society. Many of the business owners in the audience claimed that they’ve made some of their biggest sales and built repertoires by simply walking around their neighborhoods and introducing themselves. You never know who you’re going to meet. People have walked into my living room and changed my life. It’s really amazing how simply opening yourself up and putting yourself out into the world can cause a total shift in your life.
Entrepreneurship is about more than just being your own boss. It’s about getting to do what you love every day. As Sandra Colton noted, everyone has a unique talent and outlook. Anyone can do anything they want. The defining difference is that some people dream and plan while other people actually go out and make those dreams a reality. As an entrepreneur, hard work and long hours are inevitable in the beginning. But when you’re truly passionate about what you’re doing, it doesn’t seem like work at all.