Lessons Learned

We had a startling revelation recently:  two years have passed since we made the decision to start our business!  It’s like watching your child grow up and realizing how fast time is moving.  We thought we’d capture our biggest surprises, learnings, and lessons over the past two years in the hope that it helps you with what you’re working on or thinking of starting.  

Hers

It's hard to believe that we decided to start Spoonful Apparel (nee Hands & Feet) two years ago.  Some days it feels like a lifetime ago, while others it seems like yesterday.  During these past two years, I've experienced moments of overwhelming joy, pride, and validation, along with moments of self-doubt, fear, and tears.  Today I'd like to reflect on some things I've learned as a business owner and accidental entrepreneur.

Is it a hobby or a business?

By June 2018, we'd gotten past the point of proof of concept and had started to grow a customer fan base.  However, we were very much still running the business from a reactive standpoint rather than being proactive (read operating and executing from a business plan).   It was at that point that I knew I needed to start treating Spoonful as a business and not a hobby.

The first decision I made was to resign from my position as a preschool assistant. The second and equally important decision was to implement some structure to our business.  Enter EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System).  Implementing and using EOS has been incredibly valuable to our business.  We are now making decisions based on 1, 2 & 5-year goals and key metrics.   We are creating intentional to-do’s rather than wasting time on tasks that don't move the business forward.

If I'm completely honest, there are still days where my head spins, but they aren't as frequent as there were a year ago.  

Protect your calendar

I consider myself organized and disciplined when it comes to being the CEO of the Elwer house.  However, when it comes to running a business, it’s a slightly different story (cue the sad trombone - waah, waah).  I believe in the power of positive talk and daily affirmations, but try as I might, no amount of positive self-talk has been able to make me more organized. (insert shoulder shrug emoji).  Recently, I decided to take a more proactive approach (see what I did there?) and signed up for a workshop called Schedule for Sustainable Success presented by Rebecca Gebhardt.  My top 3 takeaways from the workshop were:

  1. Take time to plan your week out in advance
  2. Identify the top 3 non-negotiable tasks for the week and block time throughout the week to get them done
  3. Schedule your most important work during the times in the day when you have the most energy

The idea of "time blocking" really hit home for me.  I've come to find that I'm easily distracted and I need to block off uninterrupted time to be most productive.  Once you have these times blocked off, protect them, and be OK saying no to things that will take away from your most productive time.  With summer coming, and the kids being home all day, this will be my saving grace.

Take time to celebrate!

We've had some notable successes in our business over the two years - from partnering with Hunger Solutions on WTEH shirts after just three months of starting our business, being asked to participate in cycle one of Rose & Loon and creating over 66,000 meals for kids in our community and across the United States.  But rarely have we taken the time to celebrate these moments outside of posting on Instagram & Facebook.

Taking time to pause and celebrate is important because it allows us to appreciate the hard work that we've put into this business while at the same time capturing the formula for these successes in order to recreate them in the future. 

His

Persistence is everything

The most important lesson that I’ve learned over the past two years is the power of persistence.  I strongly believe it’s responsible for 90%+ of the business results we’ve seen to date.

There are several common questions that I believe most people ask themselves when embarking on something new.  I know this because Susan and I spent almost 6 months asking ourselves these questions:

  • “Can I do it?”  
  • “Should I do it?”
  • “Am I smart enough?”
  • “Do I know enough people who can help me?”  
  • “Can I afford it”

The most important learning for me over the past two years comes from having to answer an entirely different question:  “Do I really want it?”

  • Do I really want to make 10 new contacts today to build new relationships?
  • Do I really want to sit down and hammer out the operational and financial updates on the weekly scorecard?
  • Do I really want to invest in an outside expert to help us think through the future of our business?

The first set of questions really only address my ability and intellect.  While those things are important, they can’t hold a candle to desire.  Do I want to push the business further today than where we left it yesterday, and am I willing to show up tomorrow and do it again? And again the next day?  And the next?

It’s no surprise that when I do make an effort to make 10 new contacts, new relationships always show up.  When I do sit down and hammer out the weekly operational and financial update, we gain insight into the business that guides where we might go next.  When we consult with people who are more experienced than us, it’s like we hit the fast-forward button on the business remote and speed through things that would have otherwise cost us both time and money.

If you’re thinking of starting something new, chances are you know enough to get things rolling and you’ve likely answered the “Can I?” questions above.  I would encourage you to sit with the more powerful (and clarifying) question of: “Do I REALLY want it?”

The loneliness is real

The biggest surprise for me in starting our own business has been this:  it can be really lonely.

I’m a social creature that receives most of my energy through engaging with others.  The various personality assessments I’ve taken are remarkably consistent in highlighting one particular aspect of my personality and work style: “Eric gets a lot of enjoyment from the social aspects of work”.  I think this is the adult version of “Eric works well with others but talks a lot in class” that used to show up on my report card.

 

I thrive when I’m in contact with others - collaborating, visioning, problem-solving - and I’m highly resourceful.  Both professionally and personally, this is when I’m at my best.

As I was leaving the corporate world three and a half years ago I was excited about all of the freedom I was about to have - no more weekly meetings, quarterly business reviews, 1:1’s, etc.  What I didn’t know is there’s a trade-off you make when you accept the gift of freedom that comes with doing your own thing - you’re on your own.  Doing your own thing is truly doing YOUR OWN thing.  

The insight I’ve gained is that I need to be really intentional about scheduling time to be around others, which I never really had to think about before now (on account of the weekly meetings, 1:1’s, etc).  As Susan can attest, I’m definitely not my best self after sitting in front of my laptop and confining myself to the house for a month straight.

My encouragement to you (particularly the extroverted, relationship-oriented, “talkers” in the group) is to be intentional about carving out time on our calendars to stay connected.  The risk, as I’ve come to experience, is that without it you can lose the connection to your best self.