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Lessons from a New Small Business Owner

A cartoon image of a man sitting behind a desk that is piled with papers.
When the stress starts to pile up!

Hopefully this one won't be too long, but I wanted to share some things I've learned over the past couple of years, and especially as we really get into the first year of really running a small business.

See, I've more or less had a small business, in the form of an LLC, for about 2 years. I didn't actually do anything with it, and didn't really make any money, over the course of 2022 and 2023, but this year I wanted to change that.

After talking with my amazing business partner (who I also happen to be married to!), we decided to really take it serious and focus our energy into building something successful that we can call our own. After some thought and discussion, we branded ourselves "A Candle & A Story" and started planning for the summer and fall.

To this point we've only participated in one show, but we have several shows scheduled each month, with a few in the works and just waiting to be finalized. The biggest thing we've learned is that you have to be patient and learn as you go.

Our first event was a success, in that we turned a profit of ~$5. That's after taking out for materials and the cost of the space, and it's also being part of an event that really hadn't gotten the attention it deserved. Just about every single person that stopped by our booth was surprised there was anything going on that day, and they were more or less browsing for future visits.

The first few hours were incredibly slow, with only a few people meandering by and a single sale before lunchtime. The late afternoon was a bit busier, mostly due to the weather clearing up as it had been threatening rain most of the morning, with some drizzle getting the top of our canopy wet.

The next lesson we learned was that we need a few more things, like a wagon to carry things back and forth, sidewalls for the canopy (we used a blue tarp, and it looked a little rough), and some better table clothes. We've managed to rectify a couple of those things, and we'll be adding a wagon to our supplies in the near future.

One of the things that I think has helped us to this point is my utter determination to be as efficient as possible (without being insane about it), and the fact that I never deviated from my routine following Covid.

What I mean by that is that I've more or less followed the same routine when I was working from home after lockdowns started as I did when I went into an office. Get up, get a shower, get dressed, start the day. This has held true even after I was laid off in 2022, and I pride myself on keeping that routine.

The reason this is important is because the real lesson is that it takes a lot of drive and self-motivation to run a business. Someone who started working from home and took the chance to forego the morning shower, waking up 5 minutes before they had to clock in, wouldn't be able to do it.

Yeah, I know. Saying there are things some people just can't do is taboo. How dare I insinuate that starting and running a business isn't for everyone?

But that's the thing. It isn't for everyone. Especially when everything from making/designing the product, marketing, finance, planning and so much more is all on your shoulders. There are those things out there that pass themselves off as allowing anyone to be a "small business" owner, where you don't have those things on your shoulders, but those are more or less just sales positions by another name.

When I talk about owning a small business, I mean actually sacrificing your blood, sweat, tears, money and life to build something from the ground up. Figuring out the product, spending those late nights drinking coffee as you come up with names and make the things you're going to be selling. That's where you really find out if you've got what it takes.

Then there's the chance of failure. So many small businesses fail in the first couple of years for one reason or another. It's a really scary thought.

If it fails, it's all on you.

There are things you can do that will improve your chances. Things like learning as much as you can about business management, how to price products, how to determine your target market. You'd be surprised how much more you raise the probability of being successful with just a little extra knowledge.

And even if you are successful, be prepared for people to downplay it and pretend you were "handed" this. People outside don't see the effort and time that went into building your business. I spent 3 years on active duty in the Army and went to Iraq so I would have the GI Bill to pay for the schooling I've received to learn the things I know to this point about business management and marketing. I've been down in muddy pits, in 2 feet of ice water on a 30-degree day, spent 24+ hours on bridge calls troubleshooting major outages, lost time with my family, given up more than anyone knows just to get where I am.

And we're just getting started.

I'll be sharing more of this journey as I go, so stay tuned. I hope this is helpful to someone out there, and if it is let me know!

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