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The Most Important Things I've Learned During My First Year as an Entrepreneur

Posted by Jennifer Colwell on

Entry Envy is celebrating our first anniversary this month. I'm pulling back the curtain on everything I've learned about being an entrepreneur after spending 20+ years in corporate. I'll share what it takes to wake up every day with the motivation to keep going. If you've ever thought about starting your own company or dreamed of taking your side hustle to a full-time gig, check out my Facebook Live replay on this topic a couple of weeks ago here

Don't build a business you don't want.

I know this sounds elementary, but I've thought about starting many companies in the past, including a law firm consulting practice, and I decided I didn't want to actually do that type of work every day. I am grateful that I have created a company I truly love because I eat, breathe and sleep with Entry Envy. Literally, I'm still operating out of my house! She is ever-present, no matter what. A meme floating around says, "I started my own company to leave a 9-5 job, and now I work 24/7." So true. 

Develop a viable, sustainable business model.

Figure that out before you start doing anything else. Make sure it can be profitable. Estimate how long it will take before it's profitable and where you will source cash. Then double that amount. 78% of all startups fail due to a lack of funding. As Paul Finck taught me, do not quit your day job until you've established proof of concept and know how to replace your income...but don't wait until you have, or you likely never will.

The Beginning

Entry Envy is a true grassroots startup, and I feel like a bit of an untraditional founder. My startup is not a fintech company, and I'm definitely not under the age of 30. Rather, I've had the advantage of 20 years of experience managing law firms, an executive MBA, and a vastly vast network of people. When I came up with the concept for Entry Envy, I knew I had a pretty good business plan and the knowledge to run a company. Still, I didn't know a thing about how to actually start a business. I recognized immediately that I wasn't capable of doing it on my own. People who know me well probably wouldn't believe that statement.

Define Business

I suppose I need to define "business." My number one Gallup Strength is Strategic. It means I start with the end goal in mind. My end goal was not to have a side hustle. My end goal was to build a successful company that I loved, supported my family, and would ensure future financial stability for retirement. I wanted to do this while beautifying as many entries as possible in the United States. Sometimes I wish I could "think small," but that's never been my thing.

I don't think there is enough of anything, including extensive education, corporate experience, strong mentors, or friends who own businesses, that could have mentally prepared me for the mental stamina that it would take to have the guts to launch a startup, quit my day job, and stay the course. Crazy hard.

First Steps

My first step was to hire a coach to help me launch Entry Envy. Amy Walker helped me with the basics, including giving my new company a name, securing a URL, creating a tagline, and helping me choose my logo. She also helped me learn to build an international team of resources and helping to select the right technology, sales, systems, and processes that I would need to create a solid foundation to run a successful company. I hired her in May 2021, and launched by October 1, 2021. Here's the rest of the story, what I've learned, and a little advice.

Don't go it alone.

Co-founders typically contribute monetarily to the company and/or sweat equity to own a percentage of it. Co-founders scare me. My mother's one and only business partner forty years ago burned her and almost took our family through bankruptcy. I don't remember the details, but I remember the stress in our home at that time, and there is no doubt early childhood experiences like that shape a person. My former spouse's business partnership breakup resulted in six years of litigation and more money than I wish to say lost. Talk about stress in a marriage. Working in the legal industry for nearly 20 years, I've witnessed clients lose millions of dollars and years of their life with business partnerships gone wrong. I've seen family feuds over successful businesses that cause irreparable damage. The legal field made me cynical. Let's just say I went into this as a solo entrepreneur, but that doesn't mean I had to do it alone, far from it.

Build a Rockstar Team

Build a team of people that you can work with, trust, and help you build the company. They don't have to be full-time, and they don't have to live in the United States. Be creatively resourceful. There are a lot of small business owners who say they can't afford to do hire. I would argue that you can't afford not to. You have to look at people as an investment in your company, like anything else. I have to buy products, and that's an investment. I need people, which is an investment to grow and deliver the products and five-star customer experience I want each of our customers to have. I can't do it alone. Hire your rockstar team. To grow, you need help, and you probably need it sooner than you think.

Go For It and Jump All In!

Reinventing myself over the age of 40 hasn't been easy, but we need to change our mentality that we are all retiring at the age of 65. I am not sure I ever see myself retiring. If I ever stop feeling like I have a purpose, am learning myself, teaching others, or adding value in some way, I know I'll age decades mentally and physically. I don't ever want to "be old." Martha Stewart signed her first contract for Martha Stewart Living Magazine when she was nearly 50. Vera Wang designed her first wedding dress at 40. Sam Walton founded Walmart at the age of 44. There are so many success stories, and I plan to add my name to that list!

Grit is a Real Thing.

The thick skin I developed working with lawyers for nearly 20 years has definitely helped my perseverance. I have been told "no" so many times in my career. I come up with ideas, rewrite them, and return to the table until I get a "yes." Starting a company is a lot like this. There are no mistakes or failures, only feedback. I listen, apply, and repeat daily. I have learned that the nimbleness of startups is nothing more than a survival skill!

Trust is the Ultimate Test.

Mindset is so much of success and TRUST has been an enormous learning exercise for me this year. The effort to trust myself, the process, the universe, God, and my support system is ongoing. I read a quote the other day that resonated: Spend your energy on faith, not fret.

Know Thyself.

I've always been a strong believer in personal growth and development. Leadership experts agree that the most critical characteristic of a successful leader is self-awareness. The only way to understand oneself is to study oneself. Just because you live in your own body does not mean you understand how your brain is wired and, more importantly, how it interacts with others and the world around you. Be aware of your behaviors under stress; what you need to stay mentally healthy; how to constantly operate at a "level 10," and when your brain works the best for specific tasks. This year the Enneagram helped me understand I am a "7" with a "wing 1." In English, that means I am an enthusiast of life and want to live each day better than the day before. No pressure.

Give 100%.

I am the hardest boss I've ever had. My expectations of myself are higher than anyone has ever had of me. This is not a new thing. It's hard to give myself time off during the day for a much-needed break to go to the gym or eat. With that said, I need to know that I gave it my all at the end of every day. I play everyday at a level 10.

Keep Going

Starting my own company from the ground up is far from sunshine and roses. Still, it's for sure the most rewarding experience I've ever had. I never want to wonder "what if" I had started a company. I don't know the end of my story yet, but I know I had to try, give it my all, and work my tail off to create my future. Thank you to everyone I am connected to on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and LinkedIn.

Whether I know you personally or not, each of you plays a role in my success. I am beyond grateful for all of my customers. I am equally grateful for every friend, professor, and former employer I have learned from. I am grateful for every employee who taught me to lead, strong mentors along the way, the supporting organizations I have been involved in, and the coaches. I am grateful for my daughters, who are my "why" and, most of all, my parents. I am here because of you. I will continue to rise and grind for you. Thank you for an amazing journey to be one year old, and I truly can't wait for the next trip around the sun.

Cheers!

Jennifer Lea Founder and CEO Entry Envy

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