Small Business Advice, Given by Amateurs
This go-round we delve into TALLstudio Architecture’s—the business amateurs— 10 most important aspects to starting and running a small business. We chose architecture and design, but the lessons below can be applied to any business or anything worth your time. These 10 have been hard fought lessons—believe us, some very dumb moments have been had-- that we can confidently explain to you now (check out #2… it is about “confidence”!). Come along for the ride if you dare… it is about to be Halloween so we had to add some ominously spooky language somewhere. No seriously though, stick around because there is some good stuff ahead.
Curiosity – It has yet to kill our cat
You must be infinitely curious about everything! This is a blanket statement for life, but here we’re talking specifically about business. Some choose to wake and replicate the day he or she had the day before. If this is your vision of a career, find a job working for someone else. Our idea of an entrepreneur lets curiosity and all of its wild and wonderful tangents direct the path. The idea that every part of your career has the potential to surprise and teach you something will fill your life with never ending inspiration.
Confidence – Even when you are scared shitless
1 – A stammering, sweaty salesman hocks his wares by bashfully explaining attributes that you could easily glean yourself.
2 – A healthy, charismatic rock-star has you hanging on to every word she says because she isn’t afraid of making mistakes and she knows you want what she is offering, even before she finishes her pitch.
You pick the winner.
Confidence doesn’t come easy, and the whole “picture the crowd in their underwear” thing has never worked, but what has worked is practice and research. Know your audience, know your material.
Frugality – Ballin’ on a budget
Frugality was never a word that was in the vocabulary for one of us (we’ll let you guess which one that was) and was ingrained in to the other (once again, you can surmise), but the act of keeping a small business up and running necessitates frugality. The idea of working and living lean was something that didn’t happen overnight, and something we know won’t be a necessity forever, but for the first 5 years or so of any business you have to prioritize. We do splurge on items that we can see a direct payoff: an office in a highly visible location, the latest software, research books, etc., but we stay lean on superfluous items, unless of course, they bring us joy. Then we must give in.
Money – You’re worth it
No client will ever pay you what you are worth unless you know your worth and you ask for it. This seems difficult, but it is much easier than you may think. Early on, maybe even today, we accepted less than we were/are worth. This was/is not the client’s fault because we agreed to accept the offer. If the client is frugal, it is his/her responsibility to get the best possible price. But, we could have easily turned down projects if the numbers were not comparable to our worth. Value is a strange concept, but if you demonstrate your invaluable qualities you can nearly demand whatever value you desire. In order to achieve this we have put some rules in place for ourselves that allow us to work on project that are desirable from a brand aspect, as well as a monetary aspect.
Evolve – Learn to change, or die
Everything is constantly changing into another state. Some things change much more slowly than others. Most rocks seem permanent in comparison to an ice cube however both are changing. Business, no matter what avenue you choose, is more like the ice cube. Very quickly a solid business (an ice cube) will lose stability when you turn up the heat—it can be as small as an argument or as big as financial ruination— and melting becomes evident or imminent. The goal is to remain solid at all costs. For ice, it is simple as stay below 32 degrees. For an entrepreneur, it involves carefully analyzing your past, while diligently making progress today that ensures you have a future. (For all scientists out there, sorry for our lousy evolution reference!)
Travel – This does not need explanation.
Give – If you can run a business, you can help someone in need
If by blood, sweat, caffeine, happenstance, or inheritance you own or run a business, congratulations! It is a wonderful feeling. However, if you have made “It”, you better lend a helping hand to others who might not be in the same lane as you. Join the board of a non-profit, volunteer to speak to college kids about your expertise, or give away turkeys during the holidays. From a selfish standpoint, you will be filled with a gratification that can’t be put into words. Also, hopefully, you will set an example for someone who might be in your situation later in life.
Speak – People want to hear what you have to say
Don’t think, like we have, that people do not want to hear your ideas. Poppycock! Choose who you are and what you want to do and proclaim to the world your thesis. After a few speeches-- the first few might be a little rough and most likely not in the most illustrious locales—you will have honed your message better than you could have imagined. Also, an added bonus is that you will be seen as an expert in your field. That is a feather worthy of your cap!
Humor – Laughter softens the stress
We laugh a lot. We also work our asses off designing great buildings often with difficult budgets. The two do not and should not be separate. The laughter helps ease tough conversations and encourages teamwork. The goal is to find humor instead of what seems like impending disaster. Sure, times will seem unbearable and harsh, but believe us, laughter helps those times. You can also do as we do and bring your weenie dog to work… laughter typically ensues.
Relationships – Cultivate them like your life depends on it
Grow your network in every direction. Professionally and personally get out of your comfort zone and talk to people you don’t know. Surprisingly, this will change your life. We have joined several groups over the years that initially might not have seemed fruitful, but we have made great friends and business associates that we call on weekly. Also, attend social events without the implicit goal of “making business connections”. First of all, your life needs more excitement, and second of all, almost nobody wants to hear you yammer on about useless business tidbits while socializing!