“I have this great idea — I just need to do it!” As I’ve traveled across the country the past few weeks, sharing the stories of the inspiring, successful food entrepreneurs from my book “Cooking Up a Business,” that’s the statement I hear over and over again from aspiring entrepreneurs. I understand where they’re coming from — sometimes it can seem insurmountable to transform an idea into a business. But a few mindset “resolutions” can help you gear up, take the leap and, ultimately, be more successful.
I know from firsthand experience: In 2013, I was so inspired by the amazing founders I interviewed for my book that I started my own business, guesterly, which lets users create a custom playbill for any event — and I’ve turned to these resolutions as touchstones time and again. If 2014 is going to be your year — and I’m going to challenge you to make it your year — then these big, mindset-changing resolutions will be your path forward. And while there are the more obvious milestones you’ll want to check off your list too (forming a business entity, opening a bank account, creating a website, etc.), I’ve found that adopting big-picture resolutions first creates far-reaching and life-changing returns. Go forth!
1. Say it out loud. If you want to start a business next year, one of the most important things you can do is to get your business idea out of your head, out of the future tense and into the real and now. Tell friends, family, your journal, your Twitter followers, your Facebook community — anyone and everyone! — that you’re starting something next year and include a date.
As simple as saying, “I’m launching something big on March 5!” having a date is important: It both holds your feet to the fire and incentivizes anyone you have working with you. And if the date is ambitious but doable, so much the better. Maybe you’ll have to push it back a bit, but you’ll already be closer to launching than if you’d never set a date at all.
2. Focus on earning more, not just saving more. If you’re thinking of bootstrapping your business (and let’s be honest, at this early stage, you probably have no other choice), you might start thinking in terms of extreme savings and doing everything yourself. You’re free, right?! Not so fast: While you should never underestimate the power of how much you can do yourself, also realize that there is an opportunity price on your time. If you can pay someone else to do it for a reasonable price, is it worth your time?
Focus your own energy on the tasks that can move your business forward (like fundraising or building your team) and outsource the rest (particularly the stuff you don’t love doing). For example, save yourself an hour a week by ordering groceries from a delivery service, or outsource some of your coding offshore to earn back 10 hours a week.
3. Create your startup network. You probably already have a network that you don’t even think of as a “network” — whether it’s college friends, colleagues or industry acquaintances. But you’re going to want to know more people who are in the “startup world” who you can turn to for advice, word-on-the-street buzz, partnerships, funding, introductions and, most importantly, support and camaraderie.
Sound scary? It’s not if you start small: First, who can your existing network introduce you to? Ask your friends and colleagues — maybe their former colleague started a biz and you can take her out for coffee. Second, get yourself to startup-focused events. (Find listings at places like Gary’s Guide, The Fetch and Startup Digest.) You’ll have to put yourself out there for the first few, but gradually you’ll begin to make contacts and friends who are as passionate about entrepreneurship as you are. Finally, look into joining a cohort like the Startup Leadership Program or Founder’s Network or an industry group like Naturally Boulder — places where you can connect with a group of early-stage entrepreneurs and peers who will offer support and guidance.
4. Streamline your social calendar. For the next six to 12 months, your biggest priority is starting your business — and that means that your social life is going to have to take a backseat. While I’m not advocating canceling on friends, I do suggest RSVPing “no” much (much) more often going forward. You’ll be working long hours — sorry, it’s the truth — but you’ll also have a more unexpected and volatile schedule. When you’re in charge, you’re the one staying late to make sure something ships on time, and that startup stress is compounded when you’re also feeling guilty about canceling plans. One of the successful founders I interviewed said he didn’t go home for any holidays or attend a single wedding for the first two years! But if you share your dream with your family and friends, you’ll find that most are supportive.
My favorite strategy: Pick one or two things that help keep you sane and connect you to your most loyal, non-startup world supporters (for me, it’s a weekly run with my best friend and a dinner with my girlfriends every other month) and say no to everything else that doesn’t help you grow the business. But once you do say yes to something, consider it set in stone.
5. Invest in a few items that will make your work life more productive: a laptop that doesn’t slow you down, a big-screen monitor so you can work more efficiently, a desk and chair that you can use as your go-to spot. How many of us sit on the couch and work on tiny laptops? An employer would never ask you to do that (they want to maximize your time so you’re most productive!) so don’t ask yourself to. One of the best things I ever did was buy a $300 refurbished monitor, which took my workspace from 11 inches to 27 inches. Other nice-to-haves: a whiteboard, notebooks you love to write in and accordion folders to hold all of your new paperwork.
6. Savor it. Savor the craziness, the uncertainty, the act of creating something new and different every single day (and sometimes multiple times a day!). Once you dive in, you’ll feel like your life whirls faster than you ever thought possible, and it’s tempting to look for the other shore and concentrate solely on making it through. But make a few moments each day to snap pictures, write a few lines in a journal and simply enjoy the ride. One of the best presents I ever got was from Maddy D’Amato, the founder of Love Grown Foods, who gave me something she wished she’d done from the beginning — a one-line-a-day journal, like this one, to chronicle the first year.
Rachel Hofstetter (@rachelhoffy) is the author of the new, go-to guide to food entrepreneurship “Cooking Up a Business.” The former food editor at O, the Oprah Magazine and Reader’s Digest was so inspired by the entrepreneurs she wrote about that she started her own company, guesterly, where users can create custom playbills for any event.