by Sharon Rowe, founder of Eco-Bags Products and author of “The Magic of Tiny Business: You Don’t Have to Go Big to Make a Great Living“
Here’s the thing. Maybe you have a pressing need or an idea, brewing or formed. Maybe you’re tired of working for other people, selling little bits of yourself in order to buy lattes and avocado toast or maybe, even, what you’re doing isn’t even enough to pay the rent. Maybe you want to use your voice to make an impact, to “create the change you want to see in the world.” Whatever your motivation, if you are ready to start something new, bring a new idea to life to the open market or challenge an existing idea, you are starting your entrepreneurial journey.
Maybe you’ve learned some things in school or picked them up on the street. Or, maybe you’re totally green and all you have is your enthusiasm. This is when, as Seth Godin says you decide to “pick yourself.” It’s time to put your eggs in your own basket.
My own journey started in 1989 when I was a new mom and partially working actress in New York City. The ‘partially working’ part wasn’t paying the rent or putting food on the table. I saw a societal problem — wasteful single-use plastic bags — and I had a problem… I needed to make money.
I decided to tackle both problems with a solution: reusable bags. Here are the simple steps I took:
- I connected personally with the problems.
- I test drove a solution in public and listened to the market responses. In my case I used reusable bags when I shopped in New York City and beyond, and I watched and listened to the people in line behind me.
- Seeing that my “tiny” idea inspired curiosity I picked a business model to create the change I wanted to see in the world and put change in my pocket.
We are disrupters.
Twenty-eight years ago I set out to create a new market. That’s what entrepreneurs do. We create new markets or improve existing ones. We’re not step and repeat. We are disrupters. There was no internet when I started. I knocked on doors, set up meetings, talked to people, learned by listening, created a solution, and built a business one satisfied customer at time, based on my personal “why” with limited bootstrapped resources. I hustled then and you have to hustle now.
Tell a good story.
People listen to connect. They listen to stories not sales pitches. My customers embraced, elevated and expanded my brand concept beyond my wildest dreams, or personal resources. They connected to me, my family, bootstrapping, the whole narrative because it was authentic and rooted in a personal journey, not just marketing “why.” Customers called up, after ECOBAGS® appeared on Oprah saying “I want to go green!” My brand, Eco-Bags Products, is credited with pioneering the reusable bag movement!
Identify and get personal with your “why” to inform how you do business.
With my carefully articulated and personal “why” to create a social change impact business without compromising my personal family time, I moved deliberately and patiently forward. When you identify your own personal “why” it informs “how” you do business which is how you “practice” being in business every day… what your culture is, what ingredients or supplies you choose to work with, etc.
Discipline is key.
If you approach business like a pianist then you know you need to practice every day to get better. When you practice you build muscle and become more disciplined in your approach. Trust me, when I say, that being disciplined will help you when your business dips and support you and when it takes off. Business is never static and there are new decisions to be made almost every day. It is always a dance between external and internal pressures. As the entrepreneur you get to drive the bus so if you decide to stop work at 5pm to have dinner with your family, you will organize your day to support that priority.
Writing a blog like this, with a limited word count, is like starting and building a “tiny” intentional, entrepreneurial business. There’s never enough space (or time) to do everything. You have to focus in on what’s most urgent and what matters most to you.
What do you need to be a successful entrepreneur? If you talk to ten entrepreneurs you’ll get ten different answers. Here’s a few thoughts I have from playing in the social entrepreneur space for almost 30 years building a successful business. Being an entrepreneur is an endurance sport. It’s not a sprint. It’s also a lot like riding a rollercoaster so, get used to it.
- Don’t wait for “perfect.”
- Articulate your personal “why.”
- Patience and persistence are key.
- Business is a currency for ideas.
- Articulate what you know, what you don’t know, what you need to know, what you don’t know you need to know.
- Capital comes in many forms, social as well as financial.
- Money is important, but it’s not your only tool.
- Listen & be generous.
- Perfect isn’t a good strategy.
- You are now inter-dependent.
- Without profit you cannot proceed.
Sharon Rowe is the author of “The Magic of Tiny Business: You Don’t Have to Go Big to Make a Great Living“(Berrett Koehler Publishers, May 2018), and the CEO and Founder of Eco-Bags Products. The “Original Reusable Bag Company,™” ECOBAGS® Brand, is recognized as a category leader, since 1989. The company is known for their commitment to outstanding quality, socially responsible supply chain and innovation; “cleaning up the planet one bag at a time.”