This is part 1 of 4 in a series where I share lessons learned around starting a new business.
Many young entrepreneurs, founders, and small business owners are launching or expanding businesses in Erie. It is an exciting and intellectually rewarding time for the region. New ideas are being discovered, evaluated, and tested. Importantly, Erie’s new business starts are often rooted in social good and inclusion. They stem from a desire to improve our community rather than extract wealth from it.
New journeys of beginning, or of growth, can also be challenging for our community. Young entrepreneurs are starting many of these businesses, which is difficult if one doesn’t have decades of professional experience to draw from. Knowing the market is almost as hard as knowing one’s self.
Recently, I found myself reflecting on Radius’ growth. We’ve been open for two and half years. Owning and operating a business is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Radius has had its successes, but also its challenges that at times have seemed insurmountable.
What I founded myself reflecting on specifically, was how Radius has contributed to my professional and personal growth. This includes communication, intellectual rigor, and understanding business norms and culture. I’ve also gained a valuable understanding of the business logics of coworking and the future of work.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be passing some of these lessons learned on to the next generation of Erie entrepreneurs. The Internet is already filled with a lot of content on starting up, so I’ll highlight tips relevant for entrepreneurs in the Northwest PA. Feel free to comment via Twitter to share thoughts and insights.
What Does Starting a Business Entail?
Radius CoWork Bill Scholz
At Radius, we encourage entrepreneurs to take measured business risk, but also understand and adapt to the challenges associated with starting up. Part of that means reaching out to others for support. It also means recognizing the challenges associated with creating something new that can range from working long hours to overcoming psychological barriers.
Innovation ultimately means solving a problem. Once you’ve identified a solution, you’ll need to build a strong, consistent product, not just once, but repeatedly until your business becomes financially sustainable. That process can take years. During that period, you’ll need to educate potential customers on what makes your solution better and how it solves an immediate problem.
At the same time, you’ll be required to adapt professionally to changing requirements. You’ll have to learn on the fly, not just how to pitch your product, but how to leverage the norms and conventions of your local business community. What’s the local professional etiquette? How fast should I respond to emails? How do I communicate different things simultaneously to different stakeholders? For the young entrepreneur (including my 27 year old self when Radius started) growing professionally while growing a business can seem overwhelming.
Professional Expectations as a Founder
It is important as a business owner to approach your task with a sense of humility and with the desire to improve your work every day, especially when it comes to delivering a consistently high-quality product. At the end of the day, the biggest hurdle an entrepreneur faces is time, not growing fast enough.
While the journey is always unique, here are some daily responsibilities to use as a barramoter of success. After all, nobody is going to tell you what to do.
Quickly Respond to Emails. You’ll want to make a point of quickly replying to emails typically within one business day. You’ll want to be extra quick with investors, customers, and community supporters. A quick reply demonstrates competence and signals that you value the respondent’s communication. This includes acknowledging receipt of an email that doesn’t require an immediate response.
The same goes for other forms of online communication. When I first started, there were online channels of communication that I didn’t monitor every day. For those who contacted me on those channels, they didn’t receive a prompt reply. But think about from their perspective, perhaps they thought their request wasn’t important enough to warrant a speedy reply. After all, they are active on that online channel, why shouldn’t I be active? I don’t use X isn’t an excuse!
As a new and young professional, it is important to demonstrate basic competence as quickly as possible. Your stakeholders are watching. Will you reply quickly and professionally if an introduction email is sent? You might have a great product, but that’s only part of the requirements. You’ll stakeholders will want to know you’re an A player, especially if they are counting on you to deliver on promises.
Demonstrate Competency or Provide Value First. When you attend a meeting you should always seek to provide value. Another way of articulating this is to say demonstrate competence or capability.
Before you ask for something, make sure to demonstrate your capability as a business owner. There are a couple ways to demonstrate capability while supporting your business community. One way is to make a professional introduction. Competent business people don’t turn down introductions and they are smart enough to know when they can lend a hand.
When you’re just starting out, your professional network might not be as mature as potential supporters. But that’s OK, there are other ways to demonstrate capability and help your community. The first is to be intellectually engaged on social media. Like and share posts that are relevant and use the comments section in posts. You can also demonstrate thought leadership by sharing worthwhile articles. If you consistently contribute to community discussion, engaged community leaders will take note.
In Erie, it is surprising how many people are not consistently active on social media outside of Facebook. You don’t need to be active on all channels. Pick a couple and make sure to maintain a consistent presence. You might check in for 20 minutes a day, but when you do, make sure to engage. Preparing a post is hard and can be time consuming. It might take 15-20 minutes to read an article and craft a tweet.
There are other ways to demonstrate capability. You can attend events or provide individual feedback on new products or community ideas. As you do this, you’ll build a professional network, establish thought leadership, and demonstrate core competency that will earn early support.
Know the Lay of the Land. Chances are that if you respond quickly to emails and provide value to your community, you’ll learn a lot about the resources available in your entrepreneurial community. This could be your local ecosystem or it could be your industry sector. Knowing the lay of the land about your community is important.
A famous Harvard economist said that in the global economy, the value is in the local. Your ‘local’ could be geographical such as your City or it could be the locality of an industry sector.
Stakeholders, especially funders, will be interested in your leadership capabilities. Many funders view leadership as the most important aspect of your capability. If you can lead in the business community, stakeholders will be confident that you can lead an organization of 5, 10, or more employees.
Demonstrating leadership in your business community will require you to understand relevant issues facing the community. You’ll be expected to put forth solutions to solve these issues. If you don’t engage with your business community, you won’t have an opportunity to nurture confidence in your stakeholders.
Putting it Together. These are just some of the expectations you can anticipate as you launch a new business. Throughout the article, we also discussed some tips to help manage those expectations. It can seem overwhelming at first, but that’s OK. Taking the time to learn these lessons is part of the challenge, but also the reward of conducting honorable business in a healthy business ecosystem.
Over the upcoming weeks, I’ll be sharing more lessons learned from starting a business in Northwest PA. If you have any suggestions about content to include, send me a DM on twitter @billscholz3.