1. You lose most, if not all, of your “free time”.
When I first started, I stayed up into the wee hours of the night entering inventory into my computer. I spent weekends organizing said inventory. And it was never done. It was an endless cycle. I’ve since changed my business model, but sorting through shipments and inventory and then organizing remains a major part of my business.
I have about 20-50 unread emails at any given moment, despite the fact that I spend at least one hour per day answering emails. I wake up to at least 25 notifications, including messages, for my Facebook business page. (This leads to 10 post-it notes to remember to get back to this person or that person regarding xyz.)
I spend at least 2 hours per day on advertising alone, even if it’s just research. I spend about 1-2 hours per week sorting through and editing photos. I spend at least 1 hour per week updating and/or editing my website.
I spend hours organizing, scanning, uploading receipts, and going over my bookkeeping.
I spend hours scanning contracts and agreements.
I stop into the shop at least once per week to make pick-ups or drop-offs, tidy-up, organize, etc.
I meet prospective clients or purchasing clients at least two evenings per week.
On top of online shopping for supplies several times per week, I run endless supply errands.
I prep at home for many workshops and parties----for a painted sign party, for example, I spend hours on the graphic design, stencil cutting, sourcing and purchasing wood and materials, cutting the boards, sanding the boards, and often pre-painting the boards.
I spend hours prepping for each event and party and likewise cleaning up after each event or party.
I check voicemails, answer texts, messages, and emails while on vacation.
My girlfriends have to schedule things with me three months in advance. I miss countless family functions.
I have had days with three birthday parties followed by two events, wherein I never see my own children.
And my favorite, I have sleepless nights worrying that I’m forgetting something or reminding myself what’s on my to-do list next.
Like many small business owners, I have children…….so add three of them into the mix and almost none of these jobs are finished in one shot. I’ve created price tags while my daughter has tried
on clothes at Kohls, I’ve brought my laptop to the pool for a ‘focus’ group during a mommy and kids playdate, and I’ve incorporated my children into many, many events.
Maybe a little less common, but there are many others who do it---I work a full-time job every day too. The fact that my job consists of ten hour days may be the unorthodox part.
Anyway---these are all things to think about. I would be lying if I said I was prepared for the way it has taken over my life. Did I expect some upheaval? Of course! Did I expect the stress of every waking moment of my life being consumed by my little business? No. Definitely not.
Am I complaining? No, not really. It’s hard, but it comes with the territory and I’m just starting out. I do have one complaint though---I AM TIRED!!! I definitely miss sleep.
2) You (probably) won’t make money for a while.
Not only did I not make any money in my first tax year, I lost money—quite a bit of it. Starting up is expensive! I was prepared for my security deposit and a few months’ rent, but not for a lot of other things. Let me break down costs most brick-and-mortar small business owners would incur…..
Inspections & Certificates (zoning & fire)
Water and Sewer
A/C & Heat
FIXTURES!!! (They are so damn expensive!)
Spackle, Paint, Wallpaper, Screws, etc…….
Software & Apps
Small Business Accountant
Taxes! (Quarterly Estimated Taxes, Quarterly Sales Tax, Quarterly Use Tax)
(If you don’t know what “use tax” is….you will! It’s the devil!)
Advertising (also not cheap!)
Business Cards, Copies, Flyers, posters, banners, etc.
I could go on. And on. But you get the gist.
Then there’s the less tangible stuff….. Changing my mind cost me money---time and time again. Decorating for holidays cost me money. Hosting too many free events cost me money. Being overzealous cost me money.
Luckily, I feel like I’ve gotten better and better and cutting unnecessary costs as time has gone by.
It took me eight months to get at all into the green, and even then---it was only green for “2018” and still in the hole overall. Into year two of my business, my green is a little bigger but nothing to write home about it. Then again, I read that it takes many small business up to three years to profit! So I will just keep on truckin.
3) Be prepared for your business to change.
Looking back, I wish with all my heart I’d started out with a clearer vision, like the one I have now. But alas, hindsight is 20/20.
I started out as a retail shop….then launched workshops and parties….then grew my workshops and parties….and now that’s all I do. I’ve also networked and have made great relationships with other business owners that have added to Chirp’s offerings.
I felt better when I started researching about all this “change” within a business and realized that evolution is a major part of any new business. In fact, some say that if your business didn’t outright morph into something else, than something is wrong.
I really tuned in to exactly what I liked doing the most and what I feel I’m best at. Year two will be about perfecting my trade and gaining more exposure to share that with others.
4) You need thick skin.
Don’t get this one twisted……I learned that I need this, but I don’t have it and doubt I ever will.
Regretfully, I take everything to heart (and stomach), so this is one of the hardest things about this business for me. For the most part, I have been beyond blessed with AMAZING clients. But I’ve also been yelled at, called “greedy”, and have dealt with my fair share of rude customers. And let me tell you……greedy is the furthest from the truth, but it still broke my heart. And yes---I have cried about this sort of thing.
I feel perpetually anxious, like I’m waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop.
I aim to please, but need to learn that I can’t do it at the expense of my dignity, time with my family, or my financial expense. Saying no to any request is extremely difficult for me. These are things I’m STILL working on. Work in progress.
5) You will compare yourself to other businesses in your market—a lot.
This one has obvious pros and cons.
I think it can be really helpful to follow others in your own market. Watch what they are trying. Is it working or is it flopping? How are they attracting (or detracting) customers? Can you
emulate the things you like about them, without copying them? These can all be great learning opportunities.
But then there’s the dark side---the one where the comparisons lead you to beat yourself up. You’ll have days where you want to crawl under the covers and quit. And yes, I mean that literally. There are days I’ve been like “ugh, what am I doing this for?!” and luckily snap out of it fairly quickly.
What I can say about the negative comparisons is simply not to do it. Instead, focus on what YOU do best. Put 100% of yourself into everything you do. Be your best cheerleader. “go confidently in the direction of your dreams.” Cheesy? Maybe. But I like it.
Oh damn….my first blog post and it’s giving me ALL the feels!
How did Chirp begin?
I couldn’t help but laugh when a vendor came into the shop before it was officially open and they said “Wow…how long have you been dreaming of doing this??” I can only assume they thought I’d tell them I’d been thinking about it my entire life. But, right at that moment, my husband popped out from under the front counter he’d been working on and said “About 3 months.” And he was right….
I have admittedly always been a creative soul with an entrepreneurial spirit. Much like my own father, I tend to literally dream up ideas in my sleep. But unlike my father (and most men I know), I’ve also daydreamed incessantly about all I could accomplish in life. I’ve always wanted “something more”. Something creative. Something that inspires creativity in others. Something that feels meaningful and dare I say fun. But a store?? That was never realistically in the cards.
I have a Bachelor’s in English with a concentration in Creative Writing (yes, I still want to write a book someday) and my Paralegal Certification. I’ve worked in the legal field for fifteen years now, spending most of my time in Criminal Law and have more recently joined the world of estate disposition. But I've always needed "more". I’ve been an active volunteer for as long as I remember, ranging from a teenage candy-striper to a founder of New Jersey’s first “Becca’s Closet.” From 2010 to 2016, I moonlighted as a cake decorator. When my husband and I downsized two years ago, I decided to go for it and paint our 80s kitchen cabinets a Monica Gellar teal. I loved it. And so, I traded in my rolling pins for paintbrushes and became obsessed with refinishing any furniture I could get my hands on.
When I had somewhat surprising success privately selling my painted pieces, I started looking for a true venue to sell them. I did this for months and tried every idea you could ever imagine. I went to flea markets, antique malls, shared spaces, and networked like a true woman on a mission. Between my full-time work schedule and my distaste for every place I saw, none of these options seemed possible. Nothing “fit.” I came home exhausted after another failed attempt at a dim and dusty, ghost-town market and asked my husband “Can I just open my own shop?” To my surprise, relief and delight---he unflinchingly said “sure.” (My children would be the first to tell you that a “no way” wouldn’t have stopped me anyway, but I thought asking first was the polite thing to do.)
Mind you---my husband and I are as working-class as they come. We have three kids and we had no savings. We live paycheck-to-paycheck, so there’s never any money “left over”. This was a massive risk we were about to take. I would be lying if I said it didn’t worry me, keep me up at night and downright scare the crap out of me. But I’m more afraid or regretting the things I haven’t tried, so I just kept on swimming. We found a venue we fell in love with, crossed our fingers, and agreed that if my endeavor wasn’t a success, we wouldn’t renew our lease.
What an insane journey I was about to embark on---especially atop my job and children! I can’t describe how many overnighters, absurdly long days, and ridiculous situations I’d endured to make Chirp happen--especially in just three months from inception to opening! As many of you know, and perhaps some of you don’t, the furniture was actually quite quickly phased out of Chirp. I had no more time to paint! Over time, Chirp evolved even further until there was no retail at all anymore. (Stay tuned on a future blog about the evolution of small businesses.)
After a year, I’ve just now fine-tuned and honed in on exactly what I want to be doing. I run community events for children, ladies, and families alike. I hold public workshops, crafts and classes. And most of all—I host unique and creative birthday parties for children of all ages.
When I walk into Chirp, I smile. It’s one of my happy places. It has truly become mine. I get choked up thinking about the beautiful support I’ve received from family and friends. I get choked up thinking about how many customers have become new friends. I get choked up thinking about the moms who’ve pulled me aside and thanked me for creating Chirp. And of course, I get choked up thinking of all the little sweeties who’ve jumped up and down after winning a giveaway, dropped off letters for Santa, or hugged me after their birthday party.
What a lucky, lucky lady I am. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for supporting and following Chirp on this amazing journey.
To end on a cute note, here is my favorite interaction and biggest laugh from my entire first year of Chirp:
ME: Let’s go wash our hands. Anything you can’t get off your hands now, your mom or dad can get off with rubbing alcohol at home.
BOY (age 5): Hmm?
ME: Mom or Dad can use alcohol. Most of us have that at home.
BOY: You mean like Vodka?
And on that note---here’s to Year 2! Hope you join me for the ride!