My friend Taylor asked me to come with her to Create & Cultivate’s Small Business Summit. Truth be told, she was interested because she is (unquestionably) Sophia Bush’s number one fan, and Sophia was the keynote speaker. I spoke at a previous Create & Cultivate event and really liked it. I had been trying to make other conferences work in another city because I thought it would be a fun excuse to explore a new place, but it hasn’t worked out (yet). This Small Business Summit was in New York City.
So… I didn’t love the organization of this event, which was a shame because the people speaking were INCREDIBLE. There was a lot to learn. And, as a small business owner myself, I was nodding along through some panels and furiously taking notes through others. They definitely sold too many tickets and the space was way too small. (Not enough seats, it was super loud during the panels from people on the sides/back of the room chatting, and everyone spent a lot of time waiting for elevators.) Despite all of this, I left feeling like the day was a win. And Taylor was the ONLY person to get a selfie with Sophia Bush, so it was a double win.
Here were my best takeaways:
THERE ARE MULTIPLE WAYS TO GET FUNDED
Hands down, I found this to be the best advice of the day. There’s so much press about these “unicorn” companies getting billion-dollar valuations. And they’re just valuations, which they can reverse engineer to make the company “worth” anything depending on the number and price per share. Getting investors may be what your company needs, but it’s not necessary. Arielle Loren** (whom, side note, I thought was the most insightful panelist of the day) shared a number of ways you can fund your company that may make even MORE sense. You can bootstrap (i.e. invest only your own money), do a round of friends and family funding, apply for grants, get low-interest loans from a bank, etc. I liked that she emphasized the need to make sure your business is viable first and that bootstrapping can allow that to happen faster.
**Follow her company’s account on Instagram for some killer business advice. She is an EXPERT at this stuff.
MASTER YOUR PITCH
Puno Dostres led a workshop about mastering a business pitch. She’s an LA-based UX designer and I really liked her template for creating a pitch. While a pitch is necessary for selling the product or getting funding for your business, it can be a great exercise to do while you’re still in the creation of your company. It allows you to work out the kinks and boil down all the “noise” into a very, very succinct mission about what your company is and what your company isn’t, who it serves and who it doesn’t serve.
She actually her template for creating a killer pitch is on her Instagram Highlight! Definitely check it out if you’re thinking of starting a business. Worth screenshotting and saving for later, too!
KNOW WHEN TO SAY NO
A super common thread that ran through the day was about saying “no.” Especially when it comes to your brand, it’s just as important to what your brand is and what your brand isn’t. Figure out the verticals that you want to master, create a mission statement, know your audience, pick keywords that represent your brand. If something (an opportunity, a new product, a revenue stream, etc.) pops up and it doesn’t fit into those categories you created for your company, then you have to say no.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO START SMALL
The stories that I am drawn to the most are the ones that start with humble beginnings. Lisa Price’s story was one of my favorites from the day. She talked about starting her company, literally, creating products on a stovetop in her house… and then ultimately sold her company to L’OREAL! Now a lot happened between the very beginning and where her company is now, but she took things one thing at a time. She started off perfecting her formulas herself, which garnered a cultlike following because the products were so good. She didn’t need to start with a million-dollar injection from investors to fine-tune products in a lab. She started small and followed her instincts, asking for help from the right people, along the way. (Including someone who encouraged her to sell her products online and get on Facebook super early!)
Personally, I find these stories so reassuring. You can have ALL the success in the world without having to fly out of the gate.
SET GOALS, BUT CONSIDER IT PART OF THE EXPERIENCE
Stacy London had so much to say. She’s been a hair icon of mine (hello grey lady!) and now I can officially say she’s just an icon of mine. Like, wow. I want to have coffee with her and ask her, like, a thousand questions. One of my favorite things she said was regarding goal setting. “There is no finish line until you’re in the ground.” Her point here was that hitting a goal doesn’t mean you’ve made it. It’s a point along the path of your life; one experience in a series of experiences. I have fallen victim to this more times than I can count. It’s a problem if you’re considering a goal an end-all-be-all. If you hit that goal and still don’t feel [fill in the blank: successful, wealthy, empowered, free, etc.], you may experience a post-goal depression of sorts. Instead, if you reframe that goal as a point along the path (and maybe a more significant point than others, no harm in that), then you’ll realize it’s just another rung in the ladder, not the “end.” The great thing about reframing it this way is that if it’s not necessarily a positive point, it’s also okay because… it’s just one point along the path of your life; it’s not the end!
Stacy and Sophia were recording the conversation for Sophia’s podcast– so I’ll definitely be sure to link to it when it’s live. I’m so glad they recorded it because a lot of what they said was just so spot on.
ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE, ALL KINDS OF COMPANIES
Ultimately, my biggest takeaway came from hearing these different panels and meeting some other attendees. There are ALL kinds of women creating companies and the companies are just as diverse as the people. I think Starting A Company™ can seem so overwhelming and intimidating. Maybe even like a secret club you have to be invited or born into. But it’s so not true. There are ALL kinds of companies and there is literally no reason why you can’t also do it if you have a great idea! The panelists were people running beverage companies with $20,000,000 investments, women who turned email newsletters into bonafide businesses, people offering services and people offering products. And not only are there different kinds of people and different kinds of companies– there’s no one way to get there. There’s certainly no “wrong” way either. (Hmm well maybe cheating and concocting some kind of fraud, but you know what I mean!)