It's a widely known fact that entrepreneurs are faced with their own epic failures. Starting a business is easy—the allure of creating something out of nothing is enticing—but maintaining it is the hard part. Sustaining your business so that you can sustain your life is another side of the spectrum that is not often as glamorous as the perception of entrepreneurial life.
One of the biggest mistakes of my first year in business was that I failed to identify "why" I was in business. I certainly could articulate how I was going to go about consulting and what I needed to do to get it done, but I was so focused on building my store front, marketing efforts and the "perception" of my business that I forgot the meat of the entire meal: the value proposition. What was it about my business that set me apart from the other thousands of consulting firms out there? Nothing. I had a nice website, competitive pricing models, marketing buzz and a handful of clients, but what I didn't have was a realistic expectation of what I was really up against.
A bad first impression
I had the opportunity to connect with a business leader to talk about my consulting business. It started off as a normal conversation. I told her about my background and what I planned to do with my business and my plans to teach entrepreneurial principles in inner city communities, and that I needed her support in making it all happen. I heard a deep sigh on the other line, and after what seemed like an eternity, she asked me the question that literally had me tucking my tail between my legs, "Have you heard of X company? Because they do exactly what you are saying your company does. How are you any different?"
Unfortunately, I didn't have the answer. Now call me crazy, call me inexperienced, call me on the phone. The point was, I was not prepared to answer that question on any level. So what did I do? I immediately shifted into word-vomit mode and regurgitated all the buzz words I used to cringe at when hearing them at coffee shops. "You see my business provides cutting edge consulting that is transformational in the space of entrepreneurship…." You get the point. What in the world? I couldn't even pay a squirrel to listen to my psychobabble.
Note to self: You are not the only one with the great idea. Set yourself apart.
After I hung up the phone that day I took a hard look at what I had thought I built. One simple question had knocked me off my feet. Somewhere out there, another company does exactly what you do. How are you any different and why should people believe in what you do? I immediately went back to the drawing board and researched on the web. I attended networking events and started connecting with other young business owners to calibrate my inventory of services. I pounded the pavement until I had networked and connected so much that I actually started seeing my competition as extensions of my business. Partners in the journey of "why" we were all in business.
Ask me why I'm in business now, and I can definitely articulate what makes us different now. We specialize in democratizing entrepreneurial resources and education for inner city communities, providing them opportunities they would have otherwise had no exposure to. A part of me is thankful for that day, and a part of me wishes I knew what I know now when I made that phone call.
AJ Thomas specializes in democratizing entrepreneurial resources and education for inner-city communities. She advocates for these programs through her organization Infuse Entrepreneurship which infuses a min MBA type entrepreneurial academy in high schools in the inner cities of the Bay Area in California.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC leads #FixYoungAmerica, a solutions-based movement that aims to end youth unemployment and put young Americans back to work.