4 things I’ve learned while starting a business

Starting a business is, no doubt, a challenging endeavor and there’s always more to it than a person thinks there’s going to be. Normally it starts with a flash of inspiration. Something that clicks inside of you and tells you something like, “Hey, what the hell are you doing with your life? Are you just going to sit here and never follow your dreams?”

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“Get up and start that business!”

Some people have the ability to just ignore that pesky little voice inside of their souls but I, unfortunately have never been one of those people. So, like me, you decide to get out from behind your fears and go for it and before you know it you’re involved in something much larger than you could have ever imagined. Relax… it’s ok. You have to plan for being overwhelmed if your going to be daring enough to step out on a ledge with everyone watching.

Being that this is my first time starting a business I wanted to share with you all a few things I’ve learned thus far that have been very helpful to me on this path. Keep in mind, I really have no idea what I’m doing, I’m no authority on entrepreneurship, and my business isn’t even in it’s infant stage… it’s still more of a seedling than anything. That being said, I’ve learned more about business and myself in the past 6 months of planning than I did all five years of community college. Hopefully this list of lessons can help those of you out there who, like myself, just can’t help themselves when it comes to following your gut.

# 1 – STAY OPEN-MINDED AND KEEP LEARNING

I usually have my head in some form of text book. Even before I started this farm I was always reading something. Most of the reading I’ve done is instructional and this has helped me tremendously while starting this farm. There is always something new that you have to know, something that you need to get better at and something current that’s happening that is effecting you and your business so be willing to learn all of the time. It’s healthy for me to keep in mind that I’m a rookie. That way I don’t get caught thinking that I know what I’m doing which could lead to costly mistakes. With my business my education is two-fold. On the one hand, I have to be as good of a gardener as I can be if I want my farm to succeed and on the other hand I have to be a good entrepreneur if I want my business to succeed and grow.

winterharvestFor the farmer in me, I’ve been reading tons of farming & gardening books and one person who really stands out to me as “The Man” when it comes to season extending farming is Eliot Coleman of Four Season Farm in Maine. The books that have really helped me make sense of all year gardening are The New Organic Grower and “The Winter Harvest Handbook.” Eliot studied farming in Europe where they have a long tradition of urban farming and he manages to grow food year round in Maine, which is insane. I think it helps to pick someone who you’d like to emulate, someone who you respect. It gives you a target or a goal which helps point you in a solid direction.

emythrevistedAs for books on being an entrepreneur, I’m about halfway through “The E Myth” by Michael Gerber. This is a fantastic read for anyone trying to wrap their mind around what it takes to start and run a successful business. In it he states that the mistaken belief that we all have is that small businesses are started by entrepreneurs. He argues that most small businesses are started by technicians instead… people who have a skill and are tired of working for “The Man.” He goes on to say that the biggest problem that the technicians face is that not many of them want to run a business, instead, they just want to do the thing that their technically good at. This apparently causes all kinds of problems because a business is much more than just the people doing the work. It’s a great book so far and is opening my mind in a lot of ways. I definitely recommend it.

# 2 TALK TO EVERYONE!

When I was first starting to plan this farm I really had no idea how to do it. All I knew is that I really wanted to. So, I started asking questions. I met with Joe Adkins at Frederick Planning and asked him if he knew of any available plots in the downtown area that I could use for the farm. I met with other farmers in the area and asked them how they are doing what they’re doing. I met and volunteered with farmers in Baltimore and asked them the same things. I met with restaurant owners and chefs and asked them where they’re getting their veggies from, what they’re buying most of and what they’d like to see grown. I met with Kevin Lollar at the Housing Authority of Frederick County and finally secured a location downtown. I’ve had meeting with friends who are entrepreneurs and asked for advice. I met with the Montessori school downtown and asked what kind of educational programs they’d like to see offered. In short… I just asked everybody a lot of questions.

The results have been wonderful. Not only have I been able to answer a lot of the questions that I’ve had regarding the “how to’s” of starting a downtown farm, but I’ve also made a lot of friends and gotten a lot of people hip to the idea of having a downtown farm in the process.

Another thing I’d recommend is having an Accountability Buddy. Someone who you check in with on a weekly basis, someone who is ideally trying to make the same moves as you and someone who can motivate you and help to keep you on track. My good friend Ian Brown has been a tremendous asset for me throughout this entire process. He’s currently in the process of recording his first stand-up comedy album in Toronto. I’ve been coaching him through that and he’s been coaching me through this. Someone to hold you accountable and to motivate you is always a great idea.

# 3 UNDERSTAND YOUR STRENGTHS

Now I’m not an expert farmer, that’s for sure. I’m a pretty good farmer… this will be my 7th season growing food but that doesn’t make me an expert. So you can understand the stress I might feel when starting a farm realizing that I still have a lot to learn. But recently, and thanks to the E Myth and to Ian, my thinking has really expanded about this project. While I’m starting a farm and have to be able to create a working farm model, I have to remember that I’m really starting a business. I don’t want to just be a farmer… I want to be an entrepreneur. That’s where my true strengths lie, in organizing, inspiring, envisioning and making things happen. Lately I’ve been coming into my own a little more in regards to understanding my strengths and what my role will be with this farm. I want this farm to be more than just a job for me. I want it to offer jobs to many of Frederick’s citizens and in order to do that I have to be both farmer and entrepreneur.

It’s scary and overwhelming but exciting at the same time. I may not be the most experienced farmer in the world, but I know what I’m good at and I think I’m in the perfect position to facilitate great things in my community. That’s what my role will be with this business. I recommend taking stock in your skills and talking to your Accountability Buddy about where your true skills lie. It’s nice to sink into your own skin and to trust that you can do this. Which brings us to:

# 4 – PRACTICE FAITH & PATIENCE

I can’t stress these two more. When you find yourself jumping into something there are going to be times when you aren’t quite sure how things are going to work out. There are going to be times where you want things to happen right now! You’re going to be scared, overwhelmed, tired, anxious, excited, enthusiastic… you name it, you’re gonna feel it. When you feel like you don’t know what to do next, have faith that it will come to you and have the patience to wait until it does. These two things aren’t just something you’re totally born with, you have to build them up like a bicep. These are things you have to practice and what better scenario to practice faith and patience than in the making of your own business.

I don’t know how things are going to work out. I don’t know what the final business is going to look like. I’m not sure exactly what we’ll be growing or what the educational programs will look like exactly… I have an idea, I have a vision and I’m doing my best to practice faith and patience.

That’s all for now. Hopefully you found this post helpful. Best of luck to all of you out there who are looking your fears in the eye and saying today is the day that I’m taking charge of my life. Today is the day that I start that business I’ve always wanted to start.


This blog entry was also published here.