I’m writing to you because I’ve recently been approached with a business opportunity (of which I’ve already said yes to) by a former classmate and friend of mine from university. We’d be working together along with another young woman whom we are also friends with, and is also a fellow alumna. It is still very early days in the process of starting our organization (which is leadership based), but since I have no background in business, do you have any recommendations for a beginner?
Also, how do I maintain good boundaries both personally and professionally during this process? I’m both excited and nervous about the outcome of this and sometimes my confidence wavers a bit about it all.
Just starting out
Dear Just Starting Out,
First of all, congratulations! This sounds really exciting! Good on you for taking on something new like this!
Second, thank you for this question! I’ve been working on developing my own business (ARTBOX Toronto) for the past few months, so this is something that I have a bit of personal experience with, and I am glad to be able to share what I have learned. Of course there is a lot to say on this topic, but I think these are the seven most crucial things you should do:
- Most importantly, make sure that your organization’s goals and aims are properly defined. Write them down, let someone else read them, redraft them, repeat this process until your business objectives are absolutely clear to anyone who reads them. You will also have to give your elevator pitch every time anyone asks about what your organization does: make sure it is succinctly and accurately articulated, and make sure everyone you are working with is on the exact same page. This is part of setting boundaries.
- By that same token, make sure that you truly believe in the values of your organization, and if not, figure out why there is a discrepancy. Try to solve it, but if it cannot be solved, do not force it: accept that this may not be the project for you.
- Make sure your role in the organization is clearly defined and articulated. This is also crucial to maintaining healthy boundaries with your team members. A good rule of thumb is: if it’s important, write it down! It’s great practice in general, but absolutely essential when it comes to task delegation or making any big decisions!
Make sure that there is some sort of documentation of what your role is, and if you are going to be paid, make sure that there are contracts that that explicitly lay out how much, when, and by whom you will be paid. If you do not have a lot of money, you can Google “contract template” and use stock templates to base yours off of, and use a service like Hello Sign to store and sign your contracts. I would recommend asking a lawyer to look over your contracts before you sign anything, especially if discussing ownership or intellectual property.
- If you are committed to this organization and/or project, you will need to invest some time learning more about business, leadership, and innovation. Subscribe to a few key mailing lists: Entrepreneur, Young Entrepreneur, Forbes Woman, Harvard Business Review, and Knowledge @ Wharton are great for starters. They have wonderful articles and listicles with tips on how to be more productive, and very insightful interviews with thought leaders across different fields and industries. Take a relevant course (online or in person) related to your business: Coursera has some great free ones! Really know your field inside out and back to front.
- Invest wisely in your start up “toolkit.” Pretty much every business will be drafted on the classic Business Model Canvas, but I would recommend the Lean Canvas model – it’s a lot more relevant to how businesses are set up and run today. If you are pitching your idea/organization to investors, you’ll need to work on your pitch deck as well. You do not have to be an expert in every single area of your business; it’s okay to outsource some things. Set up a Slack or Trello account to communicate with your team members. Learn how to manage your time effectively! Create a shared Google calendar.
- Have regular team meetings where you can communicate openly with one another, and try to get to the root of problems while they are budding, rather than when they are fully blown. Practice active listening and supportive and respectful discussions. Make sure you check in regularly with each other, and plan your meetings with an agenda, so that you do not veer off topic. (This can be a real issue when working with friends!)
- Create a network and support system for yourself. Join a professional organization. Join “women in business” Facebook groups. FIND A MENTOR! (This is so important! Strong female mentors have been so transformative in my personal and professional life! Read my simple guide on how to find a mentor here.) Ask for help when you need it. It’s okay to not know what to do or to feel overwhelmed – you do not have to carry that burden by yourself. Asking for help is the healthier and more sensible thing to do, rather than flounder and/or cause yourself undue stress.My dad likes this quote, he thinks it’s funny: “Having lost sight of our objectives, we redoubled our efforts!” It’s nonsensical because when you’re lost you can’t just “try harder” to stop being lost. Sometimes you need to step away, ask for external support, and reassess from there. Also, reflecting with others (parents, teachers/professors, friends who are older than you) can help prevent groupthink.
I hope this helps! Good luck with your project, and let us know how it goes! Feel free to send me more questions!
I hope that helps!
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