This post was originally published on NOEW.org. New Orleans Entrepreneur Week is an annual festival celebrating entrepreneurship and innovation in New Orleans.
The hardest, smack-you-in-your-face truth I’ve learned while starting my own business is how to reset my metric for success.
I’ve always been academically minded and believed success to be a number from 0 to 100, in which you weren’t really on the scale until you hit 88. As a student, I thought that less than a B+ meant you weren’t trying.
Imagine my disbelief when after I registered my company, developed a website, researched pricing, formulated products, and successfully executed a whole lot of ‘other necessary stuff’, customers weren’t beating down my door for work. In fact, nobody called me that first month. I had built the parts of a business, but there was no internal substance to it – there were no customers!
I thought I was a failure; I was ashamed; I panicked.
My bank account was dwindling. I would take a loss that month. In my mind, that meant I only had 2 months before I was flat out broke, on the street and wandering on the neutral grounds of New Orleans with a DSLR, begging to take people’s photographs for small change. After asking them to smile, I would collect $2 of their hard earned money and then bootleg unprotected WiFi from a house nearby to email them their photos.
My imagination raced towards this nightmare, and I took the silence of my phone that first month as the harbinger of a dire future.
I beat myself up.
Maybe I wasn’t as intelligent as people had told me or as I thought I was? If I was so intelligent, why couldn’t I figure this business thing out? I thought my Philosophy and Psychology degrees made me way more intelligent than those other kids with their PR and Accounting degrees.
I had read Kant and Aristotle, dammit!
After this brief bout of self-chastisement abated, I was left with a simpler question.
Had I failed?
I thought long and hard about this and looked at what I had built. I now had a sparkling website, a place to house content in a format people could enjoy. I had done hours of research on business formation. I had a business bank account and strategies to process payments.
Sure, I wasn’t bursting at the seams with business, but I had a framework. I had poured the foundation for the building of success and learned much along the way. I was going somewhere.
I hadn’t refined customer acquisition, but my business was not a failure, and neither was I. (I had to remember, also, that my business and my person were two different entities. But that’s a topic for another day.)
I had that revelation six months ago, and in hindsight, my fears feel amateur.
Even admitting them, I feel a little like a stereotypical millennial – impatient and more concerned with immediate external successes rather than internal growth.
Because, eventually, the customers did come, and when they did, they spoke highly of the work, the website, and their ease of doing business. Much to my relief, my nightmare of aimlessly wandering the neutral grounds would be unrealized.
This is the reality of building a business that my generation grapples with.To appreciate achievement, we must first escape unrealistic measures of achievement. A child doesn’t self-chastise for their grammar mistakes and incomplete sentence structure, so why are we so hard on ourselves for learning new lessons as adults?
We should appreciate the struggle, small wins, and success that comes and grows over time and with effort. That’s something they don’t teach you in school, and it doesn’t fit neatly on the 0 to 100 scale.
Robert Warren has been wading through New Orleans since 2011 when he arrived as a humble high-school teacher. Teaching is a joy for him, but his passion is creative expression, and he now runs RSW Enterprises LLC, a growing production and educational company. He trains everyone from career professionals, to high-school students, on the technicalities and joys of visual expression. He writes about the hardships and silver linings of entrepreneurship for The Distillery.