Last updated on October 20th, 2019 at 01:33 pm EST
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Has it been 10 years already?
Though I’ve been exploring Costa Rica since the mid-2000s, this week marks 10 years since Ricky and I officially incorporated our business, Pura Vida! eh? Inc. What a tumultuous but wonderful experience the past decade has been, from the moment we developed our business plan on a public bus headed to Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, to the day Moon Travel Guides selected me to assume authorship of their Moon Costa Rica guidebook, which covers the entire country. Along with the hundreds of Costa Rican souvenirs we’ve collected over the years, we’ve picked up more invaluable lessons than we could ever begin to count. If you’re interested in learning arguably the top four things we’ve discovered about operating a business in general, this blog post is for you.
A quick disclaimer…
I’m no expert when it comes to building businesses and this article isn’t meant to suggest otherwise. It’s more a reminder to my future self that, when times get tough (as they often do), there’s honed advice I can claw my way through that will lead me to better days. Perhaps you too will find the below ramblings helpful.
It’s much easier to criticize yourself than to celebrate yourself.
Business beginnings are bogged down with “can’t”s, “won’t”s, and “shouldn’t”s. If you need a loan, banks may turn you down, especially if you lack good credit or collateral, as most first-time entrepreneurs do. If you’re handling operating costs on your own, debt becomes a black cloud that seems impossible to escape, at least for several years. If you’re not lucky enough to be surrounded by supportive folks, your family, friends, and perhaps even your first potential customers or clients may doubt your dream and abilities. At a time when you’re most fragile, assuming loads of risk in return for seeds of chance, it seems like every step you take could shatter you to pieces. If you’re up for hearing the truth, it’s this: operating a business may indeed shatter you. It may also thicken your skin, build you a foundation to stand on, and strengthen your voice. It all depends on you and how much you want to succeed.
If you’ve ever tried to succeed at anything in life, be it business or something else, you know how hard it can be to block out negative thoughts and opinions. I say, don’t bother blocking them out. Don’t waste your time trying to fight negativity. It will always be there, and, quite frankly, if you find yourself constantly feeding it with energy, it has already won you over. Instead, let negativity be what it is, while simultaneously seeking out what you’re great at. Surely you’re not a master of all things business, but that doesn’t mean you’re not a great customer service representative, a fantastic product creator, an intelligent web developer, or some other person who has something of value to bring to your brand. Though it is easiest to criticize yourself, including everything you don’t have (especially when compared to your competitors), make it a priority to focus on the good things you bring to the table. There must be something, if not many things, or else you wouldn’t have set out to build a business in the first place. Don’t forget to applaud your something(s). In a world where too many people long to act like, look like, and be someone else, your uniqueness is worth celebrating.
Give yourself a break. You’ll get there someday.
If I knew 10 years ago that some of my products or services wouldn’t sell, that certain marketing campaigns wouldn’t work, or that particular programs were a waste of time, I’d be way better off than I am today because I would have saved myself so much time and money. But hindsight is always 20/20, not to mention completely unrealistic. All it does is lead us to believe that we should have been something different or done something different at an earlier time. On the flip side, if you’re presently living that “earlier time” (if you’ve just started out on your entrepreneurial journey, for example), you may wish you could jump ahead a few steps, to get past the initial tough stuff and be “better off”. But life (and business) doesn’t allow that. Yes, high school students often wish they were independent University or College students, postgraduates wish they were making money at a job in their field of study, the newly employed wish they had monetary savings so they could start a family, empty-nesters wish they were closer to retirement, and so on, but if everyone skipped to where they want to be, there’d be no life to live. The invaluable good stuff encountered along the way would be missed, too.
Just like you can’t skip stages of life, you can’t time-warp your business to where you want it to go. Time filled with hard work paddles entrepreneurship. If you’re a committed captain who has a particular end in sight, you’ll get there someday.
Success is multivariate and has an always-evolving endpoint.
When I let my mind flash back 10 years to when I was a much more naive version of myself, I nearly cringe at some of the poorly constructed entrepreneurial projects I was working on. I won’t go so far as to say that the projects were embarrassing because there’s nothing shameful about brainstorming, trying new things, failing, learning, and trying again. Each one of those bad ideas (which really weren’t “bad” ideas at all) shaped my understanding of (and ability to form) good ideas. They also led me to where I am now, and at this moment, I’m doing alright. Fast-forward 10 years in the future, and perhaps I’ll cringe at the work I’m doing today, having not yet learned from whatever tomorrow brings.
If you’re just starting a business, try to focus on the now and decisions that are within your current reach. It’s great to envision and plan for the future, but all that really matters is today; it’s the biggest opportunity you have to secure your tomorrow. And, try not to fixate on what tomorrow–or better yet, success–will or should look like. As life shifts and evolves (along with markets, demographics, technology, and business strategies), so will your wants, needs, and abilities, which inform your perception and definition of success. From that light bulb moment when you realize you could start a business, to the end of a career you’ve dedicated to company growth, success should be something you consistently pursue, not something you ever reach.
The best businesses aren’t mechanized, they’re flexible.
Get used to being flexible. Most businesses require this quality in their owners, even control-hungry business owners like me. I used to think that the more organized I was, the more I designed every step of my business operation, and the more I built my company to run like clockwork, the more professional and successful I’d be. I forgot, all the while, that the fluid that keeps my machine running is ever-changing, unpredictable, and often times frustrating human connection.
Human connection is what drives my business. On a basic level, without clients to acquire my services, I’d go bankrupt. More importantly, without clients letting me know what they think about my business operations and products, I’d run a business stuck knee deep in the mud of my own musings instead of a business that flourishes in attending to others. Do I sometimes sulk over client requests for changes I’m not entirely on board with? Of course! But I’m not too proud to recognize that flexibility–to a safe and agreeable degree–is partly what pays the bills. Similar to the old adage, if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all, consider this: if a client or customer request won’t kill your business, don’t let it kill your sale.
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: What other business advice do you think is worth sharing?