I think there is a really big misconception hopeful entrepreneurs are fed that you can start a business working few hours. Everyone that touts margin or sells a product or course about something to help you achieve balance that I know of still hustled hard in the beginning OR before starting to get themselves financially secure to take a risk. I think those seasons of hustle and hardship are why so many want to teach a different way, but I honestly think that’s just part of the process.
Nothing worth doing or having comes easy. If it was, EVERYONE would run a small business from home that they can operate in 15 hours a week. I think it’s unfair and unrealistic to put the burden of starting a business with balance on hopeful entrepreneurs, so I’ll just be really honest up front, what I’m doing now would not have been enough to get my business off the ground. Now, I’m working to maintain. I still have seasons of hustle, of course, but starting a business takes a lot of energy.
Here are some specific questions y’all sent me about business that hope will help set up accurate expectations so when the hard days come, you know it’s totally normal!
How do I get started once I have an idea? Someone else had a similar question and ended by saying “It seems daunting.”
Yes! It can be totally daunting! And that’s not a bad thing! If we could do it in our own strength apart from God, it honestly wouldn’t be as good as it could be WITH him. Lean into that weakness and depend on Him every step of the way!
The more practical steps:
1. Pray about it. My #1 step always and forever. Pray to make sure your desires align with the Lord’s. When I pray, I am surrendering my dreams in the process and allowing Him to change course if my plan is a selfish one or not a part of God’s future for me. If you’ve already gotten started, you might find our Prayer Audit for business-owners helpful!
2. Get some validation for it. Is the product you want to share with the world wanted and needed? Not everything I’ve put out there has been successful. Why? Because there wasn’t a need or desire for it? I was excited about it but that couldn’t overcome the hurdle that more people needed to want it.
3. Get in the mindset of an entrepreneur. And really, if you are reading this post, you are doing this now. I basically just mean that to start anything WITHOUT it feeling so daunting, we have to have accurate expectations and can’t expect overnight success. If you picture the journey in little by little progress, each step of the journey feels more manageable and not like your trying to lift a plane without a runway.
How do you get started when you don’t have a following or many connections?
I think most people feel like this in the beginning! When I started my wedding planning company 10 years ago, I didn’t have a following or any connections in town. You aren’t the exception to the rule. If anything, the businesses who seem to start something surrounded by an established pool of influencers to help them launch are the exception to the rule and likely why we hear about them in the first place. All that to say, you are in a totally normal spot and not “behind”.
So making connections. I can feel when someone is looking for something to get from me versus if they genuinely want to build a relationship. With that said, here’s a few thoughts:
1. Focus on connecting with people in a similar spot as you. I have some connections I’m really grateful for but we actually just started talking shop when we were all small shops and our relationships grew.
2. Don’t be bummed out if the seemingly bigger fish don’t connect back. It’s not you!! I’ve sent some hail mary emails in my day but don’t as often any more because even though I don’t consider myself a big fish, I get lots of requests for coffee dates, brain picking sessions, etc. and honestly have to say no the majority of the time because that same tight work schedule that can be admired means I have to say no to lots of things.
3. When you reach out, make sure you are looking to add value to that person as well. I’ve had someone look at me and literally just feel like they are cycling through in their brain all the things they can get from our conversation. A genuine heart looking to serve and not just be served goes a long way and it also protects your heart from ambition overrunning God’s plan. I say this from experience! 🙂
4. Do your homework. Read the content before asking a question. It shows you aren’t just looking for someone else to do the work. Use their name and spell it right! ; ) If I have time to respond to one of two emails, I will also choose the one who knows me personally and not the email that could have been sent to a dozen people!
5. Trust the Lord in all this. I’ll talk more about this in a second but it can be so easy to get spun up feeling like everything is so dependant on us that we do things we wouldn’t normally do because of the pressure. Trusting our businesses to the Lord transforms our heart and motives as we seek to connect with others.
When you were starting out how did you find people to soundboard off of and get started?
Going along with the above question, I found people doing similar but not competing things in a similar stage in business as me. It wasn’t a big search but just happened organically as I started following people on social media or connected at conferences.
How many hours a week does it take (writing, social media, etc.) to get it off the ground?
For me, the real answer? I started my first business when I was unmarried and about 4 months before I started dating my now husband, Tyler. And I actually knew I was starting it a full 4 months before I left my job at the newspaper. I worked 4-midnight at the paper and would work 10-2ish on getting my business started. When I left the newspaper, I took on part-time jobs for at least a year or so. During our dating season, Tyler was running his new business too so dates would consist of dinner and a quick hang out and then we’d both go home to work on our businesses after. I didn’t take a paycheck from my business until Tyler and I got married 2 years after starting my business. I survived off the part-time jobs and actually moved back in with my parents the year before we got married to save money. I know that’s not exact numbers but it was easily more than 40 hours a week for the first 4-5 years until I had Vivi. I don’t think I HAD to work that long toward the end but feel it was necessary to set up my business so I can work 15-20 hours a week now. Dave Ramsey says “Live like no one else, so you can live like no one else” and I think it applies to work too!
How do you decide the path/subject for your blog from the beginning?
It has to start with something you genuinely want to do or could see yourself talking about for a long time. You also have to bring a unique voice to it. What are people always asking you about? What do friends see you as an expert in?
And as a believer, I think first and foremost it’s got to be something the Lord plants inside you.
TIME MANAGEMENT & WORK/LIFE BALANCE
How do you work your business with kiddos at home? With family and cooking?
Since both my girls were 10 months old they have gone to Mother’s Day Out for at least 2 days a week. Some seasons 4 days. This has been the majority of my work time. When I worked with them at home, I worked during naptimes. I actually shared a post about sleep training because honestly if my kids didn’t nap well, I don’t think it would have been possible to grow my business without getting a sitter!
What’s your daily schedule like?
This past school year, 4 days a week I would drop my girls off at school, head to work for 3ish hours and then go home for lunch and 30-minute break before picking them up. In book writing season I had a little more hours thanks to Tyler’s flexible schedule!
How do you handle work and mom hours and separate the two to be present at both?
I talk about this a bunch in Grumpy Mom Takes a Holiday. The chapters on guilt, following dreams and being present. You can grab a copy here! I actually think the whole book would be really helpful for entrepreneur moms because one of my biggest points of frustration was short naps and how that intersected with my work.
How do you balance/schedule if you aren’t to the point where you can pay a sitter for daytime work hours?
I think you have to be REALLY realistic about what you can accomplish in a nap or a day. If not, you will live in a constant state of frustration, and if the goal of starting a business is for more time with your kids, you’ll miss out on actually enjoying that time because you’ll always feel like it’s interrupted.
How do you work and be a mom during the summer?
Great question! We’ve always had help in the summer with Mother’s Day Out 3 days a week for three weeks in July. I hire a few babysitters if I really need to get stuff done for the launch or see if their grandma can watch them for a few hours but I honestly am having to learn to just plan the year differently and be ok with doing less for a season.
What’s most time-consuming?
I do have a team now so that’s been the biggest change in what’s time-consuming. Ashley ships all orders and handles customer emails and Kara manages ALL social stuff and content. My main job now is to write and work on product creation. So for me, I think the most consuming things are writing, however when we are working on a new collection, it’s insane how much time the logistics and working with manufacturers can take!
Time organization? How you plan for upcoming things?
We are working at getting better at this! We have a pretty good routine and know what to expect throughout the year but this year after talking with my life coach, Diana, I’ve decided not to plan the full year because I normally stick to things even if they don’t fit anymore or I can’t execute them with at least SOME margin. It’s helped to not make decisions for future Valerie that I wouldn’t make for myself if it was maybe a month or two away.
I dream of opening my own business. But everything takes so much money to even start.
Ok, not gonna lie to you. It does. Even small businesses with low overhead will cost something. Knowing that ahead of time can be helpful though so you can prepare for it. I would definitely create a savings account and stockpile a little before starting a business so that if any big expenses come up, they don’t have to derail your progress.
Now all that to say, I think if you make really wise purchases and don’t get caught in buying everything that COULD help your business, you’ll avoid a lot of unnecessary expense. This is where it’s helpful to connect with other businesses owners in similar seasons or maybe a step ahead who remember what it was like and can offer advice!
How did you begin learning to source your printing for the prayer journal?
First, I would say start locally if you can. Our softcover prayer journals are printed locally and it has been the best experience. We are able to order shorter runs, get them quickly, know we are a valued customer and can see proofs and samples immediately.
Truly, and this is probably not the answer you’re looking for, but you gotta do the research. That’s not a cop-out answer but I truly think the pride you will feel as you navigate looking at proofs, figuring out paper types, finding the best prices will build your confidence as a business owner and that is no small thing. Even the mistakes you might make in your search will too and it will serve you WAAAAY past getting the name of a random company one business owner chooses.
If you are hitting a wall, I would say talk to those connections you made for suggestions. You’ll have an established relationship and they know they can trust you to share that info. It sounds silly but you’d be surprised how much copying happens when this is shared without a trusting relationship.
How did you come up with the prayer journal?
Out of my own need! I honestly didn’t think so many other people would need it but had my printer who handled our wedding invitations at the time (I designed wedding invitations with the wedding planning company I started! 🙂 ) print one for me, but I needed to print a minimum of 50. I figured I could at least sell enough to cover my cost to print that many and we ended up selling 100 that first week.
How do you keep God above profits?
Great question! It honestly takes a lot of intentionality and I struggle most with this in the really abundant seasons. I now prepare my heart for seasons we know we see a spike and keep the Scripture below front of mind.
We also focus on less monetary goals and more on “people impacted” goals.
Deuteronomy 8:11-18 says:
“Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.”
How do you grow an audience?
I honestly don’t know how to do this in this new world of algorithms. When I started, people got to see everyone they followed and they also weren’t following hundreds (and many times thousands) of people. I think with the amount of content, it’s easier to scroll through instead of actually like or comment on posts so it can be a total mind game that keeps you wondering what you are doing wrong. I actually created a social media detox challenge last year when I was struggling with this.
The growth of our audience is honestly something we’ve had to keep giving back to the Lord. There are so many strategies that could keep us consumed when our focus needs to be on reaching the people God is putting in front of us and seeing the human on the other side of each interaction. When I remember that, it takes so much pressure off growing!
When you hit a dead zone, how do you fight the insecurity?
Ok, we’ve hit a few in our company’s history and it can be unnerving. I usually go into a hyper mode of trying to “figure it out” and start looking around me more than usual. The key to fighting the insecurity is staying focused on your lane. It sounds really simple but if we are doing what God is calling us to, it doesn’t matter what zone we are in. Sure, we may need to tweak some things but it doesn’t have to shake our identity. And I think actually the depth to which we experience insecurity may reveal how much stock we put in our business. One of our really dry seasons a few years ago made me realize how much security I placed in our business. We had consistent sales for so long that I depended on it and trusted VMP more than God for our livelihood. I remember it was a day in March 2016 (that’s how much it rattled me!) we didn’t sell a single dollar worth of product. $0. This had never happened in years and it woke me up to how much hope I put in seeing that number day.
How do you know if your business is actually successful and growing?
Great question! I kind of mentioned this throughout so I’ll sum it up here.
1. Are we following what God is calling us to do or trying to run in someone else’s lane? (I’ll elaborate on this later this week!)
2. Are we making an impact? (Not just based on sales numbers but what’s the response from people? If we are making an impact, we usually see it in DM’s, emails, etc.)
3. Are we staying healthy as individuals and a company? All the success in the world doesn’t matter if we neglect our families, never sleep or can’t get along as a team.
How do you get the word out and increase your following? Is it organic, paid, hybrid?
We do a little bit of paid things, like advertising or sponsorships but the majority is word of mouth. It’s people sharing their journals on social media or with the ladies in their small group. Your message of what you’re selling has to be clear so I recommend Building a Storybrand by Donald Miller. It helps clarify your message so people know what you are selling really clearly and know if they want it!
Any other business questions on your mind? Check out our list of resources for entrepreneurs and feel free to ask in the comments below!
If comparison as you launch (or run a business) is a struggle, check back Thursday for a post I hope will encourage you!