Editor’s note: Since September, Worcester Sun has chronicled the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Sun contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support and assistance. We used to describe her as an aspiring business owner; now, she’s an inspiring one, a full-fledged director of a Pleasant Street tutoring center set to open early this year. This journey has not been without its roadblocks.
When it rains, it pours.
Two weeks ago, I received news crippling my tutoring startup: The students of Worcester State who offered to tutor the students of The Learning Hub have become unavailable.
This week? Well, it seems the bad news continues. The email reads:
“Giselle, I had two students who were excited about working with you and now have decided to take full-time jobs after school. I know that you are counting on these students to assist with your worthy project. I am sending out a request to a few seniors.”
Worcester State University Associate Dean of Education Raynold M. Lewis, although extremely enthusiastic about my startup and the important resources it provides for students outside of the endless routine of classroom academics, has given me bad news after bad news. Reaching out to a pool of students at WSU has been a whirlwind of a project.
No tutors = no students; and no students = no business.
Just when I began to embrace the wings of Hope, I am dropped like a bad habit on a Sunday morning.
At a pivotal point in opening The Learning Hub, the facts are clear. I must move forward with what has been provided to me and open the doors on Jan. 16 with a Paint Day as planned. The show must go on.
After recent trials and tribulations, I want to share some advice to my fellow solopreneurs looking to bootstrap their ideas:
Leave your ego at the door
Nothing will ever prepare you for your first business venture. Starting a business is like learning to fly without wings. You haven’t earned them yet.
Leaving your ego at the door is the best practice for a clear vision of your ideas, concepts and business future. When the chips start to fall – and they inevitably will – you must look around at the chips still standing and build on those. Not everyone will see your idea in the same light, but it is the testy waters of doubt that will give you the perseverance you need to push through to the footsteps of success.
Spend time planning
Whoever said making plans is a waste of time obviously never ran a successful company. Planning is essential. It is the forefront of your business. Be sure to make plans that are flexible or plans that offer backup plans in the event that they do not turn out to be a big hit – or solid, as in my plan with WSU students.
The wise words of Benjamin Franklin could not be more fitting: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” I am revising my business plan as we speak.
Don’t just plan – expect change
Planning is ideal, but anticipating change is essential. Don’t just have a backup plan that emulates the original plan. Be creative. Anticipating change and being prepared for unforeseen events will make or break your business. Therefore, being quick on your feet and utilizing the “think out-of-the-box” method will allow you to create new avenues for your business.
Keep costs low
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of keeping costs low when bootstrapping your business. Unless you are Donald Trump – the businessman and not the political candidate – you should always be wary of high and unnecessary expenses.
I, for one, utilize a long list of free software, apps and connections to get the job done for The Learning Hub. My major expense of $500 is held for rent. Utilities are included, so the variable-costs factor is kept low. I use Wave accounting for the books, a great tool that is user-friendly and offers the same features as QuickBooks. MailChimp is my platform for email marketing – free for under 1,000 emails, and I am nowhere near that.
And as for marketing? Well, I am the PR rep and the director of marketing and I use all things free. These include connecting with families through the PTO, community meetings, my yoga class and my writing class, and meeting with local businesses to boost their awareness of The Learning Hub and possible partnerships and cross-promotion opportunities.
The main point here is: Fake it, until you make it. Present yourself as a big business but use a small budget.
Admit your weakness
I like to think I have none, but in reality I possess a few weaknesses. One being time management – just ask my editor, Fred. With all the things piled on my plate of business buffet, time management is my biggest weakness.
The first step to failure is avoiding the fact that you are not invincible. Admit to it. Own it. Embrace it. Find a solution for it.
Mine? I carry around a planner and notebook and sync all ideas, appointments and to-do lists through my iPhone calendar. I jot down ideas as they come to me throughout the day and then schedule a time to do research. My planner is basically my bible and I utilize it more than the average person.
I buy creative planners to help me juggle the endless list of business responsibilities. I tend to include my family affairs under the category of business responsibilities.
We just admitted you have a weakness like every other superhero, but now it is time to branch out. Your weakness can be someone else’s strength.
Be sure to always be on the lookout for new team members. Yes, team members. Not every business idea can be run by one person. You need a sidekick. Someone who can complement your work ethics, ideas and weaknesses.
Don’t have the money to pay your sidekick? Offer great incentives. For me, I offer a friend free tutoring for his daughter if he helps with print marketing. It is the best part of a share economy. Barter with someone who can be an asset to your business. Make it worth their while, and I assure that they will reciprocate the favor.
And if all else fails, just sit in a place your find inspiring, and take a moment to clear your mind and reevaluate your business. Do you want it to succeed as much as you want to take your next breath? If the answer yes, then don’t stop working.
Follow along with Giselle’s inspiring journey from the beginning: