4 Things I Learned From Starting A Business

If you read my last post, you’ll remember that I started my business with mild interest and lukewarm intentions. (Note to self: not the best way to start.) I’ve since learned a lot about being a small business owner and running your own creative business. Spoiler alert: it’s not easy, it’s not glamorous, and you’ll probably want to give up 934,553 times.

BUT. It’s also incredibly rewarding being able to do something you're passionate about. And in the end, for me at least, that far outweighs everything else (i.e. me running around like a mad woman).

So today I’m sharing 4 key things you need to know about starting your own business. These 4 things have helped keep me moving in the right direction and have pushed me forward. But keep in mind that you don’t have to be starting a business for these to apply to you! These are general life principles that are applicable to anyone, whatever you might be going through.


1. Believe In Yourself

In my opinion, this is a non-starter. Also, I think taking care of yourself is a big precursor to believing in yourself. (So maybe this might be more aptly titled "Taking Care of Yourself"?) I’m a big proponent of taking care of yourself, both mentally and emotionally. It’s only in recent years that we (as a society) have started to put a greater emphasis on mental health. As a result, I’ve become increasingly aware of how much your mental and emotional health can impact other areas of your life. So take care of yourself. Exercise, eat well, and do the things that make you come alive. Take time off, spend time with your family, and live the little moments in your life. Know your self worth and be confident in who you are. You were created with your own unique set of gifts and talents and no one else can replicate that. Be patient with yourself, give yourself grace, and love yourself well. Really, really well.

I grew up in a family and culture that didn’t promote the notion of self-care. Instead, appearances mattered over everything else. As long as everything appeared to be fine on the outside, you were good. As an older sibling, I grew up being the “mom.” With my siblings and even in my peer groups, I was the nurturing one. The mother hen. (Anyone else an Enneagram 2?) As a result, that became my norm. I carried a lot of emotional baggage with me into my adult years because I didn’t know how to take care of myself. I had anger issues, resentment issues, abandonment issues, you name it. I had never learned how to care for myself emotionally, to love myself, and to believe in myself. It wasn’t until I learned that things like “emotional health” and “self care” were real, that I was able to start resolving some of these issues that had been with me for so long. And then personality tests like the Meyers Briggs and the Enneagram became popular. I was able to dig even deeper into the way I’m wired and why I do the things I do. Although I don’t believe these personality tests are the be-all-end-all, they’ve helped me understand myself better and how to become the healthiest version of me that I can be.

Now, I have the confidence to believe in myself and my capabilities (most of the time!). And it all started with taking some time to get to know myself better and be able to fall in love with myself.


2. Take Ownership.

After I started feeling more confident in myself, I realized that if I was going to be serious about running my own business, I needed to take ownership. So often, I wanted to play the victim card and make excuses for why I wasn’t doing this or why I couldn’t do that. But really, I just didn’t want to take on the responsibility because I was scared. Taking ownership is scary. Especially when you’re not even sure what you’re doing 90% of the time. But you’ll also never really achieve anything if you don’t take charge. For me, taking ownership meant that I needed to do a ton of research on everything relating to business. What I didn’t know scared me, and thus prevented me from growing. So I set out to learn as much as I could to dispel that fear. I learned how to use Instagram and Pinterest as business tools. I learned why having an email list was important, and then I learned how to create one. I learned what good branding looked like. And I taught myself how to use Photoshop and Illustrator to up my design game. I learned what a CRM was, and why using one would be beneficial to my business. I learned how to protect myself with legit, legal contracts and how to pay my sales tax every year. While I'm not an expert at any of these things, I feel better just knowing how to start.

As my business mentors keep telling me: We don’t know what we don’t know. So it’s important to ask questions. It's important to take ownership. Whether it's your business, or a dream you have in your heart, or a goal you're pursuing. Don't let fear hold you back. Continue exploring, learning, and doing all that you can do to grow.


3. Stop Comparing.

When I first started to get serious about my little business, I reached unhealthy levels of comparison. While I did try to compare myself to other calligraphers/wedding vendors, my biggest problem was actually comparing myself to friends/people I knew who were working great jobs at great corporate companies, making great salaries and enjoying all the great perks. (I live in the heart of Silicon Valley, so everyone I know basically works in tech. And basically makes bank so they can afford to live here.) See, even though I knew deep down that I could never go back to the corporate life, a little part of me still wanted it because I wanted to be like everyone else. I wanted to be comfortable, but I also wanted to break out of the box I had been stuck in all my life. It was frustrating because I felt like I was caught in the middle of two worlds, both of which I wanted a part. And even though I knew I shouldn’t compare, I still did.

As Brene Brown puts it, “Comparison kills creativity and joy.” And I couldn’t agree more. The more I compared, the more hopeless I felt. There was no room for creativity or joy because comparison so powerfully overshadowed everything else. Something that helped me move past comparison was to be aware of when I was doing it. So often, we think things in our subconscious that our conscious mind doesn’t catch. I started to make more of an effort to be conscious of where my thoughts were going. When I did catch myself comparing, I would intentionally shift my thinking to something else. If I was feeling inadequate, I would declare truth over myself. (You might feel really stupid at first. But honestly, saying things like "I am adequate. I am enough. I can do this. I am successful." really helped me feel more confident in myself. Take a chance and give it a try!) Or if something cool happened to someone else, I would choose to celebrate and not be jealous or feel less than. (Doesn't mean it was easy for me to do!) While comparison will still rear its head every now and then, it’s nowhere near as bad as it was.

So if you're struggling with comparison. Keep your eyes on YOUR vision, YOUR dreams, and YOUR goals. Everyone else's journey isn't going to matter in the end. (You don't have to become narcissistic about it, but create healthy boundaries for yourself!) Also, most importantly, learn to celebrate yourself! Recognize your accomplishments, whether they’re big or small, and learn to celebrate them. When you can learn to celebrate your successes, you'll spend less time comparing yourself to other people.


4. Progress Over Perfection

Being a perfectionist while trying to run a business, but you don’t know what you’re doing 90% of the time… Sound familiar to anyone else?! Well, this is definitely me. Especially with running a very visual/aesthetic-centric business, I want everything to be “just right” and “perfect”. All the time. But guess what? It definitely isn't. This is one of those areas where I’m constantly telling myself to give myself grace. In fact, it just happened 15 minutes ago when I saw a friend’s Instagram feed and was thinking how beautiful it was. I looked at mine and thought “I could do better.” And you know what? Maybe I could do better with curating my feed. But I realized that wasn’t the point. (Also, see my comparison section above.) The point is that I’ve already made so much progress from where I was three months ago, and six months ago, and a year ago. It’s easy to sell yourself short when you’re not looking at the full story. I look back on my first few Instagram posts and Etsy listings and I’m able to laugh at myself because I’ve learned so much about photography and Instagram and my brand aesthetics since the beginning. That's what's important. The progress that I've made and am continuing to make. I strive to constantly grow and evolve. And yes, I strive to do things with excellence. But I don’t strive for perfection.

Winston Churchill said, "Perfection is the enemy of progress." Progress allows us to learn, to experiment, and to grow. It might be messy, and there will definitely be some failures along the way... But it’s better than suffocating yourself by only aiming for perfection, right? Learn to have fun with the process. Let yourself try new things. Take some risks and see where it takes you. You never know what might come out of it!

I hope that these 4 keys are encouraging and helpful on your journey of growth! Like I said, these are great things to keep in mind when you're starting, or already have, your own business. But really, they're great life lessons that I try to implement in all areas of my life. I'd love to know, what are some of the life lessons that you live by? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Carole Lola: The Beginning Of
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I’ve been reflecting a lot on my business these past six months, uncovering my why’s and my vision. How did I get here and why do I what I do? I thought I’d unpack a little bit of my background and share with you how Carole Lola started in the first place.

I never intended to start my own business. At least, not really.

I’ve worked many different jobs in the past, each one lacking in some way, and each leaving me bored, unmotivated, over-stressed, or a combination of thereof. While they weren’t all bad, they were…unexceptional. I found it hard to settle for something that was “just another job.” I needed something more in my work. I was looking for something that would challenge me, and ignite some kind of passion and purpose in me.

Whenever I started feeling stuck in a job, I would think back to a conversation I had in my senior year of high school. A family member had asked me what I’d like to do in the future, career-wise. I listed off some options I had thought of at the time. And I remember vaguely adding in as an afterthought that it would be cool to start a small business someday. (I had no idea what I’d do as a business, but it seemed like a cool, adult, creative thing to say.) Anyway, that family member shot down my business idea real quick. Basically, they said that it would be too hard for me, I didn’t have what it took, and that even if I tried, I wouldn’t succeed. And I remember feeling a slight twinge rise up in me, thinking “Just you wait, you’ll see.” (For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a teensy rebellious streak in me. Yup, I’m one of those people where if you tell me I can’t do something, I’ll try it anyway, mostly just to succeed and prove that I can actually do it, thank you very much.)

I didn’t think too much of the conversation after that, but it would come to mind every now and then while I was in college. I even ended up taking a few entrepreneurship classes at my local community college. But I still didn’t have any good business ideas so it stayed dormant until my mid-20s.

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In my early 20s, I discovered the art of modern calligraphy. (Traditional calligraphy never appealed to me and I didn’t know that you could put your own twist on traditional styles!) Friends encouraged me to start creating hand-lettered items and to sell on Etsy. So I did. And trust me, my beginnings were not so glamorous. I hardly knew what I was doing, creation-wise, and I definitely didn’t know what I was doing, business-wise. I knew ZERO small business owners at the time (thank God I’ve made some friends in recent years!) and I didn’t have anyone I could talk about my business with.

I struggled A TON. I kept straddling the line between business and hobby and couldn’t find a way to move forward. Mostly because I didn’t even know what I wanted out of it. Did I just want a way to make some extra money on the side? Or did I want to start a for real business? I also didn’t know how to even run a business. It was hard to keep it going, especially since I was also working a full time job that took up a lot of my emotional and mental energy. My creativity was lacking and I fell into this slump. I thought that maybe that person was right. I didn’t have what it took.

At the time, I was also going through a huge identity/quarter-life crisis. (Yes, quarter life crises are definitely a thing.) I ended up quitting my job and leaving everything behind to move to a small town in northern California to attend ministry school. Being there changed my life in the best way possible. I grew spiritually, emotionally, and creatively, and it completely changed the way that I saw myself. As I grew in my relationship with God, I also started to grow in my confidence and recognize my self-worth. I started to uncover vision and purpose for my life. As it turns out, taking care of myself during that season was the most important thing I could be focusing on. I’m a firm believer that it’s going to be damn hard to truly rock at anything else in your life when you don’t know what’s going on with YOU. You can put on a show all you want and make the world believe that you’ve got it all together, but it doesn’t change the fact that you need to know who you are and whose you are. When I started taking the time to get to know myself, to understand myself, and to work through my mess, I learned so much about myself. Self-discovery is a lifelong process, but so very necessary. (I have a ton to say on this subject so I might save it for another post someday!)

At ministry school, surrounded by people who knew how to champion me and encourage me (in all areas of life), I felt like I was finally growing into myself, understanding who I was and who God created me to be. Creativity and entrepreneurship were two things that stood out to me during my time there (among many other things), and I started to put more thought again into my calligraphy. Since then, I’ve decided to invest in my business and most importantly, myself. Being able to have a job that allows me to do something I enjoy and love just feels like...me. I couldn't imagine it any other way. So I thought it was only appropriate to give myself a chance at this.

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As a disclaimer, I haven’t “made it” by any means. And to be totally transparent, I’m still working other jobs to make sure I'm able to make ends meet. But I’ve come such a long way. Beyond constantly improving my calligraphy style to create something that is uniquely me, I’ve had to learn about: marketing, legal, accounting, social media platforms, packaging, delivery services, website design, photography, email lists, content strategy, and so much more. While it’s been incredibly difficult, and there’s moments where I just want to give up altogether, it’s also been the most worthwhile career I’ve ever pursued.

No one ever tells you what being a small business owner will be like. Mostly because there is no one right or wrong path. The path you’ll go on is yours alone, and will be unlike anyone else’s. It’ll possibly be the hardest thing you’ve ever taken on, but it’s also entirely up to you to decide whether it’s worth it.

Believing in myself and learning to take ownership were some of my first steps forward. In my next post, I’ll be sharing on these topics and a few others that helped shift my perspective on my business. Whether you're pursuing a dream in your heart or you're just trying to get through life, know that it's possible and within reach. It might not look like what you imagined, but you'll get there in the end.

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