**Note to readers: Apologies for the delay with this newsletter. A close friend unexpectedly passed away in October so I took some well needed time out. I’m back now and will be publishing the newsletter on the last Thursday of each month. Thanks for being so patient!
📔 LESSONS OF THE YEAR
Top three lessons 2021 taught me about becoming a business founder 🤝🏾
Who else thinks that 2021 has been a hell of a ride? 🙋🏾 I’ve gone through the full spectrum of emotions from joy, to sadness (not to mention exhaustion) and benefitted from the lessons that life chose to sprinkle on me this year.
So, to kick-start the new year, I want to share the top lessons that 2021 had to share with me. Hopefully, this will help you to move forward and create an even better and bolder year for yourself.
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LESSON 1️⃣ : You can learn a lot from the things that DON’T work — Whether we’re scrolling through Instagram or a LinkedIn news feed, it’s fair to say that we are bombarded with images of success on a daily basis. This often prompts us to take a leaf out of another person’s book when we believe that they have a magic recipe for success. When, in reality, running a business involves making mistakes and learning from them as you go. There is no recipe or one size fits all approach, just ideas that can be tried, tested, learned from, scaled or thrown in the bin.
The problem is, this obsession with finding success loops can stop you from feeling comfortable with taking calculated risks — which often lead to the learning curves that you need to figure out what does and doesn’t work. Risks allow you to grow and provide you with valuable data that can help you to pivot or adapt. None of this can really happen if you’re so obsessed with success that you’re afraid to be burned by a little bit of failure.
My year has been full of trial and error, and although many tactics I employed didn’t work, these experiences often taught me how to take the right approach. In the spirit of sharing, here are a few of the highlights:
I tried to get press coverage without an angle or a press kit 😅 — This was a lesson I had to learn the hard way. After a few months of reaching out to publications and getting zero replies, I found an incredible PR Specialist who taught me better! FYI for all those who want to get coverage, get yourself a press kit (Fiverr will save you) and someone who knows what they’re doing. Three months of doing this alone got me nowhere, but three months working with someone who knows the ropes and we had coverage in publications like Sheen, Schick Magazine and Pop Sugar.
The customers I initially targeted were not in the most searched locations 📍 — For context, my tech platform helps people to find and book appointments with afro hairdressers. Think of it as Google maps for people who need an afro hair specialists. I need to have enough stylists using the platform to cater to the people who want to book appointments. So I started using industry data to decide what areas to target to find and onboard my first set of hairdressers. It was a tough process but in a few weeks, I had enough stylists to go live. But, after 6x months of collecting data, I realised the profiles that have gained the most views were not in the locations that I initially thought they would be in. Instead of viewing this as a ‘failure’, I used the new data to nudge me in a better direction and tweak my outreach strategy in 2022.
I thought posting job ads would be enough to find a CTO ☕🐸 — I spent the best part of 2021 looking for someone to take the reigns of the technical work for Mane Hook-Up. Passively. In my mind, posting a couple of job ads should have led to applications rolling through, which was far from the case. Finding someone who is so important to the growth of your business should be an all hand on deck thing. Personality, skill and vision all need to be taken into consideration and you have to be prepared to go hunting. When I finally realised I needed to get my hands dirty, what had been a year-long journey turned into a six-week turnaround to finally find our CTO.
My first team of developers were a nightmare and I ignored all the red flags 🚩 — In the spirit of pushing through to get sh*t done, I chose to stick it out with a team of developers that gave me more headache than help 😭. I’ve already dedicated a whole post about this drama (feel free to get the tea here), but I learned a great deal about how to choose a technical team and the second time around managed to get it right.
I tried to do take on too much by myself 🤨 — Building a business takes time, energy and a lot of man (or woman) power. What I quickly realised this year is that you can only go solo for so long. In the beginning, you are the operations manager, the financial lead, the marketing specialist and the PA, but this really isn’t sustainable. It took a couple of months of missing some targets for me to recognise this and start looking for help. Fast forward a year later, and I have a team of seven people behind the scenes helping Mane Hook-Up to progress, lifting a weight off my shoulders and helping us to gradually work through our goals. As they say, it takes a village.
These are just a few of the things that didn’t work out for me initially (trust me, there’s plenty more). But from these experiences, I gradually had the information that I needed to do better. Through trial and error you can quickly find ways to create your own success hacks.
LESSON 2️⃣ : Take your time with hiring. Finding the right people makes a HUGE difference — There is nothing better than finding the right people to help build your business. Whether you’re working with freelancers or looking for permanent long-term members of your team, it’s so important to find people who believe in your vision and want to bring it to life.
This year I needed to bring people on board to continue building Mane Hook-Up and admittedly my attempts were very hit and miss. Mainly as I rushed into hiring short-term support when I felt like I needed the help yesterday. Decisions that I should have made over a couple of days, I made in a few hours which ultimately led to disruption that I (with my already time-poor self) had to clean up.
I soon realised that there was a recurring pattern and I started to feel the difference between the right and wrong hires that I made…
When I got it right 🥳:
They would make a difference immediately and I felt a weight being lifted from my shoulders, I got some time back (winning)
Certain aspects of the businesses would run themselves (e.g. social media, PR) and my input would be minimal (winning again)
Processes that I couldn’t create were put in place for the long term and documented (thrice winning)
When I got it wrong 😭:
There was a lot of hand-holding and I felt that my time would have been better spent doing the work myself (sigh 😩)
Delivery was off the mark and I had to be heavily involved in fixing/correcting their work which distracted me from more important tasks (sigh again 😩)
Processes couldn’t stand the test of time and we had to go back to the drawing board (😩😭😭)
As a Founder, you have a limited amount of time and it needs to be well spent. Having a great team will enable you to focus on the tasks that are best tackled by you, so every hire that you make is important. Yes, you can find a designer in minutes on Upwork or Fiverr, but that doesn't mean you have to part with your money so quickly. Ask enough questions that will make you feel comfortable and confident in their ability to deliver and, most importantly…
Take. Your. Time.
LESSON 3️⃣ : Life happens and it’s OK to take a break — At the beginning of this newsletter, I mentioned taking a break from writing after someone close to me passed away. It was a difficult time — they were like a surrogate parent to me and I knew that some aspects of my life wouldn’t quite be the same without them. In moments like this sometimes the hardest thing is being still, especially when you’re used to being busy and not having huge amounts of time to think. And I was definitely guilty of taking on too much.
In hindsight, I know that I should have given myself the space to process my emotions properly by taking a step back from the many things that I do. But instead, I paused one or two things (the newsletter being one of them) and powered through the rest ofmy to-do list in an unconscious attempt to create a much-needed distraction.
Grief hits us all differently and I used my business to busy myself when I should have concentrated on allowing myself to feel pain and go through the process of healing. Work is great as it can create a sense of focus and stop you from falling completely off the band wagon, but it is not a substitute for managing perfectly healthy emotions. You will have to pause eventually, it’s just a matter of time. And my time came at the beginning of December — I got to an early morning gym session and just broke down. Tears and everything, straight up ugly crying 😭. Fortunately, I was with a good friend who allowed me to just feel and go through the motions. He also recommended that I take time off to re-group and allow myself to mentally and physically recover.
That’s exactly what I did. I finally hit the pause button.
No work. No calls. No meetings.
These moments are essential for us to truly recover. As a Founder it is very easy to fall into the trap of ‘I must’, ‘no-one else can’ and ‘without me, how will we do it?’ These are all valid questions to ask, but the reality is you can only do so much when your tank is running on empty so you have to embrace moments of stillness.
Running a business doesn’t stop life from happening and you have to learn when to take a break instead of waiting for your mind or body to force you into one.
To sum it up…
As much as we always want to get it right the first time around, life would be pretty dull without a few good (sometimes hard) lessons along the way. To me, making mistakes is code for growth — there is always a lesson to be learned, you just have to be open and ready to recieve it.
So, use 2022 as an opportunity to learn as much as possible. Take a few calculated risks, do things that make you feel uncomfortable and, most importantly, give yourself the space to heal when necessary.
Wishing you all an incredible year full of opportunties.
Help Becoming a Founder to grow by sharing it with a fellow founder or friend 🔥 🔥
🐤 TWEET TIPS
Coming up next time…
And that’s a wrap for this week. Here are some of the things that are coming up next!
Building a team that delivers
Overcoming system overload
Creating the story before you start fundraising