Oct 24, 2017
I am in awe of single-person-run businesses. Sara Blakely, the entrepreneur and former-CEO of Spanx, comes immediately to mind. Have you listened to the first episode of “How I Built This”? It is riveting to listen to Sara talk about building her business from the ground up; bumping into trees and knocking them down. She built an empire on a product line that empowers women around the globe, and she did it virtually by herself. Some of us, however, need a little more help.
When I moved to Seattle to begin my career as an independent musician, I had very little help. I moved to Washington on a whim, leaving the majority of my industry connections in Miami, Florida; at least, the ones who didn’t move immediately to New York City or Los Angeles. Using my scantly-prepared business skills acquired from precisely one “music business” course at University of Miami, I set out to pave my career path. I bumped into many trees and rarely knocked them down.
The key ingredient to building a successful team is to keep the ingredients to a minimum. It’s tempting to chase after the thought leaders of your industry who receive the most press and seem to have *it* figured out. As you have likely experienced, they are either a) prohibitively expensive or b) not available to you. I, instead, rely on the advice my high school choral director gave me upon auditioning for college music programs: “Go with the one that wants you the most”.
I would add to that sage advice: only enter into clearly symbiotic and well-communicated agreements, at least in the beginning. Call it a handshake deal. As you are seeking a product fit, it will hinder your business to sign away equity or assets before you have comprehensively researched the needs of your audience.
Tattoo it on your forehead: Never sign a contract without discussing specific deliverables from a key partner.
Take another look at Sara Blakely’s story — she understood the needs of her consumer before even creating her product, and she didn’t find a product fit immediately; she amended her garments based on critical feedback and resisted outsourcing creative control. She is currently worth $1.1 billion.
Over the years, I have had the extreme fortune of surrounding myself with kind, educated, free-thinking partners, and together, we have grown a business of which we’re exceptionally proud. We started small and, through trial-and-error, we’ve kept it small with few exceptions over the years.
We made the initial error of hiring out positions to those rank-and-file industry players who promised big and delivered little. Fortunately, we followed our own advice and were able to terminate toxic business relationships before we became embroiled in contracts and financial obligations. We follow the litmus test that if it feels like we are handling our business internally, we have the right team. If we’re scratching our heads wondering what they do (especially if they are being paid), we have to take an honest look at why we have hired them.
Sustainable growth is often incremental. Don’t expect to deliver the next Spanx to the marketplace, but do follow Sara Blakely’s model of doing everything in your power to do everything in your power YOURSELF.