Managing a local business is hard, but starting it from scratch is even more difficult. Lilly Benitez tells about the process she went through to start her storefront business and how she successfully maintains it day by day:
I am Lilly Benitez, founder of Blade Craft Barber Academy, located in the heart of Deep Ellum across from the delicious Pecan Lodge. We offer therapeutic and relaxing barbering services to the public, and top shelf liquor and refreshments are offered with the Straight Razor Shave, Tailored Haircut, and Beard Shaping. For the barbering industry, we offer a boutique learning environment that provides a place to hone and acquire tonsorial techniques. On top of running our business, I still barber because I love it so much!
Starting a local business feels like you're running a marathon blindfolded. Am I going the right way? Has it even started? What if I fall?!
Please be encouraged in that it is possible! Ensuing are some personal life experiences that I hope help you pursue your Entrepreneurial Endeavors, especially in starting and managing a storefront business:
I'm going to start where I started. I am a barber by trade, not a Business Plan creator (or so I thought). An industry colleague I respected, who had his own business, explained that no bank, partner, or potential Investor would ever take me seriously without a written plan. I had no idea where to begin, which brings me to my next point:
Let's tackle this category in two sections, human & non-human:
Coaching has come in various ways for me. I have a mentor, and we communicate on a daily basis. I respect his opinion, and usually if I don't quite understand the "why," I will after actually applying it.
Mentors come in all forms. Honor their efforts by being prepared! Have a list of preliminary questions to address once you have their attention. The last thing you need to do when starting a business is attempt to do it on your own!
2. Business Consultant
After getting ripped off by my first business consultant, I had a more interesting conversation with the next one; we connected, and he agreed to tutor me in writing my plan. He'd give me a topic, and I would research and find the coinciding data. The best part was that at the end of the consultation, I really knew my stuff. This gave me the confidence to speak to potential investors and banks to fund my dream. As far as where to find one, the SBA and People Fund are great for referrals.
My attorney is one of my greatest resources. He literally coached me through numerous almost detrimental partnerships, and then literally explained what my ideal partner would sound like, look like, and care about. He broke things down in what I call “Lilly Terms.” He has always helped me understand the situation at hand.
Accounting isn't usually a topic people are excited to address. However, like with my attorney, I was lucky to find someone who has the patience to sit with me and answer all of my questions. I am fully in touch with my finances and know where costs are going and where they have been spent. I arm myself with as much preliminary knowledge, but I do also request a sit down every now and then with my accountant. I literally go through my profit and loss statement line by line with her to understand even more. She has always complimented me on my desire to learn!
5. Interior Designer
Gary Buckner from Stash Design has also been an ongoing relationship. You may think, “Well, you are already open, why do you need him?” Things grow and change, and having a relationship with someone that has influenced our culture and feel has been exponential. We share contacts, refer business, and he continually helps us look our best as a storefront. He also stands behind his work and the furniture he makes us. He is connected to the community, and knowing him is like catching up with an old friend.
6. Graphic Designer / Photographer
I can't stress this enough: Hire a professional! My graphic designer is a guru. He knows the why, what, and how when it comes to people processing and experiencing a brand. His help in creating my business' identity was crucial when the shop didn’t exist yet. Our Videographer has been extremely helpful in creating the images that portray who we are. Our Apprentices even know each of them by name and always look forward to working with them!
I’m sure by now you have realized that these are all ongoing relationships, just as the following are ongoing exercises:
One way to start is by asking other entrepreneurs what books they enjoy and have found to be beneficial. I must admit, I usually have two or three reads going at a time. Here are three I personally suggest:
The ‘Starting a Business’ Course at SMU is an 8 week course that happens on Tuesday evenings. It helps break things down, which is especially helpful when you've never operated a business before.
Khan Academy: Entrepreneur Chats, Accounting, Finance
Ted Talks: Entrepreneur
Keep up with your progress. I am old school and keep a journal. It really helps keep me on track, and it gives me perspective when I feel overwhelmed. I can look back and see the tasks I have accomplished. This simple practice helps me psychologically in realizing that I have made progress. Start by contemplating where you want to go, and then continue by making sure that your company is headed in that direction.
Exercise, and maintain optimal physical health. Crossfit, yoga, and running are all physical activities that I indulge in on a daily basis. Nothing clears my mind better than running a 5k after a day at the shop. Nutrition is huge for maintaining steady energy and stamina.
Find an excellent Barber or Hairdresser. They keep you looking your best, and they are great at providing references and vacation suggestions!
Once you’ve identified who your client is, ensure you know what they want.
To quote one of my favorite clients, "When you ask for feedback and it all comes back great, you're in trouble." He proceeded to explain to me how we tend to pose survey questions that will yield the answers we want to hear. Except that you don't get better at doing push ups by doing girl push-ups. You have to practice real push ups. Even if it's just one. Eventually you'll do 3. (I can now do 100- totally not unbroken).
I say this to mean that actually listening to raw feedback may sting a little bit, but once addressed, that feedback turns to legitimate value. Your clients are your biggest cheerleaders, and they would like to see you succeed.
Your coffee shop and closest restaurants are great for obtaining a feel of what is at the top of mind for the neighborhood. Invest and connect with other business owners! You will be refreshed with speaking with like minded people, and it is a win-win!
The only reason your business is able to grow is because of your team and their hard work and dedication. They are the true heroes and MVPs. I only hire passionate, intelligent, and high-energy individuals that enjoy having fun.
While starting a business can seem a bit daunting, it is definitely a dream worth striving for. Growing and managing the business has been the most rewarding part! As my mentor reminds me,
“If you reach for the stars and miss, you’ll still land on the tallest building!” Let me tell you, it is an exceptional view from here!!!