Prep School: Of Course I’m Working Today!

Every day I'm hustlin'
The entrepreneur’s anthem.

 

Like Shark Tank’s Lori Greiner says, “Entrepreneurs are willing to work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week.” Tim Ferriss of “The 4-Hour Workweek” would disagree, but I’m with Lori. If you want to be an entrepreneur, you’ll have to first understand–really understand–how you’ll be working more hours than you probably worked in any other job. Once you truly grasp that, your next challenge will be to explain your insane schedule to the people in your life. And that’s what this post will address.

As an entrepreneur, you’ll wear many hats (all of which you will have to design, order and keep track of). Especially at first–and potentially for several years–you’ll be doing some of the what the classic business book The E-Myth calls the “technician” work.  In my case, that consists of doing makeup for clients, ordering the products I need, taking makeup artistry classes, etc. Especially if your career involves services instead of products, you will likely be providing services or covering for employees who provide them at some point. Unless you have a business partner who handles the admin side or an admin assistant from Day 1, you’ll spend a lot of time doing the admin and management tasks. Depending on your industry, that role could include any or all of the following: client/customer communication, vendor communication, invoicing, receiving payments, paying bills, ordering office/store products or supplies, scheduling appointments or deliveries, interviewing job candidates, hiring personnel, firing personnel, payroll, marketing, communicating with your accountant, communicating with your attorney and approximately 27,000 other tasks (that’s a low estimate). And as the owner of the company, throw in time spent on building the brand, making major decisions regarding the direction of the company, constantly re-evaluating systems amd protocols and growing the business via new locations, products and/or services.

So if someone says “Are you working tomorrow?” resist the urge to strangle them. Until/if you have the personnel to cover all of the technician and managerial/admin work, a true day off is unlikely. But it’s unfair to expect your friends and family to know that. I don’t think I would have known it if I hadn’t spent most of my pre-AB Beauty years working in small businesses. And even then, I didn’t really get it until I opened my own company.

I think a lot of people only understand jobs in a black or white way. If you’re not doing something they consider a job, they don’t think you’re working. An all-jobs-are-black-and-white person looks at a teacher and thinks “They only work 7:00am-2:00pm Monday through Friday, and they get summers off.” Nope! They have lesson plans to make and supplies to shop for after school hours, as well as meetings and continuing ed that can’t be done during the school day. Many of them are in the building a few weeks before the school year starts setting up their classroom. (I’m probably missing a lot of responsibilities–this is just what I’ve observed from my time as a school secretary and what I’ve heard from teachers I know). So can we agree that their job consists of more than just the time they are in a classroom with their students?

With my job, which is actually a few jobs (makeup artist, manager, business owner), some people think that if I’m not with clients, I’m not working. In reality, the majority of my 80+ hour workweek is spent managing and growing my business, not doing makeup. I live in Charleston, SC for a few months in the winter and several people–including some friends and relatives–have asked me if I work while I’m there. It’s truly flattering that they think I’m doing well enough that I could go on a three month vacation. But of course I’m working! Because I don’t really take clients while I’m there, I guess some people think that means I just hang out, drink bourbon and eat grits (I wish). What they don’t think about–and this no one’s fault if it’s never been explained to them–is how a business doesn’t run itself. Because I don’t have an admin assistant or business partner–which is the case for many entrepreneurs, at least for a span of time–I do all of the client communication, job schedules, bridal trial coordinating, client invoices, contracts, paying Independent Contractors, managing my team, marketing, coming up with new business ideas, consulting with attorneys and accountants, buying what is needed for our studio and some of those 27,000 other things every day. I don’t expect anyone to understand that until I explain it, and I suggest you have them same outlook if you’re your own boss.

When you do explain it, don’t be a jerk about it. It can easily come off in a condescending “I’m busier than you and my job is more important” way. And that’s not true. It’s just that you decided to open your own business, and that comes with a grueling schedule for a while (if you want to succeed, anyway). If you can clearly–and nicely–communicate to the people you are closest to that you work every day, even if you’re not with clients/customers, you’ve done all you can do with this one.

Have a beautiful day 🙂

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Prep School: It’s Not a Hobby

No freebies
Gotta let ’em know.

Although you’ll hopefully do something you enjoy if/when you go into business, the career you choose is not a hobby. You’ll need to charge people for the product(s) or service(s) you offer, as that’s how business works. Unfortunately, some people around you may forget that. It will be part of your job to (nicely) remind them. I strongly suggest setting those boundaries early and having a script for the pro bono requests you will likely get.

Even when you are a struggling new business owner, you may find some family members and friends want you to do your job for free. Some people won’t make the connection between you not having enough money to do things with them and how the money you need comes from you selling your products/services to paying customers/clients. I’m not sure if this happens as often in product-based businesses, but it’s been my experience and the experience of other entrepreneurs I know that when your company offers services, some people think nothing of asking you to do your job for them sans payment. “Sounds familiar!” says every bartender ever.

As a makeup artist and licensed esthetician, my friends and family often ask me for beauty advice. I am more than happy to answer their questions, and honestly, I owe it to them since they’ve been so understanding of my entrepreneuritis. But when people expect me to do their makeup and not charge them for it, that is very different. It’s probably my fault because when I started, I wanted to do my friends’ makeup when they came over. After about five years though, I felt differently. As much as I love applying makeup, it is (part of) my job. And if I have a friend over and I can finally relax, the last thing I want to do is work more. I mean, think about it. Imagine you’re an elementary school math teacher and you go to a friend’s house after work one day. How would you feel if she asked you to teach fractions to her daughter and fifteen neighborhood kids?

I charge clients for makeup applications because I am giving them my time and expertise, plus using my products (which are not cheap). Now, there are a few people in my life who I choose to do makeup for at no charge because they are my family and have helped me and my business countless times over the years. And I’m happy to help a friend out if she is touching up her eyeliner at my house and I know a technique that could help her. When I volunteer to do it, it’s because I want to and I think I could help someone improve their beauty life. But if we are going out and a friend asks me to do a full face with my products when I just want to drink some tequila and catch up, I’m not into it.

Whatever job you end up doing has value, and that’s important to remember. I’m not saying you should never ever give away a product or do a free service for someone close to you. But if you do, make sure to be clear from the start what your boundaries are. And avoid casting that net of freebies too wide. For example, I would never ever charge my mother for a makeup application, but a friend who comes over with her cousin who I’ve never met? Nope. Not for free, and not without an appointment set up. You’ll have to figure out who you will give free or discounted services/products to, but I strongly suggest keeping it to a very small group.

In talking to other entrepreneurs, I’ve found that they have all encountered friends or family asking for or expecting free products or services. (I actually saw a post about this from another business owner I know as I was editing this post.) Early on, I suggest setting some boundaries so you don’t feel like you’re being taken advantage of or are losing income because you feel guilty about charging certain people. So in using the example of my friend from the intro who wants to open a yoga studio, maybe she’ll be fine with showing a friend a pose that would help with some back pain, but she will draw the line at doing a full, private yoga lesson for free. If you plan on opening a product-based business and you anticipate you’ll have family/friends who will expect the items you sell for free or deeply discounted, how about alerting them when your company is running a promo? Like “Hey, I know you love this ___. We’re selling it for 20% off right now, so thought you’d want to know.”

It’s not cold-hearted or mean to charge your friends/family for your products and services. If they truly love you, support you and value what you do, they will understand. The key is to set your boundaries early on by not giving away your products/services for free (so don’t do what I did). You’ll have to figure out the best way to say it, which is something a mentor or established small business owner friend/contact could help you with. (If you don’t know any other small business owners, try joining a local networking group or even Facebook page of business owners in your area or industry. You can sometimes get great advice from these types of groups.)

I know this can be a tough one, but running a business is full of tough problems. So get used to it! And I’ll say it one more time in case it hasn’t sunk in: set your boundaries early. That can potentially save you a world of trouble. And that’s what this Prep School series is here for.

Have a beautiful day 🙂

Prep School: No Money, Mo’ Problems

Small business
Hopefully you don’t get so stressed about money that you lose all of your identifying features.

If you’re uncomfortable talking about, thinking about or dealing with money, do not open a business. As an entrepreneur, you’ll need to constantly run numbers, as they are indicative of the success and growth of your company. The numbers also tell you what you can and can not do with advertising, rate increases, building/office/storefront rentals, etc. If you’re reading this series and think you can skip over this post and “figure it out later,” that’s a bad move. You’ll be in for a rude awakening, because there is something you need to know.

You’re going to be broke.

How broke you will be and how long that will last depends on your living costs, any financial backing, your debt and the net profit from your new business. But I feel confident saying that most entrepreneurs experience being in the red at some point. My first few years in business were a major financial stressor for me, but I knew that I’d eventually have a real income. I was always able to pay my rent but there were times when I had a budget of $0.00 for my social life. So I had to turn down invites for dinners, trips, comedy shows, even going to visit out of state friends because I didn’t have money to put gas in my car. Even if I didn’t have a client or work commitment and had the time to do those things, my bank account told me otherwise.

Early on in my boss lady life, I had a friend’s sister ask me to pick up a Christmas gift for my friend from a specific store in Newport (they both lived out of the area and the store rejected the idea of e-commerce). This was before the days of venmo (not that I have that now) and for whatever reason we didn’t do PayPal, so my friend’s sister said she would send me a check for the price of the gift and the mailing. It ended up costing around $80, so not a huge amount. But the thing was, that was a huge amount to me because I was so broke. I think it took her a month to send the money to me, and I had to kind of chase her down for it. I knew she had a good job and money was not a problem for her, and since she was not a close friend and not an entrepreneur, she had no idea that $80 was a hardship for me. I wish I could say that was the only time my sad looking bank account affected anything, but there have been countless times over the years that I had to say no to things I wanted to do because I couldn’t afford to. I’m sure there were people who thought I was being cheap or using the “I have no money” excuse to get out of things, but luckily no one ever said it to me.

There are ways to minimize the impact of entrepreneur-related financial struggle though. The first thing I suggest is to get your financial life in the best shape it can be before you open the doors to your business. I went into my business with student loans from college and esthetics school, but had I waited until I paid those off with the Office Manager salary I was making at the time, I would probably still be paying them off today. (Entrepreneur life allowed me to clear them all by Year 7.) I did have three credit cards, which I had always used responsibly, so I made sure those were completely paid off before I went out on my own. I then proceeded to max them out building my business (then paid them off by Year 7), but if I had gone into boss life with student loan debt and credit card debt, I don’t think I would have made it this far. If you are even thinking about opening your own business, start paying down those credit cards and school loans (starting with whatever charges the highest interest rate) while you think. If you decide you don’t want to open a business, you’ve at least done something that will put you in a better financial position.

After you clear as much of your debt as you can, you have to look at your expenses. Here’s where I suggest going into Barebones Living (shout out to Oregon Trail for that one). I certainly did not do everything in the smartest way, but I knew that there were certain expenses I had–rent, car insurance and school loans–that I couldn’t minimize so I had to cut down other costs. I split Internet with my downstairs neighbor for a while, rarely went out to eat (unless I had done a friend’s makeup in exchange for them treating me to dinner), didn’t buy any new clothes or any non-essentials for my house for a couple years, walked everywhere I could to save money on gas, sold clothes on consignment and did a lot of other things I’m forgetting. Basically, if it wasn’t an absolute essential, I put it on a list of things I would buy someday when I had money. Seriously!

I’m no financial expert, but I think my advice is solid. The point of this post though is to prepare you for the reality that you will likely not have much money at some point during your early years in business.  If you’ve always worked low pay jobs and/or been buried by student loans since you graduated, this struggle won’t be new to you and therefore might be easier to handle. But if you are someone who has never had to worry about money, it’s going to be a shock to your system. Hopefully this post will help soften the blow.

I think we hear a lot about the financial success of entrepreneurs, which is good because it can be a reality and is part of the appeal of this lifestyle. But some stories gloss over or glamorize the Poor Years (yes, it’s often years), and how tough that can be. The good news is that if you build a strong business, you will eventually not only have money, but will have no ceiling to your income. That’s worth the struggle, right?

Have a beautiful day 🙂

 

Prep School: They Will Call You Lame

RSVP, entrepreneur
Opening a business? I predict a lot of regretfully declining in your future.

“Can you come out Friday night?” I don’t hear this question often because, you know, I’m in my mid 30s, but it still happens sometimes (and did a lot more when I started my business). I almost always have bridal trials or weddings on Saturday and Sunday mornings, so I don’t go out the night before. It’s not that I would take shots of Fireball and stay out until 3:00am, but even two drinks and a self imposed 11:00pm curfew doesn’t work for me when I have to be up at 6:00am. My clients pay me good money for a professional makeup application, and I’m not going to screw that up with shaky, tired, hungover hands and a lack of focus. I’ve gotten pushback from friends and some of the jokers I’ve dated who couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t go out on a Friday night if I didn’t have to be anywhere until 9:00am the next morning, but I’ve always held my ground. A 9:00am job means I’ll actually arrive at 8:45am, so that’s a 6:00am wakeup, since I have to answer emails, get myself ready and travel to jobs. I’m not doing that on five or six hours of sleep.

I love my friends and family and occasionally like the guys I date, but I’m not willing to make my job harder or give my clients a sub par makeup service because I stayed at Drunky McTipsy’s until last call the night before. Even if I don’t have clients the next morning but I have a huge admin workload, I’ll say no to an invite if I know it’s better for my company if I stay in, work all evening and get an early start the next morning. If you have the same mindset–and really, you should–you may find some friends get all pissy about it. I say, let ’em. If you’re honest about what you need to do to keep your business going and they still think you’re a bad friend for not drinking overpriced vodka sodas with them, then maybe it’s time to re-assess the value of that friendship.

If you think there are people in your life who may give you a hard time for this and call you lame, I suggest explaining to them why you can’t go out as often. (Or potentially at all, at least at first.) My advice is to talk to them about this at a random time, not after they’ve asked you to hang out. If an in-person conversation is not the route you want to go, email is a good option. Something along the lines of “I love you and I have so much fun when we hang out, but I really need to prioritize my business right now. I’m not great at ___ when I’m tired/hungover, and I don’t want to sabotage my company before it even takes off. Hopefully you understand. If you can meet for a coffee/grab lunch/catch a movie sometime this month, I’d love to see you.” Now, what kind of reasonable person would get mad at that?

I think you’ll find there are a lot of people who will get it, and they are the true gems. But remember, that kind of understanding needs to be reciprocated. You’ll have friends who will have stretches of time when they can’t hang out as much because of babies, new work schedules, studying for school or professional exams–whatever. It can be disappointing, especially when these life events (thanks, Facebook!) happen at different times and your schedules/lifestyles never align, but remember how understanding they were of your entrepreneur schedule. Like I said in the intro , you have to value those who are accepting of your entrepreneuritis.

It’s not lame of you to turn down an invite because you are prioritizing your business. It’s lame of someone to give you a hard time for that, and you can tell them the Wisdom Talker said so.

Have a beautiful day 🙂

 

 

Prep School: The Intro

Allison Barbera: Certified Wisdom Talker Since  2008.

A psychic once told me that I’m a Wisdom Talker, which is an old soul who gives valuable advice to those around her. Now, she definitely should not have said that to me. I already secretly thought I was a fantastic advice giver, but her validation made my incidences of unsolicited advice skyrocket. I’ve tried to rein it in and will now often ask a friend who is venting “Would you like me to just listen or do you want my input?” But when you come to my blog, you’re in the Wisdom Talker’s territory.

There are a ton of things I’m not qualified to give advice on. Raising children, cooking, training for a marathon, beekeeping–I could go on and on. But when it comes to small businesses, I think nine years of successfully running one makes me qualified to drop some knowledge. I don’t have all the answers and I’m sure there is a lot I could be doing better, but there are also some things I’ve learned that others may find helpful.

A friend of mine is considering opening a business and she recently asked me to be her mentor. (Ego inflation: 6,000%.) I wrote her a series of emails about what I’ve learned and it made me think, Can I share this with other aspiring entrepreneurs? And now here we are.

If you are thinking of opening a business, you’ve got a lot of research and preparation to do. That’s a whole different blog post. What I want to wisdom talk to you about today is how to prepare for the reality that the people around you may not understand your career. Starting a business (including freelancing) can be overwhelming and stressful, so being as prepared as possible with not only the business side but the reactions you may encounter will give you a leg up. I don’t want it to be a shock to your system if some of your relatives or closest friends back off from your relationship or give you shit for your new lifestyle.

Unless someone has owned a business, worked closely with the owner of a small business or had an entrepreneur in their family, they may not really get the demands of your business and how that has to be your priority. Please know that I’m not saying this in a holier-than-thou way. It’s just that it can be difficult for a person who is not an entrepreneur to fully grasp what that means, just like I’ll never truly know what it’s like to be a parent or a professional athlete. But if you are thinking of opening your own business, it might be helpful to be prepared for some of the misunderstanding you will likely encounter.

When you announce that you are starting your own business, you’ll ideally be met with support from your friends and family. Hopefully it stays that way for the length of your business, but don’t count on it. Unless everyone around you is an entrepreneur (in which case, LET ME IN YOUR CIRCLE), there are going to be some people who don’t understand your new lifestyle. Some may support you fully at first, but when it affects them, it can be a different story. If you can’t make it to their bridal shower because you have clients that morning or you can’t go on a trip with someone because you need to invest every extra penny in your business, they may see that as you not being a good friend/relative. Before opening AB Beauty, I had worked in enough small businesses to have an inkling that this would happen, which is why I told my crew early on “I’m probably going to be a bad friend for a few years.” And I did miss a lot of stuff (partly due to the fact that my job requires weekends) but I held on to most of my friends.

This is not a reason to not start a business. There will be people around you who support you and understand that there are things you need to do for your business–especially during the early years–but that doesn’t mean you don’t love them or want to spend time with them. My tactic has always been to explain where I’m at and why I can’t do certain things at the moment, but also to be there as much as I can in other ways. So maybe I couldn’t afford to go out for a friend’s birthday dinner when I was struggling to make my rent, but I’d definitely call her after her first day at a new job to see how it went. Bachelorette parties have usually been impossible for me because they are almost always on a spring, summer or fall Friday or Saturday night and I normally have to work the next day. But now that I have a real income, I can take that bride-to-be out to dinner to make up for it. And the schedule flexibility has allowed me to drive a friend to a doctor’s appointment on a Tuesday morning or help my cousin unpack at a new apartment on a Sunday after a wedding job. The people who have stuck around, supported me and not given me a hard time for cancelling plans because of a last minute job call mean the world to me and they are the ones I make an extra effort to see and be there for.

This was initially going to be one blog post but I haven’t even gotten to the first category yet, so I’m going Series style. My hope is that the upcoming posts will be helpful to not only people who want to start their own business, but to those who are close to small business owners and think “What the hell is this job?” If your partner, sibling, close friend or roommate is starting their own company, maybe it would be beneficial for you to have an idea of what their career life may be like.

But mainly, this is your prep school, aspiring entrepreneurs. Opening a business is risky, unpredictable and scary as hell. But if you can go into it being aware of some of the issues you may face, that’s going to help you in the long run. You know that quote “Over-prepare then go with the flow?” Yes. Do that.

And I want to take a second to say THANK YOU to the many supportive friends and family in my life. They far outnumber the non-supporters and for that, I am immensely grateful. I love you and I’m sorry I missed your _____ last _____.

Have a beautiful day 🙂