Five years ago, I was frozen to my computer screen, feeling sick to my stomach, and waiting nervously to click the launch button and share my sparkly new website with the world. At that point, I had already been in business for five years, but it was really just a hobby. I sold a few things on Etsy, but I wasn’t serious about growing a business.
Now I was pushing all my chips into the pot and taking the next giant, scary step in my entrepreneurial journey – launching my own online shop with a mission of giving back to military charities.
I still chuckle when I think back on that time. Like so many entrepreneurs who pour their heart into creating a website, I believed naively that once I launched my creations out into the world, people would flock to my website to buy them. Little did I realize that the hard work was just beginning.
“I was an overnight success all right, but thirty years is a long, long night.” ~Ray Kroc
As a military spouse, I’ve had my fair share of career struggles. I got a job in my field of study – science – right out of college, then worked for six years in the laboratory of a Nobel Laureate (talk about a dream job!).
I lost that job when my husband got orders to Okinawa, Japan, then lost my job in Okinawa when we PCS’d back to the U.S. As with so many military spouses, it’s frustrating to give up a job in the career field you’ve trained in and built a resume on.
That was almost 20 years ago and I didn’t have the option of online entrepreneurship back then. Today, it’s much easier to launch a new business – everything you need to know is available with the click of a mouse.
So much of what we learn as humans and business owners comes with time and experience. When we’re just starting a new journey, we get consumed with making the “right” decisions, choosing the “perfect” brand elements, or taking the “best” courses.
And while we have the best intentions, we can often get paralyzed trying to set ourselves up for success……for the easiest path……rather than just diving in and learning from doing the work.
I’ve made a TON of mistakes over the past five years. I can’t even say that I learned something from every one of them because often I was too stubborn or closed-minded to look for the lesson in the experience.
But with time, patience, learning from others, and continuing to show up and do the work, I’ve realized that success in business isn’t what others say it is. Success is a personal definition – YOU get to decide what success means to you and feels like in your life.
So what are the “magic” secrets to creating a thriving business? Sorry to disappoint you, but there’s no magic here!
I used to believe that just one more course, just one more book, just one more coach would be the key to figuring out the right social media plan or daily workflow for my business. The truth is, you can gather all the information, resources, and ideas you want, but you still have to do the work.
After five years of doing the work, listening to feedback with an open mind, and being willing to try new things, I’ve learned a thing or two about building a business. I’ve also learned to use my time wisely. I’ve always had to.
I started a business when my daughters were just 12 and 7 years old, while I was also working full-time as a scientist. My girls are grown now, but I’m still working a full-time job while growing a business on the side. Being efficient with my time is necessary.
These may not be earth-shattering lessons for you – they might even seem obvious, but they are the guiding principles that have carried me along this 5-year journey of growing a business I’m proud of and one that supports fellow military families.
1. Community Over Competition
When you’re surrounded by a supportive tribe of women throughout your life, this mantra feels like second nature - especially within the military spouse community. I wish this was my story, but I’ve only had a small handful of close friends over the years.
Pulling up a seat at a big table filled with supportive and inspiring women has always been just a dream for me – that is until I created the Charliemadison Community. Now I understand!
Community over competition has been my mantra for the past five years. I’ve experienced my fair share of negativity and competition in my industry and I refused to let it be part of my business.
The absolute best way to build a business (and a close-knit tribe) is to embrace the idea that we are stronger together – collaboration matters. There are so many opportunities in this world for everyone and supporting other business gals, lifting them up, sharing resources, giving back, and collaborating every chance you get are not optional – they are essential.
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” ~Dale Carnegie
2. Look For The Lessons In Every Setback And Every Win
A declined application to a wholesaling platform, a rejected grant submission, a collaboration with USAA for military spouse appreciation day, and an invitation to share my bracelets on the Tiger Woods PGA golf tournament. Two big setbacks and two epic wins – all four of them are part of my business journey and there were lessons in all four.
Not every opportunity that comes your way is meant for you. You will be disappointed when you have your heart set on those epic opportunities that pop up on your radar, then end up falling through. The truth is, they weren’t meant for you.
But the ones that are meant for you will come at the right time and they will feel amazing. Take time to think about both the setbacks and the wins. What are they teaching you? What can you do better next time? What went so well that you can repeat over and over? What other amazing opportunities came your way because you didn’t get the one you hoped for.
“The real test is not whether you avoid this failure because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.” – Barack Obama
3. Learn From Others, But Listen To Your Own Gut
When I got serious about growing my business, I started taking every class I could find. Learning from the experts and listening to what I “should” be doing and what I “must” have to make my business a success. And I did All.The.Things! And guess what happened? My business slowed down…..crickets!
I’m not criticizing the classes themselves - there was a lot of valuable information in those classes, but what I realized was that there is no ONE right way to grow a business. Actually, I feel like I’ve learned enough about business over five years to earn an MBA, even if I don’t have the diploma to go with it.
But the turning point came when I took everything I’d learned, dissected out all the pieces that were relevant to MY business, then listened to my gut and tried the things that made sense to me.
The key is to dig very deep and find what makes your brand unique, find that little niche that you fit right into, discover WHY you are doing what you do, then go all-in on it!
“People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe” ~ Simon Sinek
4. Don’t Be Afraid To Evolve, Pivot, And Try New Things
In my younger days, I hated change. Sounds silly, right – because honestly, the only thing constant in our lives is change. I worked in a laboratory for six years doing LOTS of experiments that didn’t work. It only makes sense that I would have learned this lesson then – test, evaluate, pivot, try something new.
But I didn’t realize the connection between science and my jewelry business until recently. You see, business is an experiment, just like science. The quicker you can pivot, the more success you’ll have.
Not every marketing idea, launch strategy, or advertising plan is right for your business, so you have to embrace the idea of being curious, testing out new things, and evolving along the way. And small businesses can do this much faster than big corporations.
If something doesn’t work out or an unexpected roadblock appears (hello COVID-19), I’ve learned that pivoting and trying something new can make all the difference.
“Pivoting isn’t Plan B; it’s part of the process.” ~Jeff Goins
5. Perseverance Really Is The Key
OK, stay with me on this one. I know it sounds a bit woo-woo. And I don’t think perseverance is something you are either born with or not. Building a business is a marathon, not a sprint. And don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.
I have wanted to quit so many times, because honestly, running a business is the hardest job I’ve ever had. Even harder than learning organic chemistry – and I had to take it twice!
There are good days and bad days, but when you commit to being in it for the long haul you understand that the ebbs and flows are just part of the seasons. You must continue to focus on your goals, keep believing in WHY you started, and know that every step you take builds on what you did the day before.
One of the best quotes I’ve seen on perseverance can be summed up from a post I saw on Instagram:
“You will never always be motivated, so you must learn to be disciplined.” ~Monique Coleman
These past five years have simultaneously seemed to fly by in many ways and feel incredibly slow in others. I am so grateful for the community that has embraced my jewelry and believed in my mission, the mentors who’ve helped me stretch beyond my comfort zone and my own personal growth that has gifted me with the willingness to listen to the lessons and the perseverance to go all-in on an idea that was once just a dream.
A big thanks to those of you who’ve cheered me on every step of the way - here’s to another five years!