Five years ago today, I sat at a cubicle at my corporate job in Chicago and I launched the Ready to Stare's Etsy shop. I never would've imagined I would be here sharing five lessons I've learned being in business five years. I never imagined that my retail design business would now be winding down so that I could focus on blogging because I never even imagined I could be a blogger. Ready to Stare was actually the name of the blog I was too afraid to start in 2012. In 2017, Ready to Stare is my blog.
I am often asked for advice on starting a business, growing a social media following, being a blogger or booking modeling jobs. Sometimes, I wish there was some easy road map to tell others to follow but I don't know if I could replicate my journey even if I tried. Here's a few lessons that I've learned over the course of my five years in business that I think will help anyone looking to take a leap of faith and learn to love, trust and value themselves more in the process.
Also, in honor of my five year anniversary and of the winding down of the retail side of Ready to Stare, I am offering my BIGGEST discount ever. You can take 50% off your entire order with the code "FIVEYEAR" today through 11:59 PM EST on 2/5. Shop here!
1. Define Your Own Success
I never accomplished that goal of having a retail location which on paper is what would've made me successful but in reality what I accomplished instead was so much greater. And when I was faced this summer with the opportunity to have a retail location in Cleveland, I ended up turning it down. My biggest goal was in front of me and something I could feasibly do and I said no because that wasn't my biggest goal anymore.
I am successful not because I've checked off a certain amount of boxes that myself or society has decided are required to be successful. I am successful because I have learned to adapt and grow in ways I never thought I could.
2. Build Relationships; Not Transactions
Anyone who has ever really lived and fucked with Chicago will tell you that it's a city of collaboration. I feel truly lucky to have started my business there because it gave me an important foundation for how I would run my business. There were a lot of Chicago based creatives who absolutely aided in the growth of my business: my first customer Mylissa, nail artist Spifster, writer Britt Julious, stylist Aaja Corinne and SO many more.
In my first year in business (and to this day), these women were my customers, my collaborators and most importantly, my champions. They believed in me when I didn't really even really believe in myself. I am forever grateful to these women and all of the people I worked with in Chicago in my first two and a half years who genuinely lifted me up and show me my own potential.
When I moved to Atlanta and ultimately started blogging, I continued to work on building relationships. One of the most beneficial things to me as a blogger and a designer is to see beyond a single transaction and see the bigger picture. If I can have a solid answer to the question, "what is the potential for growth?", then I can justify building that relationship.
Now, don't get it twisted, I am not an opportunist. I don't actively seek out people who can get me ahead (mostly because I am not running a race!) But I do invest my energy in growing relationships that are mutually beneficial to both parties because I genuinely believe in and want to support that other person. So instead of thinking small and saying, "what's in it for me?" I say, "How can we grow together?"
3. Not Everyone Is Your Friend
I hate having to even say this lesson but unfortunately, it's one that I have learned over and over again during the course of this five years in business. Along the way, I encountered a lot of people who I was trying to build relationships with who wanted nothing more than a come up from me.
It pains me to say this but it needs to be said: there will always be someone who would rather ride your coat tails then work to create their own. But my own insecurities played a role as well. I allowed people to make me feel like their limitations were my own and our differences became my deficiency. I allowed them to make me feel small so they could feel larger. I was blinded by denial and what I hoped would be worth it in the long run.
I am not blaming myself as a victim of what I now see as abusive partnerships and collaboration efforts but I have learned that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. I try as much as possible to remove myself from these situations when I spot them.
I'm not saying don't help others build their brand but don't invest your energy in someone who thinks tearing you down is the way they win.
4. Trust Your Instincts
I can't say that every bad situation I encountered over the past five years could've been avoided if I trusted my instincts but it sure would've helped. I am a risk taker and I would definitely rather dip my toe in than trust someone else that the water is hot but I've learned that there's an immense amount of value in your gut!
When my anxiety would be triggered, I would take that as a sign that I wasn't good enough. Over time, I learned to use my anxiety as a trigger for an unsafe situation. I learned to see something I was always told was a weakness as a strength. Now if a person or a situation makes me feels unsafe or anxious, that's tells me to proceed with caution or not at all. Let your instincts, not your insecurities, be your guide!
5. Don't Take No As Defeat
I was definitely an over-achiever in school and if it wasn't athletics, I could probably find a way to conquer it. It really wasn't until I started Ready to Stare that I found myself really feeling like a failure on a semi-regular basis. I heard no more than I heard yes. Five years later, I still hear no a lot but I don't feel like a failure anymore. Why? Because being told no is tied to being successful and it's part of the process.
I realized I wasn't being told no because I was a failure; I was being told no more because I was taking more risks. I was literally putting myself in a position to be told more no often but I was also putting myself in a position to be told yes in ways I never could've without the no's. So if you're starting a business, get used to no. Learn from no. Learn to say no (that's a whole other lesson for a whole other day). And most importantly, learn to trust that what's for you is for you and what's not for you is not for you.
As your embark on your entrepreneurial journey, it won't be like mine or anyone else's. It will be distinctly yours. You will make mistakes. You will learn to see those mistakes as lessons. You will fall. You will rise. You will become greater than you ever knew you could be.
I don't know where I will be in five years. I really don't. But I am not as nervous about that as I was in 2012 when I started Ready to Stare. I have so much more faith in myself than I did when I started this business. I didn't find a cure for every fashion woe facing style misfits but I did make a place for people like me to be celebrated and along the way, I learned how to celebrate myself, too.