As classical singers, many of us have ideas for start-ups, gigs and special projects. A lot of us have ideas for businesses even outside of the musical realm. We are self-starters with endless creativity and big ideas.
If you are thinking about taking the leap into action, this list may help you avoid some common pitfalls and get a better sense of what reality will be like once you get rolling. Read through this list and shoot me an email, I’d love to encourage you in your journey!
As I have developed Velvet Singer, LLC over the last five years, I have added to this list of lessons learned, which I have taped on the wall by my desk. The list grew quickly at first, but I find I keep uncovering more even now. Here they are, in the order that I discovered them.
As I look through the list, I realize several are religious / spiritual. If you are into any “higher power,” they may translate. If not, you may still identify with the meat under the sauce.
Why would God be in the mix? From a practical point of view, starting a business or start-up project will challenge you on all levels. You will experience high “highs” and low “lows”. Exhaustion and profound joy. Worries and great optimism (mostly optimism for me, let’s be honest!). Entrepreneurship is a spiritual experience. It has the power to cut to the core of your self-worth and reveal your priorities and values. If you want in, get ready to be revealed!
1) Always altruism, never cash.
Don’t get burned thinking about the money, and not genuinely focusing on solving people’s needs. It is a bit like method acting, people know when you are faking it.
2) Humble joy for any rewards the Lord gives.
It is a miracle of God that we can do anything at all that makes money. Throw a small God party any time anyone pays you even $1. Many people in the world don’t have access to behold this miracle in such close proximity, count yourself lucky.
3) Exercise patience.
We all want to wring the thing by the neck and make it submit. It is OK to wait. Many great things can happen when you wait. “Waiting is fullness” says the Martian from “Stranger in a Strange Land.” Do you grok?
4) Don’t spend money.
Don’t buy anything. Make it from scratch or skip it altogether. You don’t have to spend money to make money. Don’t go into debt, just start small and give it time.
5) Phone calls, not email.
Especially if you have gone ten rounds with an unhappy client or customer, pick up the phone rather than taking three hours to compose the greatest email of all time that will finally illuminate and defuse the situation. This is also true of selling any idea or product. Email eats. Attachments will not get clicked on, links will not get clicked.
6) Reply quickly.
Count it a point of pride that you are quick on the reply. People notice.
7) Listen and let people talk.
The best way to “sell” is to be genuinely interested in and deeply understanding of your customers’ needs. The only way to do that is to listen. Furthermore, you can’t lose sight that you are in this business, even in a small way, to help heal the world and to do good. Part of what you offer is an ear. Think of yourself as a minister or counselor, not a salesperson.
8) Don’t sell to your friends, they won’t buy anything anyway.
If you have created a business plan, even if it is just in your head, don’t count on getting off the ground with a little help from your friends. They won’t buy anything and you’ll strain the relationship by asking them. Plan on making brand new friends / contacts (which may come out of existing relationships / partnerships), and if any of your old friends want to join up, they know where to find you.
9) Plan for mistakes. Error capture. Log findings.
Even for non-technical businesses, plan that you will make tangible, repeated mistakes. Wherever possible, be deliberate and extremely thorough about documenting and understanding how your mistakes happened. If you are in a technical world, measure the damage and “capture” the error.
10) Donate a portion of your revenue at a fixed proportion.
Even if it is only 1% – 10% of revenue, donate a portion of your revenue from the first dollar you make. Besides the actual good that donating revenue to a good cause does, it helps reshape your understanding of your purpose, it elevates your endeavor from a boring job to a noble calling. Instead of feeling like Willy Loman, all of a sudden, you will feel like Don Quixote. This is your quest!
11) Walk by faith, not by sight.
Entrepreneurship is a spiritual endeavor. You are entering uncharted territory. Pray and trust your gut. Don’t take too much time to research option A vs. option B. You probably already know what choice you want to make. Go for it.
12) Have fun and be cool.
Don’t get all frazzled and take things too seriously. If you need to make money so you can eat food, get a job. Entrepreneurship is for fun. You’ll regret the times you run around like a mad man at conferences trying to make every last bit count. It is more important to “be cool, honey bunny, be cool.”
13) Fight resistance with courage.
Every day you will feel resistance, a little nagging voice trying to divert you and discourage you. Be encouraged, the louder that voice is, the more you know you are on to something great. In fact, seek out that wet blanket feeling of heavy resistance, learn to make it your friend, like a rival in a tennis match, and then face it with explosive bursts of courage. Read The War of Art by Pressfield for more.
14) Have an opinion, take a stance.
Don’t offer too many products, don’t allow too much customization, don’t be too flexible, don’t say yes to everything. Take a stance, defend a point of view. Your brand, no matter what it is, needs to have personality. Your customers / clients ultimately commit to you, they buy you, not a product or service.
15) Play “small ball.”
Don’t try to sell the “home run” to your customers; rather, get the relationship started and start to help them. Play small ball and see if they can move around the bases. If they don’t respond to a simple email offering help, they aren’t likely to invest the time, energy and money to become a committed partner with you through the purchase of your product or service. If you are planning a recital, think through who of your contacts would call or email you right back and concentrate your efforts on getting them to attend, rather than flyer-ing the neighborhood.