When I was 6 years old, my dad bought a gym in our small hometown. He spent the next 15 years pouring his time and energy into that business and as a result, the gym was my second home. I remember playing with Barbies in my dad’s office, working at the front desk in high school, and teaching aerobics classes in college. Many gym members watched me grow up there, and they would occasionally ask me if I would take over the business someday. My reply was always an emphatic no thank you; I swore up and down that I would never, ever own my own business.
And now here I am several years later, eating my words. I’ve grown to have even more respect for my dad as I navigate entrepreneurship, and much of what I’ve learned about business I learned through watching my dad pour his heart into helping others. Even though our businesses are very different, there are some overarching business lessons that I’ve found practical and beneficial across all industries and generations. I’m excited to switch things up and share a few of those with you today.
1. Enjoy what you’re doing
Being in the military for 20+ years, running multiple marathons, and competing in bodybuilding competitions, my dad knew the fitness and nutrition industries well. He also had a passion for helping other people and seeing them change their lives for the better through exercising and eating healthy. It was evident that he truly cared; he wouldn’t have sacrificed so much to see his goals become a reality if he didn’t. That passion for others got him started and kept him going through the tougher seasons of business.
In order to invest time, money, and effort into a business venture, I’ve learned that successful businesses begin with a passion. I know that’s the case with Elle & Company. This business combines many of the things I’m most passion about: designing, creating, teaching, sharing, helping, writing. I love coming alongside creative entrepreneurs and providing them with tangible resources that will benefit their businesses, and there’s no question that my passion for other entrepreneurs results from being a daughter of a small business owner myself.
2. Set and follow a business plan
Passion may get you started, but plans and strategies keep you going. My dad faced a lot of competition in his industry, especially being the only family-owned and operated gym in the area. In order to have a competitive advantage and keep things running, he had to be strategic and plan well to protect what he worked so hard for. There’s a lot on the line in business, especially when your income and the well-being of your family rides upon the success of it, so it’s crucial to be smart, set goals, and stick to your plans.
3. Business involves trust
You can’t run a business alone, even if you’re a solopreneur. Business involves networking, delegating, and collaborating, and when you’re working closely with others on something you have a vested interest in, it takes a great amount of trust. I saw many people try to take advantage of my dad within his business - employees, customers, friends-turned-competitors - and it made me value those who he could trust all the more.
This has taken root in my business in a couple ways. First, I understand the great amount of trust that it takes to hand over something as large as a brand and website to another individual, and I don’t take that lightly. I feel a great responsibility to put forth my best work and do right by my clients. Second, I’m learning to hand over control to others within my business and trust them with responsibilities. Jake continues to take on more and more within Elle & Company, and we’re slowly bringing others onto our team as we continue to grow. Trust is hard, but it’s essential to running a business.
4. You can’t please everyone
And you can’t appeal to everyone and appease everyone. Not everyone is going to like you and not everyone is going to buy from you, and that’s okay. At the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for you and your business despite the suggestions, feedback, and negativity you might receive from others. And while it’s good to be open-minded and consider others while you’re making decisions, you can’t strive to please others and sacrifice your time, plans, or income.
5. You’re never truly on vacation
While many people think that entrepreneurship sounds awesome because you have the ability to set your own hours, they don’t realize that you never truly clock out. With that privilege comes great responsibility, and it often means working more hours. During the first few years of owning the gym, my dad only took one or two days off - he couldn’t afford not to. And when he did take time off, he still received phone calls about a leaky pipe or someone not showing up to teach aerobics and he still had to deal with it, whether he was physically at the gym or not.
I don’t have any employees and my business isn’t as involved as my dad’s gym, but Elle & Company is still technically running outside of my posted office hours. People are buying Library subscriptions, sending emails, commenting on the blog, and reviewing my e-course recordings whether I’m sitting behind my computer or not. Vacation is never truly vacation; there’s always something to be done and there are always a million things to come back to.
6. You have to be willing to do the work
Entrepreneurship requires you to wear many hats and keep several plates spinning at once. I saw my dad play the part of tour guide, accountant, trainer, pool guy, custodian, manager, troubleshooter - and he did a great job juggling them all. He was willing to put in the work that needed to be done, regardless of whether he was the boss.
Business requires that of you. It isn’t about what you want to do; it’s about what needs to be done. It doesn’t always look like coffee shop workdays and pretty desk photos on Instagram. Many times it takes the shape of answering emails, late nights preparing blog posts, and updating spreadsheets for our accountant. But in order to run a successful business, especially at the outset, you have to be willing to do the work.
7. It’s more meaningful when you have a vested interest in others
Money is important to running a business. But it’s much more meaningful when you see that you’re making a difference and lasting impression on someone’s life, whether it’s through personal training sessions or a new visual identity for a business. My Dad worked hard in his business because he wanted to provide a place for people. He instilled that in me, and it's a large part of why I share insights on this blog and work my hardest to do right by my clients.
I’m thankful that I had a change of perspective on that whole “never ever starting a business” phase, and I’m even more grateful for my dad who showed me (and continues to show me) the amount of hard work and passion that business requires.
Which person has made the greatest impact on your business? What are the most beneficial pieces of business wisdom that you've received?