Friday, July 12, 2013

Don't Be Afraid of Mistakes, Learn From Them Instead

During my first business venture, I learned a valuable lesson. Surprised? You shouldn't be. The first-time trail, no matter what it's heading toward or from, is usually littered with mistakes and errors, be they financial, social, administrative, whatever. There are plenty of chances to learn a lesson or two. When you're starting from scratch, there are a lot of issues to tackle, and one of the first issues that should be addressed is money. Unfortunately, this was not our initial target.

We chose to go for a factor that some might say is just as important as capital: connections. And did we ever do it; networking event after networking event, email after email, business card after business card… It all began to blur rather rapidly. But luckily for me, my business partner was and is a very structured person, and he understands the value of remembering people. I'll be frank: To make sure that we did in fact remember people--whomever they were--he created a spreadsheet that listed all of the personal information on our new connections' cards as well as the topics we had discussed during our meeting. He also had some notes on how that person might be able to help us and if she or he could be an asset to our cause--I told you that he was structured.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Like I said, we started from scratch. Aside from drinking at certain watering holes on a regular basis, our social network outside of our friends was rather small. For an entrepreneur that is either new to the area or new to the scene of entrepreneurship in general, widening this fishnet can be daunting. It means getting out of your comfort zone, going to events that you may or may not feel like attending the day of, having conversations with and about people that you barely know. It means being willing to spark a discussion with a total stranger and engage them, as well as yourself, for however long the ride lasts. For some, this is intimidating; for others, it may sound droll; to us, it sounded like a challenge.

So we took it upon ourselves to get in contact with people in Grand Rapids whom we believed would be able to further our endeavor. We met with public employees from the planning department, professors from local universities, graphic designers, website designers, real estate agents, journalists, heads of development companies, the whole nine yards. Over the course of six months, I couldn't tell you how many people we had met.

But connections only mean so much. Without capital, there's not much that those hours of meetings can produce. So recently, we decided to put the whole project on the back burner. But that didn't mean that our time was spent for naught. Actually, there was at least one incredibly worthwhile lesson learned and here it is: It never hurts to ask. In just a handful of months, we were meeting with people that we never thought we would get the chance to, simply because we shot someone an email or a phone call. This major realization rings especially true for new business owners and those hoping to break into the scene. People in the industry as well as many others will be willing to help you get your dream off the ground, but you'll never know who they are unless you ask. This little nugget of knowledge is something that I will certainly drag with me into future business ventures.

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