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The Diary of an Unplanned Entrepreneur

Words by: Teira E. Farley

I do not have a typical entrepreneur story. Starting a business was not on my radar nor was it something I’d ever considered. I had a job and wore multiple fulfilling hats working in ministry, as well as volunteering with a local shelter and various non-profits. I did not want to waste my knowledge, talent, or gifts so I felt that my path at the time made sense. If anything, my goal was to get a better paying job so that I could live more freely.

Circa 2010, I was regularly assisting others with special projects. It was great to have a creative outlet; but often, I was putting in long hours, exhausting myself, and quite frankly, a couple of my friends were over it. They felt as if I was being manipulated and taken advantage of, so initially, my business was not even my idea; it was theirs. They wanted me to be fairly compensated for the caliber of work I was producing, and they challenged me until I agreed.

At first, it felt disingenuous or haughty, like I was doing way too much to dare to consider people would pay me for my expertise. Even though I had two degrees: a Bachelor of Science in Business Management and a Master of Business Administration, with Management and Marketing concentrations, respectively, I felt like, who was I to start a business? What would that entail if I were to move forward? As much as I started to believe in my friends’ assertions and become excited about the potential for additional income, I had not done any of this before and I didn’t want to mess it up.  I was adamant about being legitimate if people were going to pay me and refer others to me, so I began to brainstorm. With a myriad of questions and uncertainties, I did the only sensible thing one could do…I called my parents.

Hands down, my parents are my biggest advocates, but I knew if I was leaning in the wrong direction, they would quickly check me back to reality, even if unintentionally hurting my feelings in the process.  I told myself, that if I could get the business idea past the two of them, I could get it past anybody. My mother, the “Question Queen,” had dedicated most of her career to helping individuals start small businesses, so she grilled me on business plan basics, without hesitation. My father’s work was in corporate training and development, so he explored the practicality of it all: offer something people need and they will pay for it. I merged their advice, my educational background, and professional experience, and I worked, quietly, to map out a structure that would allow me to serve, create, and build for others, but also get paid. I filed the paperwork,  and in March 2011, I became the owner of The Coloring Box, a strategic branding and business development company.

In today’s society, you could easily fall into the trap of believing that entrepreneurship is easy and glamorous. Social media reels from the beach, fashion-filled photoshoots, screenshots of invoice totals, and bank account statements can paint a misleading picture regarding what being a small business owner entails and all it takes to master working for yourself. The truth is that so many entrepreneurs, like me, also work full-time jobs because everyone who starts a business will not become a millionaire. The vast majority will not even come close. According to PayScale’s salary database, the average entrepreneur makes around $64,000 per year, about $33,000 less than the average American salary of $97,962, but still close to the median salary of $69,717. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 30% of U.S. businesses fail in the second year, 50% fail in their first five years, and approximately 70% fail in or by their tenth year. That means, contrary to widespread belief or what your favorite influencer may project, the odds to success, solely as an entrepreneur, are stacked against you.

While some may carefully embrace the statistics, others will spend a lifetime trying to defy them, delving into passion projects in an effort to manifest a dream. As poetic as it sounds, blindly stepping into any world without accepting the harsh realities that come along with that decision is unhealthy and can yield minacious outcomes. Think of it this way. You have the right to do whatever you need to do to be happy and fulfilled, but happiness does not pay the bills. Fulfillment will not keep clothes on your back, and passion does not translate to shelter or food any day of the week. If you are hoping to be your own boss, you must have a plan, be willing to work on it, revise it and sometimes, scrap it for a new one. Yes, if at first you don’t succeed, try again. But, if you keep trying the same thing and yielding nothing, accept that thing needs to be a new thing and try something else.

Your family and friends may support your initiative or celebrate your ingenuity, but that does not make them your clients or automatically position them as regular customers. They may not even be a part of your target market, and that is okay. Do not take it personally. You don’t build your business off their support. You build your business by providing a product or service that meets a need or fulfills a desire for an identified group of people. You do it by analyzing a market and filling a gap within it.

Here are a few intangibles to keep in mind before or while starting a business:

  1. Keep the main thing the main thing- Don’t be tempted to be all things to all men. Find your niche. Maximize it. Rinse and repeat.
  2. Know your numbers- If you do not know what a break-even analysis is or what a cash flow statement shows, find someone who does and make them teach you, because if it’s not making money, it’s not a business; it’s a hobby.
  3. Don’t comingle your funds- Your personal life may fund the business initially, but if you do not set it up as a business and treat it as one, it will never become one. Then there’s the taxation and liability of it all, so yeah, just don’t do that.
  4. You will have to give yourself grace and accountability- Grace to make mistakes. Accountability not to repeat them.
  5. Your name holds weight- Your word matters. The customer isn’t always right, but they rarely realize that. It’s your job to teach them without antagonizing them. Regardless, never compromise your integrity for a dollar.

This list is far from all-inclusive. I can go on for hours and hours and hours, but that’s the point.  It is what I do. My business helps others build theirs. I train entrepreneurs, ministry leaders, and their teams in 1:1 or group settings to level the playing field for those who have a vision, passion, or a skill, but don’t know how to transform it into a profitable organization.  I offer the tools you need to build a brand + business that lasts.

I am Teira E. Farley (@teiraefarley), owner + creative director of the coloring box (@coloringboxco), a proud entrepreneur who didn’t do it their way or the traditional way, but am doing it just the same.  You can too if you trust God, trust yourself, trust the process, and keep it moving.

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Vinegar Hill Magazine is a space that is designed to support and project a more inclusive social narrative, to promote entrepreneurship, and to be a beacon for art, culture, and politics in Central Virginia.

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