Staying the course after startup

The road to success isn't a straight path, but you will get there! Photo by Horia Varlan under a Flickr Creative Commons license.

Recently, on our not-for-profit (NFP) posting day on Facebook, someone posted a comment half-joking that they felt like their business was not-for-profit. While we may laugh, I think a lot of us can relate to the feeling that we pour our heart, souls and money into our businesses but wonder when the return on our investment is going to happen.

I started up my primary business, Mumatopia, just over a year ago and, while I had a general idea of what I wanted to achieve, I was less sure about which road was going to get me where I wanted to be. After a lot of trial and error, a lot of anxiety, some triumphs and some disappointments I finally feel like I’m landing on my feet, but it hasn’t been easy. There are many moments in the past 14 months where I could have easily given up but now that the cogs seem to be turning, I’m so glad I didn’t. Hopefully my story will give you some encouragement as you face your own obstacles on the road to business success.

Mumatopia is classed as a social enterprise because my primary goal is to improve women’s wellbeing. I had worked in community organisations for several years as a consumer representative and political activist but I knew that if I wanted to keep doing what I loved, it had to be sustainable for my family.

My first client came along in February 2010 and, after that, there was no looking back. I started the business by dipping into the grocery budget and relying on my skills as a marteker, graphic artist, editor and writer to cover all the basics such as branding, a website with quality content, and a facebook page. I had written a reasonably detailed business plan well before starting up and talked to lots of people in business for advice, but as what I was proposing to do was so new, I kinda had to dive in and hope for the best.

Those first few months were very much about connecting with others, soaking up information and experimenting with my business model. I knew what I wanted but I wasn’t sure about the business model and there have been many times I’ve fallen flat on my face because the model wasn’t quite right. Now, I finally feel like my business has momentum. I have had great word of mouth recommendations from clients, have a thriving community on Facebook, a reasonable following of my blog and a public profile that is completely on message with what my business is all about. Locally, when I tell people that my business is Mumatopia, I often hear “Oh, I’ve heard of you!” That is music to my ears.

The networking I did in those first few months proved to be essential to finding the right path for my business. I faithfully rocked up to local business networking events and learned as much as I could from women who were well and truly on the road to business success. I started to find synergies with other women in business and that lead to some new opportunities that weren’t a part of my original business plan, but certainly added value to what I was aiming to achieve.

Networking was also important on a personal level. I’ve made some awesome friendships this past year and when I’ve felt discouraged, being able to talk things through with others in real life has been really helpful. Facebook is definitely NOT the place you want to be doing that! Keep those discussions between you and those you trust.

Another thing I did those first few months that has really worked for my business was to hold a business launch. It was an awesome networking and publicity exercise. Mumatopia was featured in local newspapers and on local and Brisbane radio stations. The event went viral on Facebook and about 300 people showed up to participate!

It wasn’t all roses though. Shortly after the launch I came down with a serious illness and had to go into hospital for an operation. It was like my body was telling me that I was overdoing it.

After that, things slowed down somewhat. I needed to take some time out to refocus and get myself well again. I started to wonder if I could run a business, stay well and give my family what they needed.

In the lead up to Christmas last year, I kept experimenting with different ideas. Some ideas didn’t take off the way I’d hoped. Then the floods happened and my aspirations for Mumatopia seemed to take a back seat for a couple of months. I wasn’t personally affected by flooding (other than losing power for a few days and being cut off) but quite a few of our friends were and our Autistic son was struggling emotionally with all the changes that occurred during that time. I was exhausted and really doubted whether or not my business was ever going to take off.

I took a breath and accepted that maybe it was going to take a bit longer than I’d hoped to get where I wanted to be. So, I took the time to keep networking with people I wanted to link in to Mumatopia. Then, all of a sudden, things changed.  We started getting bookings for our first mums retreat and A client booking for the postnatal service I’d just set up with another business came out of the blue. I’ve since taken on two more clients and have had great word-of-mouth happening both on and off-line.

There are still many aspects of my business that I’d like to improve upon but I now feel confident that I’m on the road I want to be on and am looking at making a profit for the first time! If you’re feeling like your business is not-for-profit, don’t give up.  Take some time to reflect on where you want to be and make sure you plan your route accordingly by writing a business plan which incorporates both long and short term objectives, branding and networking. Be prepared to experiment with your business model and learn as much as you can from others who have gone before you. Lastly, don’t let set-backs knock you down. Get back up and keep looking for what works for your business. Until next time… Cas.