10 Essential Lessons Learned by a First Time Entrepreneur
ModernWell founder Julie Burton chats with the construction crew who worked on her co-working space. (Photo from Julie Burton)

10 Essential Lessons Learned by a First Time Entrepreneur

A founder reflects on the most pivotal year of her personal and professional life. 

During this transitional time of year, most of us will take time to reflect on what 2018 has meant to them—personally and professionally. On January 2nd, 2019, ModernWell will turn one year old. While I am still blurry-eyed and overwhelmed most days, I can see clearly how 2018 has been one of the most pivotal years of my personal and professional life. Over the past 12 months of operating ModernWell and the prior 12 months of planning and building it, I have experienced a steep and sometimes terrifying learning curve. I have been catapulted into the world of P and Ls, budgeting, payroll, taxes, management, marketing, and figuring out what it takes to lead a company with strength and integrity.

I look back at the picture of me and my landlords signing the lease for 2909 South Wayzata Blvd. in October, 2017, and see the naïveté in my eyes. The saying, “you don’t know what you don’t” continues to ring true as I have become a first-time entrepreneur at the age of 50. While I am well aware that there is much more I will learn through time and experience, I do feel that the valuable lessons over the past two years might be helpful to others who are navigating or hope to navigate the exciting and scary world of entrepreneurship.

Some of the following lessons might seem obvious to those of you who are well versed in running a business, but for me, most of these lessons, I learned through making mistakes, sometimes costly and extremely painful ones. In sharing what I have learned, I hope to save you a few bucks or headaches, and better prepare you for your next challenge.

1. A “deal” is rarely as good as it sounds.

There are almost always hidden costs. During real estate, business, and legal discussions, ask every question you can think of (even the “obvious” ones), and read and re-read the fine print before signing anything. Do not be afraid to negotiate, bring in friends or professionals to get second opinions, and always be prepared to walk away if you get a bad feeling or the other party is being unreasonable.

2. Do not chase or be intimidated by your competition.

Learn from them, pay attention to what they are doing, but do not get overly distracted by them. Just like in life, know that not everyone plays nice in the sandbox. But if a competitor uses undermining tactics, limit the amount of attention you pay to their efforts (as difficult as that might be and no matter how badly you might want to fight back). Spend your valuable time and energy making your venture into the best it can be—the company that only you can build.

3. Know this—you WILL make mistakes.

Mistakes that will cost you money, embarrassment, or even shame. During these tough times, reach out to someone you can trust and who can help you learn from your missteps. Admit your mistakes to your team and anyone else involved, make your necessary reparations, and then move on. Mistakes DO NOT equate to failure. They will feel like a gut punch and may set you back a bit, but dig into your resilience, do your “Rocky” thing—whatever that might be for you (for me, it is talking to my husband, best friend, sometimes having a good cry, blasting Fleetwood Mac in the kitchen and dancing unapologetically, and making sure I can hear the sound of Brene’ Brown’s voice playing through Audio Books in my car)—and then get back up and get back to work!

4. Stay true to your values.

Know what they are. Write them down. Fine tune them. Share them with your team and your customers. Know who you are as a person and understand that your company is an extension of you. Make sure your company is a strong representation of your values and your vision.

5. Assemble a group of trusted advisors.

You want people who have your back, will ask you the tough questions, and help you find clarity when things get really murky, as they most certainly will.

6. Secure your boundaries.

Protect your time and your energy. These are your most valuable resources that you need to run your company and continue to create new ideas and strategies for your business. Understand that people will try to push and pull you in all sorts of directions, many of which may sound good to you. Hold your ground. Stay your course. Lean into to your values and your trusted advisors for consult on what is best for you and your company.

7. Get used to feeling uncomfortable.

As in really uncomfortable. The vulnerability of trying to go at it alone while wrestling with the continued threat of failure can be downright excruciating. Get used to balancing the imposter syndrome, “who am I to run this business?” with positive self-talk, “I am capable of doing what it takes,” to keep learning and growing as a business owner and a leader. I have not yet met a business owner yet (even extremely successful ones) who does not regularly say to herself, “I have no idea what I am doing. Who put me in charge of this thing?”

8. Be prepared to work harder than you’ve ever worked.

Often times for less money than you have earned previously, and to experience feelings of loneliness, uncertainty and fear as you burn the candles at both ends to tackle what you don’t understand about your business and use what you do understand to create a solid foundation for you, your employees and your clients/customers.

9. Take a deep dive into your relationship with money.

It is one of the most complicated and confusing relationships most people grapple with their whole lives, and the one we talk about the least. Be honest about your money patterns and hang-ups—how and why you spend too much or too little; how much of your self worth is tied to money; how much time you plan to give yourself to make the money you need or want to make, and what your plans are if you make more or less than your projections. Know that all of your money “baggage” will come into play when running your company, so the more honest you are about your approaches to money, the more confident you will be when making financial decisions for your company.

10. Come back to your “why”—your passion.

Finally, this is most important tool that weaves together all of the above together and what will keep you motivated even on the toughest days. Stay connected to your dream, hope, vision, and excitement that propelled you to start this company in the first place. Will everything go exactly how you had originally envisioned? Definitely not. But congratulate yourself on moving your company forward and for staying on the zig-zaggy path of entrepreneurship. It is definitely not an easy path but one that allows for fulfillment, growth, and hopefully a rock solid, successful company. Enjoy the journey!

Julie Burton

Julie Burton has spent the past two decades working as a fitness instructor, freelance writer, author, self-care expert, and teacher while mothering her four children alongside her husband of 25 years. As co-founder of the Twin Cities Writing Studio and author of The Self-Care Solution: A Modern Mother’s Guide to Health and Well-Being, Julie experienced firsthand the true power of women supporting women. She combined her passion and creative energy and founded ModernWell—Minnesota’s first co-working and wellness space for women where women are empowered to connect with themselves and each other through work, wellness, and creativity.