How to Start a Business with Zero Background in Business
ModernWell offers women members community workspaces and private offices. ( Photo by Belu Photography)

How to Start a Business with Zero Background in Business

The founder of women’s co-working/wellness space ModernWell on trusting your gut.

“We need to respect the fact that it is possible to know without knowing why we know and accept that—sometimes—we’re better off that way.”  —Malcolm Gladwell, from Blink—The Power of Thinking Without ThinkingBefore November of 2016, I did not know that 13 months later I would open ModernWell—the first cooperative workspace and wellness center for women in Minnesota. I did not know that I would ever open a business. Heck, I didn’t even know how to write a business plan.

Or did I?

As a first-born, fiery, type-A product of two first-born, fiery, type-A entrepreneurial parents, the “You want to be starting something…” Michael Jackson tune had rung in my ears since I could remember. While I kept the ringing at bay for many years (mostly due to exhaustion) as I raised my four kids and worked part time, I still could hear a soft hum.

And then came that fateful day at the end of 2016. After the election and as I approached my 50th birthday, I stepped back to survey my life, and in the words of friend and mentor entrepreneur Erin Newkirk, I examined my why. I saw a wife of 23 years, a mother of four kids, an author of The Self-Care Solution—A Modern Mother’s Must-Have Guide to Health and Well-Being, a co-founder the Twin Cities Writing Studio, and a woman who spent almost three decades teaching fitness and wellness classes. Were these passions and occupations as random and disjointed as they sometimes felt? Or could my why be the common thread that tied them all together?

You got to be starting something.”

And this is when the rubber met the road for me, as is the case for most entrepreneurs. I made the life-altering  decision to move forward with my brilliant or insane idea (we are never quite sure which one it is). Come hell or high water, I would connect the above-mentioned threads to create something substantive that would enhance the personal, professional, and relational well-being of women in the Twin Cities and beyond.

Brick and mortar. Yes, this would have to be a physical space.

As my brick and mortar vision continued to crystalize, I also became increasingly aware of how much I didn’t know about turning this vision into a reality. And this was downright terrifying.

It’s too high to get over (yeah, yeah).”

But instead of allowing that fear to paralyze me, I used it to motivate me. I enrolled in a self-created mobile MBA program, picking the brains of lawyers, realtors, CEO’s entrepreneurs, coaches, accountants, journalists, architects, builders, designers, marketing professionals, and business owners. I visited local and national cooperative workspaces and wellness centers and read everything that I could find about their membership models and offerings; listened to hundreds of hours of business podcasts and read several books on business start-ups and effective leadership (top picks are: Good to Great by Jim Collins, ReWork by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson and every book by Brené Brown); and zeroed in on everything I learned in past jobs while working for both large and small companies. And finally, I utilized Lynne Robertson’s Lead Like a Mother philosophy and leaned in to the myriad of management skills I had garnered through running a household of six, and raising four confident, happy, and respectful humans.

I didn’t know everything about running a business, but maybe I knew enough.

Or did I?

This vacillation between confidence and self-doubt is where I, and most entrepreneurs I compare notes with, hang out inside our heads.

“I’ve got this business thing down!”

“I have no clue what I am doing, and I am not even sure that I can make payroll this month.”

It is hard. Downright excruciating on some days. “It’s too low to get under (yeah, yeah).” Like when your lease falls through on a space you’ve spent months planning for, or when your architectural designs are not complete but your architectural design budget is depleted, or when your contractor tells you that it is impossible to be finished with your build-out by your already scheduled opening day.

“You’re stuck in the middle (yeah, yeah). And the pain is thunder (yeah, yeah).”

But then, as life often goes, there are other kinds of days. Days when you inquire about a property and the realtor asks you about your business and you unwittingly let your guard down and admit to being a rookie. You wait for her to laugh you off and instead she says, “Do you know about this free service called Think Hopkins? They help you write your business plan. For free.” Or the night your husband calls on his way home from downtown and says, “Hey, there is this super cool building off of 394 and Penn that looks like it could be a great spot for your business. You should check it out.”

In the six months since ModernWell opened its doors, we have experienced extraordinary successes and have made cringe-worthy mistakes. Each day I feel like I am enrolled in a rigorous training program that includes regular testing of my patience and will. Some days, I want to curl up in a ball and hide in the corner (or in the wellness room at ModernWell), and other days I want to jump up and down, holding hands with the incredible ModernWell community and scream, “LADIES! LOOK AT WHAT WE HAVE CREATED!”

I have learned that in between all of the highs and lows of starting and running a business is the muddy middle. This is the place where the real work happens and where you must rely on your grit and passion to do the work necessary to keep your company’s motor running smoothly and your customers happy. And like parenting, there are no exact how-to manuals, no shortcuts, and no guarantees for success. But you do the work because you love it, believe in it, and are willing to swim in the muck of it as you work tirelessly to figure it out as you go.

Creating and running ModernWell has been one of the most exciting and terrifying experiences of my life, right up there with marriage and motherhood. The opportunity to meet and connect with the thousands of incredible women who come through the ModernWell doors, witnessing the ModernWell community grow increasingly more connected personally and professionally, and seeing women who are happy and thriving in a nurturing and inspirational space fills me with newfound hope and positivity every single day. I am eternally grateful for the life-changing lessons I am learning by staring down my fear and insecurities and figuring out a way to turn the ModernWell vision into a reality. I would encourage any of you who have a spark of an idea to pay attention to that spark and not be afraid to explore it.

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.