Ever since I was a kid, I loved the idea of entrepreneurship. In elementary school, my younger brother and I drew and cut out small pictures, attached tape on the back and sold our newly created “stickers” door-to-door in our neighborhood. We sold these stickers — which usually depicted Ninja Turtles, G.I. Joes, or flowers (for the ladies, you know) — for 5 cents to 50 cents, depending on size and level of detail. It was a fun way to earn some money to buy our next Ninja Turtle toy.
Then, in middle school, I decided to start a candy business. I bought candy bars of different sorts in bulk from the Sams Club and sold them individually with mark-up during lunchtime. I used the money I earned to expand my “inventory” of candy and my classmates loved it. I sold the candy for less money than the cafeteria offered it, but expensive enough to buy my next case of candy and still have money left over to spend on the newest Coolio CD (don’t judge).
In high school, I started a rock band with some friends. We taught ourselves how to sing, play our instruments and record our own music. We built a fan page website and sold copies of our demo CDs and homemade t-shirts at school, where we also posted fliers for upcoming shows.
In college, at age 21, I started my own wedding DJ business, Amplify Entertainment (which I still run), to help pay rent during my studies. That DJ company has since won numerous awards for high ratings and innovative use of technology.
Since those days of early entrepreneurism, I worked for Visit Florida helping travel-related businesses big and small with their marketing and PR efforts. Later, I left Visit Florida to join a bio-tech start-up company, which was building its consumer brand from scratch. And now today I officially launch my next business, Nate Long Marketing, having learned a some valuable lessons along the way. And what exactly have I learned along the way? Enjoy these lessons from a child entrepreneur.
Lesson 1: ABL – Always Be Launching.
Launching can be getting over the fear to make a new product official, overcoming the need for a 100% perfect website, or not holding back a plan to scale. This is harder for business owners than anyone else because of emotional attachement. My advice: Don’t get in the way of yourself! If something fails, launch the next thing and the next thing until a success comes along from which you can launch your next big project.
Lesson 2: Tell your story.
Every business — big and small — should have a good story to tell. If you can’t tell folks why you’re in business, you shouldn’t be in business.
Lesson 3: Innovation inspires innovation.
Rather than spending too much time listening to what others are doing in your industry, find out what they’re NOT doing by hanging out with other industries instead. Even if their ideas don’t translate over to your industry, you’ll be inspired by a new way of thinking and a newfound commitment toward changing your industry, not fitting into it.
Lesson 4: Truly connect with your customers.
Your business shouldn’t be focused on what it sells, but how it makes people feel. How do people want to feel? They want to feel included. Keep that in mind as you work on product design, marketing, customer service and even the way you do invoicing, and watch as your customers become fiercely loyal.
Lesson 5: Do what you love and don’t be ashamed.
I used to hate middle school birthday parties because they were always at skating rinks and I didn’t know how to skate. I did get really good at foosball and Street Fighter, though. I stopped hating those parties when I convinced enough people that playing foosball and Street Fighter was way cooler than skating backwards to New Kids on the Block. You can’t beat your much larger and more established competition at their own game. Instead, make them irrelevant by starting your own game and convincing people why it’s so much more fun.