Five Lessons Learned in my First Five Years Starting a Small Business.

In the summer of 2016, I embarked on one of the greatest adventures of my life so far: I opened a small business – a healthcare clinic in Downtown Vancouver.

As most people who choose this path, I really had no idea of what I was getting myself into…however, as Michael Gerber muses in his excellent book The E-Myth, I had experienced my “entrepreneurial seizure” and there was no going back.

I have been fortunate to have taken this plunge during a time where there has been immense access to resources such as business coaches, mentors, conferences, etc on how to lay down the foundation for a business that will prosper. And seriously, hats off to all of the business owners who came before me who did not have access to these resources…I’m honestly not sure how you did it.

For Alaia’s 5 year anniversary blog post, I’ve reflected on the top 5 things I’ve found to be true for me through this adventure, I hope they may they be helpful for those following a few steps behind me.

1. Accept that you have signed up for a lifestyle – and it is not always an easy one.

If you are lucky, there will be times where you feel like everything is going your way, but there are definitely going to be challenging times and things that go wrong as well. For a far-fetched example, a pandemic that requires you to close for two months – highly unlikely but possible…haha 😉

It is during those harder times that the buck will stop with you. And yes, that responsibility is exactly what you signed up for. Eventually with time, luck, a whole lot of hard work, and hopefully finding some great people to stack your team with, this lifestyle may transition to meaning you have more options.

But first…you will need to put in your time and lay down the framework (start working on that systems manual!) for your business to be able to stand on its own when you want to or need to step away.

2. Self-care is not just a hashtag.

This is one that I think many of us learn the hard way, mostly because entrepreneurship attracts passionate people who care deeply about what they do. When you are passionate about a project or business, it can be hard to draw the line and know when you have overstretched yourself.  As I have observed from practicing as a therapist, the body is incredibly wise and will step in and say no when you have overstretched your physical, mental and emotional capacities.

The passion that is required to start a small business from the ground up can feel intoxicating at times. Whole weekends can quickly fly by where you think of nothing else and spend hours tinkering in the physical space, working on the website, etc but, the sooner you carve out “work-free” hours, the better off you and your health will be. More importantly, your team will be happier because you are.

3. If you want an easy path, you picked the wrong gig. However, if you are committed to personal growth as a human, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better one.

One of my favourite meditation teachers, Charlotte Joko Beck, said “the two clearest mirrors you will find in life are meditation and intimate relationship”. Personally I’d add small business ownership to this, especially if you have chosen to build a team and learn the ins and outs of being a manager.

Life is full of opportunities to step up and face your weaknesses or areas that you need to grow if that is something you wish to do. People are wonderful…but everyone is different and most will be different than you (a good thing).  If you choose to have a team that you support and that you must also rely on, expect to be challenged.

4. Formality is your friend.

In my 13 years as a physiotherapist prior to opening my clinic, I did not sign one written contract with a clinic that I worked at. That was just the way it was done: a handshake and (in my opinion looking back) blind trust that you would have each other’s back.

However, the advice my business mentors gave was that communication is essential and the more details that you can agree on prior to entering into a contract, the better.

Clear communication of expectations (on both sides), putting as much into writing as possible, and making sure there is space to discuss along the way is key. This limits the space for assumptions on either side, which I believe is usually where issues arise.

Yes, formality can feel very formal at times, but it can definitely be your friend.

5. You will make mistakes – probably a lot of them. 

Learning to accept this is key, not only for your own well-being but also in allowing you to give others the space to make mistakes too – which is just human. I’ve found the practice of self-compassion through guided meditations over the past year immensely helpful with this. Nobody is perfect and the willingness to embrace this will make a huge difference.

In conclusion, I’d like to pose a toast to small businesses – it’s been a hard year and a half for most of us and there is no single owner I’ve known who hasn’t poured themselves into their small business – heart and soul.

I sincerely hope that these next few years following this pandemic will bring many new and novel opportunities and great fortune to small businesses everywhere.

With immense gratitude to the many people who have helped me on this path,