The Reluctant Entrepreneur: 13 Things I Learned in Small Business

The word entrepreneur is nearly as scary as the actual thing where you start a business. Have you ever tried to spell it? Yikes. Spellcheck.

I never aspired to being the owner of a small business. It seemed too hard, too much work, way too complicated for me. When the words Provisional Tax were said I heard Walk the Plank.

walk the plank wendy

But then, along came a burning platform, a reason to conquer my fears, also known as Unemployment. (A dire, yet complex situation, the details of which I will omit at this time.)

I signed up for a course in an industry that was foreign to me, Artificial Nails. (Don’t laugh. I could afford the tuition and it was only a week long.) It was a leap. I was more of a Maths and Science, History and English kind of girl, than, well, a Nail Person. (Don’t get me wrong, I love good nails, I just never pictured myself doing them. For years. Actually I’m still doing them and loving it, fifteen years later.)

Before long, however, I had a thriving beauty salon. My little business introduced me to the most amazing people (who are still close to my heart), brought me great fulfillment and consistently turned over a profit for ten years. All that painting also unleashed my creative side, which I never knew I had.

I parted with my business when my husband was transferred to what felt like a thousand places in a very short time. Now, I’ve landed and it’s time for me to master that difficult word and world again. Entrepreneurship. But I’m scared and unsure all over so its time to remind myself of the lessons I learned along the way.

1. Forget Fear

It’s not a thing. Unless there’s a psycho serial killer behind your shower curtain, your fear is not real. It is a construct. In other words, you’ve made the bogey man up. Fear can be paralyzing and it is never helpful. So.

Repeat after me:

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2. The Staff Thing

Sigh. Can’t I just do nails? Sometimes you need someone to lend a hand. And you need to pay them. So, here’s a gem (gleaned from one of those Lovely Clients).

You can teach skills but not personality.

Hire someone with a winning nature that compliments their skill set. If you get a weird vibe, despite a brilliant CV, follow your gut.

what giphy

Pick someone else.

(Try younger.They’re less experienced, but cheaper and often hungrier. Plus, you can train them. Putty in your hands.)

3. If you don’t Have a Skill, Learn a Skill

Online education is the bomb. You can work by day and hit the books after hours. I initially went old school and signed up at Total Concept Academy for a couple of part-time modular courses. I added to my skills (Mani/Pedi/Waxing/Facials/Massage) while keeping my day job doing artificial nails. During the recent moving spree, I signed up with GetSmarter and studied Creative Writing.

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5. Do what the Instructions say

When the text book/notes/lecturer/product developer says that you should do something a certain way, they’re probably right. The easiest way to succeed is to be diligent and do things by the book. Maybe after you’ve done your ten thousand hours you can go rogue.

follow instruction

5. Keep your promises

Conversely, don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Rather under promise. If you promise your worst case scenario e.g. I will have it done by Friday,  then, when things happen to go smoothly, you will delight your customer by delivering on Thursday.

pinkie promise

6. Show Good Manners

Please and thank you go a long way. Walk your customer to the door, and open it as they leave. Smile and greet them by name (If you know it. Endeavor to know it). If you’re unsure, read an Emily Post book. Answer the phone intelligibly with a sincere greeting. Keep your cool under pressure. Let your manners encompass your online persona too. No cranky emails, fired off in the heat of the moment, nothing on social media that you wouldn’t say in person or stick on a notice board.


Caveat: Don’t go all Ax-Murderer-Grin on people.


The false smile and the bared teeth are a giveaway. They’ll see you for the crazy person you are.

7. Outsource important technical things you haven’t mastered

The tax thing. It’s always going to be my plank. So, I have the lovely people at Unitax-Secure looking after that. For you it might be content writing, editing, web design, graphic design, branding or social media. When you’re a start up, get someone you know to help you at first, but as you get busier, it’s time to outsource professionally.


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8. Do your Housekeeping

In health and skincare, cleanliness is vital, but it’s also professional and therefore extends to all areas of businesses.  If you have to see clients at your home or office, the environment should reflect the professional status of your business. You might not be able to afford new decor, but the existing installations should be clean. It will take a few  extra minutes a day, but it makes an impression. The same goes for online housekeeping. Keep your social media and website fresh and up to date.

Cleaning Lady

9. Baby Balance – the art of juggling motherhood and work

Unless you’ve been a baby-juggler you will never know how hard it is. Breast pumps, creches, nannies and little backpacks.  Don’t despair. The secret is to balance your support system with your time at work. It’s a finely tuned see-saw. If you must reduce your time at work, also, don’t despair. The children grow. Which brings me to another wise mantra once shared with me by a client. (Also a mother/entrepreneur)

Let your business grow as your children grow.

As they get older, your will have a bit more time and energy for your business. Let your babies grow up together.


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10. Saying Sorry and Making Good

It’s not a question of IF you will make a mistake, but rather what you will do about it. We’re all human. Mistakes WILL happen. Occasionally I glued on a nail and overlooked an air bubble. The next day the nail came off. Cue: Disaster if you pay to get your nails done.  But it’s not the once off air bubble that creates an unhappy customer. It’s the lack of service to fix the problem that does.

So if you make a mistake, don’t play a blame game. Own it. Say sorry. Propose a solution. Execute the solution. Say thank you. Don’t become a repeat offender.

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11. The Eighty/Twenty Rule (The Pareto Principle)

The 80/20 Rule means that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. In a beauty therapy environment, it applies when a small group of your clientele bring in most of your turnover. They are the small group of ladies who book high-end or multiple treatments and purchase a substantial amount of retail. This generates 80% of your turnover. It is important to recognize the clientele that form this 20% and to nurture them. It’s also true on the job satisfaction front.  20% of your efforts bring you 80% of your happiness. Conversely you know that 80% of what you do is not going to be thrilling (housekeeping, tax, staff management issues,dodgy waxing, ya know) so just roll with the chores till they’re done.


Dodgy waxing courtesy of

12. Keep up to date with trends related to your business

Go on refresher courses, stay in tune with technology, read widely on your subjects, follow leaders in your field, interact with them on social media. Never be too proud to say you don’t know, but make sure that the next time that issue comes up, you do know. That said, you will never know everything. Okay. Maybe after your ten thousand hours, but even then, if you didn’t keep up with trends there will be holes in your knowledge.

brain gym

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13.  Set Baby Step goals to reach the Big Goal

I had a Big Goal of forty nail clients twice a month to make a cracker turnover. That’s four a day. But my baby steps goal was to get to at least one client a day. To get any clients I had to market and my micro budget meant that I had to drop treatment menus in post boxes, call on nearby businesses and advertise in the free papers. These days, however, social media has created a free platform to market your business. You don’t have to only physically drop flyers. Include this marketing in your goals. Have a big social media marketing goal and reach it with interesting daily/weekly content. Warning: Social Media is a powerful tool. Use it wisely or apply point #7.

I remind myself that these steps are really quite simple. There’s no rocket science here. You just have to put your head down and focus and act. I’ve never worked as a therapist in a salon. I was close to thirty when I studied beauty therapy and was considered ancient by my classmates. How was I ever going to work in a salon with zero experience at that age? Instead I became the reluctant entrepreneur.

Lately, all I wanted to be was a writer. I’ve written two novels, both unpublished. (I clearly haven’t done my 10 000 hours there, have I?) But I’ve realized that even if published, there’s no income for the novelist unless you’re JK Fabulous or EL JollyEnticing.  Which leaves me with a problem. If I go back to beauty therapy, ain’t nobody going to employ an ex-entrepreneur in their salon either. The perceived risk is too great.

So. I have to get my brave girl on, reflect on these thirteen things and start a new business.

brave sweashirt

I am still writing. (After hours)


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But, I am also fearlessly moving forward into small business. And if that’s your dream,  so should you.

fearless thoughtcatalog

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  One thought on “The Reluctant Entrepreneur: 13 Things I Learned in Small Business

  1. July 16, 2015 at 7:54 am

    Brave, inspiring and tough. That’s you! And what a super article – much food for thought, thank you so much.
    One day at a time…

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