Three things I wish I knew as a new entrepreneur
It took me years to learn these lessons. Implement them now and skip the struggle.
Whole30 was my first and only entrepreneurial venture. I had a business degree; experience with hiring, operations, and managing large teams; and a zillion ideas for how I could turn Whole30 into a “thing.” But what I discovered a year or two in was that those skills weren’t the rate-limiting factor in my entrepreneurial journey.
Whole30 has been successful, but this isn’t about how to build a successful business. This is how to be an entrepreneur and not burn out, spin yourself out, or “strategize” yourself right out of business. I wish I had known these three things then, but I’m sharing them now to help you skip past some of the most uncomfortable parts of my journey—and remind myself of their importance, because these things never change, no matter how big, successful, or profitable you become.
1. People will take as much as you are willing to give
When I first started my CrossFit gym, blog, and the Whole30, I felt like I had to jump on every opportunity immediately. Sure, hustling is a necessary part of any entrepreneur’s journey. I couldn’t just sit back and expect the opportunities to come to me; I had to network, reach out to brands and people I wanted to work with, and build my community.
But for the first year (at least), I was doing that 24/7. I had alerts on everything (my blog, Facebook, various forums, and email). If someone commented on Facebook at 9 PM on a Wednesday, I jumped onto my phone to comment back. If a seminar request came in on a Saturday afternoon, I’d pause whatever I was doing (hiking, dinner, even leaving the movie theater) to email them back. I didn’t own my time, because I thought you couldn’t set limits if you wanted to be successful.
Truth be told, there are very few opportunities that can’t wait until the next business morning. (I can think of three, specifically, and they were all time-sensitive, one-off media requests. But THREE. In 14 years.) And if the client/customer/partner’s first communication demands that you drop everything on a Friday at 10 PM or the middle of a Sunday to respond, do you really want to work with that person long-term?
People will take as much as you are willing to give—that’s human nature. But the converse of this is that when you set boundaries around your time, people will adjust. There were many months where I took every Tuesday off, because I was traveling most weekends for seminars and needed one day a week to myself. Everyone told me it would never work. “People WORK on Tuesdays. You’ll miss out on so much.” Guess what? It didn’t happen. Customers, clients, and partners worked around it without a single complaint, and I got to carve out one day a week just for me.
The lesson: Set expectations around your time, hours, and availability early, and hold your boundaries firmly. If you are burned out or overextended, your business cannot succeed, and you will not enjoy all of the benefits that should come with setting your own hours and being your own boss. If you’re running your own business and still feel like you’re under the thumb of your “boss,” that’s a problem. People will work around your limits, and if they refuse to work around them, those are not your people.
Whole30 at Chipotle is BACK for the sixth year in a row!
Chipotle has been supporting your Whole30 since January 2019 with their fresh, delicious, hearty Whole30 compatible Lifestyle Bowls. This year, they’re showing up strong with TWO delicious Wholesome Bowls, perfect for the January Whole30 or your food freedom.
The limited edition Wholesome Bowl with Carne Asada is back! This fan-favorite includes Chipotle’s delicious Carne Asada, supergreens blend, fajita veggies, fresh tomato salsa, and Chipotle’s fan-favorite guac.
The original Wholesome Bowl features your favorite Chipotle ingredients: Supergreens blend, adobo chicken, fajita veggies, fresh tomato salsa, and a generous scoop of guacamole.
This January, Chipotle is your go-to for a delicious lunch or dinner so you can skip the meal prep and cooking. The Wholesome Bowls are a digital exclusive and available only through the Lifestyle Bowl section of Chipotle’s app or website—and when you order a Wholesome Bowl from now through the month of January, there’s a $0 delivery fee*!
Put your meal prep in “I got this” mode today—order a Wholesome Bowl from Chipotle for lunch or dinner. (Or both. I’m certainly not judging.)
2. You can do it any way you want
I hate productivity software. I keep most stuff in my head, and have proven successful with that strategy. If I do need a list, I use an old-school notebook. But in my early days of entrepreneuring, I thought I had to use some sort of organizational system, because that’s what Business People did. I tried Evernote, GoodNotes, SimpleNotes—if it had “note” in the title, I tried using it. I’d spend ages trying to get the hang of it, flounder trying to implement a new “system,” then drop it and go back to my trusty notebook.
That’s just one small example, but it taught me something big—you can do it any way you want. You don’t have to have a physical office. (Whole30 never has, and some people said that was “amateur” or “unprofessional”… until the pandemic hit.) You don’t have to have an Instagram strategy. (My @melissau channel absolutely does not.) You don’t have to have weekly meetings, a huge team, investors, or a five-year plan. You don’t have to want to go viral, sell in retail, or expand nationally. You don’t even have to want to grow.
I am not a profit-driven CEO. I care about impact. So if we can have a positive impact on as many people as possible and I can make a living doing what I love and I can pay my team members well enough to do that too, I don’t care if we ever make a lick of profit. Which is why we’ve never taken on investors, why I’ve never made a Whole30 bar or shake, and why we’ve been able to stay true to our mission and integrity for all these years.
If I tried to do it like THEY do it, I’d hate the business—and I’d hate myself. So I don’t. And you don’t have to either. You truly can do it however you want—but like everything, that will come with opportunity costs, so you should get clear on that now.
The lesson: What kind of business do you want? How big do you want it to get? Who is your audience? Do you want to make it huge, or keep it more manageable? How much are you able to give to the business? Identify the parts of the job that you love and where you add value—that’s your sweet spot. What’s left over? Do you even need to do that leftover stuff? If you do, how can it get done in a way that suits the business you want to build and the life you want to live? Don’t worry about how “they” do it, how it’s “always” done, or how you think it “should” be done. How do you want to do it?
3. Stop chasing what other people are doing
Early in my career, there was another person doing similar work—and I was mildly obsessed with what them, and whether they were doing “better” than me. When they put out something new, I’d stop whatever I was working on, because I thought I needed to have that resource/article/video too. I had stopped thinking for myself and was only reacting.
Caught up in this energy, I also began trashing any and all competitors’ products, comparing theirs to ours and highlighting the ways theirs fell short as a means of “selling” what I was doing. I thought I was being a badass entrepreneur, taking no prisoners. In fact, it backfired.
My community didn’t like to see me speaking poorly of other brands they followed, and they weren’t afraid to say so. I stopped thinking creatively, because I was too busy chasing what others were doing. I was in a negative headspace all the time, because I wasn’t staying in my business—literally.
Luckily, it didn’t take me long before I pulled my head out of my ass.* I decided then and there I was going to play my own game and not worry about what anyone else was doing. I had a great product. I had an amazing community. I had envisioned a clear path for improving the program; my next five (maybe ten!) big projects were already mapped out in my head. I couldn’t be anyone else—and I realized I didn’t want to be.
So I unfollowed my competition (everyone I wasn’t friends with IRL); stopped paying a lick of attention to the articles, resources, or posts they were sharing; and focused all of my energy, creativity, and passion into my work. And I haven’t looked back.
*I received a very important phone call that helped me remove my head from said bumhole—and changed my entrepreneurial journey forever. That’s a topic for another email.
The lesson: You should be aware of industry and consumer trends, relevant technology, and the competitive pool in which you swim. But if you’re so focused on other people’s specific businesses and actions, no one is minding your own—and your growth, success, and happiness will reflect that. Tell an assistant or co-worker to monitor your competitors’ social media feeds so you don’t have to. (If you’re a one-person shop, don’t monitor it at all.) Stay connected to your space and industry through trusted relationships, and if you are able, learn to work synergistically instead of in opposition. (Point of fact, today some of my closest friends are my “competition.” We help each other in a way that feels good and boosts our shared success.) Don’t worry about how anyone else is doing it, or how you “should” do it (see #2). Run your own race, whether you’re in it to win it, or just want to run joyfully and comfortably for as long as you can.
Would I have listened?
Sometimes in a podcast interview, someone will ask, “What advice would you give to your younger self?” I always respond, “Nothing, because I know I wouldn’t have listened.” The truth is, I did have a few advisors early in my career that I did listen to, and their advice (plus these learnings) helped me make my business sustainable, joyful, and successful. I’d love to be one of those people for you.
If any of these tips resonate with you, or if you have a foundational tip from your own entrepreneur journey, share it in comments.
Higher menu prices and additional service fees apply for delivery. $10 min/$200 max, excl tax and fees. Valid 1/2-1/31/2024. Chipotle.com or Chipotle app only; purchase of Lifestyle Bowl req’d. Find full terms & conditions here.