“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
~ Peter Drucker
I’ll admit that I have a very high tolerance for risk and uncertainty. Clients can sense that about me almost within minutes of meeting me, and those possessing an entrepreneurial fire and/or dream in their bellies pepper me with questions about starting a business in Highlands. Most have never owned their own business or have been solopreneurs, but have a long-held fantasy of being the captain of their own destiny. Coupled with their love for Highlands, the prospect of having a business in our idyllic setting can sometimes cloud judgment as to what will work (or won’t) financially, as well as what will fit their strengths and interests over the long term.
Many have asked me to outline exactly what I believe the principles for business success in Highlands to be, as well as point out the pitfalls. Information on launching an enterprise is ubiquitous online, but there are a few pointers that most how-to articles miss:
1) When you leave your job/former community, remember you are taking you with you. Review carefully (and in great detail) why your current job is not fulfilling to you. When you look at the list, what do you see? If the negatives are things like you don’t like a long commute in traffic, or you aren’t able to have your voice/insights/ideas heard in your company, or you crave the ability to give customers an outstanding experience and your current position forces you to minimize interaction, then your transition to the entrepreneurial life in the area of soul satisfaction will go more smoothly. If, however, you review your list and see things like you’d get so much more work done if you didn’t have to “deal” with customers, or you live for Friday so you can have two days off and not think about work until Monday, or it seems that no one ever works as hard as you and you feel resentful and angry because of it, well, I do believe you will find owning your business to be supremely challenging. Owning a business magnifies the highs and lows – be very clear on what the lows are for you and know going in if those are things you can mitigate/tolerate/change entirely.
2) If you have market fit, you can make a ton of mistakes and still be successful. The vision/fantasy in your head about the business you want to launch may not necessarily be what the market wants. Understanding precisely what your ideal customer seeks in terms of products, services, and experiences is of highest importance. You may have a gut instinct on a winning idea, and that is terrific! Ensure that you test your assumptions long before you sign a lease or buy inventory. Check in with the people in the community. Interview other business owners, potential customers, service providers, and local business experts. The beauty of taking the time to do this not only helps refine your business idea and inch you closer to market fit, it begins the marketing process for you long before you open your doors.
3) Watch your overhead and remember you are in a seasonal resort community. One of my most savvy investors said to me once, “You make money when you buy the property” (meaning if you buy a property right, you are just about always guaranteed a win when you sell). Similarly, many mistakes and gaffs are easy to recover from when you have kept your overhead low. If you are basing your monthly expenses on July and August revenue, come January, things may be bleak. Highlands certainly has become much more of a year-round community, but there are still dips in activity during winter months. Create a very lean, super tight budget and stick to it. Bank the extra summer and fall cash for reserves when the community is quiet.
4) Maintain a “build the plane while you fly it” mentality. Even with all the planning and preparation in the world, there are still a number of surprises that come your way. Be prepared to be agile in responding to such surprises and course correct continually. Sometime success is only a 2 cm adjustment away – look for it.
5) Service, service, service. If making customers wildly happy and delighted with having been taken care of by you is not your first priority, you will have little runway for your young enterprise to hit escape velocity. Make it easy to find you, a joy to do business with you, and consider each client interaction to be one you can make memorable.
I believe the barriers to entry to entrepreneurship are the lowest they have ever been at any time in our history. Costs for establishing an online presence, purchasing equipment, and creating a strong brand identity are a fraction of what they were even just five years ago. Granted, rent in the Highlands community can be high, but look for creative solutions such as negotiating a lease with sliding rent to give you time to establish a foothold, and/or consider buying a building that offers steady rental income from residential space or other commercial space you are not using.
The excitement and fun of establishing an enterprise in any community carries a joy that makes the heart sing and brain buzz. When you couple that excitement with the prospect of living and working in Highlands, the combination is potent and intoxicating. That intuitive hit you have that Highlands would be just the place to bring your business baby to life is most likely right on target. Do some homework first and have lots of conversations. Be clear on the kind of life you want to live and design those elements right into your business plan. Keep your customer top of mind and stay in touch with them all year ‘round. I’ll look forward to toasting to your success!