Running a small business can be both rewarding and scary. As a company morphs from idea to reality, many entrepreneurs face challenges they never anticipated. We caught up with some experienced small business owners in Massachusetts to find out what surprised them most.
Aren’t Always Best for the Long Haul
Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, a Cambridge-based marketing services firm that works with venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and business executives, tells Exhale her biggest surprise was that the people she started her company with were not always the best ones to grow with. Until she realized that, she spent “more time managing [people] than finding new customers.”
As a business advisor, Arnof-Fenn was shocked at how much money some founders spent on stationery and fancy brochures before they had any clients. Her advice is to start with what you really need to get customers, then “dress things up” later. Things change quickly, and early branding efforts—logos, colors, taglines—are often scrapped and replaced.
Bobbie Carlton, founder of Carlton PR & Marketing in Lexington, was initially caught off guard by the hidden costs of doing business. Her biggest revelation? Insurance. She knew she’d need it but never realized how many different kinds there were. “It adds up fast,” Carlton tells Exhale. “Of course we need health insurance for employees, but we also needed professional liability insurance, workers’ comp, and even event insurance.”
“Your personal and professional network often overlap,” Carlton says. She was surprised when friends and neighbors came to her for marketing services—she was even approached by the minister of a nearby church who happened to be the mother of one of her son’s friends.
Carlton finds that it can be hard to leave work at the office. “Business successes and challenges impact my mood, and if my business day ends on a high note, it will also be a good evening at home.” As far as tough days go, Carlton admits that she’s “not proud of it, but I’m the grumpy mom at home.”
May Have Little in Common
Lau Lapides, owner of the Lau Lapides Company, a boutique vocal coaching studio with locations in Wellesley, New York City, and Miami, tells Exhale that while she started out with a business strategy, she learned that the actual running of the business “has absolutely nothing to do with what is planned on paper.”
Lapides equates running a business to “metaphorically stepping off the cliff [and] creatively free-falling.” Being an entrepreneur will always come with unexpected challenges, but being prepared means you can handle the surprises as they come.