Our panel of small business owners
To celebrate our local startup week, we collected thoughts from five Colorado Springs small business owners. They’re all in the trenches of small business every day, and we’d like to thank them for taking the time to share their hard-fought wisdom.
Josh Schaulis is the owner and lead designer of Kettle Fire Creative, a branding and web design firm focused on identity-driven design.
Brooke Mikulas is the founder of Kindship Landing, an innovative boutique hotel opening in downtown Colorado Springs in 2020.
Pete Vargas is the owner of Advance Your Reach, a program to help people grow their business and spread their message through stages.
Julie Jacobsen is the owner of Panorama Events, a large-scale event and meeting planning firm.
Lindsie Blair is the owner and artist behind Everyday Summit, a successful Etsy shop featuring her artwork.
What was the hardest thing about starting a small business?
I heard a lot of horror stories about how it would be x number of years before I could make a profit. There’s no guaranteed paycheck. That makes it harder to decide where to invest time, money, and resources into your business. You have to decide when DIY is good enough and when you need to invest in a professional.
Because our business is a newish concept (and certainly new for Colorado Springs) the biggest challenge we’ve faced over the last two years in bringing it from concept to fruition has been the financing. My husband and I are building a boutique hotel concept focused on outdoor adventure and city exploration.
We’re young, it’s a startup, it’s hospitality, and it’s a new model, so it is not attached to any national brand flags. These tend to be obstacles for lenders and plenty of investors, too. But even with each door closing, we’d done our research and had community support—so we pushed on for a year and a half before finalizing our financing package.
The toughest thing is attracting customers and just creating revenue. After that, it was overcoming the fear of hiring people and getting people in there to help me.
Fear of the unknown and fear of failure. I was hesitant because I knew how to do my job well but understanding all the aspects of a business seemed daunting.
I always thought a traditional job brought a sense of security to it because I could focus on my job and not have to worry about the operations side of business. After I went through my third job layoff, it finally dawned on me the security I wanted wasn’t in a traditional job.
One of the hardest parts about starting a business was knowing where to start and what to tackle first. All the little steps can seem overwhelming. I learned to take them in baby steps and just keep doing the next thing. It’s ok to start slow and learn as you go.
What’s the best thing about starting a small business?
At my old day job, I had to sit in my office 40 hours a week even if it wasn’t productive. That was the expectation. Now, I can choose to spend my time how I see fit. I can choose how I want to arrange a prioritize each part of my life. I don’t have to build the rest of my life around my job; I build my entire life in the order I want, in a way that supports my goals and values.
By far, it’s been the relationships. We set out with two goals in mind: make new friends, learn new things. Both of these objectives have been accomplished tenfold, and we value our friendships more than anything. To know we have a net of relationships to catch us when we fall and celebrate with us when we fly means the world to us.
The skills and knowledge we’ve gained simply by knocking on doors and being obsessive in our commitment to learning has set us up for more opportunity than if we would have stayed on our previous life trajectories. This learning has come as the direct result of the generosity of the relationships we’ve gained.
I get to have an impact on others’ lives. I have an amazing team, so I get to surround myself with amazing people every day.
I like having a variety of different clients. Each client has a different aspect I enjoy that makes my overall work more complete. The work I do for one client may challenge my skills and help me grow professionally. Another client may be more about the relationships with the people. I may value a client for the cause they represent. Having my own business lets me diversify.
I love the connections I’ve made owning a business. Interacting with my customers and other business owners is by far my favorite.
What advice would you give someone considering starting a business?
There are so many ways to approach a business that can work. But you can’t do all of them. You can’t connect with everyone or try everything. You’ll spread yourself too thin. So cultivate the relationships that are positive and let go of the ones that are toxic.
Most of all, if you don’t have a desire to provide something excellent through your small business, don’t start that business. A desire for excellence stirs up the tenacity and drive you need to dedicate yourself to your work.
Remember that there are people around you who know where you should start, even if you don’t. Don’t be shy and don’t be afraid of hard work. Give yourself time. Give yourself grace.
Share the dream with everybody you can, because the right resources and helpful guidance will emerge. It’s when the dream is vocalized, over and over again, that it’s realized! Eliminate failure as an option, become a lover of solving problems, and be willing to adjust the business while staying true to your values.
Seek out mentorship. Find someone who can help you shortcut the challenges versus trying to do it on your own.
Be flexible. It’s okay to be an expert in a specific area but leave room to grow in new areas. Be open to networking with new people and groups to grow your business and your name. Don’t turn down a client because their need is slightly different from what you want to do. Leave a little room to be adaptable until you get your feet under you.
Also, find resources where you can build new relationships and ask questions. Maybe it’s a small business group or an association specific to your field. It could also be former colleagues or friends that can give you sound business advice when needed. Don’t try to do it all on your own.
Get to know other small business owners. They are a wealth of knowledge and an amazing support system when you feel like quitting or just get discouraged.
A big thank you to the owners of Kettle Fire Creative, Kinship Landing, Advance Your Reach, Panorama Events, and Everyday Summit for sharing your small business wisdom with Colorado Springs!
We’d love to hear your small business advice or questions. Share with us in the comments!