When I am not writing for Gravitate Online, I am off running my own business, Character Booking. We send costumed characters to birthday parties, corporate events, city events, Salt Lake Comic Con, etc. It’s a fun little gig, but unless you too, run a business, you would never guess how difficult it is. At any given time, I am juggling about 20 schedules, soothing angry parents, making business contacts, and creating seamless magic for the child in all of us. I’m sure that you can relate. It has been quite a journey making my company what it is today, but if you will, let me share a few things I’ve learned along the way.
Have Things in Writing
This one seems like a given, but you would be amazed at how often this doesn’t happen. We make verbal agreements all the time, and then we forget to uphold our end of the deal. It’s not that we’re conniving fiends, trying to trick others into following our will, it is just human nature to forget. You don’t have to create a formal contract that is signed and notarized, even email correspondence is enough. This is also true of your personal involvement with the company: your expenses, increase, advertising, task list etc. Write everything down so that you can keep track of it.
Choose Your Events (and Clients) Carefully
Essentially, I run a company built on dreams — the dream of a five year old girl to meet a real life princess, the dream of a mother to make her son’s birthday party something he’ll never forget, and even the dreams of my actors to be an inspiring force in the world.
Unfortunately, dreams don’t pay the bills.
There are so many small boutiques, expos, etc. that people have asked us to attend, but I have to choose wisely. This also applies to non-creative professionals, choose your clients wisely. You cannot do everything, especially when you are first starting out. Also, if anyone asks you to come for free to their event, don’t do it! Imagine asking a doctor to perform your surgery for free, and if you like the results, you will tell all your friends, sending him future business that way. The business world doesn’t work like that, and you shouldn’t either.
I’m sure that your cousin/friend/neighbor can create your website, take photos for you, create marketing material, do your taxes, etc. Most of the time, however, your time, money, and stress is better used in paying a professional. This can be difficult, as you might not have the biggest budget, but hiring a professional will get the job done faster, better, and more professional than your friend. What I have found happens often if you ask your friend to do something (even if it is what they do for a living), your request will get pushed to the side as other more important (and higher paying) tasks get added to their to-do list.
Form Symbiotic Relationships
There are many companies out there that do things that complement your business that are not direct competition — become friends with them. For example, my company became friends with another business that sold dress up aprons for little girls. Fairy Tailored invited us to their events, a few photoshoots, their grand opening, etc. Their events were more successful because they had a princess there to greet guests, and it also helped us get our name out there. Not only was it great for our businesses, but I also formed a rich friendship with the owner that has helped me through some rough times in my personal life. There was finally someone else who understood the struggle of a female business owner.
It Will All Be OK
I can’t tell you how many times I have almost sold or dissolved my company. Running a business is hard work. Statistics show that only ⅓ of startup business make it past the first ten years, and some people put that number as low as 1/10. But I’m here to tell you that it is going to be OK. You can do it. Yes, it’s frustrating, yes, it’s hard, yes you’re going to almost give up hundreds of times, things will work out. Sometimes I have to reward myself for doing “hard grownup things” (aka anything in relation to taxes, business licensing, marketing, etc.), by getting ice cream or something, and I’m sure you do too. Don’t give up. It will all work out — it always does.