From its inception, independence has always been a cornerstone of American society. Whereas more traditional cultures build their values around community, America has always loved the pioneer spirit and rugged individualist, from iconoclastic artist Georgia O’Keeffe to the original antihero James Dean. This mythic reverence for the lone wolf, the outsider and the free bird shapes modern film and art—but does it work for business?
Say you’ve found your niche as part of a successful skin center or by giving skin care as part of a full-service spa. You’ve definitely proven yourself, and you feel secure, established and respected. Your business does well. Congratulations are in order. As long as you have a long-range strategy in place that will attract new customers as older ones fade away and are continually weeding out products and treatments that may not be compatible with your overall guiding vision, you’ll be able to maintain a profitable and pleasant status quo more or less indefinitely.
Many people are ecstatic to reach this place—but not everybody. Do you catch yourself daydreaming about going on safari, sailing away on a jolly pirate vessel with Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom, or tattooing and piercing a part of yourself just for the sake of doing it? Do these fantasies present themselves almost every day? Perhaps you’re just bored. Or perhaps you’re truly an entrepreneur trapped inside a successful but too-conventional business model.
The great English wit Oscar Wilde wrote that competency is the last refuge of the truly unimaginative. Maybe your imagination is calling you to move beyond killer technique and the realm of the known and familiar into something more daring and potentially more rewarding—namely, your own business.
Do you have what it takes?
Successful employees must be team players. Successful entrepreneurs may or may not have the capacity for teamwork—and the desire to join, share and bond with others—on a day-to-day basis. Some simply lack the patience and interpersonal tolerance.
What entrepreneurs must have is a higher risk tolerance than most. Some of the capacity to endure risk depends on life circumstances. If you are young, single and childless, you may feel unfettered compared with an older colleague who has children in need of private school, orthodontia, piano lessons and surf camp. Someone just starting out in their career may feel they have little to lose financially; however, someone who has worked, saved and invested for 20 or 30 years may feel decisively more vulnerable because they have amassed capital and formed long-term financial expectations.
In the end, it’s a highly personal choice. If you have dependents, debt or both, you truly need to consider the risks involved in leaving an established life as someone else’s employee and stepping out into a more solitary pursuit. Will other people be hurt if you lose your shirt the first year? Are you truly prepared to jettison your corporate health care benefits package and company retirement plan? If you have a bad year, will your house go into foreclosure? Will your car be repossessed? Will your credit be permanently scarred, making future financing difficult? Even if you’re feeling impetuous, consult with a financial planner so you at least understand the potential for loss before you give notice at your present job.
The formula? There isn’t just one …
In fact, there are many. Each entrepreneur’s formula for success is as unique as the individual. An MBA and a five-year plan would seem like a reasonable starting place, but Jane Wurwand, founder of The International Dermal Institute and the Dermalogica skin care brand, had neither when she started out roughly two decades ago. Today, Wurwand is asked to speak to entrepreneurial groups all over the country, including the highly prestigious Anderson School of Business at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), although she does not possess a college degree.
Your blueprint really can only be your own intuition, informed and perhaps somewhat chastened by some clear-eyed financial counsel from an unbiased third party. At this point, you are standing on that magic place called the edge. One more step and you are in what Wurwand calls free fall, where nothing is sure and everything is possible. All you can do is let go.
A golden rule: Don’t relax under pressure
As much as the entrepreneur’s life is described by other people as pirate-like, making it sound whimsical and flamboyant, the truth is entrepreneurship requires a steely attitude of endurance far more tough-minded and stoic than that required by punching someone else’s clock.
Creation requires pressure, whether you’re establishing a new business, painting your latest masterpiece, or cooking a seven-course Moroccan wedding feast. Preparation, strategy, responsiveness to crisis, timing, resilience and perhaps something as elusive as luck are all part of the mix. Prepare for long days, sore feet, stacks of unopened mail and unread magazines, unwatered plants, friends who are miffed because you never call them back, fast food, skipped parties and holidays, and lots of missed sleep. No one said it was going to be easy, but if your mix is right, it may turn out to be absolutely great.
And while there are no hard and fast rules, a few hard-won universal truths are shared by most entrepreneurs everywhere. The following are revelations that will help to save you from some unnecessary suffering.
Keep your menu simple. Offer a core of treatments about which your team is passionate and through which they demonstrate total mastery. If giving the Sphinx-wax isn’t your reason for getting up in the morning, leave it to someone else’s practice. Build your menu on your true professional loves.
Choose your bedfellows—in this case, your brands—wisely. Today’s market is exploding with skin care products. Formulation and ingredients are important, but not the most important factors in making your selection. Choose a brand that demonstrates solid commitment to the skin care professional. This typically means the product isn’t sold in department stores and drugstores. Also, choose a line that backs up its product with ongoing training for skin therapists.
Services and treatments alone are only part of the profitability equation. Retail sales will likely comprise at least 50% of your business.
Selling product effectively is crucial. Do not discount your products or services, as it cheapens and erodes your brand credibility. Instead, create value-added services and sales packages where the client receives a fabulous mini-service, such as a hand, foot or scalp massage or a trial-size product, to get business moving.
Regarding staffing, hire for attitude, not aptitude. Specific skills can be learned, but a sunny personality, the desire to communicate and the ability to connect genuinely with people—fellow team members, as well as clients—are all largely unteachable.
Reward your team with confidence-building, résumé-deepening educational opportunities rather than days off or boxes of chocolates, and take postgraduate classes yourself, at least one per quarter. Do not withhold training opportunities because you fear that empowering your team will cause them to leave you. This attitude is paranoid and negative, sort of like not teaching your kids to ride a bike or drive a car because you think they’ll never come home. More importantly, give your staff a reason to stay with you.
Something else to consider is how you feel about other people. A great many people stay in their jobs because they feel a sense of community and family when they arrive at their desks each morning. This is fine, but it typically is not in the entrepreneurial profile. Entrepreneurs often view their workspace as a cage—they can’t wait to get out at the end of the day and dread returning.
Try to assess your own personality honestly. Do you really look forward to coffee and lunch with the gang each day? Do you do a lot of chatting and e-mailing? Do you hang out with friends from work after hours and on weekends? Do you seek consensus and consult with peers before making a decision? Do you turn to your peers for agreement and validation in many areas? If so, you may be a “joiner” personality. This is a lovely trait, very possibly the basis for human civilization, but if it describes you, you may find yourself quite disoriented and lonely if you attempt to go it alone—at least until you can hire all of your friends to work for you.
With this handful of concepts in practice, go ahead and run up the pirate flag. If the winds and seas are with you, you’ll never look back. And most assuredly, it will be the ride of a lifetime.