5 things I've learned running my own business for 5 years
Knuckleball Comedy officially became official on August, 30th 2016. I remember at the very beginning, there were days where I was thinking, “there’s nothing to do but wait.” I laugh at the thought of that now, because in reality, there was everything for me to do. I started with the simple idea that improv comedy was fun, unique and could add intrinsic value to people of all ages. And then I built a business without any real idea how to do it.
I started by teaching one after school improv class to a group of 12 kids at the grade school I attended. Soon after that, I was teaching a class a week at five different schools. Then before I knew it, I had 15 schools and I needed to hire instructors to teach. Then all of a sudden it was 25 schools, and then 30 summer camps, and then 20 other youth organizations. Then in 2018, I expanded the business to working not only with kids but with businesses as well providing our unique, fun and valuable team building and professional development workshops.
(Knuckleball Comedy conducting a professional development and team building workshop in French Lick, Indiana for Rollings Funeral Services Manager's Meeting)
Things were growing at a pace I was happy with, and then 2020 happened. We went from working with a few hundred kids per week to zero. We survived by running virtual happy hours and other virtual corporate entertainment offerings for all sorts of companies across the globe. But it wasn’t easy and there were definitely times when I looked at other jobs, not knowing if I could ever grow it back to what it was.
Now, in 2021, the world is far from normal but kids are in school, conferences are going back to in-person, and business is back heading in the right direction. In the five years I have been running Knuckleball Comedy, we have worked with and added value to the lives of over 10,000 children and over 5,000 professional adults. Not a single day has been easy and running your own business isn’t for everyone. I’ve learned more than five things in the past five years, but here are five.
1. You can’t wait for good things to happen
I started by emailing my proposal to three schools and then waiting and wondering why they weren’t responding to me immediately. I learned quickly that I needed to be emailing 100 schools my proposals, and then following up again and again. Over time I learned how to be persistent without being annoying. Now I have people reaching out on my website inquiring about our professional development workshops and corporate entertainment options, but even though they reached out, I still have to go and get them. I have to call them right away, send them the proposal immediately, then send contracts seconds after we agree and then follow up the moment it seems like they are wavering. I don’t wait for a second, I go get everything. No client is ever handed to you on a silver platter, you have to grind for them.
2. Just do it
I spend hours every week reading about how to improve my SEO, sales outreach, marketing strategies, blogs, LinkedIn posts and more. It’s important to read and always continue learning, but at some point, you have to just do it. You have to start reaching out to prospects even if your sales strategy isn’t perfect. You have to actually submit and publish your blogs and LinkedIn posts even though they aren’t perfect. You can continue to learn how to improve, but ultimately, you have to go out and do it. Don’t wait another day, just do it and continue to learn as you go.
3. Be nice
I know it’s simple, and maybe seems obvious, but don’t underestimate how important it is to be nice to every single person you come across. That’s an important lesson for life and it will only help you in business. The people who have worked for me over the past few years, some of them stay and some of them move on to the next step in their lives, but either way, I try my best to make it clear to them they can always reach out to me if they want to talk about their next career move, need me to make an introduction or anything else. After every corporate training workshop I facilitate, I know the participants walk away with a smile having had a great experience. But more than that, they’ll remember me not just because of the event, but because I took the time to get to know them before or after the event, because I cared, because I was nice. Every business move I make will not be perfect, but no matter what, everyone will remember that I was kind. That’s important to me and I know it will only help my business.
4. It’s never as easy as you think it will be
I used to think that every after school class I had with about 10 kids in it, one of those kids would have me provide the entertainment for their birthday party. And then once I did the birthday party for that one child, then all of the other parents at that birthday party would say, “Oh, I want that for my child's birthday party.” And on and on this cycle would go. According to my math, I would be doing 10 birthday parties a weekend in just a few months. I forgot to account for the fact that nothing is that easy. The kids did love my classes and then they did love the birthday parties, but parents have other options, money is a factor, they forget about how much they liked us etc. Don’t expect it to be easy, expect it to be hard, and it’ll be even harder. But just keep grinding.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
I started Knuckleball Comedy having no clue how to run a business. The only thing I knew was that my services (improv classes for kids and professional development and team building workshops for businesses and corporate entertainment) were good. But I didn’t know how to sell, how to hire people, how to create a website, how to run ads, I didn’t know anything. Most of the things I had to learn on my own, one at a time. But it never hurts to ask people for help. My brother who has his own successful business ventures is constantly listening to the issues I run into and always offering his advice. My friends in sales are happy to talk to me about their processes and even people I don’t know who see me doing the right things offer advice and connections. Ultimately I have to do it all and I have to learn on my own, there are no shortcuts. But don’t be afraid to ask for help. One small piece of advice might change how you move forward with your business. Don’t be stubborn and insist on doing everything by yourself, you’re going to do that anyway. Ask for help when you feel lost, and always offer your help whenever you can.
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