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Lessons from an Entrepreneur: Tips to Get Started

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I’ve told myself for 20 years that one day I would write down some of the stories and lessons I have learned while running a business. Now seems to be as good a time as any.

Should I start with 1999, or start with current events?

The current state of the world has certainly given all of us an opportunity to do some reflecting. Can I just say, I am feeling very fortunate that the sun is shining and spring is here? It’s my favorite time of year anyway, so sitting on my deck working makes it all seem okay. Today is breezy and beautiful and lends itself to wandering thoughts, so I’m going to share a few things I have learned in business.

Some history. Early 1999 my husband was deployed to the Mediterranean for six months. We had everything set up so we could email each other while he was gone. At the time, I was a stay at home mom to two boys, 6 and 4. That little bit of exposure to the Internet motivated me to want to learn more. I took some classes on web design and started playing around with building web sites. Before the end of the year, I started a web design company.

Feed what excites you!

My first client had a full-time job and was starting a sportfishing website (now a popular magazine) on the side. He was referred to me through friends. He paid me a nominal hourly rate and I worked twice as long as I ever charged and I was having a blast! I was learning and doing something new. It wasn’t long before my husband, now home from deployment was helping me with some programming and some of the more technical things. While the Internet was new to me, he was an old pro.

At the time we were living in a three-bedroom townhouse and were working out of the third bedroom. At this point, I wasn’t thinking of it being a business. It felt more like a hobby. I was working from home and loving it! I had moved, reorganized, painted, and repainted (and repainted) each room as much as I could stand. Exercising my brain felt good. I was with my boys all day and didn’t yet have any of the worries associated with running a business. Fast forward to today. I’m doing it again, except working from home is forced, my boys are men, the house is much bigger, and there is plenty to worry about.

Be careful what you wish for!

When this all started, I wasn’t thinking big enough. I have spent the past twenty years in business “stretching” my mind to think bigger. Because of this, I wasn’t prepared. I hadn’t thought it through, saved money for it, made a plan to get money, or figured out any of the details you should think about when starting a business. This was just something I wanted to do out of my home, so I could be with my boys, which was fine for the first couple of years. Tom (my husband) was still in the Navy so we weren’t relying on my income.

Don’t under-estimate yourself.

After out-growing our guest bedroom, we moved to the master bedroom (swapped the guest and master bedrooms). Then we needed to bring someone in part-time, so we moved downstairs to the living room, moving all of THAT stuff into the “master” bedroom. At this point, Tom was very involved and we were getting more clients. Websites were new and so there were a lot of people who wanted a website. The phone was ringing.

We were getting up first thing in the morning and going straight to the computer. At lunchtime, we would take showers, and feed and spend time with the boys to get back on the computer until midnight. This went on for months and we were passionate about it. The boxes and excess furniture (at this point we had three desks, printers, etc in addition to the furniture that was there before) were starting to close in on us so we decided to rent our townhouse out and rent a bigger house for us. This would buy us some time while we figured out what was next.

Figure it out!

Oh, and be careful who you rent your house out to! … a story for another time.

A lot of things changed in a short period of time. My mom moved in with us so she could help care for the boys. Tom decided, after 17 years in the Navy, he wanted to come work with me. He wasn’t going to retire from the Navy, instead, he was going to resign his commission and we were going to grow this thing we had created. We flew to Florida to visit my first client and met with some other potential clients and partners. On the flight home, we came up with our name, Web Teks.

We were working with a graphic designer and a programmer who shared our interest in making this “thing” a “real” business. Both of them were freelancing and just getting started as well, so it seemed like a good fit. We were networking and making connections. Things were good and it felt like it was time to take the next step, incorporate it with our new partners. We found a business attorney in Norfolk and had him start the paperwork for our “new” business, with our new partners. We started looking for office space and in April of 2001, we signed a five-year lease on a small office.

And so it began.

Don’t be afraid to take chances.

I believe it was inevitable for Tom and I to go into business for ourselves. Both of our fathers were serial entrepreneurs, so we grew up with their example. I was developing myself and my career when I met Tom. I had a job that I loved and that I excelled at. During this time (early 1990’s) I worked with a software developer in California to create a software program for the accounting department of the hotel I worked for, Omni Hotel in Charleston, SC. It was quite successful and became a corporate policy and a process for the rest of the Omni Hotels to use this software and follow the processes we had developed in our hotel.

I traveled around the country to train other accounting departments on how to use the software and practices we had developed. I still have the letter I received from the President of Omni Hotels, commending me on my achievements and dedication to the company.

Keep an open mind about your potential and the possibilities.

I had forgotten about that until several years ago when I came across that letter. It occurred to me that ten years prior to my starting a technology company, I was designing software. It was something I must have been destined to do? Something, especially now, I am so incredibly proud of and truly grateful for the opportunities that have led me to here.

Reflect often.

I’m excited to share more stories with you, and I think the next one I will start with a story of my first attorney. He was a chauvinist pig and had a business to prove it. And he was growing weed before it was cool. Or maybe when it was cool? Either way, it wasn’t legal!


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