So you’ve got an idea, and it’s brilliant. It’s life-altering, it’s universal, it’s got more than just potential, and you absolutely have to share it with the world. Also, you think you could make a buck on it in the long run. Before you take a gander at the first list of results in your Google search and do something hasty, take a step back and look at the big picture.
Your first thought is probably, “Where am I going to get the money?” And that is a very good, very important question. But before you become discouraged or expectant, you have to solidify what you’re selling. Your idea might be in the embryonic stage. While it may seem infallibly promising to you at these early stages, others can’t see your tunnel vision. You have to have a fully developed, shiny, adorable, moving and kicking baby of an idea. You have to bring it to life to show others that it’s real.
Allison McNamara is the founder of Mara Beauty, a totally clean, revolutionary beauty line with a luscious retinol face oil that has been making headlines all 2019 long. While she clearly had an idea worth exploring, she understood that she couldn’t gain traction until she had a formula to believe in. So, no matter what your brilliant idea is, find a way to give it some weight and create a place for it to land: a website, a formula, a prototype. Be prepared to ask for help. And don’t rush.
“Finding [someone] who understands your message and can make your ideas come to life while adding innovative and imaginative elements is the first and most crucial step you will take,” McNamara tells us. In her case, this was a formulator. If you don’t have this connection just yet, don’t be discouraged. It should be good news to understand you don’t have to be the expert in every stage of your product. You just have to hatch the plan and find professionals who can help execute it. “So choose wisely and don’t rush the process—revolutionary R&D can take years.”
Keep track of where you’re drawing your inspiration, and give a recognizable, ownable brand to what you’re selling. It doesn’t have to be complicated. When we asked how McNamara mapped this out for Mara, she started with what we know: “so many Pinterest boards!” Some of the best tools like this are free.
Sometimes it helps to go tangible. “I actually printed out most of my inspo photos and made a huge physical board and just stared at it for weeks. I zeroed in on the perfect teal blue for our bottles while meeting with a components supplier, and from there everything fell into place. I personally do not love the idea of having an agency create an entire brand deck for a new business. There is so much value and strength that’s ignited when you do it yourself.” This isn’t a time to stress—this is a time to truly express yourself through your idea.
Back to that feeling of discouragement. It’s often self-doubt that halts so many ideas in their tracks. If you’ve ever seen a product, a solution, or an operation come to life that you had thought of years ago and never acted on, resulting in a total face-palm moment, you may have been the victim of this crippling inspiration killer. It may seem counterproductive to take your time with your plan and simultaneously act fast, but you want to take the time to craft quality, while also keeping momentum.
McNamara says, “Having a clear vision of what you want to create and the message you want to put out in the world really helps silence the self-doubt. I found that doing intensive branding exercises, mood boards, and even attributing words and feelings to each product helped me streamline and strengthen my concepts. If you’re feeling unsure, it might be because the foundation of your business, your message, or your concept needs fine-tuning.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Money
Oh, you mean we don’t all have a nice little reserve of money to dip into whenever we like? Feeling bitter about not being born a trust fund baby won’t get you anywhere, so start thinking about your options. If your business plan is real (and by now it should be—see above), you have all the confidence in the world to pay back investors. “I have many entrepreneur friends that used family and friends as angel investors, which can be a really great option if you don’t have personal savings,” says McNamara. And of course, feel free to look outside of family and close friends. Industry experts and colleagues can be a great source. Worst case scenario, heed below …
Don’t Get Ahead of Yourself
Don’t go too big all at once. Start with what you know, and give yourself room for sustainable growth. McNamara executed this perfectly. “I chose to only launch with one hero product because I didn’t want to overwhelm my audience and also wanted to ensure I could properly manage my cash flow. I also still continue to work other jobs and don’t pay myself out of my Mara business, which adds double the work to my plate.” Don’t expect your blossoming project to be your main source of income right away. It might just barely be paying for itself for a while. That’s normal.
Understand that while there are definite milestones in this process, there is no exact formula that blankets all types of business ventures. McNamara goes with the flow, sharing that “learning how to pivot or adapt, especially when things aren’t working out as you had hoped, is incredibly important … It all comes down to knowing your non-negotiables—[like in the clean-beauty world of Mara], ingredient standards, certain preservatives, packaging requirements—and then being more malleable on other elements.”
Have confidence in yourself and your offerings, of course. Do the work to secure your business, so that you have the assurance that all the steps are in place. But don’t anticipate any specific pace or public reaction. McNamara reminds us, “Have no expectations! Your business could be slow, your business could take off—there are so many factors that contribute to success. But know that it will be more work than you’ve ever done in your life.” Starting your own business is an enormous act of courage and a practice in vulnerability. But if you’re reading this story and taking it to heart, you’ve already embarked on step one.