You may have read our popular blog post titled “21 Things We’ve Learned in the First Six Months of Business“. We actually made it into a handout when we spoke in classrooms at South Dakota State University (SDSU) because students kept requesting it! Well, get ready for version 2.0. 🙂
Carrie Kuhl and Renee Halgerson, co-owners at Hitch Studio recently celebrated three years in business on February 6, 2017, by expanding into a new location at 414 Main Ave. in Brookings. They developed their business into three defined divisions:
- web + design (our website design, graphic design, digital marketing and marketing division)
- paperie + gifts (our brick-and-mortar retail gift shop in downtown Brookings, which sells well-designed stationery and other fun gifts)
- weddings + invites (our wedding planning and wedding invitation design division)
Did you find the theme? Although our business model is diverse, each of our three divisions prides itself on good design. We think our tagline is pretty fitting:
- CONNECTING BY DESIGN
You guessed it. Our mission statement also brings all three divisions together as well.
Hitch Studio, where we:
Carrie Kuhl got her degree in graphic design and Renee Halgerson’s degree is in advertising/marketing, so together, they take company branding pretty seriously. (We love helping new businesses get their logo, colors and style spot on!) This includes our own Hitch Studio logo, tagline and mission statement. To be honest, we didn’t have these things nailed down on day one. It took us three years to grow into this perfectly-fitted branding. Which leads us to the first point in this follow-up list of lessons learned in entrepreneurship.
21 Things We’ve Learned in the First 3 Years of Business
- Name your business, get a great logo, and get started. Neither has to be perfect on the first day. Get up and running and know that the look of your logo (or even your name) may evolve slightly. (For example, we started as “hitch, LLC”, then “Hitch Design House”, then “Hitch Design Studio”, and finally “Hitch Studio”. All lived under the LLC of “hitch”, but we found our identity, even if it took us three years.) And yes, we’ve also had four slightly different logos, but our final version shown above is service-marked for good. Unless we update it again. Hey, branding is what we do, so don’t be surprised if we redesign. 🙂 We don’t recommend changing your name four times, but don’t prevent starting your business just because you can’t come up with the perfect name quite yet. Get it going and see where that takes you. As long as your LLC is generic enough to cover your DBA, you’re good!
- Keep a list of 6-month, 1-year and 5-year goals. Whether or not you have a business partner(s), it’s good to stay aligned and focused on the big dreams. Carrie and Renee have journals full of ideas and dreams, but we have very specific goals listed for Hitch Studio.
- Diversify your business if needed. Expand your business offerings only if it makes sense for you and your target market. We know and love our small town of Brookings, South Dakota. But we also know that we can’t keep our business running by specializing in only one of our divisions. We need all three to keep a balanced and profitable business. Plus, Carrie and Renee both have talents that Brookings needs! It keeps us busy and happy — doing what we love and loving what we do.
- Be a good manager AND leader. We’ve hired several employees over the years and learned that each is motivated by different things. Carrie and Renee are natural teachers and mentors. We have the hearts of servants and the motivation of true leaders. Still, managing employees is difficult. Do they like to be micr0-managed or independent? Do they want constant feedback or one simple check in? Are they motivated by money, or the reference from us on their resume some day, or maybe learning the skills it takes to be a better designer/writer? Learn them. Love them. Lead them.
- Join a Masterminds group. (or something similar). This isn’t a leads group as you know it (although we do love promoting each others’ businesses). It’s a group of like-minded entrepreneurs encouraging each other as a board of directors. Kind of. Read more here.
- Friendships are important. We had no idea how many long-lasting relationships and friendships would be made through this business. Some of our best friends are our vendors, clients and brides.
- There will still be really hard days. You won’t make as much money as you wanted. You won’t have free weekends or evenings like all your friends do. You won’t ever be bored. You don’t have dental insurance. But maybe those are the best parts of growing a business that’s YOURS. Keep at it because you love it.
- You’ll keep learning more about yourself. Don’t be afraid to learn and grow. Even “experts” continue to learn.
- Keep your composure even during the toughest PR situations. Let’s just say this past Hobo Day was a learning experience. When Hitch Studio faced a controversial situation, we chose kind words when it would have been really easy to fire back on social media. We chose love.
- Use your [free] resources. Whether you’re questioning when to grow, when to hire, applying for grant money, or wanting a solid mentor, there are tons of free resources for you! We highly recommend Tim Weelborg, Executive Director at the Enterprise Institute/Small Business Administration, Dakota Resources, and Jennifer Quail at the Brookings Economic Development Corporation, among many others. People want to help.
- Rely on your accountant and business coach for big-picture advice. Use these experts for what they’re best at. Take that new knowledge and weigh your decision. We don’t make any big decision without talking to ours first. (In fact, we talked to both of ours last week).
- Take time to celebrate the wins. We won two grants and moved into a new location all in four months. It wasn’t until I sat down and watched our interview on KELO TV that it really sank in. We have a lot to be proud of. We like to stay humble, but realize we need to take it all in more often. That’s what it’s all about. We have been told that we are very humble ladies. The truth is, we just don’t have time to really reflect on what we are doing here at Hitch Studio or the impact we are making in our community and in our employee’s lives. We are just taking one day at a time and doing the best work we can. We need to take the time to appreciate those accomplishments each day.
- Consider there may be a better way. Being a business owner means that you are destined to work crazy hours, constantly. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day madness and stuck in your ways. If you are feeling stressed, always consider that there must be an easier way. Be strong enough to admit you could do better and make proper adjustments to improve work efficiency. Time is money, people!
- Know your limits — It’s ok to be a little selfish. The word “no” is an extremely tough one for us. We are really bad at saying it, but as we grow we understand its importance now more than ever. As a business owner, you are being pulled in several different directions all the time. Know when you are reaching your burn-out level and take the time you need to rejuvenate.
- Know when to ask for help. You are busy! We get it… you are trying to keep your head above water and generally, you know, stay alive. Here is a little hard truth for you: people generally have no idea when you need help. They are not mind readers! And a little more honesty: they usually truly want to help, so ask.
- Every experience is an opportunity to learn. Remember that every single opportunity, good or bad, and every encounter you have with someone new is an opportunity to learn something new. Take the time to pay attention, be present and ask meaningful questions no matter how big of a hurry you are in. You never know when a connection or inspiration may strike. Keep yourself open to it.
- There is no wrong path. We often find ourselves stressing over decisions big and small as if they will significantly change our future immediately, and the thought of making a wrong decisions is so terrifying that it might hold us back. This is us telling you to be okay with the fact that you will make wrong decisions. It’s bound to happen. Here is the bright side — we believe there is no such thing as a wrong path. Whatever direction your decision takes you in will be an opportunity to grow.
- Lift each other up. We are so fortunate to be surrounded by amazing, brilliant people who love and support us unconditionally. We love to pay it forward and make every effort to lift other people up and be supportive where we can. You never know what impact your actions will have on someone. Why not make an effort for them to be the best they can possibly be?
- Support local and mean it. We are small business owners and our success is directly related to people making an effort in this community to support us. We take that very seriously and since becoming business owners we can understand and appreciate what shopping local means and its impact on the community as a whole. Its importance is enormous!
- Give grace. It’s probably one of the hardest things for people to do; to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and truly live in them for just a minute. There will be times in this life and as a business owner when you get frustrated, when you encounter an incident that is beyond your control and so terrifying you think you won’t make it out the other side. Just remember to give not only yourself some grace, but others involved as well. Handle the situation with love and compassion. You will thank yourself for it later.
- Keep your debts low. We believe in not spending beyond our means. We know starting a business comes with a ton of expenses, but after we took out a line of credit our first year, we had it completely paid back by the start of our second year. And again, we took out another line of credit our second year and had a $0 balance by the end of the year. Sometimes we skipped paychecks to ourselves to be able to pay off our debts. And it worked. If you have a payment plan, keep it true to what you can afford.
No matter what stage of business you’re in, we hope you’ve enjoyed these small pieces of advice. Comment below if you have other great tips!