Deciding to start your own business is an exciting endeavour that comes with a ton of flexibility, which is amazing. But it also requires a lot of responsibility, and that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
One Vancouverite that truly understands this is entrepreneur Paulina Cameron. She recently took on a new role as CEO of the locally-based national charity, Forum for Women Entrepreneurs, which educates, mentors, and connects women entrepreneurs to run successful businesses.
At work, Paulina has the pleasure of leading an incredible team, she gets to advocate for gender equality, and support women in bringing their entrepreneurial and business dreams to fruition. As a mom-to-be with a three-year-old, she’s passionate about shifting the narratives that we hold around motherhood and parenthood, especially in terms of working parents.
Paulina credits receiving her Chartered Professional Accountant designation in 2012 with helping her forge a career that’s truly meaningful to her. Since then, she published a bestselling book, from concept to shelf in just eight months — all while working full-time with a one-year-old.
Of course, she admits that it’s not always smooth sailing starting out as an entrepreneur, and explains the five most common mistakes you can make as an entrepreneur — and how to avoid them.
Believing that you have to go at it alone
We’ve all heard the narrative of the guy in a basement wearing jeans and flip flops starting a business — and we’ve also heard the stories of burnout, exhaustion and health challenges that a culture of 24/7 hustling can create.
“A lot rests on the shoulders of entrepreneurs, but it doesn’t need to be that way,” Paulina says. There are many organizations out there whose sole mission is to support and connect entrepreneurs to make the path less lonely and less overwhelming. She recommends reaching out to them, which in turn, could help you become a lot more successful.
She recommends the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs, Women’s Enterprise Centre, and other organizations part of the WEB Alliance. For resources on starting a business, check out Small Business BC, Futurpreneur Canada, RADIUS and Spring, and for youth, Young Entrepreneur Leadership Launchpad and League of Innovators.
Thinking you have all the answers
It’s important to remember that, as an entrepreneur, you are one person. Part of the entrepreneurial journey is knowing that you will have to figure things out as they come at you.
Paulina explains, “there is simply no way you could already have all the answers,” but to “do what you can to be thoughtful and prepare — business canvases/plans are great as they encourage you to consider all facets of the business.”
After you have a business plan, your next job will be to assemble the right team (including your actual team of employees, your board of advisors, and mentors) to support you in navigating the challenges and opportunities you will face.
Participating in a mentorship program, such as with the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs, can increase your chances of being in business longer, and graduates of intensive educational programs like E-Series see their businesses grow more quickly and sustainably.
Underfunding your business
This is especially true for female entrepreneurs, Paulina says. “Women ask for maybe 60 to 70% of what they actually need.”
“On one hand, that’s great as it shows they’re fiscally responsible and is one of the factors in yielding higher returns, however, the flip-side is that it will limit the growth they are able to achieve.” Understanding the difference between all of your options (debt vs equity being crucial), and talking to an advisor, will help you know when to access the right funds.
It’s also a good idea to build relationships with potential funders early, such as your local credit union, financial institution, and early-stage investors, as well as organizations that can help you in your path to capital. This way, you have pre-established relationships that you can turn to when you’re ready to ask for capital.
Thinking narrowly about your target market
Having access to a global online network means the world is truly your oyster as an entrepreneur. And here in Canada, we’re lucky that the government has heavily invested in supporting local entrepreneurs to grow their businesses globally.
“‘Export’ does not have to be a scary or overwhelming word — agencies like the Trade Commissioners, the EDC, the Export Navigator program, and World Trade Centres are there to quite literally hold your hand through the process,” Paulina says.
She suggests reaching out to them before you’re ready for export and they will support you in setting up your business to best access the resources for growth that you’ll need.” Certain funding is only available before you actually launch into a new market, so starting the process of understanding your options early will be critical.
Forgetting to take care of yourself
In the business world, your journey is a marathon, not a sprint. And this is something that you can easily forget when you’re juggling all of your day-to-day tasks.
“Your business and your life will thrive when you can have a holistic approach to your work, life, and everything in between,” Paulina says. Being an entrepreneur affords you the opportunity to structure life on your own terms, so make sure you don’t lose sight of that amongst the “madness of #inboxzero, 98997 open browser tabs, the bajillion Slack messages, and the dreaded, never to be listened to, 20 voicemails.”
After all, taking care of yourself and your health needs to be your number one priority.
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