We’ve all heard that making your dreams come true takes sacrifice and hard work. Natasha Crosby decided to pursue the career of her dreams the day she sold her Ford Mustang to buy the first computer for her company, MindKube Creative & Marketing.
Through hardwork and determination, Natasha has created a successful marketing company by assembling a small talented marketing team that has acquired major brands as clients, such as Harley Davidson and Wal-Mart.
The year was 2008, and Natasha, like everyone, felt the effect of a badly wounded economy that did not afford many opportunities for career growth, but rather asked that all work harder for less.
Like many unfortunate professionals during the height of the great new recession, Natasha was laid off and had no real opportunities. The new industry wages undervalued her skills and years of experience; “For designers, it was getting tougher,” she says. “They didn’t want them to just design web pages and page layouts they wanted administrative and secretarial skills as well, which I felt would demean the profession.”
She looked at this bleak economic landscape, and chose to create her own opportunity to take control of her career path. She sold her Ford Mustang to create capital to buy a computer for her infant company. She started her company as only a graphic designer, taking on any project to obtain clients and build her reputation through referrals.
Her hard work had paid off and her business grew so much that she could focus on business development. She then focused on finding talented people to build a creative team of professionals that could grow MindKube into a brand bigger than herself. This search took patience and required giving opportunities to various professionals that did not always work out, but she eventually cultivated the right team.
While Natasha strengthened and grew the company, her client list grew from mom and pop shops to larger, well-known companies and political groups.
Here are a few pieces of advice that Natasha has to share.
Natasha’s advice for entrepreneurs:
1. When in the land of opportunity, do not ignore those opportunities
Americans grow up being told countless times how blessed they are being born in the land of opportunity. However, many forget how lucky they are being citizens of an economically stable country that has a lot of freely available resources for entrepreneurs, such as the Small Business Administration. Natasha truly appreciates these opportunities because she did not always know this reality.
Natasha was born in Trinidad and did not come to the U.S. until she was 15 years old. Her point of view as an immigrant has allowed her to see the many opportunities available to those who are determined and are willing to work hard, that she feels many Americans take that for granted or simply don’t notice.
Natasha explains, “The fact that I’ve come from very little and I can see what’s here, and take advantage of it, I just think people take that for granted when they grow up here […] You’ve got to be willing to work hard, number one, but if you are the rewards can be amazing. I think we forget that a lot because we’re just so used to things being the way they are.”
Take a cue from Natasha, and channel her motivation and fresh perspective to find and use the resources available to all. Start by contacting nonprofit organizations that support entrepreneurs at little to no charge in the U.S., like your local Small Business Development Center or your local SCORE Chapter. In addition, check out the variety of funding resources available.
2. Always work hard, but be prepared to work hardest in the beginning
You must work the hardest when establishing your business, because your financial well-being goes from being dependent on a steady 9-5 job to your ability to acquire customers.
In the beginning, Natasha took all jobs that came along. When presented a work opportunity, she said, “I’ll just do everything and never say no, and work from early morning to late at night, and that’s easy to do when you work at home.”
“I just never stopped working,” she says. “I had to learn how to stop working because I went from collecting a regular paycheck to something very irregular, freelancing, which you never know what it’s going to be like.”
Her strong work ethic helped her create a professional image and a good reputation, so that her business could grow through word of mouth. However, she eventually realized that she needed balance. “I had to find the balance for that, and go, ‘it doesn’t have to be this way.’”
3. Find professional help, but choose the right professionals
As Natasha’s company became established, she realized that she needed the help and creative talents of other professionals to balance MindKube’s growth. Natasha now has a cohesive team of talented professionals, but this team did not magically come together overnight.
“I had to go through hiring the wrong people,” Natasha admits. “I hired one developer who didn’t protect his sites. They were unsecured. A virus got in and caused infections throughout all my websites.” These situations were ultimately learning experiences, which have given her an ability to discern which job applicants are most likely to be trustworthy, reliable, disciplined, and generally professional.
In this age of the digital, social network, more and more people telecommute to work, and it has become more acceptable not to have interpersonal contact. However, on paper anyone can appear to be an accomplished professional that an employer would be only so lucky to call their own. A small business owner must be willing to dig deeper beyond the emailed resume or LinkedIn profile. Natasha recommends a “face-to-face meeting if possible. If not, a phone interview will tell you a lot about the person, such as whether you’ll be able to interact with them and work with them. There’s gotta be some kind of personal contact.”
Finding and recruiting great employees is a skill, and, like most other skills, takes time and effort to develop. “Go with your instincts,” says Natasha. “I’ve had it serve me well most of the time, not all the time, but in general it gets better the more I do this.”
Like any growing business that naturally can’t see into the future, you must take risks. Natasha realized that she had to play the odds to find good employees. “Even for people that seemed like they would work out well, they sometimes just disappeared off the face of the earth,” she says. “Sometimes you just never know. You have to take a chance on people.” MindKube’s growth and increase in client acquisitions is proof that Natasha’s diligence and patience when it came to finding the right professionals for her company has paid off.
4. Foster and guide creativity, don’t stifle it!
As an employer, you want your employees to produce and never stop improving. Your employees will become more productive if you let them put their own input and creativity into their work.
If you maintain a professional but relaxed work environment, your employees may surprise you by how much they are willing to go above and beyond to improve your products and services. Natasha fosters a creative environment by keeping a laid back but professional workplace. “I try to be easygoing and not too bureaucratic. I don’t like too much paperwork, I just like to get the job done,” she says. “I run a tight ship, but I try to be easygoing, so people feel like they can communicate very well with me. I try to be approachable.”
She has also taken her time to hire the professionals that are well-suited to this type of environment. “Almost everybody in the group is pretty laid back and they’re disciplined enough to set their own schedules they know that work. They have to get it done, so they do it. I don’t have to micromanage.”
5. Embrace the advantage of being small
Many aspiring small business owners may be scared to break into an industry where there may be large, established companies that seem to have unlimited resources. However, many large companies lack flexibility and move slowly; small firms have the advantage of being nimble and able to quickly respond to their clients’ needs.
Natasha believes this to be especially true now. “A small business can change and adapt to different things that are happening,” she says. “I see it as a definite advantage to be small and to be able to scale up or down based on needs and demands. I think it’s a great time for small businesses.”
“For example, in a large agency or a large software company, they’ve got a 20-person project, they’re not as flexible as a small team who can bring on more people as needed to identify a new trend,” she says.
This lack of flexibility is a disadvantage for larger companies, which often have “a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of personnel sunken into something that’s set on a path that they have to follow and see through, regardless of whether the market changes or not,” says Natasha.
As a small business owner you should keep this fact in mind, both by taking advantage of your flexibility as a small company, and when deciding on whether or not a larger company or a smaller firm should take care of your marketing, IT, HR, payroll, accounting, legal, or other needs.
6. Be a perpetual student, and never stop learning
Anyone who is courageous and daring enough to create a business will soon realize that he or she must be a self-motivated student who is not afraid to do extensive research and ask questions.
On an average workday, Natasha spends up to half of her time learning. She explains how she starts a typical day at her home office, “I’ll wake up [and] just learn all I can about what tools and software there are available for growing a business, for sales, for marketing, for business development. There’s a big learning curve.” She spends her time studying now because she wants to keep growing her business and break into the public sector, but she had to study even harder when creating and establishing MindKube.
Starting a new business is never easy when you are trying to find direction, but it helps immensely to find someone who is established in your industry. Natasha took the tough route to creating a company. “I never really had a mentor,” she says. “I wish I had. It would have probably made a couple of things easier.”
However, Natasha also admits that this lack of guidance helped hone one of her most valuable skills: the ability to teach herself new things as an entrepreneur.
With the vast resources and knowledge of the global business community in your pocket via your mobile device, or on your desk via your home desktop or laptop, now is an opportune time to be an inquisitive, motivated entrepreneur.
Natasha has been amazed by the amount of education and skills she has gained via the internet. “With the internet you could find out anything you want. I bought and sold houses, myself. I’ve done a couple other things just by learning how to do it.”
Natasha advises other entrepreneurs to focus on expanding their knowledge base, and focusing on executing their ideas. While it’s important to stay teachable and keep learning, it’s equally important to follow through.
“Put in the time,” she says. “A lot of people have ideas, they want to do things, but they don’t do anything actionable to make it happen. You’ve got to do, not just think. You’ve got to go out there and set things up, and get it done, and educate yourself.”
Do you have advice for new entrepreneurs? Share it in the comments.