At the core of Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO)'s mission is an unwavering commitment to helping entrepreneurs at every stage learn and grow. During Global Entrepreneurship Week, November 18-22, EO is hosting EO24/7, a five-day, free virtual learning event aimed at empowering entrepreneurs with skills and strategies to reach new levels of leadership.
Kristen Harris, an EO member in Columbus, Ohio, is co-founder and COO of Portfolio Creative, a talent acquisition and search firm dedicated to making the very best matches between clients and top-notch creative talent. As the company enters its 15th successful year in business, we asked Kristen and her partner, Catherine Lang-Cline, about the challenges of starting a business. Here's what they shared:
What strategies do you suggest to help "failure-proof" a new business?
I'm a proponent of putting the business infrastructure firmly in place before you build the store. While you certainly want to launch your company as soon as you can, the risk of it falling apart is high if you don't get the critical things in place first. Before opening our doors, my co-founder and I spent six months on the strategy of setting up our business, and I wouldn't have changed a thing.
1. Think deeply about the purpose of your business. Ask yourself these questions:
2. Write a job description for every role that you think this company will need. Surprise! You will fill all of those jobs at the beginning, but the goal of this exercise is to make sure every necessary function is covered.
4. Calculate the least amount of money you can live on. Not what you should make or used to make, but just enough to cover the basics--that's what you'll be living on for a while. If you have money coming in elsewhere, consider it as a parachute. You need to think and work like your company must turn a profit as soon as you can make it happen, which will help you avoid living beyond your means.
What was the biggest challenge in getting your company off the ground?
One of our biggest challenges starting out was capital. As a creative staffing company, we paid our people right away, but our clients might wait 30, 60, or 90 days to pay us. In our situation, factoring our invoices for almost a year saved the business.
The banks that we approached had no interest in investing in a startup, so the partnership we created with the factoring company was priceless. Overcoming this challenge taught us that there was more than one way to solve a problem.
Think you're strapped for cash? Keep looking. Getting capital has always been an issue for startups, but there are so many more ways to raise money that weren't available when we started. We did it the old-fashioned way--we bootstrapped, which is still a viable strategy.
How did you navigate growing your team?
Growing a team is a huge step because it's a considerable expense. We took baby steps by first hiring interns to take administrative work off of our plates. The next step was hiring part-time employees that we paid hourly. That way, we could delegate more tasks and pay for the work on an as-needed basis.
You can find fantastic talent this way because many people are looking for flexible opportunities--people with very specific skills.
The top level of growing our team was to hire people for their skill sets so we could focus on ours. These roles include accounting, marketing, operations and information technology. While I truly loved performing some of those roles, there were other projects that required my specific attention. Plus, it created opportunity for others.
Another valuable lesson we learned is to hire for cultural fit over skill set. A potential employee must be capable of doing the job, but many skills can be taught. A person's values must fit with ours, or it doesn't work.
We also focus on being in constant communication with our team. We prioritize one-on-ones and weekly team meetings, so there are no surprises. If people are struggling or championing projects, we know it--and they do, too.
What do you wish you had known before starting a business?
I wish I knew exactly how many people would be willing to help us through mentoring, offering advice and providing resources. When we started the company, it felt like we were limited to the knowledge that we alone had. We quickly found that there are a lot of experienced leaders who are willing to share their stories, which makes the entire undertaking seem less frightening and opens windows of possibility.
When tricky situations came up, we turned to organizations and fellow business owners for advice or to explain solutions that worked for them. If we had known that before launching, we probably wouldn't have needed to research as much as we did--but either way, we got here.
We still value those same groups of people for problem-solving and amateur therapy. When you're an entrepreneur, the learning never stops.