Tell people that you're starting your own business and they'll tell you what to expect. "It will be like a rollercoaster," someone will (inevitably) say.
What they mean is that you can expect lots of ups and downs. There will be times when you have to endure a long, hard journey but at the end of it, your head will be in the clouds and you'll feel that you're on top the world. Then things will start moving again. You'll start slipping. Before you know it, you're back at the bottom and facing that long, slow climb to the top again.
Sometimes you'll move quickly and sometimes you'll move slowly. Sometimes you'll have the impression that you're going round in circles. Often, you'll want to scream.
But it will always be thrilling and exciting and addictive and something you'll want to just keep doing. Once you've built your first successful business, like your first rollercoaster ride, you'll just want to have another go.
There's more to it than that, though. Felicia Slattery is a best-selling author and communications consultant who spends her spare time at amusement parks. She has enjoyed riding the big rides since she was a kid in the Chicagoland suburbs. "We went for an eighth grade field trip to Great America and there was a boy that I liked who wanted to go on The Demon," she said. "I was so scared but I was like 'Okay!' because I liked the boy. He talked me into going on and I loved it."
Now grown up and living in Knoxville, Tennessee, it's no surprise that Felicia is a regular visitor, with her husband and daughter, to Dollywood, an amusement park in the Great Smoky Mountains. Her experiences at that park, though, contain even more lessons that can apply to any business.
First, like Disney's amusement parks, Dollywood is themed. Line up to go on The Mystery Mine, a roller coaster with a 95 degree drop and a turnover loop, and you'll feel like you're on your way to being a miner. Take your seat and you'll be taken through what feels like a haunted, nineteenth century mining operation.
That's branding. The product is the ride itself but the branding helps the rollercoaster distinguish itself from other similar rides in the country, and it affects the experience. Even when you have a product strong enough to sell on its own merits, careful branding still gives customers a deeper experience -- and the business more sales.
Felicia's husband, though, is six foot four and is a muscular 250 pounds. While Felicia and her daughter loop the loop in an abandoned mine, he'll take a seat on a ride that allows his long legs to dangle. There's an important lesson there too. Even when you have a niche, it's important to remember that not all customers are the same. You still have to make sure that you can cater to as many of your customers as possible, even those with legs too long to fit into a rollercoaster seat. Airlines, with their local monopolies, might be able to force customers to just squeeze in but other businesses need to find ways to make as many of their customers comfortable as possible.
And finally, the reason that Felicia and her family go back to the park so regularly is that it delivers a consistent, emotional experience. She finds that the park doesn't disappoint and it's always fun. That consistency of service is vital too.
Learn all those lessons from rollercoasters, and you should find that your business-building has a lot more ups than downs.
Enjoy more of Felicia's story from her appearance on the FUN podcast.