By Chris Olsen
At around age seven, I was inspired by a TV commercial encouraging viewers “just like me” to raise money to help cure a debilitating disease. One of the ways to do so was to host a block party with carnival-style games of chance; every penny raised would go towards ending the terrible illness. I wanted more than anything to help sick people get better, so when the spokesperson offered a free carnival kit by calling a toll-free number, I was all in.
As it turned out, the kit was a pledge form and a list of tips for creating my event. Though it was not the “carnival in a box” I had hoped for (I pictured a crate of games and prizes being unloaded at my door), I was still energized by the prospect of my own backyard festival.
I pitched my vision to my mom and assured her I would take care of everything. I set a date and decided on games. I planned a puppet show and refreshments would be available à la my hand-crank snow cone maker. I stocked up on trinkets from the corner store gumball machine. I recruited my friends and siblings to help staff the event. I went door-to-door spreading the word.
My carnival was attended by friends, family members, and kids from the neighborhood who were lured in by the promise of carnies with fabulous prizes. Nearly everyone handed over the money from their pockets for the cause. I learned a lot from my first venture—here are some of the key lessons:
Start With a Plan
The carnival kit came in handy because it outlined aspects of the event I would not have considered. That, along with my own vision for a fun neighborhood event, allowed me to create a plan that ultimately helped make the carnival a reality. While there are plenty of people who just follow their heart and wing it, entrepreneurs who develop a business plan are far more likely to succeed in their endeavors than those who rely on passion alone.
Develop a budget.
Throwing an event on a seven-year-old’s budget was tricky. I made a list of the supplies I needed and scaled it back when I didn’t have enough money in my coffers to cover everything. Money management is a big part of operating a business and financial acumen is crucial to running a profitable venture. Successful small business owners not only develop a budget, they create a backup plan and adjust expenses as necessary.
Map Out Your Marketing
I could have easily been discouraged when some of my neighbors didn’t share my enthusiasm for a backyard carnival, but I didn’t give up because I knew it was a numbers game—no one would come to my event if they didn’t know about it. There was no internet at the time. My plan was to reach as many people as possible by canvassing, distributing flyers and posting signs. Successful entrepreneurs know that a great product, service or event is not enough—a solid marketing plan is critical to elevating awareness and driving revenue.
As a kid, I relied on items I found at home to make my event possible—bean bags and jump ropes for games, ice and Kool-Aid for snow cones, art supplies for painting signs and faces. I also asked the corner store manager to donate treats and toys for my event. Small business owners who explore partnership opportunities with other individuals and organizations find the resources they need to ensure success. And organizations like the Women’s Business Development Center, the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council and the National Association of Women Business Owners exist solely to help female founders build profitable and sustainable businesses.
Establish a Support System
Relying on my friends and family to help with event logistics and staffing was a no-brainer, but they also provided much-needed emotional support. Small business owners who develop a system of support are less likely to fold when the chips are down. And those who build a network that includes other entrepreneurs become a part of an invaluable community who understand the unique challenges of small business ownership.
Lead With Your WHY
I didn’t know a lot about the organization I was supporting, but I wanted more than anything to help sick people get well again. That passion for making a difference propelled me forward. And it kept me going, even when I faced obstacles along the way. This holds true for fierce founders like you pursuing your purpose—when you lead with your WHY, it tempers the daily challenges of running a business.
Confidence is a powerful thing. At age seven, I was certain I could create an amazing event and get everyone within a six block radius to attend. The ability to confidently articulate my WHY attracted others who believed in what I was doing and supported the cause. Believing in yourself and your mission instills trust, garners respect and—when it comes to entrepreneurship—leads to increased success.
About the author: Chris Olsen is a radio veteran turned communications consultant, educator and author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose”. Through her work as a consultant partnering with startups, Chris realized her WHY—to support women-owned businesses in confidently communicating their purpose and impact, setting them up for entrepreneurial success. She created My Founder Story and Publish Her as platforms for doing so.