Ten Things I Learned in My First Year as an Entrepreneur

This month marks the end of my first year as an entrepreneur. It has been a busy and stimulating 12 months and I look back with a sense of pride and accomplishment. I started with an idea and eventually the business model took shape – KAAV LIVING was born. It’s a totally new concept for anyone who wants a thoughtfully designed urban home without the strain of a stressful renovation or rebuild process. I consult on reno/rebuild projects, to the potential extent of managing the entire teardown and rebuild process of a KAAV LIVING model.

Here are 10 things I learned while developing KAAV LIVING’s business model and marketing strategy this past year.

1.         Problems promote innovation

In the fall of 2015 I became aware of a problem in the Toronto real estate market: many families wanted to live in the city but were frustrated with the old housing stock. Some found it difficult to buy what they wanted, while others were becoming stuck on their aging properties and looking for ways to make their existing house more workable. I created an acclaimed urban rebuilt home for my own family and knew I could help others do this. The question was how to create a revenue generating company that would do this. It took some time, but the framework is now in place and we are fine tuning the details as each new client engages.

2.         Get the support you need

You aren’t an expert or capable of doing everything. Get the help you need. As a budding entrepreneur the first thing I acknowledged was that I had little business experience. While the skills and experience I had developed on Bay Street as a litigator and as a homeowner who rebuilt her urban Toronto home were invaluable, I needed to fill in the gaps in my business experience, so I hired a business coach. This was the first of a number of professionals I hired to help me move forward.

3.         All your relationships are important

The foundation of my business is based on the personal and professional relationships I have developed and continue to develop. Based on my experience with my own home and legal career, I was able to create a company that acts as an interface between two very different groups of people who seem to co-exist in separate worlds. On one side are busy professionals and entrepreneurs who have little time to concern themselves with the construction and design of their house, but need a place where they can rest and enjoy home time. On the other side are construction industry professionals like architects, contractors and engineers who can design and build homes that fill these needs. I have the relationships and experience with both groups to bring them together in fruitful conversations.

4.         Websites promote credibility

While some websites are all about getting traffic and making sales, I learned that a company website is the hallmark of every founder’s credibility. Your website reflects your level of commitment to your business as well as your brand. Make sure it looks good and is regularly updated with authentically generated content that demonstrates your talent and insights. Some of the opportunities that have come my way are, in part, because of my website. In contrast, before the website was online a number of people who demonstrated interest in my company told me to get back to them “when I was up and running”.

5.         Always believe in yourself

 As an entrepreneur there is no room for doubt. While you are critically accessing every action you take to determine whether it is an effective way to run and market your business, you must always believe that you can do it, even if this means changing your approach mid-stream to address a new observation or market reality. If you don’t believe in yourself and push yourself beyond your comfort zone, growth will be much less likely.

6.         Spot the opportunities

The opportunities are before you — learn to recognize them. A friend of mine brought a newspaper article to my attention with an opportunity that took me a couple of weeks to recognize: the author regularly writes about homeowner renovations and rebuilds. We have since connected through social media and an interview is scheduled. It’s amazing how once you know what you want and have set your goals that these opportunities become more obvious.

7.         Be bold and persevere

 The surest way to fail is to never even try. There will be setbacks but sometimes they are opportunities in disguise. For me, I boldly submitted a company ad to several Facebook pages. One rejection resulted in a call from a mid-town Toronto magazine publisher, who managed the page, wanting to know more about the company. Several conversations have led to an editorial on my house, as well as my own column in this midtown Toronto community magazine.

8.         Learn and move on

Not everything will work perfectly and sometimes there will be failure. This is part of the journey. Accept the situation for what it is, be grateful for the new information the situation has generated. Instead of dwelling on disappointments, learn from them.

9.         Take advantage of the freedom

With entrepreneurship comes a certain level of freedom that is not easily attainable in the traditional work environment. For me, this is definitely one of the major benefits of being an entrepreneur so I take full advantage of it. I work remotely, as family matters require, or in the evenings, when my kids are in bed. This flexibility lets me enjoy daytime spin classes. It’s a great perk and those weekday exercise classes boost my energy and help validate my decision to become an entrepreneur.

10.       Enjoy the journey

 Like everything in life, building a company is a journey. It doesn’t happen overnight, no matter how hard you work. There are different phases and you have to enjoy each one for what they are.

Alisse Houweling, CEO, KAAV LIVING
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