Here is what I’ve learned after being in business a little over a year.
In the words of my kids’ first-grade teacher: Say yes whenever possible. (It’s kind of a good rule in life, as well.)
Case in point: Through a bizarre series of connections I was put in touch last spring with a reporter who ended up coming to one of our programs and doing some nice write-ups for us, including one in the Huffngton Post and one on Yahoo Travel. We’d been in business for about four seconds so it was lovely and unexpected. Oh–also terrifying.
When she first approached me and asked if we could set up a program for her, inside I was saying, ”What? No! Of course not! I have no idea what I’m doing! Go away!” But of course I said, “Yes! Absolutely! Of course!”
After some back and forth, we managed to set up a program for her at the Argosy, a wonderful independent bookstore in New York, where we looked at first editions of Alice in Wonderland and explored the store with one of the owners. (if you are looking for a nice place to spend an afternoon, it’s one of those “hidden treasures” you are always hoping to find.) It went well, and suddenly I had a program behind me, pictures to post on Instagram to prove I actually existed, and some actual confidence.
Which leads us to the second point: The way to get started…is to get started. Set up a program and force all your cousins to attend and to write nice things on your website. Give away your product. Don’t sit around and wait. My website designer (and I hope you are reading this, Denise) gave me the best possible advice when she told me that just because you have a website doesn’t mean people will suddenly find you. They won’t. So go find them.
Hire your neighbors’ teenage daughter to show you how to use every possible form of social media, even if you can’t possibly take something called a tweet seriously. Write down what you don’t understand. Don’t worry if the teenagers snicker at you. That’s what they do.
Don’t listen to anyone. And listen to everyone. When I started out I had coffee with everyone I knew and everyone they knew. I had coffee with someone who told me not to do kids’ parties because too many people already did them. They very next day I had coffee with someone else who told me to ONLY do kids parties so I could specialize in one thing. When something like this happens, thank both of them and then follow your gut. Guts have occasionally been wrong, so be willing to make adjustments along the way. I knew I wanted to offer lots of different kinds of programming. Many people told me that wasn’t a thing. I said I was going to make it a thing. But I knew I needed a kind of theme that tied everything together; I just couldn’t quite see it. One day, someone I knew looked at my list of proposed offerings and said, “Oh—you’re going to be offering cool ways to experience New York.” And I said—calmly—“Yes. Yes I am,” but inside I was doing a fist pump, because that was the thread I’d been looking for. I hadn’t realized it, but that’s exactly what I was doing.
As the wonderful writer Jean Kerr said: “If you can keep your head when everyone about you is losing theirs, it’s just possible you haven’t grasped the situation.”
Just keep going. Sometimes it’s better not to grasp.