Anna-Maria Mountfort, founder of mimiTENS and Some Of The Parts took time out to share her well-earned thoughts as a small business owner who now has a following for her adorable and design-savvy mittens with a brillz cuff that keeps their little arms (and not just their hands) dry and warm. Her line is now a full accessories collection that came with time, persistence, passion and a few hiccups along the way. So if you’re feeling stuck, uninspired or not sure what to do next in your own venture, read on.
“Recently, I went to a networking kind of jam where some entrepreneurial types talked about chasing your passion. There was some fancy juice, some meditating, and quite a bit of hugging. Not once did they talk about the real issue: How to succeed. The very captive audience wanted to know, ‘How am I going to make this happen?’ What is this going to cost and how long before I start seeing some money?’
I’ll keep this short and say that I left with no new revelations or skills. Instead, it made me reflect on what I had already learned on my own while building my biz. The first few years of mimiTENS I was full of fire and ideas but did not have a clear way forward. Naturally, I wondered where the money was going to come from. I wanted a business not an art project. In all honestly, I did not know where to begin.
My business mentor told me that a business plan was going to be hard because there was no data on the kid’s mittens market. She said, “You are on your own.” She was right. Once I truly accepted this, I saw that I had to proceed as ‘the first’ and turn all my challenges into advantages.
Let’s just say I made a lot of expensive mistakes. I am not going to lie and tell you that every mistake is some kind of blessing— a lot were preventable. This hurt my confidence and held me back. Some days, your confidence is all you’ve got. In the interest of everyone preserving confidence, here are some of my most practical pieces of advice and information that I have gathered along the way.”
ANNA-MARIA’S START-UP TIPS
Invest in Yourself. “The most damaging piece of advice people give was to immediately try to find free money or go get angel investors. You’ll find that no one wants to invest in your company until you invest in it yourself. Makes sense, no? You have to find a way with your own strength and you can totally do it.”
Don’t quit your day job. “You need to have cash flow. You need your own credit. Keep your day job as long as you can because the first few years of business can be very lean. Also, it will give you a taste for what being on your own is like. It is 7 days a week. It is thinking about your business all the time. Sounds daunting but it’s the truth.”
“Turn your challenges into advantages by practicing what you are going to say to customers and partners. I knew that my idea was so ‘out there’ and so niche. Complicating things further was my product’s price. I used to spend time actually talking out loud to myself by going on long walks and quizzing myself with potential questions so I could nail down exactly what I was going to say. In my case, I used any questions about price as an opportunity to talk about manufacturing in Canada. I believed in my heart that this was going to be my advantage and in the long run, I was right.”
“Pick an outer limit of money that you are willing to bet on yourself. Is that $5,000, $50,000 or $125,000? Come up with that number by comparing and contrasting how you have invested in yourself previously. Would you spend $75,000 and two years on getting an MBA? Would you spend $20,000 on a family holiday? How much did you spend on your couch?”
“Do not freak yourself out by planning an exit strategy before you even get started. There are lots of different kinds of businesses and you have to figure out what model works for you. Not everyone builds a brand only to sell it in a merger and acquisition. Some people build family businesses that are handed down to the next generation. Don’t plan to leave the party before you have even had your first canapé.”
“When you hear ‘no’ or worse, nothing at all, you must counter by lifting yourself up. Have a bunch of ‘go-to’ things lined up that improve the spirits. When I’m disappointed, I watch sports videos on people winning things or achieving special milestones on YouTube. Sometimes I go to the local art supply store and look at markers and paints. I go for walks to clear my head. I make lists of people I would like to work with. I try to create an opportunity. Some of the best things that have happened to me were a direct reaction to hearing ‘no’. Sometimes it can take days to get over a disappointment. And sometimes it lights a fire and makes you work harder.”