Friday, March 14, 2008

I am Bootstrap (And So Can You!)

Like most people I thought entrepreneurship was reserved for those with business degrees. I thought I would need to learn how to write a business plan, buy a suit and try to make friends with my local banker. I thought I would have to have a BIG IDEA to have them overlook what some college era naivety had done to my credit rating. I was wrong. These are some of the myths that Bootstrap Austin helped me knock down, one by one.

Two years ago I was a hairstylist and a manager at a high-end hair salon. Today I have two businesses thriving in the Austin area. Both of these businesses have emerged from a natural process of listening to my customers and following bootstrap principles. The resulting businesses are so different from how I originally conceived them, that had I tried to sit down to write a business plan, I simply couldn't have done so.

One afternoon at the salon, I realized the photos of hairstyles on the walls were not only uninspiring, but out of date. I had been attending the First Thursday Gallery Night on West 6th street with some friends each month and had met some really great artists. It occurred to me that I could use our wall space to showcase local art and beautify the space at the same time. Having a changing artistic environment would be fun for our clients and our staff, so I put the word out and soon I was having well attended art opening parties. Best of all, the artists were actually selling their work! Word got out and other local businesses were asking me to help them display local art as well.

Six months later, I launched Austin Art Start and was displaying art in local businesses, convinced that volunteering these services was the best way to go. I was uncomfortable charging the artists. I had turned down someone who charged to place art in my own business, so I decided other businesses wouldn't pay either. A friend of mine, Allen Beuershausen, had been urging me to make a business of this service. Because of the myths I believed about business, I consistently refused. Allen had been a member of Bootstrap for two years and had invited Bijoy Goswami to a meeting where I and a couple of other folks had planned to decide how I should proceed. (This meeting happened to also be the kick-off for the Bootstrap Art Subgroup.) This meeting went down more like an intervention than anything else and I left with a clear idea that it was possible for me to charge for what I was doing.

After this point I stalled for a long time. I just wasn't excited. The idea had been done. Every coffee shop and hair salon in town had local art displayed. However, I continued to actively participate in the lively art scene. In the meantime I had moved my hairstyling practice to a new salon and this is where the real breakthrough happened: my clients started asking me to keep an eye out for a special piece of art for their homes! My art consulting business was born, and the inspiration was back. Not only was I actively consulting my clients about the local art scene, I was learning quite a lot of them were intimidated by galleries and they welcomed the prospect of having a guide. I arranged studio visits with artists that intrigued them. Soon, they brought friends! I began renting passenger vans, hiring caterers, bartenders and support staff. I had stumbled upon a fun, unintimidating way for people to get involved in the local art scene. The studio tours now include dinner, drinks, transportation and a chance to see the studio where artists create, as well as get to know them on a personal level. What fun!

So, here we are. I have created something I love doing that is a unique and valuable service to my clients as well as to the artists I represent. My "big idea" emerged from the process. I am so glad I didn't waste any time writing a business plan or visiting with bankers - and I never had to buy a suit. One of the best parts for me personally is I now have a chance to help other people begin an entrepreneurial journey of their own through my second business. I launched Liminicity Consulting in the fall of 2007 and have helped several entrepreneurs use bootstrapping to get their start. Who would have thought?

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