Thursday, October 13, 2016

So you want to start your own business? What I've learned...

Deciding to start your own business is like deciding to take up mountain climbing as a hobby. You have to be a tad bit fearless and crazy. I should know as I’ve done both. Yogi Magee LLC wasn’t ever initially intended to become a brand or money making venture. Originally I only needed an LLC as a way to get paid at a yoga studio where I was taught. Magee is my last name so I played off that for my “business.” I lack a formal business education so my only goal four years ago was to teach fitness classes to bring in extra money.

My experience starting on climbing Colorado’s 14ers (the 58 peaks over 14,000 feet) was similar. I was looking for a quick weekend hike and my husband suggested Grey’s and Torrey’s. He said they were popular 14ers near us and we could knock them out in a day. The hike and 4am wakeup was grueling and I wore all the wrong things from yoga pants to tennis shoes. I made the summits but wasn’t a mountaineer. At the top someone was discussing how this was their 34th climb and I was in awe that there were so many more mountains out there to conquer. A spark was ignited and a passion found. If these women could climb peaks in their free time then I would try as well.

Just as I saw others succeeding hiking mountains I started to see my fellow yogi’s reaching their summit dreams as well. Some were opening their own studios, others were leading teacher trainings and many more were teaching workshops. I was passed over several times to co-lead retreats at the place I was teaching because I never voiced my desire to join. So I started thinking about what inspired me and how I could create an opportunity for myself and for others to join on my expeditions. The more mountains I climbed and posted about on social media the more attention I received. Others wanted to hike with me and the realization came I had a niche. What if I could design a retreat that combined yoga and hiking in a place I could only afford to visit if I were being paid to be there?
Telluride was my dream. So Telluride I chose for my inaugural retreat.
My first stab at running a retreat was like my first few 14ers. Yes I was successful but looking back there were so many errors. I didn’t have a website, just a blog as a way to sign people up. I had a graphic designer friend create my logo and another business driven friend who drew up registration forms and waivers for me. I created a Facebook page but I only had a few followers and not enough content for the site. I used Paypal and accepted credit cards which meant I lost 2% or roughly $10 on every transaction. Just like I underestimated mountains I underestimated my costs and I charged way too little for what I was offering. I knew I could pull it off I just didn’t understand how to go about doing so and I prepared to make mistakes. A summit to me was a summit no matter how I got there.

Telluride Yoga + Hiking Retreat 2014 launched my Yogi Magee Expeditions name and gave me respect among the yoga community. I sold the retreat out and had 14 people I didn’t know sign up. The feeling I had when I announced the retreat was full was the same feeling I had when I summited a 14er: that I had done something most people would never be able to do.

I designed a fall retreat in Aspen that same year because I felt overconfident lightening would strike again. Two people signed up and I had to cancel my retreat. I was asked to co-teach a retreat in Belize April 2015 and we initially had so few people sign up I almost had to step down because it wouldn’t have been economical. I launched my second Telluride retreat in March of 2015 and only 6 people signed up.

I thought I was a failure. My magic was gone.

When you start climbing 14ers you know inevitably at some point you may have to turn around from a summit. Eventually your weather good luck runs out and you get chased off a peak by snow and lightening. However, that doesn’t mean you give up altogether. The mountain will still stand there for you and invite you back another day. I’ve met people who have tried 3-10 times to climb the same peak and they still keep coming back. Once you’ve tasted success you don’t stop seeking it, you pursue and press on no matter how difficult it may be. You can appreciate a summit even more when it’s taken you many failed attempts to reach the top.

So I treated my business the same way. Instead of seeing having only a few people sign up for my retreats as a failure I saw it as an opportunity to network and inspire one-on-one. I brought an assistant in to take photos, I bought my domain name and built my own website. I invested in constant contact to keep every precious email address filed and I started a Yogi Magee Instagram to attract more followers. I teamed up with another yogi who had strong connections and we launched a wildly successful Glamping Retreat and went on to sell out an adventure retreat in Nicaragua. On mountains there’s often more than one way to get to the top and I decided if one way wasn’t working for my business I’d try another.

I keep climbing knowing that even if I reach one summit there’s still more for which I can strive. If you fall in love with mountains you better prepare to have your heartbroken, and the same is true for running your own business. There’s peaks and valleys and sunshine mixed with hailstorms. Sometimes it all happens at once. Yet I’ve learned from my own adventures that never starting in the first place is the real failure and if nothing else I’ll look back and say at least I had the gumption to try.