I sold my first vintage T-shirt for $7 in Thatcher Hall the first semester of my freshman year of college. As I walked back to my room, I made a new Instagram account for the small business that would eventually turn into what is now my full-time job three and a half years later.
Since then, Le Marché du Soleil (luh-mar-shay-dew-so-lay) has expanded far beyond meeting customers in the dorm lobby. Through Le Marché and the help of countless amazingly supportive friends, we have directed over 60 photoshoots and clothing drops and hosted dozens of markets and pop-ups.
It has been a fulfilling and exciting experience, helping me realize and tap into a creative side of myself that I never acknowledged prior. Starting my vintage business was life-changing for me; it helped me make friends in college, helped me learn more about myself and helped me figure out what I want to do in the future.
However, despite how fun it has been, it has not been easy. Before I learned how to manage my time, being a full-time student while running a business left me burnt out countless times. In the beginning, I was investing nearly all of my money into inventory, clothing racks and shipping materials, praying that the sales would actually turn a profit that was worth my time and energy.
There were countless times when comparison and insecurity nearly had me closing up shop. I consistently battle with the feeling that I am not doing enough, not making enough or not being creative enough. Running a business is hard. Running a small business as a full-time college student is harder.
But it’s not impossible. Not when you have friends and loved ones supporting you and helping you along the way. I wouldn’t trade the difficulties or the lessons I have learned from starting and running Le Marché for anything. If you’re interested in starting a business, I am 100% supportive of you. If you’re looking to start your own small business, here’s what I have learned so far:
- Don’t quit your day job. I didn’t quit my barista job until a year and a half after I started my business. I waited until my business grew enough to the point that the time I was putting into a part-time job was better spent investing in my own company. Things aren’t typically going to be consistent or smooth in the beginning. Don’t feel bad for holding on to something that is consistent and reliable.
- Slow growth is still growth. From my experience, it is more sustainable to grow organically and slowly rather than pouring into marketing tactics that “work” but lessen the credibility and value of your product/service. Quality marketing and connection-building takes time and patience.
- Don’t wait until you’re good at something to start doing it. You have to start somewhere; doing new things is daunting and likely won’t produce the results you imagined initially. However, the more you do it and the more you stick to it, the more you will learn and the more your skills will sharpen. Early on, so many photoshoots looked nothing like I had conceptualized in my mind. However, each shoot gets me closer to the image I want to execute.
- Comparison KILLS. This is one of the largest obstacles that nearly killed Le Marché. For a long time, I struggled with seeing other businesses that seemed to grow much faster than my own. This comparison blinded me from my own success and growth, stifled my creative drive and was incredibly de-motivating. I think it is a good thing to take inspiration from other businesses you look up to and use ideas to expand and grow your own. It’s not a good thing to discredit your own hard work.
- Don’t drop out of school. I wanted to. I’m so glad I didn’t. The resources and equipment I have access to on a college campus is the only way I have been able to grow my business. Take advantage of the knowledge and resources that you are surrounded by. There are so many unexpected lessons that I’ve learned in classes that have been vital to running my business.
- Let people help you. If they offer, take it. I could never have done this alone. The more minds, perspectives and ideas that are involved, the better. I felt bad accepting help from others because I always want people to know and feel that I value their time, energy and skill. However, when you’re first starting out, you can’t always afford this. The thing is, people typically want to be involved simply because it is fun. Let them. And build that connection.
- Community over competition will have you winning in the long run. There is enough room for everyone. Here’s the thing; if someone has the drive and the dedication to stay motivated and keep their business going, they deserve respect. Build a win-win relationship with other entrepreneurs and learn from them. The ones who are in it for the wrong reasons typically don’t last long in the market. I’ve seen it.
Don’t forget to have fun. After all, you are a unique individual with your own ideas, tastes and style. If you are passionate about your business, don’t get sucked into the idea that you need to be a huge “successful” corporate company that makes tons of money. In order to maintain a sustainable business, you need to value rest just as much as you value hard work. Your value does not lie in your productivity.