By Leah Melby Clinton published
Leaving the security and comfort of a "traditional" job—the kind that comes with 401(k) matching and set vacation days—is exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure. Few decisions exemplify the "great risk and great reward" equation as much as starting your own company, and while it's not a path to go down without forethought, there's something to say about not overthinking it either.
"I'm glad that I went in super naive and excited because starting and owning your own business is not for the faint of heart," Roxy Te, the eye, mind, and heart behind playful furniture brand Society Social, said with a laugh when recounting starting her own company seven years ago. "I didn't know what to expect, which I think was for the better. Had I known what I was getting myself into I may have been more cautious about just starting, and that's one of the most important things."
We asked the creative director to think back on her successes, learnings, and more, all with an eye to inspiring people who want to excel and grow professionally—whether that means holding the reins of their own company or not.
#1. Be prepared to wear all the hats.
"When I was an intern at fashion companies, I learned that no job was too small. You gain experience from every little thing. Don't be afraid to jump in when your business needs you. I've done it all, from truck driver and mover to accountant, publicist, customer service, photographer, delivery woman, website maintenance, and more. I've unloaded a truck full of furniture, styled a space, then changed out of my workout clothes into a dress, filmed for live national TV, and hopped back into my workout clothes to load the furniture right back up.
"When I'm at our factory in North Carolina, I'm in workout clothes 100 percent of the time. I'm at my desk sometimes, but a lot of the time I'm running to check a piece that just came through production. Our photography studio is there, so I'm often styling new products or doing shoots. All the product and styled shots you see I did myself. You have to be willing to do whatever it takes.
"For meetings or days at the factory, I always try to carry a bag that’s functional—one you can put a laptop in, some folders, and paperwork. When I'm off-duty, I love Brahmin's Mini Priscilla. It's gorgeous, and it has this little clip so you don't lose your keys. Anything that adds functionality to your life is a must-have."
#2. Don't be afraid of hiring people.
"The first person I brought on, my right-hand person, came to me. I shared a showroom space with someone and her intern had graduated from college and wanted a job. I was doing it all myself, from customer service to wholesale to product design and marketing, and it was really, really stressful. I was working around the clock, weekdays, nights, and weekends, but I had a hard time letting that control go. I actually think I hired her maybe a little too late. I only did because she was right there in front of me needing some hours, and I said, 'Okay, I guess I'll do it.' As soon as I did, I thought, wow, I should've done this earlier.
"People think doing it all themselves is the best thing, but you're hurting yourself and not living up to your strengths. Mine are growing the company and doing product design and development, but I was doing a lot of the grunt work. I wish I'd been able to let things go earlier and take someone on to help me grow. There's no way you can do it all yourself."
#3. Recognize your strengths.
"There was about a year and a half between the time I had the idea for Society Social to launch. I had been working in buying in the corporate world and it felt like I was climbing the wrong mountain. I'm good at running my business, but I'm not great at numbers and studying spreadsheets all day every day. I'm just not that kind of analytical person.
"I'm the first one to say I was ahead by leaps and bounds because I could draw from the experience [of people in North Carolina] who have been marking furniture for private labels for 30 years. When it comes to engineering pieces, I don't know how to do that. I leaned hard on the engineers and their manufacturing knowledge. I'm not great at drawing either, so don't picture me behind a desk sketching out these beautiful pictures. I'm lucky to have these factories help me bring my creative visions to life."
#4. Pay yourself.
"Owning your own business can be isolating, especially at first, because there's no one to tell you what to do. At the end of the day, it's your decision, and if you don't work at it you won't make any money. In the corporate world, I didn't love it, but I still got paid. With your own thing, you have to love it enough to love it on the days you don't get paid.
"You have to look at yourself and think, 'I will do anything for this business,' [but it's wrong to] not pay myself for years upon years. You have to love it, but you also have to pay yourself or that turns into bitterness. It's a balance between trying to grow your business and having some of the fruits of the labor."
#5. Learn to prioritize.
"Your business goes through seasons, and you have to be able to recognize what season it is. When I started, it was about building a brand because that was important to me. I was going straight to the consumer, building a fun, sparkly brand that's recognizable. It wasn't until my seventh year of business that I decided to do a trade show [and that's the season we're in now.] It wasn't until this year that I felt like we had a strong enough product line.
"We normally take on interior design clients every now and then, and we’ve had to turn that down. Priority-wise, it's smarter for us to concentrate on growing the business [via a trade show] versus helping people pick out items for their home. As much as we love that, for the health of the business—and to grow our interior design business down the road—we have to focus on this right now."
Leah Melby Clinton is a writer, editor, and serious shopper who loves discovering new labels, detailing the best ways to build a wardrobe, and interviewing interesting people.
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