Wow – 3 years!  No college class or life experience could have prepared us for this stage in business.  It’s an odd place to be.  You are no longer brand new but you are not considered experienced.

In white water terms – we have the gear, we watched the training video, but we still don’t have our roll.  We are like the newbie paddler who confidently hits the river, gets a few go pro worthy moves, but ends up downstream upside down with our heads cocked up and out of the water.  The good news is, like that newbie paddler (and most entrepreneurs), we are too stubborn and committed to yank the skirt.  We are paddlers, we are making it downstream, and just need more time under our belt to put the skills together to get our roll.

Apparently, you “get your roll” in year 5 or 6 of business.  I’m not sure that is true and I don’t prescribe to time-lines.  What I do believe is that if you keep honing your skills and commit to the long game, you can have personal success.  We are certainly on this ride to win!

For all those newbies out there still working on their roll, below are a few things we have learned in our first 3 years of operation.

  1. Have a business plan but don’t be married to it.   

Our business plan has changed over the three years in operation.  We were told by our mentors that our business plan was excellent.  Keith of course has a very expensive MBA from GW so who would expect anything less?!  Ha!  While we were basking in the self-confidence of our first rate business plan we didn’t realize that we missed the boat on our audience.  We built our plan around an audience that didn’t need us or want us.  Pretty big flaw in the plan!  The good news is that Keith and I were open to change and recognizing our mistake.  While we could not alter our buying plan immediately we were able to course correct rather quickly in other areas of our business.  Within 6 months we had adapted our marketing strategy and started building in programming that better fit our audience.  To be honest, our new audience was more in-line with our personal goals. Working with our current client base brings us and our staff a lot of joy.

  1. Have the right staff on board to help you succeed.

Your staff are the heart and soul of your business.  We own the type of business that requires passionate, fun-loving people committed to a particular lifestyle.  While people know my and Keith’s name, I am guessing that you can name at least 5 of our current or former employees.  Our staff have won the hearts of our customers and are a large part of why people keep coming back.  While I love my young staff, I can say that we have not always hit the mark with hiring.  We have learned a lot about our business, customer service, and loyalty from both our great hires and our less than stellar employees.  This area of our business continues to improve as we hone our management skills and gain perspective on what we want River Rock to stand for and how we want our team treating each other and our customers.  Our staff continue to motivate us to be better and we appreciate the unique role our staff plays in the success of River Rock.

  1. Retail is all about the detail.

A business mentor told me that retail is all about the detail and it is so true.  There are SO many details!!  It is overwhelming sometimes to think about all the details and then determining the top priority.  The sooner you can admit that you can’t do it all the better you and your business will be.  So how do you know what is priority?  I have learned what details are important through various successes and failures.  In both extremes, write down what worked or what didn’t.  You may be surprised in the truths you find in this simple practice.  Be open and honest with yourself – this is particularly hard because no matter what people tell you, business IS personal.

One thing I have learned from a few hard failures is that at the end of the day every decision you make must relate back to and support your core vision.  For River Rock our vision is:

Provide gear and instruction for the 101 Adventurer.

When I know my audience, I can set my business goals to meet my vision.  Every decision – hiring, buying, marketing, shop design, operations, training, etc. – now has order.  I can set specific tasks that I can accomplish in the short, mid, and long-term that bests meets my vision to provide gear and instruction for the 101 Adventurer.  If it doesn’t fit or if you are working too hard to try to make something fit, drop it.  Make a note and save it for another day.  In the foundational years of your business, hold steady to your vision and getting those details right!  Once the details are honed in then you can start experimenting with expansion ideas.

Keep in mind that I don’t even have my roll yet so take my advice but forge your own path.  Business is hard, is not always fun, you don’t always like your “boss” (yes you get tired of yourself), and you often question your life decisions.  Stay on that merry-go-around to win and I am sure you will reap the rewards.  I will let you know if it gets any easier next year!