4 Tips to Keep Your Start-Up Alive

By: Rula Sharkawi
Founder & CEO, My Little Chickpea Gourmet Foods

So, you started your own business and quickly realized that the life of an entrepreneur sometimes feels like you are dangling on the end of a rope, near the bottom of the mountain. Getting a company off the ground can be a steep uphill climb. It often requires money, expertise, lots of time and a serious hustle. It’s not for the faint hearted. Seven out of ten start ups don’t make it through the first three years. Sound grim? Perhaps, but don’t disparage.

There is good news. Everyone starts somewhere. Many of the today’s great companies had humble beginnings. Imagine the world without Spanx, a company that started in Sara Blakely’s apartment. She’s now one of the world’s youngest self-made female billionaires. And we have all heard the stories of Steve Jobs starting Apple in his garage, or Richard Branson bootstrapping his multi-billion-dollar Virgin empire with just $200.

Some might say I’m lucky to have grown my company so quickly in its first five years, from a humble kitchen to a state-of-the-art food manufacturing facility. Luck? Hmmm, perhaps that played a small role.

But when asked, “How did you do it?” most successful entrepreneurs rarely attribute their achievements to chance.

Ok, so you want to get into the success zone and steer clear of the start-up cemetery? In five years, I went from a little unknown start-up to a nationally recognized female entrepreneur. And for International Women’s Day, I’m sharing my top four tips for aspiring female entrepreneurs.

1. Create value: Most great companies deliver a solution to some problem. Think about how you create enormous value in the marketplace. Value isn’t about being the cheapest, it’s about creating those ‘must-have’ products and services that will delight and thrill your customers. Take the time to understand what your customers need and then deliver the solution to their problem.

2. Want what you want: Have you ever felt you need others to approve or validate what you were doing? Wait no more. Learning to define what I want and unabashedly asking for it, was one of the most liberating things I’ve learned. I remember doing endless sales presentations and then staring at my email anxiously waiting for the client to put in an order. Sound familiar? I got over fear of the word “no” and found incredible entrepreneurial freedom in asking for that sale.

Not waiting for things to happen, but sitting in the driver’s seat, changed my life. Do you want to see your dream come to life? Ask your employees to help fulfil your vision. If you want some professional insight, ask that industry expert. Want help. Ask for help. Ask others to be part of what you are creating. Ask, ask, ask. Don’t wait for lady luck to come your way. If you don’t ask for what you want, chances are your won’t get it.

3. Make time for the goddess: As entrepreneur, mother and wife I’m often pulled in a thousand directions. Demands pile up. Sometimes, something has to give.

When your tank runs low on fuel, it’s not so much a quest for work-life balance that you need, but rather a constant ability to reprioritize. We were made for multi-tasking, but that hustle can be exhausting. Plan and guard your downtime zealously. Make the time and take the time to nourish your inner goddess. Whether it’s hanging out with friends, doing yoga, or simply catching up on sleep, find the things that recharge and reinvigorate you. Only when you step away, can you come back and “namaslay.”

4. You got this: You find yourself hanging from a rope in mid-air, just narrowly avoiding an avalanche of tumbling rocks. Well, life isn’t perfect and neither is your business. You can bet on it throwing you some curveballs. Challenges will undoubtedly present themselves.

The difference between the 30% who make it and those who don’t, is in how you respond to problems. I learned early on to embrace the fact that part of my role as CEO was to be Chief Problem Solver. Climbers don’t climb mountains, they climb sections – some steep, others rocky, but each needing a different strategy to overcome. The point is, a problem won’t stop you in your tracks. You keep moving and work through it… until the next one comes along.

Working through problems and not getting stuck, will not only build resilience, but may also present you with some new unforeseen opportunities when you make your way through a challenge. After all, finding a solution to a problem is how many of the world’s greatest inventions came about.

About the author: Rula Sharkawi is CEO of My Little Chickpea Gourmet Foods in Toronto. She left the corporate world and started her company in 2013. Today, her products can be found in over 200 stores and growing. She is passionate about good food and entrepreneurship and often mentors new companies, especially those in the food space, on how to get through the early stages in order to grow and excel. You can follow Rula on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.