Learning from others

It was a rainy afternoon. I circled around the block that housed the cute, little brick-and-mortar boutique several times before finding a suitable parking space. I stepped out of the car – a step that would change my life – and ran across the street and through the front door.

My love of boutique shopping developed during my childhood family vacations. Growing up, my father was a small business owner who worked tirelessly all year long. Every morning, he was up and out of the house before everyone else, and I honestly cannot remember a Saturday (except for holidays) when he didn’t go into work for at least a half-day. The one break he allowed himself was a family vacation, every January or February, that would take us away from the subzero temps of North Dakota and to the warmth of Florida, Texas or Hawaii.

On those trips, we enjoyed exploring the little boutiques and quaint shops unique to those communities. There was no online shopping yet, so every boutique was a bonafide brick-and-mortar retail experience, built by women across the country fulfilling their own dreams of small business ownership. So, it came as no surprise that after my 10-year run with my acting company, I decided to open my own brick-and-mortar boutique in my home city of Fargo, North Dakota.

However, before I invested our life savings, signed a lease, and opened those first shop doors, I needed to know more – more about boutique ownership and more about our local community’s appetite for boutique shopping.

Therefore, on that rainy afternoon, I boldly marched through the doors of a local boutique and up to the counter.

“Are you the owner?” I asked.

The shopkeeper responded, “Yes.”

I jumped right in. “Can you tell me all about owning a boutique? Would you do it again?”

I distinctly remember asking the question because her answer was not what I expected. She said “No.” We talked through why she felt that way, and what she would do differently if she were to do it again. It was a good and helpful conversation, and one of the only ones I would ever have with her. Two young women, discussing what life was like behind the counter.

As a small business owner, there is nothing quite as valuable as seeking out another entrepreneur and talking with her about the challenges, the opportunities, and the achievements. Even though I ultimately proceeded with my plan to open my own little store, her answer, and the “why” behind it, stayed with me.

“One last thing,” she said before I left. “Do you know anything about SCORE?” I had never heard of them, and so she explained their formal mentorship program and how her mentor had guided her through the launch of her boutique business.

Over the next decade, this valuable information would help shape how I sought out advice related to my business. I implemented a practice of using both informal (connecting with other entrepreneurs for individual conversations) and formal (programs like SCORE, or weekly or monthly conversation with entrepreneurs) mentorship offerings to challenge my thinking and help me work through growth phases or project launches.

Are you interested in a formal mentorship program? SCORE is a great place to begin! You can get involved by visiting www.score.org to find a mentorship program near you.

If you’d like to supplement your formal training with one-on-one mentorship with a tried-and-true entrepreneur, consider giving my offerings a try. I’d love to work with you to develop your dream into a reality. Check out my services here: https://ciarastockeland.com/work-with-me/, and email me at hello@ciarastockeland.com to get started!

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