Five Lessons From My Small Business Journey

The founder of Pete's Paleo shares five lessons he learned as an entrepreneur.
May 12, 2015 1:45 PM ET
Campaign: Thought Leadership

UPS Longitudes

Pete Servold | Pete's Paleo

“Why don’t you start a small business?”

That’s the question my wife Sarah asked when I searched for inspiration with my career. It’s the question that put us on our path to becoming small business owners. If you’ve ever been fed up with your daily grind, and considered pursuing your own dreams, you probably know this question well.

Most adults spend more time working than any other activity, with the possible exception of parenting. Yet according to a recent report by the Conference Board, 52.3% of Americans are unhappy at work. There’s no better way to improve your lifestyle than to recapture 40 or more hours a week by doing something that makes you happy. I know. I did it.

It wasn’t always easy: The hours are long and the risk is great. But, aside from our marriage and becoming parents, running a small business is our greatest achievement. We never could have imagined how our family-run company would positively touch so many people. It’s our hope that sharing a few lessons we learned the hard way will help others with their careers.

1. Pursue your passion.

Pete’s Paleo was inspired when several of our friends commented on the meals I was preparing during a CrossFit training program. I was burned out on the restaurant business and trying to figure out my next move. A trained chef, my elk chili with sautéed kale and sweet potato hash became the talk of our friends, who were tired of eating the same chicken and broccoli dishes.

Pursuing my career without the stress inherent in the restaurant industry? It seemed impossible – until I rediscovered the joy of my craft and was reinvigorated by the compliments from my first customers. Creating inspiring, healthy meals with the freshest ingredients from nearby farmers and ranchers is what drives us. Discover what drives you.

2. Get back to the basics.

Innovation can come from the most unlikely places. We looked to the past, beginning with the paleo diet, to create foods and full menus that are inspired by a simpler, more authentic cooking experience. Our bacon, for example, is dry cured and unsliced the old fashioned way for a more flavorful product without modern preservatives. We deliver it using modern shipping techniques that include our customers’ ability to redirect their packages from the convenience of their smart phone. We aren’t doing anything new – we’re combining proven techniques with our own unique twist.

3. Be a positive influence.

Owning a business allows us to stay true to our vision and beliefs. In addition to making a positive difference in our customers’ lives, we contribute to the development and growth of our employees and other entrepreneurs. We purposefully employ some people who are rebuilding their lives, giving them opportunities at a time when many other companies would not have hired them.

We’re also making a positive impact on our suppliers, local farmers and ranchers who are devoted to producing naturally grown foods at competitive prices. One family, for example, started selling us vegetables from a few raised planter beds while her husband was deployed in Iraq. As our business grew, so did hers, by tenfold. The impact we’ve made on their family and the gratitude they’ve shown to us is humbling and inspiring.

4. Protect your brand.

We quickly grew from a local catering company to a national distributor of healthy meals, doubling our sales every year. It can be tempting to cut corners, but that means compromising product quality and customer service. Our brand – our reputation – is too important. If your product is worth ten dollars, deliver an experience that’s worth every penny and don’t second guess yourself by charging less.

For example, instead of simply shipping our premium foods to customers, we work with UPS to make sure every shipment is tracked, arrives within two days while remaining cold for freshness, and is insured to protect our customers and us. By doing this, we maintain a high level of service and deliver our brand promise. We’re maintaining this approach by expanding our products, improving our packaging, and preparing for international distribution.

5. Live within your means.

Pete’s Paleo was born in our family kitchen. Every penny we earned was poured right back into the business, investing in commercial kitchen space and better equipment. Customer referrals and repeat business grew our company organically. We never took out a loan or line of credit and never pursued investor funding. It was painful at times, but also very rewarding. Growing organically and living within our means helps minimize overhead expenses, which goes a long way to reducing stress and more quickly earning a profit.

Click here to learn more about Pete’s Paleo

The pundits and naysayers can quote statistics about how difficult it is to start and run a successful small business. But it’s worth every ounce of energy you pour into it.

There are scores of articles that address how owning your own business takes passion, persistence, sacrifice, and sound business and financial management. We’ve found it also takes remaining true to your core values, showing gratitude to the people around you, and having a genuine desire to make a positive difference in other peoples’ lives.

The rewards for taking the leap into entrepreneurship go far beyond our ability to provide for our family. We’ve found a reinvigorated career, joy, and an unexpected bonus in knowing we’re contributing to the betterment of our customers and the growth and success of our employees and fellow small business owners