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The Naked Truth: Being a Pole-preneur

By on July 20, 2015
Pole-preneur hard at work on what was supposed to be vacation.
Pole-preneur hard at work on what was supposed to be vacation on a cruise ship—NOPE.

It seems like every time you turn on the Facebook, someone else is quitting their day job and launching their full time career in the pole world. Some have won competitions, catapulting their first worldwide workshop tour, while others are creating interesting niche products and services for the ever-growing pole community, like Pole Buff and Pole Poised. You can even make a living by managing pole stars like Poles on Tour.

I’m an entrepreneur. I joined my first business as an intern at 17 years old and within five years became part owner. I took that same business model and four years later, single-handedly launched our first wholly owned subsidiary in another country. A few years after that, I opened my own studio and not even a year later, I took over PoleCon, the original event celebrating the pole dance/pole fitness community.

I have bootstrapped and bankered and sold products and services in two very, very different industries all around the world and I’m here now to demystify the process of opening your own business, giving you the naked truth about becoming a pole-preneur.

Truth #1: This sh*t is hard.

It’s super hard. If you have a passion for working for yourself, if you want to buck the trends and do something unique that people maybe don’t quite understand, prepare for the social backlash. Your family might not approve and might recommend you “get a real job” when you’re not an overnight success. Your friends might not understand why you “have to” work every night, every weekend on your passion after you’ve worked a full 40-50-60 hour work week for your “day job.” Your paramours, pets and other associates may get jealous and angry about not seeing you as much, or be agitated that you always drag them to “help out” at yet another convention, competition, fashion show, meeting, real estate showing, etc.

Being an entrepreneur is hard work, involves long hours and can often be lonely. You are toiling away at something people just don’t understand. Add the often-present fear of failure, throw in some self-questioning and other “head trash” (so often the tragic flaw of the entrepreneurial minded) and you have a recipe for some seriously hard sh*t.

Truth #2: It takes FOREVER.

All those “instant” successes you see are often only after years of failures or near misses. Many successful people fail before they become super stars in their industries including Stephen King (whose first book was rejected by publishers 30 times), Soichiro Honda (founder of Honda who was turned down for a job with Toyota—the company that became his major competitor), Oprah Winfrey (fired from a job as a television reporter because she was “unfit for TV”), Colonel Saunders of Kentucky Fried Chicken (his recipe for chicken rejected more than 1,000 times before a restaurant tried it)—the list goes on and on. They invest time, energy, years and capital getting their ideas to work. Even if you have the perfect product/service, tons of moolah, all the “right” connections and somehow also manage impeccable timing and Kardashian-level hair, it’ll still take longer than you’d like to “make it” – whatever “it” means to you (break even, fame and fortune beyond your wildest imaginations, whatever).

Give yourself time. Time is absolutely the best gift you can give yourself. Ask your family, friends and everyone else around you for patience and support while you’re trying something new. Give your overachieving self the wiggle room you need to achieve your goals AND make sure that wiggle room is backed up by some serious cash (Truth #3). Saying you must be profitable in the first three months is an admirable goal, but if you don’t make it, don’t beat yourself up or throw out the entire idea. Revisit, refine, re-adjust. Business is a marathon, NOT a sprint.

Amazon.com is still not really profitable, and maybe that’s not a bad thing.

Whether you're working in an office building, on a boat or half way across the world -- the struggle is real.
Whether you’re working in an office building, on a boat or half way across the world — the struggle is real.

Truth #3: Don’t quit your day job (or if you do, have a sugar daddy, or a winning lotto ticket or a stockpile of gold bullion).

Not only is this sh*t hard and will it take what seems like forever to become successful – it will also cost a lot of money.

How much is a lot? Financial advisers typically recommend that regular people who have salaried employment keep up to three months of expenses easily available (checking/savings account or an old coffeecan) in case of emergencies. As an entrepreneur, your regular bills don’t mysteriously disappear just because you’re about to do some awesome work. You’ll still need to make rent, pay your car payments and student loans, buy food AND you’ll also have to fund your business no matter what crazy and unexpected things come up. Just like some idiot without insurance can ram into your car while innocently parked in front of your house (this happened to me twice last summer) causing all sorts of unexpected transportation and money issues, the same can happen in your business.

If you happen to be rich or have investors who can pay all your personal and start up expenses—good luck and ah, can I borrow some money? The rest of us aren’t so fortunate. You can absolutely quit your day job, sell all your possessions, max out your credit cards and pray. You can also keep your day job, work your passion at night, on the weekends, during your lunch break and when you’re really supposed to be doing other work to get everything going.

Is there a right way? Nope. Different things work for different people. If you can rely on family for housing, emotional support and/or start up capital, do it. If you have to do it yourself, really think through the worst-case scenarios as early as possible and sketch out several plans for what happens if you can’t make payroll, pay rent or make your car payment. Looking at the top line revenue potential doesn’t help you. It might entice investors (“if we sold out we’d make a BILLION dollars!!”) but you have to live with real world revenue (“we only sold 10?”).

Truth #4: Is it worth it?

The world is your oyster!
The world is your oyster!

Catch an entrepreneur on a good day and they’ll say it’s the most rewarding thing in the world to be your own boss and see your dream become reality. Catch them on a bad day and they’ll tell you to run away and hide in whatever is your version of a “safe job” and never, EVER think about doing your own thing.

For me, the answer to that question changes based on what I feel I have control over. If I can reposition an issue so that I take ownership of not selling enough, or not being the best manager, of not working hard enough or reading the contracts well enough, I feel a little bit better. It doesn’t mean it’s always true though because a lot of things in business are not ever in your control. You can have the best idea ever, but the wrong timing (like the guy who invented the iPod in 1979, years before Apple “invented” it); you can have the best idea ever but be a crappy marketer so no one understands how awesome your ideas are (Tesla vs. Edison – seriously, messed up story, the Oatmeal has some digestible info on Tesla and his feud with Edison who electrocuted a live elephant to get people to not buy Tesla’s version of electricity); you can have the best idea at the right time and be in the wrong area, or have a business partner whoruns off with your money, or a million other things that you can’t fix with all the money in the world, a business plan and some serious pain tolerance.

Colleen Bird of Paradise

If you really are an entrepreneur and you really love pole, be prepared for all sorts of failure (monetary, emotional, etc.) on your road to being a pole-preneur.

But, BUT, if you really have an idea that can help the community and possibly make you a nice living, keep at it. No one can tell you that you’re wrong or dumb or that you don’t belong here doing whatever awesome thing you’re trying to make work. It’s a long, hard road so make sure to stop and savor the good reviews and the clients that say you’ve really helped them. Take out those happy memories and polish them when you’ve been rejected by four banks for a loan to expand your awesome business or even just to get started. You’re doing something right and you’re definitely not alone; but it’s not your imagination—this sh*t IS tough.

Good luck!

Poledance Paradise2 by Istvan P. Szabo on 500px.com

 

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Colleen Jolly
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Colleen Jolly

is AFAA and elevatED certified pole dance enthusiast and entrepreneur. She has been poling for six years, runs and owns the International Pole Convention (PoleCon), teaches pole and lyra in the DC metro area at FIT4Polers and MyBodyShop, and is a partner and instructor with 123Poling.com. She loves performing, regularly competes, and lives in Washington, DC with her husband and two kitties.
Colleen Jolly
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