5 pieces of advice for early-stage entrepreneurs to set you up for success with Maari Casey, Founder of Uncompany

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Maari Casey,  Founder & CEO of Uncompany,  a company redefining the power of freelance talent with a collective of highly-skilled specialists, at your disposal, is the type of speaker that has you nodding your head the entire time she tells her story and the lessons she’s learned as an entrepreneur.

Maari is an ad-agency art director turned freelancer turned entrepreneur. After leaving the full-time agency space she set-out into freelance only to discover a void between the quickly growing talent pool of freelance consultants and clients looking to connect with this resource. 

Uncompany was born to fill that need. In 2015 Uncompany was started to be the operating system for freelance. With her team, she is building a system for marketing teams, agencies, and brands to connect with high-caliber freelance talent, build project-based teams, and develop a custom freelance bench with simplicity and transparency in mind. Her model includes flexibility for those looking for staffing alternatives to traditional agencies but still with a desire to do great work.

Maari shared many insights to help entrepreneurs avoid some mistakes many new founders make and you can watch her full interview here:

Here are 5 pieces of advice Maari shared for early stage entrepreneurs to set you up for success:

1. You are an entrepreneur if you believe you are one

We are at a stage where your employment is part of your identity. When introducing yourself to new people, it is not uncommon to start with what you do for a career. When you quit a steady job and take the plunge into entrepreneurship, it is easy to feel as if you have lost a sense of your identity. It’s natural to feel unsure.

Maari began by explaining that one of the best things you can do when you are starting out as an entrepreneur is say that you’re an entrepreneur over and over until you not only convince other people, but until you convince yourself. YOU need to believe it in order to empower others to see you as an entrepreneur. 

2. Leverage your network

As an entrepreneur, your network is your lifeline. 

Go around and simply talk to everyone. Grow your connections and your relationships. Talk to everyone who is willing to hear your pitch, and, Maari recommends, buy people (A LOT) of coffee. 

Building relationships can help further your business in many valuable ways. People within your network may be your customers or introduce you to potential customers, they may help you in areas where your skill sets lack (such as finance, SEO, management, etc.), or they may be able to introduce you to key partners.

Maari also recommends speaking to as many potential customers you possibly can, even walking into their store and offering them your products or services. 

Know who your audience is and what problems they face that you can solve, and reach out to them or leverage your network to make introductions to them. Personal relationships are KEY. 

3. Learn how to set expectations

One difficult lesson many entrepreneurs learn is how to draw a line between themselves as a person and their business. As a founder, it’s important to understand who your business “is,” your mission, and your “break line”.

Your “break line” is the clear boundaries you want to set for your business. Maari explains this “line” can include: what your business is and is not, who you will and will not work with, what your products/services are and what they’re not. 

Don’t work with people, customers, partners, or investors who want to push you across your line! 

You need to set expectations for both yourself and your stakeholders: 

  • For yourself: Know your boundaries and actively self-care so you don’t burn yourself out. There is YOU and there is your business. You are not one in the same; you are an employee of your business and at times, you’re going to be forced to make decisions for your business that suck for you as a person. The trick here is to work hard not to mingle your emotions and your business as much as you possibly can.  
  • For your stakeholders: Tell them at the beginning of your working relationship what they should expect from your business when it comes to prices, services/products, timeframes, etc. For example, set the tone that customers can expect a response to an email within 48 hours, so they don’t get frustrated when you don’t respond to an email an hour after they send it.

4. Don’t be embarrassed of what stage you’re at in your business

Maari’s mom gave her a wonderful piece of advice that all founders should hear:

“Where you are right now is exactly where you need to be, and you can’t skip past it.” 

Imposter syndrome is absolutely real. It’s so easy to look at the startup down the hall and think “they’ve been working at their business for half the time I have been and they’re further along than me, that’s a real entrepreneur.”

Here’s a quick tip: That’s only your insecurities talking!! There is no “right” path to take as an entrepreneur and there’s no stage you “should be at” at any given time. 

You’re not ahead, you’re not behind – you’re exactly where you need to be. And if you don’t feel like that’s the case, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Others have taken the same journey you’re on and they can help you through it (again, leverage your network.) 

5. When it comes to creating an MVP: Just do it

Creating an MVP (minimal viable product) is a crucial step in the entrepreneurial process and Maari’s advice is to just go ahead and create one. When you develop a prototype as quickly as you can, get it out into the world, and talk to a million people about it, it empowers you to get vital feedback in the process of building your product or serving. 

Maari recommends not spending more than 6 months creating an MVP because, past that, you begin to make it too expensive in both monetary and time investment, and it becomes too precious to you. Putting out an imperfect MVP allows you to get feedback, tweak the product/service, put it out there again, collect more feedback, tweak it again, and repeat. 

Creating an MVP takes time, it will naturally develop and allows you to learn how to create, pay for, and run your business in slow steps. 

Overall, one of the most important lessons we learned from Maari is “just go do it.” Just take the plunge into entrepreneurship: talk to people, set boundaries, and get out there and make your MVP to collect customer feedback. 

You can’t run before you can walk.