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Natalie James | Toronto | Support System!

My interest in having my own business was lifelong but it wasn’t until several factors in my life came together that I decided to take the leap and change my life from being an employee to working for myself. As a young girl I spent many days tracing the architectural drawings and hearing about the new businesses my father was helping develop. My father was an architect and entrepreneur and I enjoyed watching his projects develop from concept to completion. I never thought I would do anything else than follow in his footsteps. Fast-forward 30 years, three kids and a career later and I wasn’t an architect nor was I an entrepreneur but the passion was still there. Approaching 40, I decided it was now or never if I wanted chase my dream of having my own business and creating something from the ground up. Having had a lifetime of difficult hair that I despised drying and styling and a love for the beauty industry, I saw an opportunity for a luxury service that any woman could afford within the Toronto marketplace. This is where my vision for Vent Blow Dry Bar started.

What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?

My biggest initial hurdle was my lack of business experience. My career had been in government in which I had developed some unique skills but not necessarily those that were best suited for opening a business. I immersed myself in anything I could read to educate myself, spoke to friends who had their own businesses for advice and spent about two years meticulously planning and preparing for this opportunity. I developed a thorough business plan that I still reference and revise today to keep me on track to achieve my vision for Vent. A huge confidence builder was when I withstood the scrutiny and received financial backing for my business plan – this helped to validate my thinking and confirm that I was on the right track.

What books are you currently reading? And your recommendation for entrepreneurs to read?

Let me start off by stating how important it is for entrepreneurs to read, especially those that are new and are still learning. While it can be difficult to find time to read, I maximize my time by listening to audio books and podcasts whenever I am driving, which I think my young teenage kids are sick of listening to! I am currently listening to a few books Dare to Lead, by Brene Brown and Girl Stop Apologizing, by Rachel Hollis, however, one of the most impactful books for me was Jen Sincero’s book You Are A Badass. I think like many women, one of the things that was keeping me from chasing my dream was a lack of confidence. Before reading the book I thought to myself, who am I to think about opening my own business? I don’t have a business degree or years of business experience or a bunch of money to do it. I wondered if such opportunities were reserved for the special few amongst us. Jen’s book really caused me to dig deep and look at myself, ask important questions and was a key factor in my decision to pursue my dream of having my own business. I made my husband read it and gave copies to my team at Vent, hoping they would also be inspired as I was.

Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits?

How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?

I absolutely had friends and family that thought I was crazy for what I was doing. After all, I was leaving a stable career with a pension and health benefits, putting everything my husband and I had worked 15 plus years for on the line and chasing something that has a low success rate for survival beyond year one. For someone looking at it from the outside it would seem illogical. For me, I used this as motivation to further review my plan, ask myself the tough questions you don’t really want to think about but must do, and I used it as motivation to work hard to prove them wrong. In hindsight, I wouldn’t do anything differently. The reason people try to dissuade you is that they genuinely care for you and don’t want to see you experience a loss. What they don’t necessarily see is your vision and desire to do whatever it takes to make it a reality. I just choose to focus on my goals and a positive mindset over negative thinking. That doesn’t mean I am reckless and take unnecessary risks, my decisions are well-thought-out and calculated and consider the potential impacts – both positive and negative.

What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?

The single most influential factor in my business success and what I would recommend to any entrepreneur is developing a skilled team and leading them effectively. I am fully aware of my skills and abilities and the areas where I could use development. From the start of my planning I was careful to engage experts in each area of the business to bolster what I brought to the table. This was a crucial element in getting Vent to the point that we opened and increasingly important in our day-to-day operations. But to truly benefit from your team, it is essential that you lead them effectively and provide the autonomy for your team to work to their full potential.

What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?

I wish I fully understood how hard it is to be an entrepreneur and how much time and effort it takes. If you decide to go down this path you absolutely must love what you. To grow and develop Vent is basically a 24-hour a day, seven days a week job and I am the last person to get paid and when starting out – there were plenty of times when I didn’t take a paycheck. When rewards aren’t always there and the struggle is real, becoming resentful is a risk. But if you love your business and being in control with ultimate responsibility and accountability for your success or failure, there is no better job.

What advice would you give to an upcoming entrepreneur locally and internationally?

If I could give one piece of advice to those who are considering entrepreneurial life it is to network. You absolutely must engage with other entrepreneurs for mutual learning and to share ideas, to develop a support system with people who are having similar experiences, to develop resources to help resolve issues, to help other entrepreneurs and to create the opportunity for your business to grow. I enjoy connecting with other women in business and have found that many business owners are open to helping and take the perspective that everyone can succeed and it is ok to share ideas. While business is competitive, I have learned that there is a significant benefit in connecting with others.


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