5 Lessons I Learned in My First Year of Running a Business

I’m not one of those people who had some crazy innovative idea and decided to make millions off of it. I’m also not someone who found a problem and created the magic solution. The odd thing about my business is that I fell into it. I had a skill that matched the unmet needs of a certain demographic, backed up by a story to tell and an opportunity that knocked on my door at the right time. That right timing changed everything.

I won’t get too much into my business but simply put, I run a dance school called DFD Academy. We train students in South Asian fusion dance to help enhance not only their artistic abilities but also their personal enrichment. While all I wanted to do when I got out of college was to get back into dancing, I never realized that I would be getting myself into a thriving business that would eventually touch the lives of so many kids.


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When you’re kicking off a small business, you have to do everything on your own. From the marketing, accounting and business development to the actual delivery of the service (or perhaps creation of the product) and its operations. With all these moving parts, you tend to learn a lot very quickly. Here are five things that I picked up along the way:

1. If you don’t set expectations, you can’t hold anyone to them

This is a common theory of practice in behavior management for children but the same goes for adults in the working world. It sounds pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised how many times this can pose to be a problem. I’ve learned to always think ahead about what exactly I’m asking someone to do and to be clear on those expectations. You can’t come back and expect something from someone if you never clearly laid it out.

2. You never know where a light-bulb moment can come from

I used to think that I must be super unproductive if I’m just scrolling through social media. But the reality is, browsing through any kind of media—Instagram, entrepreneur.com, a magazine—can get your creative juices flowing. As an entrepreneur, you have to be an idea person, but that doesn’t mean you have to come up with a whole new business venture. It can be as simple as “how do I make a process more efficient,” or “how do I brand myself differently?” Personally, I think browsing social media, walking through different types of brick-and-mortar stores, or exploring new apps are great ways to get fresh ideas if you’re proactively thinking about your business. In fact, (geek alert!) I had tried my first dating app simply because I was curious about its business model. Low and behold, it helped me think differently about platforms (and of course, dating).

[Read related: How One Woman Turned Her Love for Regal Indian Jewelry into an Award-Winning Business]

3. Downtime is a good thing

I saw this article about how resting is important for entrepreneurs, which honestly made me feel better about myself. As an entrepreneur, you’re constantly creating work for yourself, and there’s almost this guilt that if you’re not busy every second of your life then you’re not upholding the responsibilities of a business owner. My favorite days are where I’m running around doing a million things at once; I feel productive. But I’ve realized that there are times where I need to stop, calm down and just think to get some clarity. Downtime is good for that.


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4. When life throws you lemons, throw some back

Ok, I don’t mean that aggressively, but what I mean is that if things aren’t going your way, sometimes you just need to step back and tell the universe it’s fine, I’m ok. The way I like to do that is by shifting my focus to a different idea or project that I know is either low hanging fruit (my favorite phrase from my corporate days) or simply something that may better a situation or society in some way (ie: hosting a charity workshop, creating an event for my staff or my students, etc.). The point is, if you’re always analyzing the lemons, you’ll just go sour.

[Read related: Here’s How One Indo-Caribbean Woman Turned Her Creativity into a Business

5. Don’t bother comparing yourself to others

It’s not worth it. Of course, it’s good to have idols or get inspired by what you see on social media, but dwelling on it or trying to copy it exactly just hinders you from achieving your own goals. Who’s to say other people want to do exactly what you do, or better yet, are going to do it the same way? Getting caught up in what other people are doing can push you to make decisions that weren’t meant for you. A business isn’t successful if it fits in with others; it’s successful when it stands out.

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By Devika Dhawan

Devika is a dancer, teacher and choreographer born and raised in Boston. In 2013, she founded her dance school, DFD … Read more ›