LaunchHER PRO :: Learning From My Mistakes… Lessons from the Trenches

LaunchHER PRO :: Learning From My Mistakes… Lessons from the Trenches
PRO :: Jenny Ford, Monkey Toes
LaunchHER says ::
Welcome to our 2nd LaunchHER PRO feature!  Our first PRO article, by the Blogarista, was a smashing success and provided so many great ideas to our LaunchHER family.  Today, we are thrilled that the incredible entrepreneur behind one of our favorite woman-owned brands is willing to share her insights with us.  We have each read this a half-dozen times, and each time, we get chills!

A huge thanks to Jenny for her honesty and sincere desire to help those starting out.  What incredible value there is in learning from those who have “been there, done that.”  Enjoy this candid feature, and share your thoughts with LaunchHER readers through your comments – let’s together provide a boost to {women owned} brands!

In HER {PRO} words ::

I think entrepreneurs are looking for a mentor to hold their little insecure hands in attempt to do it right and not make mistakes. I am a firm believer that you MUST slip-up from time to time to learn these invaluable lessons.  I know that might seem a little harsh, but it’s true.  You can read a million and one books about business, talk to thousands of business owners, take classes, etc., but the thing that truly pounds it into your head the best – actually taking the steps and falling a little (or a lot).  And it’s ok, we’re human, we rebound….we survive!  And hopefully that makes you THRIVE as an entrepreneur (at least that is my wish for every one of you who puts your time and money on the line to achieve MA-JOR success.)
I must preface all of this with this… I’ve made tons of mistakes and I will continue to make them.  No one is exempt because you know what?  Hindsight is 20/20 and there is always something we could have done better.  But what will make you truly better is learning from them, forgiving yourself and moving on.
Well, after a lot of soul searching I finally came up with some mistakes…actually, after searching through millions of mistakes I was able to narrow it down to ONLY 5.  HA!

Overspending…I still have to keep myself in check with this one.  At one point when I was a single mom and giving this Monkey biz a go – for real, full time, I ran my company into the ground financially.  I had to pay my personal bills and the company bills and when times were really good (before the big economy flop) stores were ordering and money was great.  Then the economy tanked…stores were going out of business left and right.  Consumers weren’t placing orders and guess what?  Sales began to decline.  It all happened pretty slowly, but it’s taken years to recover…yes- YEARS.  It took a hit on my personal credit and my business credit. I look back and think about the frivolous things I purchased when the money was rolling in.  Seriously, did I need more “cute” pens when I’ve got tons sitting around my office that work just fine?  Really, do I need coordinating file folders, when no one will EVER lay eyes on them?

I think about how many ways I could have been frugal, saved every penny, but the dollar signs got me spending.  Wrong train of thought.  It helped me to seek out ways to cut costs – a really simple way, FREE boxes for shipping from USPS.  How simple is that?  I was buying plain cardboard boxes.  How much did that expense cost me?  A penny more than free is more than it should have cost me. 

Look, I am a total optimist and my attitude is always forward thinking – oh, things will get better and hopefully next month will be better, and better and better.  But let’s also be realistic too – do you need those extra sticky notes? Is it crucial to running your small business?  Or is there some other way you can make notes on something (a piece of paper that’s already been printed on and a paper clip perhaps).  I know these seem like really small things, but they all add up. 

Ask for help before it’s too late…As I was going through the situation above, I did it alone.  I’m not gonna lie, it sucked, it sucked bad.  I was a giant stress ball repeating my favorite mantra “well, no one is gonna die”.  I shouldn’t have kept this big financial secret because I wasn’t getting an outside perspective.  I was defeated emotionally until my major rock-bottom experience – creditors calling and suppliers cutting me off from goods.  What do you even begin to do when you have sales, but can’t fulfill them?  Finally, after a tear-filled conversation with my Dad, my now CFO, he saved my bum (to put it nicely).  We had a major come to Jesus about the company’s REAL situation.  He analyzed all of my receivables, my payables and assessed what it would take to get out from under the monster I had created.  He loaned me money so I could continue the business and he took over my books, something I should have done a long time ago.  It was then that I realized I should not be in charge of financials (a harsh reality that I can’t do it all, and do it all well). I should have had him handling things all along, not just before it got bad.  Lesson learned! 

Costs down, Sales up…This one goes hand in hand with overspending.  My Dad’s words ring through my head on a daily basis – you’ve got to get your sales up and your costs down.  Seems easy enough, right?  Find new suppliers, figure out new and less expensive ways to make things all while increasing your sales.  Always be looking for new and inexpensive ways to get sales and try to think outside the box.

Capture that Trademark before someone else does…(Kara is going to love me for this one) You might be thinking the same thing that I did years ago – a trademark does not have to be officially filed for through the USPTO, because it all comes down to “first use in commerce”.  Which means, the first person to use the term or name in a transaction (someone purchases the product or service from you)  is the rightful owner.  Which IS true, however someone CAN file for your trademark and actually receive the rights to it without your acknowledgement.  YEP, someone can snake it out from under you if you have not filed for it.  And do you know how you get it back?  A nice little legal battle (I’m probably being a little over-dramatic here, but that’s what it felt like – a battle).  I went through this drama last year and I’m guessing you can figure out the story… Someone had filed for the term Monkey Toes (different spelling), was a children’s company and it prohibited me from getting my TM, even though I had been using the term since 2001 (with records proving it).  Seriously, you never know when you might need the actual documentation for the trademark.  I’d never have gotten a licensing deal had I not owned the TM.  It’s $350 to file through the USPTO vs. what you could spend on attorney fees and potentially paying someone to go away for your TM.   This was a costly mistake for us. My recommendation – do it now…That should be a given start up cost.  Seems pretty obvious, but make sure you can get the domain name, search the USPTO, twitter handle, Google the name and see what comes up all before working on the website or having a logo done.  This will save you a giant headache in the end.

Hiring Friends…I read an article recently that gave the advice – “if you don’t think you can fire them, don’t hire them”.  I thought this was great.  I’ve had many, many friends/family members say “I can paint shoes for you” or “I can lace and package them”, but truly unless that is their area of expertise (yes, a professional shoe lacer) – I would advise against it.  I had a minor explosion (oxymoron) with a friend over some work they did for me.   I didn’t fire them, but I know what I should have done better, or simply not hired them at all.  Set clear boundaries and expectations for the work.  Meaning – you will be doing this on your own time, at your own location – because it is a distraction and I don’t get other work done, which in turn means  why did I hire you because I could have spent the time with you sitting right here doing it myself and not paying you for it.  (Phew, gotta love a giant run-on sentence to get your point across).  If it’s even questionable that you might not be able to comfortably set boundaries and correct them because it could interfere with your friendship, then don’t hire them.  End of story.
As I mentioned above, there are a million more mistakes I’ve made in the archives.  It humbles me to put it all out there for the world to see, but I am human and I survived to tell you the story (see my fave mantra – “no one is gonna die”).  I hope you can learn something from what I did and I hope that you’ll share yours with the readers of LaunchHer, who knows, maybe you’ll save someone from a big one!

You can find out more about Jenny and Monkey Toes by following them on Twitter and Facebook.  Be sure to check out her site… and stay tuned for more incredible content by Jenny and our LaunchHER PROs!


  1. Hi Jenny, thank you so much for your advice and your honesty.

    If I could add one more mistake that I made–don't enter into a 50/50 partnership with your best friend (or anyone for that matter). In my opinion, someone always needs to be the tie breaker-even if that means 51/49. My business relationship ended with her and our friendship will never be the same.

    Oh, yes – and Incorporate your company. Remove your personal liability from your business.

    Those are my lessons learned.

    Thanks again,

  2. Karyn Climans says:

    Great article! I am also a business owner and I totally agree …it's impossible to run a business without making some mistakes along the way. What's important is that you learn from those mistakes and that's what Jenny Ford did. I put a huge strain on my marriage and family life in the start-up years of my business but I persevered and today, my business is a huge success. It would have been easy to give up in the early days because the first 3 to 5 years of any business are REALLY TOUGH! But I didn't and today I'm reaping the rewards of all of my hard work.

  3. monkey-toes says:

    Thanks for reading the post – that is great advice Natasha!

  4. Gretchen Black says:

    Jenny, I really enjoyed reading this article. You gave out some really great tips and advice. My cousin and I are have recently started a company together and it has been a learning process, to say the least. It was nice to read your story and inspires me to keep moving forward with our business despite the uphill battle :)

  5. I suggest learning the difference between LLC (Limited Liability Company) and Inc (Incorporated). Taxes are done differently (sometimes can be double taxing in Inc) and so is the quantity of paperwork (more in Inc). Learn which fits your company better. Both protect your personal assets.

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  7. Bonnie Andrews says:

    Jenny, great post. I love how honest you are! It made me think of how costly it was when I ran on burn-out the first few businesses I had. I have learned that focusing on the task at hand and being totally present for whatever it is helps me avoid the burn-out and puts more quality into what I am doing. I had to drop the multi-tasking as crazy as it seems!

  8. Thanks so much for the advice Jenny. I just started a business, so your tips couldn't come at a better time. Thanks again!

  9. Selena and Anna says:

    Wow…I REALLY loved this post as we are still in the beginning stages of our business and we have made mistakes too!!! Thank you for being so honest about your own mistakes as it makes others realize that even when you make mistakes you can get through them and be successful!! Thank you LaunchHER for bringing such great people to your blog to help everyone else. LOVE YOU!!!


  10. Terrific article and great tips. I like that your example for cutting cost was not with production but with shipping. Balancing cost of production and quality is often a struggle. Free shipping boxes… not so much. Thanks for sharing your experience with so much honesty.

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