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3 Essential Practices for Successful Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. The journey is often marked by long hours, sacrificing paychecks and taking risks — all in pursuit of something you deeply believe in. But if you’re lucky and you work hard, you might just make your dream a reality. 

Gigi Butler is one of those people. She moved to Nashville with dreams of being in the music industry, and even though the specifics of her dream changed, she has always been an entrepreneur at heart. Nashvillians know Gigi as the founder of Gigi’s Cupcakes, a runaway hit in Music City that became a nationwide franchise. But the journey to get there wasn’t always a piece of cake (pun intended).

I talked to Gigi on our most recent episode of the Real Hope podcast about the road to becoming who she is today. I asked her about what she would tell her 15-year-old self if she could go back in time, as it relates to following her dreams. The overarching theme? Trust your instincts.

“I would say believe in yourself more and don’t doubt yourself. Don’t doubt the gifts God gave you. Don’t doubt your gut feeling. We, as women especially, have such a unique ability for a sixth sense, but we dismiss it,” she says. “If I would sit down with myself I’d say don’t give away the farm. Love yourself enough to say no. Have better boundaries and believe in yourself more.”

When I spoke to Gigi, these life lessons resonated with me as principles that anyone could benefit from when they’re pursuing a dream as an entrepreneur: trust your gut, set healthy boundaries and believe in yourself.

When to “Trust Your Gut” (and When Not To)

Gigi was passionate about following her instincts, and it paid off for her in a big way. But how do you know how to recognize when your gut is talking to you, and how do you know when to trust it? Science says that a “gut instinct” is certainly real, but that there are a few things you can use to evaluate whether or not it’s a trustworthy way to make a decision.

Over time, our society has become more reliant on logic and reasoning as the primary — and most effective — basis for making decisions. As a result, we tend to be skeptical of “gut feelings” (or feelings in general) as legitimate factors in how we determine our next step.

“Gradually, many have come to think that humans have progressed from relying on primitive, magical and religious thinking to analytic and scientific thinking. As a result, they view emotions and intuition as fallible, even whimsical, tools,” writes Valerie Van Mulukom for the World Economic Forum

Neuroscientist Tara Swart gives a similar analysis in an article for Fast Company.

“We live in a world that values logic and considers emotions as weak. It seems like decisions based on intuition have little or no place in today’s society. Over time, we’ve neglected the gut and the limbic brain, and placed the cortex on a pedestal,” she says.

It turns out, instinct and feeling can actually be a valuable way of processing information.

“Emotions are actually not dumb responses that always need to be ignored or even corrected by rational faculties. They are appraisals of what you have just experienced or thought of – in this sense, they are also a form of information processing,” Van Mulukom writes.

A gut feeling can certainly point you in the right direction, but only if you know when to trust it and when to lean more heavily on logical thinking.

“Intuition or gut feelings are also the result of a lot of processing that happens in the brain. Research suggests that the brain is a large predictive machine, constantly comparing incoming sensory information and current experiences against stored knowledge and memories of previous experiences, and predicting what will come next,” Van Mulukom further explains.

Research shows that these kinds of instincts are based on our past experiences, so it makes the most sense to go with your gut when it’s concerning something you’ve done over and over again. Whether or not the gut feeling will lead to success is more about the times you’ve been successful in this area before than tapping into a mystical “sixth sense.” 

When you’re pursuing a dream or starting a company, consider your own confidence level before you go with your gut on every decision. If it’s about a subject you know a lot about or have a lot of experience in — perhaps you’re an app developer and it’s a question of what the interface should look like — you can feel confident about taking Gigi’s advice and going with your gut. If it’s new to you, you might consider a second opinion or a bit of research before taking a step.

Why Boundaries are Important for Entrepreneurs

It’s often difficult for entrepreneurs to set healthy boundaries because they’re so passionate about their idea or their dream and want it to be successful. But being available 24/7, working long hours and doing everything yourself is a recipe for burnout. Additionally, boundaries concerning what your company will or will not do, what is on-brand versus off-brand, etc. are lines much easier drawn earlier than later. Like Gigi suggested, if you want to be successful long-term, you’ve got to set boundaries.

“Poor boundaries can lead to increased stress, a poor work-life balance, and ultimately burnout,” Alli Worthington writes for Forbes. “With good boundaries in place, entrepreneurs are able to establish priorities, set goals, and develop systems to achieve those goals, creating a pathway that leads to success.”

To do that, you first have to decide what matters most to you. 

If it’s important to you to be home for dinner every night, go ahead and block those hours off on your calendar. If you really don’t want to stray from your company’s vision, make it a policy to say “no” to any opportunity that doesn’t push you in that direction, even if it’s tempting to say “yes” for the income. Setting these expectations for yourself and others as soon as you can in the process will make everything else easier.

“Until we learn to set boundaries for ourselves as entrepreneurs, we’re going to keep having our days prioritized for us by other people and projects,” writes Quinn Tempest, entrepreneurial coach. 

She suggests setting “office hours” for yourself from Day 1, even if you work from home. She also says putting boundaries on something as simple as checking email can be a huge productivity booster and stress reliever.

“I check my email 3-4 times a day, sometimes less. I often even schedule on my daily calendar when I’m going to check email to keep myself honest. When I do check email, I go through messages quickly and use a labeling system, so I’m not in my inbox for more than 15 minutes,” she explains.

Deciding what matters most to you, then creating some boundaries to protect those things, may be hard at first, but will ultimately help you be successful long-term. 

Value Your Skills and Believe In Yourself

When I spoke to Gigi, she used the phrase “don’t give away the farm.” If you’re not Southern, I’ll translate. In Southern speak, that essentially means remember the value of what you have and don’t risk it for a small reward. 

One characteristic that helped Gigi grow her cupcake business into the franchise it is today is that she knew she had something to offer. She believed in her idea and she believed in her ability to make it a reality. She could trust her gut because she had confidence in her ability to not only run a successful business but make delicious cupcakes. She valued her skills and didn’t let doubt overshadow what she knew to be true.

Believing in yourself is less about the level of success you want to attain or financial gain you want to achieve and more about having the confidence in yourself to get back up when you fail.

“Especially as a business owner and entrepreneur, you are most definitely going to fail and experience a loss or setback at some point,” writes Matt Mayberry for Entrepreneur.com, nodding to great success stories like Steve Jobs and Mark Cuban. None of them found their way to the top without pitfalls, but they believed in their talent, their ideas and themselves enough to keep going. “When your belief is strong, no failure or setback will have the power to completely wipe you out.”

I love hearing stories from entrepreneurs that set out to follow a dream and are changing the world, just like Gigi. You can listen to my full conversation with her on the most recent episode of Real Hope — and be sure to check out the rest of the conversations we’ve had on the podcast with people who are truly making a difference in their communities, no matter where their journeys have taken them.