Take Five: Are you feeling the entrepreneurial tug?

Feature Take Five With Barbara Zabawa Panel

Madison attorney Barbara Zabawa has written a new book for people who have felt the entrepreneurial tug but have yet to pull the trigger. The book, titled The Tug: Finding Purpose and Joy Through Entrepreneurship, will be released on March 31 and is pretty timely, considering the pandemic-driven surge in new business startups.

However, the book was not necessarily written for those who want to meet a market need for COVID-19-friendly products and services — it was written for anyone who feels the tug. Zabawa certainly has felt the tug, and she’s felt it while starting three businesses: The Center for Health and Wellness Law LLC; PurseSuitz LLC, a mission-based fashion company featuring a pocketwear tank top and a finalist in the 2021 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest; and Lemonspark, a movement and podcast about the creative sparks that lead people to meaningful pursuits after experiencing “life’s lemons.”

In this Take Five interview, Zabawa talks about why this self-help business book is different than all the others.

Barbara Zabawa

Barbara Zabawa

Did you write this book for would-be entrepreneurs who want to start a business in order to pursue a passion, or for those who simply wanted to be their own boss, or for would-be entrepreneurs in any category?

“I wrote it for people who were at a place in their lives where they feel like they are not fulfilled, and they are not quite sure what to do. They might have some ideas, but they are afraid of taking that step or not really sure how to take that step. So, that tug I’m talking about is there because they are in a place where they are not happy, or they have always had a dream of being an entrepreneur but just didn’t know how. It’s really a how-to book, and I’m trying to use my own story as a way of illustrating one example and to give the reader a sense that they are not alone. They might be afraid to take that step because they don’t know anybody else who is on that journey, and I’m inviting them to come along with me on that journey.” 

How is The Tug different from other books about starting a business?

“When I wrote it, I had read my own share of self-help books and usually for entrepreneur type books out there, they are coming from a perspective of, ‘I’ve already been there and done that, so I’m looking in retrospect at my success.’ So, they are written by someone who has already garnered a lot of success in the entrepreneurial world and now is kind of giving advice on what worked for them in retrospect. But what I have found was that for someone who is just starting that journey, when they are just at the idea stage and not even sure what steps to take next, those books are not very helpful because they are very macro and leave out a lot of the details about the very beginning. They are usually written from the point of view of someone who hasn’t been in that beginning spot for years, and they can’t remember or maybe some of the stuff that applied to them doesn’t apply to the situation now. It’s just a very different environment and so I wanted to write something that was more from the perspective of the beginner as opposed to someone who is years out on that journey and can’t really recall all the details, or the details are now irrelevant to someone who is starting out now.”

You have a chapter devoted to overcoming self-doubt, which is one of the biggest barriers to paying attention to that tug. Does overcoming that simply come down to research, planning, and due diligence, or is there more to it than that?

“It’s something that’s always going to be there to some degree, but yes, research and planning and talking about the idea help overcome it — and doing, of course, doing. Just taking those steps and realizing that not everything is going to succeed. It’s a trial-and-error process, but to not give up is a mindset, and having a community of people who share that mindset helps in overcoming that self-doubt.”

You also mention “finding your tribe” or your market. A budding entrepreneur might have a passion that he or she wants to bring to market, but what’s your best advice about judging whether there is a viable market for that passion, whether it’s to meet an unmet need or solve a problem?

“That’s part of your market research. You might have your own personal experience with a problem or a gap in the marketplace, but then you want to test it to make sure there are other people out there who share the view that there is a problem. In the day of the internet and social media, it’s really easy. There are all kinds of groups — on Facebook, for example — that are gathered around a shared problem or a shared grievance. So, if you can find a group like that, it validates your idea and that’s your tribe. Those are the people that you don’t have to convince that your idea is a good one, so start with them. It’s hard sometimes because you want your idea to have mass appeal — at least that’s been my experience with my ideas. You see the benefits beyond the narrow tribe that you have found on social media or wherever, but it may not have that mass appeal right away. Sticking with that very narrow focus group, the ones that you don’t have to work too hard to persuade or convince, is a good way to start. Then, they can tell their respective tribes in other areas, and it can grow that way. Seth Godin had a great TED Talk on the tribes we lead, and that was a real inspiration for that piece of advice — Seth Godin’s work on tribes.”

“They might be afraid to take that step because they don’t know anybody else who is on that journey, and I’m inviting them to come along with me on that journey.” — Barbara Zabawa

Is the beginning of this journey a little easier now with those social media connections?

“I do think it’s easier, yes, to find people who have similar beliefs and connect with them. I do think that makes it a lot easier.”

The difficulties of operating a business during pandemic lockdowns have been well chronicled, but e-commerce and social media marketing have been lifesavers for many businesses. With your own ventures — Lemonspark, the Center for Health and Wellness Law, and PurseSuitz — how is your own instruction paying off?

“Well, I keep doing it. It works, maybe not as quickly as you want. Social media is great to put your ideas out there. It’s a matter of knowing how to do it in a way that gets picked up by a lot of people, and that’s a learning process and so, just keep going. I’ve gotten followers and maybe it hasn’t happened as quickly as I wanted, but I’ve gotten followers after putting content out there. It has worked. For the Center for Health and Wellness Law, it absolutely has worked, but I’ve been doing that the longest. So, I’ve been doing that for seven years, so it’s about patience. It’s a brick-by-brick process and I keep telling myself, ‘Look, just keep at it and it will pay off.’ The Center for Health and Wellness Law is a great example where, certainly, just keeping at it over time has worked, and I do get customers because of things that I post on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram, amazingly, and blog posts work as well.”

From your standpoint, how are Midwesterners doing on overcoming fear of failure? In Silicon Valley, they celebrate failure because they figure you’ve learned something that can be applied next time you try again. You’re not some kind of social pariah if you fail at something. We tend to be a little different, so are we beginning to overcome that, or are we still weighed down by that?

“Well, in my experience, it depends on who’s in your immediate community. In the entrepreneurship community, that [risk-taking] is supported. Maybe not to the degree it is out in Silicon Valley, but if you’re hanging around with people in the corporate world, they probably think you’re crazy. It’s just the company that you keep. I hope that we can become more accepting of failure and more supportive of entrepreneurial endeavors, and I see the Governor’s Business Plan Contest as an example of that kind of support. There are other communities, including one in Milwaukee called the Pitch Event, that Milwaukee does for entrepreneurs. At UW–Milwaukee, there is the Lubar Entrepreneurship Center, where I teach. So, it’s popping up, and having more of those support centers is really critical for people to feel that failure is OK. It’s actually part of the process.”

And finally, two questions in one. Just out of curiosity, how many iterations has the pocketwear product by PurseSuitz gone through so far? And do you consider this a competitive threat to the accessories business or perhaps a situational complement to it?

“It’s kind of both. So, the iterations, we went through a lot. It depends on how you count iterations. It looks very different than it did one year ago, when I first started. We probably went through five iterations over the year, back and forth, to get it absolutely right. As far as competition, yes, as I wrote in my business plan contest submission and in the book, bags and accessories are definitely a competitive market, especially fanny packs because you wear those in the same area, around the middle, where you would put the pockets in my tank top. At the same time, things like backpacks would be a complement because obviously you’re not going to fit big sweatshirts — or an iPad or a laptop computer — in the pockets, but you will fit your smaller items that can be more readily accessible. The backpack can carry the larger items and still keep you hands-free. It definitely could be cross marketed with the backpacks, but fanny packs would be direct competition.”

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