According to Irina Balyurko, “It’s a responsibility, not a luxury, to follow your inner voice.” She’s learned this with age and through her personal experience of leaving the corporate world to work for herself. Balyurko founded SellerLadder, a company that helps small businesses that make physical products launch or grow on Amazon via consulting or full management of their Amazon channel. Though she’s been able to apply some lessons from her previous jobs and M.B.A. training, she’s learned most of what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur through experience.
Why did you start your business?
I spent about ten years in the corporate world in financial services. I started in retail banking, then I did my M.B.A., and then I worked for Goldman Sachs for seven years. Then I had what I call a “midlife crisis” where I really thought about what I wanted to do with my life. I was in a place of reinventing myself where I followed what I was truly interested in and passionate about, which was e-commerce. I learned in the trenches by starting my own Amazon account. As that experience grew, I started consulting, because I also wanted to blend my high-quality corporate experience.
How did you finance the business at the start?
It was a combination of personal funds, including my husband’s, and personal credit.
Managing the Company
How do you manage cash flow?
A big part of my business is service-based. I do my monthly projections of income and look at my expenses. I budget for things I would like to do. If there’s a gap between projected income and the revenue I would need to do those things, I try to pull myself up to it by getting more clients or by selling more products, since my pay is commission-based for some clients.
What could your business do with $10,000? Check out Nav's "Legitify Your Small Business" Grant now to find out how your business could win interest-free financing.
What’s the most challenging thing about running the business?
Being my own bottleneck. I do have virtual assistants and some help. But, it’s the whole “E-Myth” problem. I have trouble letting go of control and trusting that other people can do certain parts of the business just as well. I’m working on creating processes internally where there is some structure where other people can be plugged in.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running the business?
I love what I do. Coming out of corporate burnout is amazing. Even the days that are hard don’t seem quite as hard because I love what I do. The challenges I encounter don’t hamper the fact that I wake up on Monday and I’m happy! I wouldn’t trade that for anything else. And I love the flexibility that I’m able to take my kids to the zoo on a random Tuesday afternoon.
What I’ve Learned
What’s the biggest mistake you made when you were starting out?
I didn’t realize how challenging it would be to transition from corporate career to owning my own business. The isolation hit when I didn’t have the standard water cooler environment. I realized that I didn’t have a support network and I needed to start creating that.
Second, I was fairly successful in my corporate career and I thought I would continue on that trajectory with my own business. In M.B.A. school, they don’t teach you how to run your own business. They teach you how to be a good worker for somebody else. I felt like a failure when it came to making decisions and managing my day. It was just part of the experience in retrospect. I should have given myself more grace because I was starting something brand new. If I were more kind to myself, I probably would have moved on with more ease.
Third, I quit my job before I started my business because I was so burned out. In hindsight, from a financial perspective, that was extremely hard. I should have started my business while I had my corporate job because of the financial stress that came with cutting off one income.
What’s the smartest thing you did when you were starting out?
I had the ability to be agile and adapt and learn quickly from my experience in the corporate world. I had also learned resilience. The learning curve didn’t faze me. I dove in and started experimenting. I wasn’t intimidated by the fact that I was doing something completely new.
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
I do believe in fulfilling what you want to do. Sometimes we feel like that’s a luxury. But, the older I get, the more I realize that your inner voice is something that is telling you what unique thing you can do out in the world. Follow that – It’s your responsibility. Figure out what you want and relentlessly pursue it.
What’s next for SellerLadder?
There are a lot of businesses that I would love to help, but they simply can’t afford one-on-one consulting at the stage they’re in. I’m working on a program that is going to be more affordable and will help businesses grow faster on Amazon. That’s going to come out later in summer. It will let me help a lot more business owners, and I’m excited about that.