Last year, I was introduced to the world of sourdough. It started with a book, aptly named Sourdough, which led to an evening class at Edible Alchemy in Berlin. Now, almost every weekend, you will find me trying to perfect my loaf. I’ve also realized that running a small business is a lot like baking bread. There’s a bit of skill, a bit of perseverance, and a whole bunch you can’t control.

It’s Alive!

The care and feeding of a business.

My starter’s name is Selena. She was born in Berlin and then ate some 100-year-old, Icelandic starter, so I call her the old lady of the house. Selena is very much alive. If I don’t feed her, she will die.

Businesses are alive, too. They may start with one or two people, but immediately will grow to include customers, and often, vendors and staff. Plus, the reputation of a business has a life all of its own.

The more I feed Selena, the more active she becomes and the better the bread turns out. The same goes for a business. Ignore it or underfeed it, and it will not thrive. One of the best pieces of advice I received when I started Design It Please was to make sure I spent time working on the business and not just in the business.

Working in the business equates to client work. Working on the business includes documenting processes, doing bookkeeping, developing new leads, continuing education, and more. Small business owners need to intentionally set aside a portion of their week to work on the business. Some of my friends have one hour a day dedicated to the care and feeding of their business. Others block out one day a week for non-client work. Find what works for you; just make sure that you do it.

Mix Your Ingredients

The first step in making dough is to mix all the ingredients together. A sourdough starter, flour, water, and salt only make dough if you mix them together. Starting a small business is the same. You have skills, a product or service, and maybe even a philosophy of how you want to do things differently than everyone else. Add a pinch of legal documentation, and you’ve got yourself a small business!

It really is easy to start a business. Anyone can weigh out the ingredients and mix them together, but it’s what happens next that determines the success of your efforts.

Stretch & Folds

After the mixing comes a process of developing strength in the dough. This is achieved through stretching the dough and folding it over itself. Then, you let it rest for 15-30 minutes and do another set of stretch and folds. The stretch and fold process contributes to a lovely open crumb (the holes in the bread) and good oven spring (the amount the loaf rises in the oven).

Likewise, small businesses develop strength through a series of stretch and folds. Learning how to effectively communicate, learning to sell, learning how to manage, mastering your craft, and learning how to ask for help are all part of the stretching process of running a business.

Running Design It Please has forced me, over and over again, to come face-to-face with my areas of strength and weakness. One of the things I’ve found most helpful is to talk about the struggles (and victories) I face with a group of peers who are also business owners. Even though we’re solopreneurs, we’re meant to live life in community.

Bulk Fermentation

There’s a time for work and a time for rest.

The majority of time preparing sourdough is actually spent resting. This time of rest allows for the yeast cultures to eat their food (the flour). The longer the bread ferments, the fluffier and more flavorful the bread will become.

The bulk fermentation is an active rest, though. The baker may not be doing anything, but the dough is doing a lot, and it will double or triple in size during this phase. This phase of active rest is a time for growth.

How do we actively rest as business owners and freelancers? By feeding our bodies, souls, and minds. Read books, go exercise, get creative, learn something new. Do whatever you do to keep inspired, educated, and refreshed.

Adapting to outside forces.

Depending on the temperature and humidity, bulk fermentation can take longer or shorter. As the baker, I have to monitor how the dough is reacting on the specific day I’m baking. In business, there will also be outside forces that will affect you. Things like client expectations, broken equipment, health issues, a shift in the economy, new state or federal laws, etc.

Navigating these twists and turns is part of the job as a boss and as a baker. Breathe deeply. Ask for help when you need it. Vent to friends. You can do it.

The Overnight Proof

Did you think we were done resting?? Nope! We get to learn this lesson again! Rest. is. important.

The overnight proof usually occurs overnight in the fridge. It is a longer, slower rest where the dough doesn’t really grow but the flavors deepen. I think of it as akin to sleeping and vacations.

Make sure you have time away from your business. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Take time to unplug and decompress. Your loaf will be tastier if you give it a little space.

Bake & Enjoy

This is the part everyone loves! There’s nothing better than the smell of freshly baked bread, and there’s nothing more exciting to watch than a blob of dough grow into a fluffy, crusty, edible, nourishing piece of heaven.

Eventually, your business will produce results, and you will be proud of them. Enjoy it! Celebrate the victories as much as you try and improve things. I like making time at the end of every month to reflect on the victories of the month. Even if it’s been a discouraging or difficult month, there’s always something to celebrate.

The next time you butter a warm slice of bread and sink your teeth into it, remember the phases it took to get to that final stage and be encouraged.