You have to start somewhere

I was eager to do my first tattoo. The owner of the shop I worked at was also apprenticing me, so he pulled me aside one day after rebuilding one of his older tattoo machines.

“Today, we’re buying your first machine”, he tells me. I was mentally ready. I was emotionally ready. I couldn’t wait to do that first tattoo and start my journey to tattoo-rock star status.

However, I wasn’t physically ready.

Practice makes comfortable

The phrase, “Practice makes perfect” is a lie. It’s a set up for failure. Perfect doesn’t happen in life very often and when you add in needles, precise lines, and the human body that moves and shakes when it feels pain, perfect isn’t possible.

The day arrived that I had been waiting for. The UPS driver shows up and hands me a small brown box. My first tattoo machine had arrived. I open it up and immediately hook it up to a power supply and hear the whirl of the coils and the buzz of the armature bar.

It was a beautiful sound. The owner comes over and hands me a pen and tells me, “Slide this into the machine instead of a grip and needle, you’re going to draw a lot today”.

He hands me a piece of paper and tells me to trace 10 tattoos onto the paper using my new machine and a pen. I immediately understand why I’m doing this exercise.

The tattoo machine was heavy and while holding the machine and the pen the way a tattooer holds a machine to tattoo, means there’s a lot of weight pulling the pen backwards.

I was doing this because I had to learn how to control a vibrating machine that’s balanced differently than any pen I’ve ever held.

My tracing sheet was a mess. I smile and laugh a bit as I’m tracing and the owner asks me how things are going at my station with a wink.

I spent the next month tracing and drawing with my fake pen/tattoo machine setup until I was able to draw consistent lines. Then, it was on to coloring in my drawings using the same setup.

I had to build the muscles up in my wrist, fingers, and forearm before I could start tattooing.

Learn the tools of the trade before you open your doors

I thought I was ready. I knew the rules of applying a tattoo. I knew the techniques I would be using and why. What I didn’t have was muscle memory.

I remember learning to drive a manual transmission on a car when I was 16 years old. I drove around an empty parking lot for an hour stalling, and starting, until I could make it out consistently onto the roads.

I had full concentration on every movement I was making. Clutch, shift, gas, steer, repeat. These days, I drive with one hand holding a coffee, steering with my knee, and adjusting the radio without ever looking at what I’m doing.

I knew where the shifter is without looking because my body knows where to grab from memory. I don’t think about the steps because they’re second nature now.

What you’re striving for in your business, is that sense of stability that comes from solving problems consistently. You’ll find yourself simply reacting to issues instead of getting thrown off and out of sync from them.

If you’re opening a coffee shop, make sure you can quickly pull a quality shot of espresso and steam milk so your customers get a consistent cup of coffee as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Consider the tasks you’ll be doing in your day-to-day operations and practice the ones that you’re not confident in yet. Do them over and over until you feel comfortable. Then, do it again just to make sure.

You’ll start slower, but you’ll give your customers exactly what they want. Quality products delivered quickly.

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