The founder of Austin’s newest creative co-working space, The Refinery, shares how she turned her dream into a small business. 

By Nick Barancyk, Photo courtesy of Hayley Swindell

When Hayley Swindell accepted her first job in print advertising sales, she didn’t know how much she would fall in love with the industry. But beyond that, she discovered she held a strong passion for the small-business owners she talked to every day, a passion she would use to found her first business, The Hip Humanitarian, a fair-trade subscription-box service.

Swindell quickly discovered the work-from-home life was not her forte. Worse yet, at the time, Austin’s co-working spaces didn’t have the tools she needed. She was looking for a group of women who worked in and could help support her e-commerce business, as well as for perks like photo booths to help grow her online platform. The Hip Humanitarian began to fall into the red, and she closed up shop.

One job later, Swindell continued to detail this problem in her head. She wanted to design a space to help launch small businesses, a place with gourmet kitchens, a retail store and, of course, a photo booth. What resulted was her next venture and her biggest investment yet: The Refinery.

Now that she spends her days helping creatives turn their own dreams into reality, Swindell took a moment to reflect on the steps she took to become an entrepreneur in her own right and create the small-business community she had always desired.

Ask questions

“I think it’s realizing it’s OK to ask questions, even if you feel like they’re silly. You’ll look more silly if you act like you know the answer and you don’t. It’s empowering to ask questions and know the answers. Then you never have to ask again.”

Seek mentors

“Read the Austin Business Journal, see who’s moving and shaking things, get on Instagram, go attend events and actually talk to people. Get an idea of [the people]who are doing things that are awesome in the community and be friends with them.”

Ask for help

“A lot of people are scared to ask for help, and that’s what held me back with The Hip Humanitarian. I think I can do everything and no one can do it as good as I can in my business, like I have to do it and I have to be here to make sure it gets done. There’s a balance of that and asking for help while staying mentally OK.”

Read up and prepare

“Read books and educate yourself. Find that good balance of ‘just do it’ but also ‘prepare yourself for it.’ I think a lot of people are like, ‘Oh, I’m going to start a candle company!’ You have to understand: Is there a need for a candle company? Maybe you shouldn’t be doing that.”

Leverage social media

“Make sure when you’re thinking about where you spend most of your energy, don’t just do what’s trendy; do what’s right for your product. You can do the same post [across social-media channels], but you have to do it differently for it to be effective on each channel. There’s all these tools that let you just blast it. Don’t blast it.”



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