There’s not one right way to launch a business venture. Some believe the right advice and mentorship is crucial; others argue advice is often overly influenced by particular circumstances. When asked whether they wish they’d invested more time or money in their businesses, 60 percent of business owners said money according to a survey by The Alternative Board; however, monitoring cash flow is vital to survival. There are nuances given the industry, financial circumstances and market conditions that render a one-size-fits-all approach impractical.
Though the adage that 50 percent of new businesses fail in the first year has been debunked, a paltry 25 percent of businesses reach the 15-year mark, according to the Small Business Administration. All it takes is a quick Google search or stroll through a bookstore’s business section to be inundated with endless must-dos and must-donts when it comes to running a business. The problem is that the sheer amount of information is unmanageable and the advice might be particular to business conditions that differ from yours.
We asked successful entrepreneurs to share the advice they wish they’d known when they first started in their business ventures. These lessons were hard earned and come from entrepreneurs in the retail, service, e-commerce and marketing industries, among others. Although there’s no foolproof way to achieve business success, we hope you can learn from these entrepreneurs’ mistakes:
Don't be afraid to admit what you don't know — and then go find or hire people who know those things really, really well. Being an entrepreneur is as much about implementation as it is about a service or product, and creating an A+ team, even if it's only two of you, can make all the difference to your success.
... If you don't believe in yourselves, no one else will, and I wish I had known that at the start of my business journey! It is also very important to not aim to get too high too soon; take your time as a company, and don't just focus on selling your products; focus on establishing strong relationships with customers; on designing and creating a good product and on securing a long-term future for your company … [D]on't try to mass produce your product — a good quality, handmade product is much more likely to sell and is much more rewarding as even customers can then tell how much effort has gone into each product.
I wish I would have known how important public relations was when I started 6.5 years ago. I feel like I have been playing catch up the last 2.5 years. PR has helped me scale more than anything else I’ve done or tried hands down far and away.
One thing I wish I knew is, the best management technique ever invented was sitting down with your employees once a day. At least to go over what was done yesterday and what is on the agenda for today. It gives you a sense of what people are working on and allows you to give feedback quickly.
I had a great mentor in my first manager, who showed me that it’s not only alright to share your thought processes and mistakes, but that this is key to building a successful team. There are so many choices to be made when you’re building a business and, by sharing your approach with co-workers, you’re empowering them to more clearly understand your company vision and develop their own skills.
When you start your own business, everything falls on your shoulders, and it can get difficult sometimes. Even if you have friends and family around to support you, no one knows what struggles you are going through or what you’ve done to get where you are. It can get stressful so you’ll need an outlet. Becoming a part of a mastermind group will give you support, accountability, belief, and a community that understands you. They will make you feel at home when you are evolving your business.
I tried to maintain the same level of control over my employees as I had when my company was a one-man shop. I wish I had known how that micromanagement would hurt my team. I squelched their creativity and made them feel that I didn't value their opinions, even though I actually wanted to hear what they thought. It took me a couple years to realize I needed to relinquish some control to let my employees produce their best work.
I am the owner of the start-up tutoring company, Suprex Tutors Houston, and when I launched my business, I took on a lot of debt in the goal of growth. While I did manage to grow the business at a rapid rate, now we have a strong cash flow problem … I wish when I started, I started slowly and instead focused on reducing cost of operations as soon as possible.
I [have] a number of my thoughts … It's not how much money you make, it's how much you keep; excessive overhead can bring down any business no matter how much you make … reflect your core brand ethics and quality in every marketing communication; compete on the cheap end and someone can always make it for less. Quality like the tortoise will ultimately win out.
Don’t take on clients just for the money and the growth — a total fear-based decision. And, don’t keep customers [or] clients if you don’t like them. As a business owner you can choose your clients. At one point in one of my businesses I analyzed our $6 million client base and realized 60% of our clients weren’t profitable and, incidentally, it was the same 60% of our clients that we didn’t like, respect or trust (in short, 60% of our clients sucked)!
... Hiring the first 10 employees was incredibly easy for me. I had a wide portfolio of hard-working friends from college and previous places I worked that I picked from. We also happened to all be relatively young, early in our careers, and able to jump at risky opportunities. However, when that available talent pool was exhausted, I didn’t have the structure or the culture in place to ensure the next wave of talent was as good. So be careful with your hiring, take a lot more time, look at a lot more candidates, check a lot more references and don’t just make a hire out of desperation. A bad hire is more painful than no hire. A mediocre hire can be the worst, because someone just doing the minimum and taking up space on the org chart and payroll is preventing a good hire from being there for years.
I can't stress enough to new businesses to be very careful about any marketers you plan to get into business with, regardless of whether it is pay per click, search engine optimization or social media marketing. Many markets barely even have success themselves. Ask for references of their past work and check out their own brand to see if they truly can accomplish what they claim to be good at … In many cases marketing can be what makes or breaks online small businesses. With the right marketing, the sky is the limit for online businesses.
The best decision I ever made was choosing a name that was unique and trademarkable. Before I bought my domain name, I went to the USPTO.gov and searched the TESS database to see if my company name had been trademarked for my use classification (industry/application) ... then I searched on Google to make sure it didn’t have a bad meaning in another language … I have seen countless businesses make the mistake of buying the URL, setting up the business license, and marketing their business — only to get a cease and desist from another company that is suing them for trademark infringement. Not only is it a legal headache, you also have to find a new name, buy a new domain and spend more marketing dollars to brand the new company all over again. Make sure to protect yourself legally and save money by setting up your trademark first!
For any entrepreneur just starting a small business, one of the most important steps they can take to legitimize their company is to incorporate or form an LLC. Doing this allows you to protect your personal assets and separate them from that of the business, save money on taxes, and establish credibility with consumers to ensure your startup remains successful in the long run.
Are you a business owner? What advice would you share with budding entrepreneurs? Share your advice below!