For me, starting a business was exhilarating! I thought because I was a marketer that I would put together a killer business and marketing plan, start an ecommerce website and just start selling and of course the money would just roll in.
Boy! Was I wrong!
I started my business almost 4 years ago and I have had my share of ups and downs. In my experience, it's a bit like walking with EXTREMELY dark sunglasses on at NIGHT. It’s difficult to see more than what’s immediately in front of you. However, the longer you are an entrepreneur, the better you get at navigating.
Here are 10 things I wish I would have known before I started. These are the things I would have told myself so that I wouldn’t make some of the mistakes I did.
- You will NEVER work harder or for longer hours than you do for your own self. Real hours I mean! Geez. In the beginning, it can be extremely challenging to feel comfortable with that initial leap of independence —leaving whatever you were doing to start your own business. Even if you haven't fully taken that leap and still work for someone, know that starting a business will definitely require you to keep burning that midnight oil. Let me tell you, I was aware of the typical overheads, such as rent for my store, electricity, internet, salaries, etc. , but the little things, like bank interest, toiletries, cleaning, writing off obsolete/damaged stock really add up . Balancing the company's budget with my vision for the firm has been a much more difficult task than I ever imagined.
- You will need a mentor or a coach. In business never believe you have all the answers. I did! And this was a big mistake. I tried to do everything because I had many years of corporate experience dealing with international customers and suppliers. But I hit a wall in early 2016! All my strategies were not working the way I had hoped. Since then, I've utilised the services of two coaches and it has easily been the best decision I've made. Without their help I wouldn't have been able to grow my business. They gave me the clarity and focus I didn't have and I became more accountable for where my business was going.
- You will need to invest in networking and meeting people every week. Do not feel that setting up a website and selling online will be enough to sustain your business. You need to get out there and meet people. You will need to talk with many entrepreneurs, ideally those who have succeeded and those who have failed. Some of these contacts will inevitably add to your own business as customers, suppliers, referrals or mentors. When you also partake in networking events it is easier to position yourself in the mind of your marketplace as THE EXPERT. As an expert you are able to command higher fees – work less and make more! Want to learn more about how networking can help build your personal brand? Then read my blog here.
- Write out a powerful business plan. A business plan is a road map. It brings clarity and direction to all business owners. Not to mention its an important tool when you go to the bank for financing. It's a tool for understanding how your company works. You can use it to monitor progress, hold yourself accountable as well as control and plan resources effectively.
- You must start small and grow. Famous artist Vincent Van Gogh said "Great things are done by a series of small things brought together ". This saying is so true. If possible, self-fund your startup and then go for funding when you have worked out all the kinks and have a system that runs pretty well automated. I did this initially. Poured all my savings into opening this business, made mistakes but understand now exactly how to make money. Starting small will allow you to break up your product/service offering into smaller pieces, work and modify them. You can fund the early stages and get some traction and experience which is necessary when you move your business from second gear into third and forth.
- Don't leave your day job unless you are in a position to do. So you have a fantastic idea for a new business. Or you are frustrated in your day job and want to jump completely into your side hustle. Should you quit your job? The situation varies from individual to individual, but before you take that plunge please make sure you have a consistent income. This income should be covering ALL the operational expenses to run your business and should be supporting your personal lifestyle comfortably. One of the greatest benefits of a 9 to 5 for me was that I used any extra money I had to invest into my new company. Instead of taking out a huge loan, I paid for capital items piece by piece making adjustments to my business plan as I went along. Even though you’re launching your own business, remember that you still have certain obligations with your current employer. You need to always be on time and complete assignments in a timely manner and within deadlines. If you are able to balance both your current job and your passion with integrity and grace, you will be setting up yourself for a great take off.
- Make sure you understand your customers' needs and that you are selling them solutions. If its one thing I've learnt in the last 4 years is that customers buy solutions...they fulfill needs and if you don't immediately tap into this you will struggle to make sales. Successful businesses are those companies that identify who their customers are and what they want, build relationships with them and work to bring in new customers with similar profiles and characteristics. Understanding your customers helps you to sell more. The more you know about them and their likes and dislikes, the easier it is to identify opportunities to sell them new and existing products and target them with appropriate offers. For more information on understanding your customer, check out my blog here.
- You will not immediately become rich. I have seen and heard alot of people leap into entrepreneurship with the MAIN goal of attaining personal wealth and riches. What happens very quickly is that they lose heart when faced with the inevitable setbacks. Trust me, entrepreneurship is no walk in the park but my love for the freedom that it will bring my family and I is the overriding reason why I do it all day, everyday. You need to think of your business as not a job, or a get-rich-quick scheme but a journey.
- Ugggh!!! You need to get up earlier. I struggle with this everyday because I am NOT a morning person. When running a business it may seem like there are never enough hours in the day. Tapping into the power of mornings, a time of day when there are less demands and less distractions, might be the key to increasing the sales of your product or service not to mention it can improve your productivity.
- Focus most of your time doing the MOST important thing first. Do you put your first things first? It's really easy to get distracted in your business. I mean, just doing updates on social media may turn into mere hours because you can start reading articles, saving items to view later, checking out competitors sites etc.... This is not always productive; especially when you have a lot on your plate. This is a dirty trap that many entrepreneurs fall into where they neglect the larger business priorities until it becomes too late to act on them. Here's my rule of thumb to help keep myself on track: a) Focus solely on things that drive growth b) Do the hardest thing first & c) Forget having or making everything perfect.
There are so many moving parts that go into starting a business, and you will quickly realize just how hard it is to make sure that everything is properly taken care of. But do not lose faith when you go through those rough batches. Remember the reasons why you got into business in the first place....
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Debbie-Ann Jollie is a marketing communications executive with more than 10 years experience creating marketing strategies and promotional campaigns for a diverse array of corporate clients and first time entrepreneurs.