When starting a business, there’s so much to learn and so much to be done. My first business was something I ran part-time from the age of 18 and I really didn’t know what I was doing. But in 1998, when I decided to earn my full-time income from my own home-based business, I spent many, many hours researching to make sure I did everything right.
From business registration and finding out what licenses were needed; Workers’ Compensation and various insurances; business cards, letterhead (and all sorts of other pretty stationery, all professionally designed by a graphic designer); office equipment; bookkeeping, accounting and legal advice; etc, etc, etc.
While these all seemed like worthwhile things to research and make appropriate arrangements for at the time, in hindsight, many hours and dollars were wasted on things that weren’t really that important.
Sure, you need to make sure you’re meeting all of your legal and professional requirements. That’s important and can cost a lot more time and money if you don’t do this right.
But there were so many other things I focused on that were not leading to my business’ growth or profits – or anything of much worthwhile.
So I’m now sharing the top 10 things I wish I had known before I started my business, so they might help you to focus on the right things:
Statistics show that people tend to be more successful when they spend more time with successful people than with those who aren’t. Similarly, if you spend more time with wealthy people, you’re more likely to be wealthy yourself. The same goes for health and many other areas of our lifestyle.
Plus, there will be times when it’s tough, when you’ll wonder if it’s all worthwhile. These are the times when those you surround yourself with are going to be more important than ever.
On the other hand, if you spend too much time with negative people or those who doubt your abilities, people who complain and blame others or are draining in any other way, you tend to pick up on their habits and energy too.
Sometimes this is unavoidable. But make sure you consciously decide who you hang out with when you do have a choice.
Don’t try to re-invent the wheel. Look at who has already succeeded in the area you’re planning on being successful in. When it comes to starting a business, who already has a successful business, possibly even within your industry?
Can you learn from them, either as a mentor or just by seeing what they do and how they do it?
What habits do they have?
What made their business so successful?
How can you apply that to your business (or your life in general)?
This is a biggie. The sooner you can begin creating systems and implementing them into your business, the better. By doing so, you can ensure consistency in the way you do things.
If you have staff (whether employees, freelancers or contractors), these systems will make sure that everyone who does a particular role – now or in the future – will know how it’s done.
Plus, if ever you decide to sell or franchise your business in the future, having good systems in place will increase its value greatly!
Whatever you do, don’t try to do everything yourself. The truth is, no matter how skilled you are or how quickly you can learn something, nobody is great at everything. If you’re serious about growing your business and making it profitable, without spending every waking moment working in your business (and some while you’re asleep!) then you must let others help.
As soon as you’re able to, build a team so that each member can focus on what they do best while you focus on managing your business. If you particularly love a task, that’s okay for you to continue doing. But simply don’t try to do it all.
Marketing is not just advertising. There are so many other aspects including branding, awareness and PR (public relations). Good marketing is crucial to successfully running a business. When I first started my business I thought this would cost a fortune and needed to be done by a marketing expert.
That’s not the case at all.
I also spent a lot of money on branding and having all the right business cards, stationery, signage, and so on.
While this can be worthwhile, initially it doesn’t need to be a high priority. I know some people will disagree with me here, but this is what my experience has shown me. If you don’t have the budget for flash branding and marketing material just now, that’s okay. Give attention to the things that are going to get you happy customers first and you can add the bells and whistles later.
It costs less to market your products and services to existing customers than it does to find new customers. That doesn’t mean you ignore finding new customers – that still needs to be done. But while you’re making new connections and building those relationships, don’t forget about your existing customers.
Look after them and keep in touch with them.
Not only are they likely to use your products or services in the future, should they need them, but they’re also likely to recommend you to others.
You might even want to consider implementing loyalty and referral programs to reward these VIP customers.
Throughout your life you’ll come across people who love to tell you what you can’t do and why you can’t do it. I call these people the dream-stealers. You know the ones… where you’ll come up with a great idea, share it with the world and then someone will tell you why it’s a bad idea.
Sometimes these people are negative and won’t like anything you suggest.
Other times it’s simply their way of protecting you. They’re worried that you might get hurt. Perhaps you’ll lose money and end up embarrassed because your venture doesn’t work. Perhaps it won’t. But you’ll never know if you don’t try, right?
Be careful also of the hidden dream-stealer. We all have this person in our lives and we can’t see them, but we hear them often. This is that little voice in your head. The one that tells you you’re not good enough or that people will laugh at you. This voice is often loudest when we’re having a not-so-great day or when we’re tired or under pressure.
When the dream-stealers get you down, where possible, go back to Point 1, above. Let the positive, successful people remind you that you CAN do this if you truly want to. Don’t let others tell you otherwise.
As long as you believe in yourself, you can find the answers, learn more, become more … but don’t let others determine your abilities.
It’s easy to feel we need to accept every job or opportunity that comes our way, especially when our business is new. But this is not the case. It doesn’t hurt to be a little picky.
If you have the opportunity to work with a new client but your gut is tied up in knots and telling you to run a mile, listen to your instincts. By all means, ask yourself if you’re just scared because this is a new client or something you’re not completely confident in. It may be that you should push through that fear and do it anyway, otherwise you’ll be turning away more work than you accept.
But if it’s more that the potential new client is arrogant, rude or somehow dodgy, trust your gut. It’s usually right.
I’ve become very fussy and prefer to work with people I get along with. (Perhaps that’s why so many of my clients have become friends too). I am clear on the type of people I like to work with and those whom I feel would not benefit from working with my team and myself. Plus, although there’s a lot of things we (my team and I) can do, we tend to turn away projects that aren’t in line with what we offer or things where we feel we don’t have enough expertise.
A friend of mine is a freelance copywriter and she has a number of industries that she will not write for, no matter how much she might need the money. Some are drawn from her personal values, while others are based on past experiences within those industries.
It took myself and this friend a long time to get to this point of knowing when to say no, and sometimes we still get it wrong. But just know that you can say “no” to customers or jobs if you choose to.
Whatever you do, please, please don’t wait before everything is perfect before starting a business, launching your website or product or service or anything else for that matter.
Nothing is every perfect!
You can spend months – maybe even years – perfecting something but before you know it you’ll see something else you can do better. It’s important to take action now, then perfect as you go.
I’m not saying it’s okay to sell a dodgy product or launch a website that’s full of place-holder text and broken links. But sometimes, “okay” is good enough. You can get started now and make improvements along the way. Otherwise, there’s a high risk that you’ll never move forward because “it” (whatever “it” may be in this instance) will never be perfect.
It’s only natural to make mistakes. You will make mistakes and so will your team members and your customers. We all do. Don’t beat yourself up over it, nor others.
Depending on the circumstances, the main things are that you accept responsibility for your – or your business’ – errors. Then take action to fix the problem and learn from it. Is there anything you can do to prevent this error from happening again? If so, implement changes, checks, systems, double-checks or whatever that may be. If you’re not sure what to do, get help if need be.
Starting a business should be an exciting time. There’s much to do and no doubt many things you’ll learn and do differently along the way. Hopefully my 10 tips above of the things I wish I knew before starting a business will help you to shortcut some of these pitfalls.
If you have any other suggestions of what you wish you knew before starting your business, please share them in the comments below. You never know, it may help someone else along the way … and it’s always good karma to help others.
Donna-Marie is an award-winning Entrepreneur, Author and Content Marketing Specialist. Through her business, Jacaranda Business Support Services, she has been helping other small businesses to grow since 1998, with a knack for teaching systems that allow business owners to increase profits while working less.