When striking out on your own as an entrepreneur there are many different ways to learn things. The most common way that an entrepreneur learns things is quite frankly, “learning as they go along”.
“Learning along the way” is not necessarily a bad thing as one of the key characteristics that almost any successful entrepreneur must have is the ability to be proactive and stay on the right path even in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty. If you start your own business then that means that there is no boss that will tell you how to accomplish the task as you quite often you must learn along the way and many times learn the hard way.
Here 5 Things I Learned After Starting 5 Companies:
#1 Never Ignore Sales & Marketing
As a Certified Financial Planner™ and someone who gets much more excited about building a new website then (gasp) actually talking to someone I will be the first to tell you that I had long held somewhat of a disdain for sales and marketing. As is common with many who hold different technical skill sets it seemed quite natural to look down upon the softer skill sets like sales and marketing.
When starting my first business I learned very quickly that no matter what type of business you are in – if you are a small business owner then you had better be good at sales and marketing. It all struck me one day when I saw an advertisement in a magazine that promised to help train CPA’s and attorneys on how to be better sales people.
“Wait a minute… even lawyers and accountants need to be able to sell potential clients on the value that they can offer!” It was as if the proverbial light bulb flicked on at that point. No matter what type of business you start you will need to either be very good at sales, partner or hire someone who is good at sales, or even better develop a sales system that will market and make sales for you (i.e. a website, lead generation system, etc. For example, I recently built websites that housed tons of credit card reviews and insurance quotes. Does that mean that I want to actually talk to people face to face about insurance plans or credit cards? No, and thanks to a marketing system in the form of a website those websites can help people learn as much as they want about those types of financial products without me being physically involved or even present)
#2 Build Systems that can Scale (with or without You)
If your business falls apart when you are not around then your business model is not all that impressive. My #1 goal is evaluating any type of business idea is if I can systematize the business process so that it can run on its own and it can scale easily. If you have a special skill set and can make a lot of money doing a certain type of work then that is great BUT your income will always be dependent upon how many hours you are able to work every day. It’s much better to build a great business system that works with or without you because then if you want to grow then you can always hire more people, right?
#3 Plan Big but Start Small
I have learned that it’s smart to plan big but start small. What do I mean by that? One of the biggest problems that trips up many would be entrepreneurs is that they have so many big plans and ideas that they are constantly talking about what they want to do and yet they never actually step out and DO anything! It’s great to have big plans to target a huge market and take on might competitors but don’t let your grand ambitions keep you from taking that first step.
#4 Make Your New Business Your Second Job
I am a big subscriber to the 37 Signals philosophy of bootstrapping a new company rather than attempting to raise great amounts of money. One great way to start out cheap and to minimize the risk of failure if your new business idea doesn’t pan out is to simply keep working at your day job and then treat your new business as a second job. This means that if you regularly work 9-5 for “the man” then keep doing so but just work evenings and weekends on your business to test out your business model.
#5 Don’t Reinvent the Wheel for Periphery
It can be tempting to try and create a solution from scratch for every non core business problem that you come across. However, it is really the best use of your time (and/or money) to code a CMS from scratch to manage your website rather than just using an great out of the box solution like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal? The same should be true for all other areas of your business. Focus your time and effort on building up your core business model and don’t waste time building everything from scratch for the periphery of your business.
What About YOU?
What things have YOU learned after starting a company?
About the author
Joel Ohman is a Certified Financial Planner™ and serial entrepreneur. Some of his most recent web based projects include a website for reviewing car insurance companies and a website full of easy to use financial calculators.