5 Lessons Learned from my First Year as an Entrepreneur

Although my first year as an entrepreneur was over 10 years ago, I'll never forget it. My partners and I were struggling to turn Infusionsoft into a viable company, and it wasn't going well.

The challenge was something I thought I was ready for, but I didn't know the struggles that would come. From taxing family relationships to facing professional obstacles I had no idea how to overcome, it was a struggle in every sense of the word.

The good news is that I made it out the other end, and I've dedicated myself to help other struggling small business owners avoid some of the pitfalls I faced when launching a business. There are countless lessons I learned in my first year as an entrepreneur, but the five below were the most profound.

1. The mental and emotional cost is 100 times higher than you think.

When you're starting a business, you have to go into it understanding how much struggle is coming. Along with that, you have to be in control of your emotions or they'll put you out of business.

My advice is to read inspirational materials and always review positive customer comments. Working on positive thinking and optimism can go a long way to help you through challenging times. The key is to recognize that you are in a battle, and mental and emotional balance is No. 1.

2. Doing it all yourself is a bad thing.

If you think you are the one to do it all, you're doomed. And if you think you can do it all better than anyone else, you're digging your own grave.

To get over this challenge, stop doing things you don't do well--outsource and delegate. Most business owners understand this concept with accounting, but they don't recognize that they're not good at something like graphic design, for example. If they do it themselves, they're wasting time.

Make a list of all the activities that you do as a business owner, and honestly assess whether you are an expert, competent or incompetent. I call it the ICE exercise. Put stuff you are not good at on ICE and farm it out. It's easy to start small when it comes to spending on outside help. Lean on friends and family for small projects and grow from there.

3. Separate personal and business expenses

This seems obvious from the outside looking in, but it's not so simple when you're starting a business and the only funding you have is your own personal cash.

But once you're business is up and running, you'll find yourself and your family in a big mess if you're not separating the personal from the business expenses. Most importantly, you need to have a clear view of how well the business is doing, and that's almost impossible if your personal expenses are wrapped up in that.

As an added bonus, if you're brutally honest about the real costs of your business, it will put a fire in your belly to sell. That leads to No. 4.

4. Sell, sell and sell some more

I see this constantly with entrepreneurs and it drives me nuts: Stop waiting for your product to sell itself. YOU have to go sell it.

Don't be embarrassed by selling. So many entrepreneurs don't make it out of the initial phase of their business because they don't learn to sell. Ask for that credit card number. Remember, selling is serving. You recognize the people who need your product or service. Selling is helping others recognize how much their lives will improve if they buy from you.

5. Take time to have fun

I can tell you from experience that it feels like you cannot take one second away when you're starting a business. In reality, that's just not true.

Schedule your time to have fun and stick to it. Make time for friends, family and fun, and don't let the business swallow all your time and lead you to neglect relationships. What they say about taking time to "re-charge your batteries" really is true. By taking some time away from business for fun, it will be easier to focus on the business when you're back at work.

There's nothing that can fully prepare you for that first year of starting up a business, but the more you know before you launch, the better you'll be.

Don't hesitate to listen to the war stories of people who have done it before. They know the challenge you're about to face, and they want to help make a very difficult task a little bit easier.

Published on: Dec 10, 2015