I started my business eight years ago. I told my wife that we'd make this a year by year thing fully expecting it to be a one-year experiment.
1. There will never be "the right time"
My wife and I were already legal guardians for two kids and were starting our own family planning for two more. To deal with the growing kid load, my wife was going to stay at home full time. My mother-in-law was living with us on and off for six months of the year. My dad was chronically sick, and my mom and sister needed support.
I was going to leave my comfortable VP job now to launch something as tenuous as my own business?
Over the last eight years, though, a myriad of unforeseen new life events have occurred that could easily have been excuses to not start then either.
If I had waited for the right time, I might never have done it.
2. Start with a safety net
I ran the first year of the business while still fully employed. Some call it moonlighting. I prefer to call it working with a safety net.
That safety net gave me the time I needed to get enough in place to feel confident that I could do this. It let me build upon a solid relationship with my one client that spurred more work going into year two. It let me test my business development capabilities and even pick up another client so I didn't feel like a one-trick pony.
And most importantly, it let me do those things without pressure.
3. You don't have to be a natural born salesperson
I'm an introvert, and I grew up buying into the myth that introverts can't be good at business development.
I came home one day and proudly told my wife that "my sales strategy is that I don't sell." It sounded ridiculous, but it was getting at the idea that I would just focus on the highest quality work and the highest quality relationships. And it worked.
I did business development in a way that felt comfortable for me.
4. A few really good relationships can go a long way
I'll never be the last guy at the bar at the networking event. There's actually a 90% chance that I won't even attend the networking event.
What I've learned is that a few really strong relationships blow a bunch of surface level relationships out of the water. Those few strong relationships built my business.
5. It's OK to take a conference call in the closet
Or your car parked in the driveway that's still running for an hour with the air conditioning on because it's ridiculously hot outside. Or the bathroom. Or any other place you never thought you'd be talking business.
A few years into my business, I had a meeting with another entrepreneur who did similar work. He said that he and his partner decided it was time to get out of the garage and into a nice office to step up their business presence and that I should consider doing the same.
I opted out.
I've continued to take my share of business calls in weird places, but my P&L shows a lot more on the bottom line. For a business trying to grow from nothing, those extra dollars have been a big deal. It all comes down to legitimate expenses that impact your business versus those that make you feel legitimized but chip away at your profits.
6. Set really simple goals
Don't be lured in by the glamorous prospect of being a disruptive force in the industry or blowing up the traditional paradigm (or other glorified things we all hear all the time).
My goals were almost remedial. My year one goal was to keep my only client and get one more client. Year two was similar. So was year three. By the time year four rolled around, I actually had a legitimate and sustainable business.
7. Don't be lured by the temptation of "rapid growth"
I wasn't, but then it happened. Years four through six were an absolute blur. I swung at every pitch that was thrown my way, and hit them all.
Revenue growth was huge those years, but I nearly buried myself in the process and came within inches of going completely off the rails.
Rapid growth sounds validating. From having lived it, slow and steady is much more sustainable.
8. Contingency plan until the cows come home
Things don't always materialize in the best case scenario. I spend a huge amount of my time thinking about "if-then" scenarios. That continuous planning has kept me going through the good times, but it has been vital in keeping me alive in the not so good times.