Starting a business is hard. But you probably already knew that. One of the things that is hardest, by far, is figuring out things now so that you won't regret it later. It's hard to know what you don't know, which means it's hard to make decisions when you don't know what you're supposed to be deciding. You're just trying to figure out what to do next, not what to do about the next decade.

Fortunately, there are a few decisions you can make now, when you're just starting, that will definitely make things easier later. In fact, you absolutely should make these intentional choices now since you still can't go back in time (though I suspect Elon Musk is working on that).

And even if it's already later, it's never too late to think hard about these five questions.

Trust me, you'll regret it if you don't.

1. Why do this?

You have a lot of choices in life. You could spend your days doing any number of things, so, of all the things you could do with your life, why do this? 

It might seem like a loaded question -- that's because it is. I'm not saying you have to figure out your entire life plan before launching your big idea into the world. I am, however, suggesting that you give some thought to why you want to build a business. 

Many entrepreneurs get into business because they love whatever it is they built their business around. They love designing cakes, or planning events, or building technology that changes people lives. 

What isn't always obvious up front is that starting a business is usually about 30 percent the part you're passionate about, and 70 percent pure grinding away at everything else. 

2. How will you grow personally?

You've probably created a business plan to help guide your efforts to grow your business, but what about you? Think about it, the best leaders are self-aware enough to realize that their business will often be limited by their own capacity to lead. 

Be intentional up front about what you'll do to grow, whether that's committing to take time off to re-balance, finding a mentor or business coach, or even a more structured path like additional education or training. 

You won't magically have more time for this later, so start out right by being intentional about it now. Otherwise, you'll find yourself taking more dramatic steps later when you reach burnout.

3. How will you stay accountable?

Building a business means that you are a steward. Sure, when you start a business, it belongs to you. You own it, and you're often the one who is primarily responsible for making it happen. 

Over time that changes, and you build a team, or take on investors. You build a base of customers who often depend on you and your products or services. You become accountable to other people, but it's easy to think that it still all belongs to you. 

Even if you are the sole owner, you're no longer the sole stakeholder. Other people's lives depend on what you do, and how you handle the business, and you owe it to them -- and to yourself -- to be intentional about accountability now, before it's too late. And it's a lot easier to build those structures now, before you need them. 

4. How will you keep the main thing as the main thing?

Your business shouldn't be the main thing in your life. It just shouldn't.

That doesn't mean you won't devote countless amounts of your time, your resources, and your labor to building something that will last; But it shouldn't be the only thing, or even the most important. 

Your business should exist to add value to your life, and to the lives of your customers. Adding value to your life means giving you the kind of life you want -- that's the main thing. Everything else is about staying focused on that goal. 

5. What's your exit strategy?

Consider, for a moment, what comes after you're done building this business. Are you building it so that you can cash out at some point, whether through a sale or by eventually going public? Or, do you plan to work at it until you can't work anymore and pass it down through your family? 

Regardless of what you decide, it absolutely makes sense to start thinking about it now. The choice you make will affect how you handle any number of decisions later one.

And you'll definitely regret it later if you wake up one day and decide you wouldn't mind doing something different, but never gave much thought to your exit strategy.

Published on: Jul 24, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.