Making mistakes is a great way to learn.
Making mistakes is also not fun.
It's a lot better--and a lot more fun--to avoid making mistakes, which is actually pretty easy if you decide you'll learn from mistakes that other people make.
So that's why I talked with Ed Reeves, co-founder and director of Moneypenny, the market-leading telephone answering specialists, with offices in the U.S., U.K., and New Zealand. (Instead of having random people in a massive call center answer your calls, Moneypenny assigns one person to your account).
After graduating from college, I decided to pursue my first love: windsurfing. That was an amazing period of my life but not particularly lucrative. Then I decided I could turn my passion into a business, and a surf school and a couple of shops soon followed.
That was my first foray into the world of entrepreneurship and I learned some valuable lessons--unfortunately, the hard way--that continue to shape what I do today. Here are a few things I wish someone had told me when I first started my entrepreneurial journey:
1. Ignore your mom and dad
Do not, under any circumstance, ask your family and friends about business ideas. They care about you and can't be objective. What you need is unfiltered, honest feedback...and you'll only get that from people who don't know you.
Then, if someone says they think you have a great idea, ask if they would invest in it (even if you don't want them to).
Suddenly, their friendly smiles and kind words turn into something much more genuine...and you'll learn a whole lot more about what they really think.
2. Embrace the fact that short truly is sweet
Can you sum your business up in a few seconds?
Your business needs to be describable in one short but sweet sentence. That really is a must before you go any further. Many of the best businesses fail due to poor messaging and delivery, so it's crucial to get it right.
Don't stop until it's perfect.
3. Constantly challenge the norm
When (and this is inevitable) you're told that you can't do something, challenge it. And then challenge it again.
You can't innovate without breaking a mold or two. Don't take no for an answer and you'll invariably find that the word "can't" leads to an opportunity. Each objection you overcome is a giant leap forward, and it's those leaps that will ultimately define your business.
Sometimes rule books were made for ripping up.
4. A little arrogance is good (sometimes)
No matter what the little devil that sits on your shoulder may occasionally whisper in your ear, you are the best person in the world to lead your business.
If you don't truly believe that, no one else will. For example, would you hire an accountant who didn't seem positive he would be able to do your books on time? I doubt it.
There's nothing more disconcerting than a leader who doesn't believe in him- or herself.
Conviction will win clients and help your business succeed.
5. Forget income. Profit is everything
When it comes to business viability, profit is everything--everything.
Start by working out how much you need to earn and work backwards. Never, ever operate the other way around; it's a one-way ticket to failure.
I've talked to countless entrepreneurs who worried that doubling their margin would result in losing half their clients. Seldom is this the case, and seldom do people willingly opt for the cheapest option. Diners at a Michelin-starred restaurant don't mind waiting a little longer for their food to arrive; in fact, they'll even pay more for their meal.
The hardest business to develop is a low-margin business. Save that for after you've cut your teeth on profits.
6. Surround yourself with great people
Great people are everything. One of the best business decisions I've made as an entrepreneur is delegating the tasks I can't do (or don't enjoy) to people who are fantastic in their respective fields.
It's the oldest lesson in the book...but the first one people get wrong.
Talent spotting is a skill in its own right, and is something that every entrepreneur should seek to develop.
Surrounding yourself with brilliant people will be the key to your success.
7. Learn to surf
Setting up a business is a lot like learning to surf.
You'll start by standing at the water's edge, looking apprehensively at the huge expanse of ocean stretching in front of you. Once in the water, you'll paddle like mad to get through the shore break but get knocked back endlessly.
Then, once you're finally out there, people will tell you to catch the small waves, but you'll want to go for the biggest.
The smart surfers save their energy to ride fewer waves, choosing them carefully and riding them brilliantly.
Do that, and once you've ridden one well...you'll just want to keep going back for more.
Just like being an entrepreneur.