The journey to become a successful business owner isn't smooth one. It's filled with bumps, forks, and unexpected detours.
Surprisingly, most business owners wouldn't have it any other way. It's a badge of honor that we proudly display.
That doesn't mean that there have been mistakes that I wish I hadn't made. Not that I'm embarrassed. These mistakes have helped me get to where I am today. It's just that if I could have prevented them, the journal could have been just a bit smoother and less stressful.
With that in mind, here are 10 things that I wish I knew before I launched my own business.
1. Running the business is always the top priority.
Perhaps the biggest misconception about starting your own business is that you're only focused on chasing your passion. In other words, you're not just going to be making handmade jewelry, cooking on your own food truck, or designing websites 24/7. That's maybe going to consume 15% of your time.
Instead, you're going to spend a bulk of your time on developing business strategies, marketing, selling, interacting with customers, and doing administrative tasks like bookkeeping, invoicing, and payroll. In short, you're a business owner first and then a web designer, chef, or creator of handmade jewelry.
I know this isn't what you signed-up for, but the sooner you realize this fact, the sooner you'll be able to launch and maintain a successful business.
2. It's about helping others, not turning a profit.
While you obviously need to turn a profit, that's not your goal. Your focus should be on helping your customers solve a problem or make their lives better. You could be an extremely knowledgeable consultant, but if you're just preoccupied with making money, how is that going to benefit your clients in the long-run? It's not. And, you're going to deliver mediocre results.
When I started my payments company Due it wasn't just because I thought it was a way to beef-up my bank account. It was because I was looking for an easier and more affordable way to my fellow freelancers and small business owners to send and receive money - a problem I personally experienced.
Once you realize that it's not about you, or how much money is flowing into your bank, you'll start delivering a superior product or service, which will attract more customers. And, when you have more customers, the more income you'll generate.
3. The importance of cash flow management.
Make no mistake about it. Cash flow is the lifeblood of your business. When you don't properly manage your cash flow you end up spending more money that you're bringing in. And, how long can you expect to stay-in-business when you don't have enough money to pay your necessary expenses?
The most effective way to manage your cash flow is by creating a budget and justifying every expense so that you know exactly where your hard-earned money is going.
4. The odds are stacked against me, and that's alright.
You've probably heard this time and time again. But, most businesses are going to fail. So, what steps are you going to take to at least decrease those odds?
There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach, but you should consider doing something like keeping your current job for as long as you can. This gives you time to build an emergency fund, conduct market research, and start gaining some traction. Even when it's to make to take that giant leap you need to hire the right team and constantly develop your skills.
Even if your business fails, it's not the end of the world. At least you've gained new skills, experiences, and have learned from your mistakes so that you can come back even stronger.
5. It's lonely.
Think about the jobs you've held down in the past. Whether if it was flipping burgers in a restaurant or as an accountant at a large accounting firm there was a sense of community since you and your co-workers were all in it together. That's not the case when you start your own business. It's just you and you alone. Every decision and responsibility fall on your shoulders. And that's a heavy, lonesome burden to carry.
Having a co-founder or business partner can lessen that burden and make the journey not as lonely, but if you're not in that position then you should build a safety net. It could be your spouse, family, best friend, or other business owners who are going through the same experience as you. You're going to need them for advice, emotional support, and the occasional venting session.
6. Activity doesn't equal growth.
What do you consider growth? Is it all of the fancy features that you just added to your product? Is it the swanky new office or 20 new employees? Is it the glowing review you just received in a leading industry publication?
All of that is great. But it doesn't constitute growth.
Growth means that you're building a product and adding customers. That's it.
7. A part-time gig gives you peace of mind.
This may sound counterproductive after all, doesn't this distract from your top priority since it divides your attention? Not when it gives you peace of mind.
Remember, successful businesses don't happen overnight. It takes time. And during that period there will be times when money isn't coming through the door. For me, that meant countless sleepless night worrying about how I was going to pay this bill or questioning my business decisions. How could I be productive and focused the next morning?
Having a second gig, like freelancing or delivering pizza on the weekends, alleviates some of that financial stress so that you aren't distracted.
8. Optimize, outsource, and automate whatever you can.
Entrepreneurs have the mindset that they have to do everything on their own. Not only is that a one-way ticket to Burnoutville, it's just bad for business. I mean if you can't design a logo or loathe accounting why you would put energy in those tasks? Your time would be better spent doing the tasks that you enjoy and are capable of handling.
Better yet. A majority of these tasks can now be outsourced and automated. For example, you can hire freelance writers, accountants, or graphic designers on sites like Upwork, Guru, Fiverr, and SimplyHired. Besides outsourcing tasks to freelancers, there is no shortage of tools that can automate most of your marketing needs, like communicating and retaining customers.
9. Engage with your audience.
Your customers don't want to do business with some faceless, nameless organization. They want to know that there's an actual person on the other end. Someone who will respond to their inquiries and understand their pain points.
Engaging with your audience is one of the most important tasks that business owners must work on. Instead of hiding in an office and never interacting with your customers, respond personally to comments left on forums, blog posts, social media channels, review sites, and emails. Speak at industry events and mingle afterward. Talk to potential customers when waiting for a flight.
This gives you insights on what you're customers are really looking for, as well as builds trust between you and your customers and establishes you as an authority figure.
10. Don't forget to have fun.
I know what you're thinking. Why take a vacation or play hooky on a Friday afternoon so that you go hiking with friends when you have so much work to do?
Because you need to enjoy life. It keeps you sane. Helps you refocus and come up with new ideas to solve problems. Recharges your batteries when you're drained. And can be used to celebrate your small victories.
Simply put. Don't work yourself to death. It's not good for the health of either you or your business.
Final words of advice.
Even if you follow the advice listed above that doesn't mean that you're going to be mistake-free when starting your business. Every business owner will encounter their own specific set of problems to overcome - which means there are going to be plenty of instances of trial and error.
However, by not repeating some of the same mistakes that I've made in the past you're increasing your chances of survival - or at least reducing the amount of stress in your life!
What advice would you offer new business owners?