Everyone has a different journey to entrepreneurship, but what’s common is the lessons we learn as we build our online businesses and solidify our status as successful entrepreneurs.
There are certain lessons I wish someone had just told me about so I could avoid making the mistakes I did – some which cost me dearly. But there are others that I just would not have grasped unless I lived through them.
Here are nine hard-hitting lessons that I learned as a new entrepreneur that will hopefully help you on this new journey.
1. You’re not an island
It’s so easy to believe that no one is as passionate about business as you are. You have been riding on the high of finally converting an idea to reality, you forget that so many persons have walked this path before and can offer valuable insight if you only but allow them.
However, many new entrepreneurs, unknowingly refuse access and assistance because they think that no one can catch their vision and share their passion.
Parts of this may be true. You may have more passion for your business than anyone else. As a matter of fact, you should!
However, that doesn’t negate the fact that others are willing to buy into your dream and help you to successfully launch. Furthermore, you don’t know anything. Every business, new or otherwise makes use of specialized skills. You can’t be everywhere and do everything. You need people.
Understanding this will affect how you operate and the items you budget. Whilst you have a working knowledge of websites, you may need to budget for a professional website builder to customize your site based on your business model or offer.
If you are in a place where you still don’t trust your vision with a great many persons, then ask reliable and competent family and friends to help you get started. Just don’t go at it alone.
2. Your product or service must fill a need
The main reason people spend a copious amount of time on search engines is to find suitable answers to their queries. If your entry into your niche market does not solve a problem, you are setting up yourself for failure.
Before entering into the market, you should have already defined your niche and intimately know their pain points. Your product or service should then be targeted at offering relief. Remember, customers don’t buy products, they pay for solutions.
3. Celebrate the small victories
Starting and maintaining a business can be taxing; physically, emotionally and financially. In addition to dedicating long hours to creating a solid foundation, you will have to sacrifice many things to achieve success.
This is why it is important to acknowledge every victory you and your team achieve each step of the journey. Celebrating your victories is a critical step in tracking incremental achievements and working toward bigger goals. Plus, it is definitely a morale booster.
And science backs this up. When we accomplish something, the reward center in the brain becomes activated, allowing us to feel a sense of accomplishment. The neurochemical dopamine is realised which energizes us with feel good emotions and helps us to experience the feeling of getting rewarded.
The brain can get hooked on this feeling, encouraging us to want more.
4. Ask the important questions before you start
This is a crucial one. So many new entrepreneurs base the viability of their business on the hunch that they have a great product that everyone will like. You are wrong.
You think chocolate-covered grapes will be a hit because you accidentally created it while trying to make milkshakes one day.
So you’ve built your entire business plan around this new, tasty (in your opinion) snack. However, chocolate has been getting a bad rap in the media lately, being blamed for obesity and other health-related issues.
- Do you still think you have a winning product?
- How large is your potential market for chocolate-covered grapes?
- Who are your competitors and are you entering the market with a similar but improved product?
- Considering what you know about your competitors, is there any part of the business model that needs improvement?
These are questions you need to ask before you launch your product and create social media profiles for your new business. Coerce friends and family to try your product and get their feedback. Then broaden your scope to target groups that will give you an unbiased assessment.
5. One is the loneliest number
It takes a great many hours and focused attention when you’re just starting your business. This may alienate friends who can’t understand why you no longer come to meet up parties on Fridays or always seem to be stuck behind your computer. Be prepared to say goodbye to these colleagues.
Over the span of 20 years, I have lost quite a few friends who didn’t see my vision or couldn’t understand what it took to build my business. I do miss them but I have gained new friends who share my passions and dedication to operating a successful business.
6. Think about your customers as long-term engagements
No one goes into business to fail. Therefore, one of your foremost goals is to retain your clients or customers as long as you are in business.
Keep this in mind when you are creating your pricing structure. Rather than ask one customer to pay $60, why not ask 3 to pay $20? If all your customers contribute regularly, you’ve assured longevity in your industry.
7. Work on product changes incrementally
One huge mistake I made in starting my company, was envisioning the end product and all its capabilities and constantly tweaking the product or a part of the sales process solely based on my opinions and expectations. That proved to be a waste of time and certainly resources. I almost went broke trying to fix a problem that probably didn’t even exist!
Before you make changes to your product or service, do a poll of your customers and get their feedback. Allow that feedback to guide your decisions and test each change against your customers’ expectations and not yours.
8. Sales are your brand’s lifeblood – act like it
I knew from the start of my businessthat I needed ongoing sales if this business was to succeed. It wasn’t rocket science. What I didn’t factor was my involvement in that process. I considered myself the thinker, constantly tweaking the process and product but not engaging with customers. I outsourced my entire sales and marketing, excusing myself from the process so I could have the time to brainstorm.
It wasn’t until sales got critically low that I started paying attention. What was my team selling and how did my customers perceive my product?
Desperate to get answers, I picked up the phone one day and started calling my customers. I was shocked by the answers I got. My customers were not being told how the product could benefit them and they didn’t know me enough to trust my products.
That experience was an eye-opener. I decided to get involved in the sales process, talking to clients on the phone, in person and via email marketing.
I also ramped up marketing efforts, ensuring that customers saw me and knew my name. Did it work? You bet! 18 months on, we’re still going strong with 15% of returning buyers.
9. Trim the fat
My company started witha pen and a computer in a small room in my house. As soon as the business started making profits, I moved into an office, forcing my team members to join me. I thought it was great having everyone under the same roof plus it made me feel like more of a boss than working from home. I would soon learn that the cushy office came with bills that ate away at my profits.
A lot of new entrepreneurs believe that success is measured by their ability to leave the basement for a more suitable corporate office. Nothing could be further from the truth. I know of business owners who are making a lot of money from their basement and kitchen counters. The world is steadily moving toward virtual workspaces with team members scattered across towns, regions and even continents.
Trim the fat on your budget. If the current location works for you and your team, then get comfortable.
Another fat that you may have to trim is employees who don’t have the skills best suited for your company or goals. In the early days of business, I spent more time dealing with the mistakes of incompetent employees than securing customers.
The worst part is, I kept them as a part of the business for so long that my good employees started to adopt the practices of the bad ones.
As soon as I let them go, my team culture changed. We began to recognize greater productivity and harmony in our processes.
Tip: You can always hire virtual assistants, instead of getting full-time employees when starting out!
Don’t be afraid to let go of team members who are not assisting in getting your business to the goals you laid out. They may not be bad employees overall, just unsuitable for your business.
While the lessons were indeed hard to learn, they have helped me to grow as an entrepreneur and given me greater insights into running a successful business. What challenges have you faced as a business owner that has cemented unforgettable lessons? Tell us in the comments below!
– Jerry, CEO of ExE