Single most important lesson is to keep your expenses as low as possible when your starting up, this will insure that you can last long enough to grow that seed. Once you have grown the seed to a viable business then you can spend to grow the business.
Problems are a part of business.
You have to plan. You have to keep your books. You have to build your business. You have to liaise with customers. I think a lot of new bosses see all of those things as their business, and then when a problem happens (bug, customer complaint, lose a customer) it's very stressful and disconcerting. No - problems are a part of your business - no different than keeping hot coffee brewing.
Just accept that there will always be problems, consider them part of your business, and deal with them as they arise. Don't hit the panic button every time - trust your instincts - you will now if a problem is REALLY a problem. Sometimes problems are in fact opportunities, chances to learn, etc. Just part of business.
Just one... That's tough.
If I have to give just one... Things are probably going to get really tough at some point and you likely to seriously consider giving up. Just remember, you learn more by failing than quitting so keep plodding along until you either succeed or they pull the rug out from under you. Either way, be sure to carefully review the path you took to determine where you might have been better off to change directions for future reference.
If allowed a second piece of advice... No matter how much you think you know, you know less than you realize. The key is to surround yourself with people who know more about things you don't know and who challenge your way of thinking about things you do know then listen to both.
As you go through all of the things that others have suggested -- money funding, expense management, legal agreements, intellectual capital, report cards, good clothes, etc., -- the one item that is constantly neglected -- particularly in the tough times -- are your PEOPLE. People are the most important asset. They leverage (or can mess with) everything else on the list. Don't ignore your people. Don't assume that they are inspired because you are. Lots of lessons here!
Don't be underfunded and don't leave your main job until you reach profitability, or generate enough income to sustain. if you are underfunded, the stress alone will sink you, or you won't be able to focus on any thing. An average product with big marketing dollars can succeed but the greatest of the products without sufficient marketing dollars won't go anywhere. Marketing needs as much money as you can afford to put in. That is where people underestimate and get in trouble all the time.
No matter what, keep focus on the vision and stay flexible to market dynamics.
The lesson that I have learned and that has been reinforced time after time is that you must know and understand who you are, what you want, what is your passion and how much you are willing to give in order to succeed before you make any decisions about entrepreneuring. People who do not do this are far more likely to fail. They are far more likely suffer in their career. They are also likely to search constantly for a better deal without finding the right one. Once you have the first four features in order, traditional business analysis, commitment, launch and operation systems that are readily available will help to maximize your opportunities for success. The final step is to proceed cautiously and fearlessly. Pursuit of learning and living what is right for you and pursuing your passion intelligently and without fear is the most important lesson that I would like to pass along.
This is probably nothing of what you expected for an answer, but my best suggestion would be to invest in good clothes. Far too many budding entrepreneurs think that being an entrepreneur means fulfilling the image of showing up to important meetings wearing a golf shirt.
I recently read "The Magic of Believing" and his advice is to buy half as much while spending twice as much. Also, the story of "The Psychology of Good Clothes" in Napoleon Hill's "The Law of Success" is a must read - it's in the chapter on enthusiasm.
Having the right image not only impresses others favorably, but it creates a strong impression on YOUR mind and gives you a feeling and persona of power you can't get otherwise.
Having started 5 companies, performed financial turn-arounds and currently assisting small companies to thrive in a harsh economy - the biggest challenges I see business owners succumb to are: 1) Neglect the intellectual capital around them missing out on viable experience which would shorten their learning curve which is critical. 2) They are working IN their business, not ON their business. When Finders are Minding or Grinding their business - it inevitably shrinks. Stay focused on growing your organization and pioneering innovation. 3) They don't pay attention to their report card which are their financials. This tells a business owner what happens in their company from when the lights are turned on in the morning to when they are turned off at night. 4) They pay too much for too little. Again, tap into the intellectual experience in your circle to ensure you are rightsizing your expenses and paying attention to your top line. - - Danita Harn, Harn and Associates
I would agree with Rick. I have been involved with a few start-ups since the economy went backwards. I lost my job as a consultant for a major world-wide bank. I could not find a job after almost a year 1 /2 of looking and I had to do something. I then started a business with client who became a friend. However, we had agreements but he would always say that I was a partner with him as far as he was concerned.. However, every time I asked him for this paperwork he kept on saying, he is working on it, it will be done soon. Well he never did get it to me and I ran out of money. I had to stop doing what we were doing. That was the worse 2 years of my life, as I wish I had money saved to do this, but I didn't. I also thought because he was a friend I would get a % of the company, but found out later that no, he never "said that" . So lesson learned.
I echo the comments by Steve Meyer and Danita Harn. I, too, have helped lots of small companies get started and some larger ones get focused. The underlying objectives I try to encourage are to 1.) have a clear vision of the goal and know that the route to achievement is not going to be a straight line, and 2.) allow yourself to be wrong and make mistakes. Learn from the mistakes, make changes and move on quickly. Oh, yea. And one other that I try to always follow, for myself, is Trust Your Gut. Strip out the emotion and let your decisions follow your instincts.
Stop thinking like a small business owner!!!
Ask yourself this: "If Richard Branson didn't have a dime, and had to build his fortune back from where I am now, would he be doing what I am doing?"
The answer is invariably, "No!" So, what would he do?
From that point of view, I'd have to agree with Jim Finkelstein. At the end of the day, it's ALL about people! Here's why ...
a. If your small business has only 10 basic systems
b. If it takes you 3-5 years to become basically competent at any one of them
(never mind 5-7 to become reasonably good, and 7-10 to master)
c. Then you are in for a thirty to fifty years to become competent in even a small business.
... You don't have that time!
So, do what Richard Branson would immediately do ... begin to leverage through people! Set them the task of solving the rest of the issues on the list.
Fine tune the model and make it work as a pilot. Keep the pilot low cost, and be close to the customer to achieve valuable feedback. Once the pilot is successful, rapidly scale.
Planning. All good businesses should have an idea of where they want to be at a point of time in the future and create a plan to get there. All long journeys same made up of a path of small steps.
However the plan must be followed and developed to overcome problems along the way and to identify a new path if the goal changes.
Other factors, such as location, product, USP, minimising costs and people are all
important but businesses need to plan to succeed.
Hi Rob, the single most important lesson is: Be ready to be wrong. All the advice here is excellent, yet all of it requires trial and error to find the best way for you to execute it. You will make bad investments, you will hire the wrong people and you will miss opportunities, it's the nature of entrepreneurship. If you cannot accept and learn from mistakes that will cost you money, time - and worst of all, clients - then you will not find the patience and perseverance necessary for you and your business to develop, grow and succeed.
I've been teaching a workshop for entrepreneurs since 2006 (http://businessmodelworkout.blogspot.com), and the "lesson" taught through that workshop is, Create and refine a SYSTEM.
This system is made up of three processes: marketing, sales and production. All successful companies and startups, use such a system. It is impossible to succeed without it, as it is a system designed to attract, convert and serve customers.
Thanks for a great question!
Find a simple business platform of business plan.
See if someone like you, or who you think is like you has succeeded at the business.
Get to work. Get started and don't quit.
If you want to shorten the time it'll take you to succeed, copy the successful person in the industry you go into. Better yet, get a coach or mentor in the exact same business.
1. To Be Truly Successful . . . You Must Work LESS!
2. You Can Sell at Prices HIGHER than Your Competition!
3. The Customer is Always . . . WRONG!