For me it was not becoming a serial entrepreneur. Finding the one thing I was really good at and sticking to it.
The big lesson for me was to ensure I was effective with my time management to avoid procrastination, especially when I had to pick up the phone it was amazing how many excuses got in the way! My advice is similar ro others - get a good coach and make sure you have supportive people around you that are all focussed on the goals you need to achieve. Check out http://dynamicbusinessacademy.com/ for a great place to start
Stop thinking like an Entrepreneur! Think like an Enterprise leader instead.
That's not to say that entrepreneurial thinking isn't necessary, or that it's bad - only that to create an effective system, you must at least think a level above it.
You can't create 1st grade curriculum if you're still in first grade. You have to view it from beyond first grade, in terms of the results it will create later, in order to be effective.
We try to model the great 'titans' who have matured far beyond entrepreneurial thinking, starting with questions like: "Would Richard Branson do this?", or "Would Steve Jobs think like this?"
- They defend their vision and culture to the death
- They're obsessive about the quality and development of the people on the team
- They never use a lack of resources as a reason not to do something
- They move only if they have a game changer
"As goes the head, so goes the body!"
It all starts with how you think.
The greatest lesson I've learned is to train well and than get out of the way. As a passionate business owner its still important to trust your employees and not micro-manage every aspect of your business. I truly got so much out of The 4-Hour Work Week and The E-Myth. Set up systems that check themselves and don't get caught being the technician.
Not necessarily a hard lesson but still useful:
Only work with committed, professional people sharing the same vision. Don't waste time on others.
put it in writing! Don't trust a partners word, always put it in writing!
Find good mentors and those smarter than yourself and LISTEN TO THEM!
The most difficult lesson that one of my clients had to learn was that not every dollar earned was a dollar that he could put into his pocket. Contrary to the "pay yourself first" philosophy expounded by personal finance gurus, an entrepreneur is only entitled to pay him/her self last, after all of the obligatory cuts have been taken and savings have been invested to look after ongoing cash flow and future capex needs. As an entrepreneur, you have to be disciplined enough to do this. If not, then you need someone else trustworthy and knowledgeable enough about the business (e.g. bookkeeper or accountant) to do this on your behalf.
Getting out of a partnership is not always easy. Make sure you have a good buy/sell agreement in place that will allow a partner to exit on the fairest terms possible.
I had to learn that "business owner" is a euphemism for having an infinite workload. There is no such thing as a day off once you become a serious entrepreneur. Sure; you can go on vacation, but I highly doubt that new ideas, business processes, marketing strategies, etc. will take any time off from overloading your brain.
And to be honest, everyone isn't fit for that. An aspiring entrepreneur should truthfully evaluate him (or her) self to determine if they have the stick-to-it-tiveness to build a successful company.
The most difficult lesson is personal relationships and discerning a difference between an advantageous realtionship and a personal relationship.
I think for me it has to be is that you have to be able to sell! You know your product/service the best and you have the ingrained passion which comes from total commitment and belief, so why wouldn't you use that to sell it! Many entrepreneurs (myself included) outsource or employ the selling as soon as is humanly possible and remember these people are paid to sell and be passionate... it's never as good as the real thing!
One of the entrepreneurs I mentored said to me why should I have to sell, what is the point I own the business and should be pushing it forwards! What he didn't realise is that by getting himself and his product in front of buyers and potential customers and making sales he was pushing his product forwards.
So I encouraged him to dedicate himself to selling his product for 3 months, in that three months his sales went up 235%... why?... he believed and understood about what he was selling.
This is just one experience but a very important lesson.
The most difficult lesson is the one to make sure to select and hire people carefully. As a small business, there is temptation to "act small" in this area. Try to avoid that and to make the extra effort to get the right fit for your business!
My difficult lesson was to sit next to your phone and wait that customers call you.
Advice: extend and intensive your network, be active on social media, participate in discussions.
Two things. 1) Don't ever assume your interests are representative of those of your target market, or your investors. 2) Get the timing and scale of outside investment right. If you can, get professional VC money, not amateur Angel money. The former will guide you to financial success, the latter may lead you down an ego-centric path to disaster. Do not yield control early in your business; remember there may be 2 or 3 rounds of financing and your ownership is diluted every time. If you are at a "take the money and a bad deal or shut the business" stage, shut the business and start again with a better plan.
I made some painful mistakes but always asked the questions - "what can I learn from this and how can this make me better. It's easy to get knocked back by customers or individuals who in spite of your best and warmest efforts seem impossible to please. Learn from these experiences but don't be hurt by them.
Finally, always ask if the changes or adaptations you might make in light of your lessons learnt could harm your business.
I had a customer who made me feel dreadful because they thought i was ripping them of on price, despite me being 50% cheaper than a national competitor. I changed my website saying that the local authority offered a similar but less comprehensive service that was cheaper. The customer was charmed by my honesty, but the phone stopped ringing so I quickly realized after losing thousands in potential business that this was not the best result. I had simply sent customers to the local authority who were snowed under with work, and then recommended other contractors from there own list, that I was not on at prices higher than mine.
Result? I changed site again - I had more customers, and as a result of improved pricing strategy, I had more repeat business.
The most difficult lesson was that no matter how great you think your product or service is, customers will not beat a path to your door. It takes a lot of time, effort and money in marketing to build the demand necessary to be successful.
Truly unique business ideas that are ahead of the curve are the most difficult to fund. Most capital sources prefer to be fast followers instead of pioneers.
Sourcing capital requires an enormous amount of exposure to investors. Specifically, you cannot "fall in love" with a group of investors who express interest until the funding comes through. Present your business opportunity as broadly as you can to a carefully selected set of different investors with whom your proposal is potentially a very close fit. And then present to another. And another. Repeat the process as often as is required to realize your funding objective.
Also, do not be afraid to admit you ventured with the wrong capital source. If a split is necessary keep it amicable and professional. However, if your interests are not properly aligned with your original investor, keep seeking out investors whose goals and objectives are consistent with your own.
The hardest lesson I've had, that I listened to much to all the good advices telling how to improve my business. One of my best friends didn't tell me anything. He asked me questions, made me looking deeper into my business. My lesson for you, make your own decisions, follow them but also keep asking questions to yourself. Force yourself to stay curious.
If you build it, they do not necessarily come! You have to go out and get the business, and that means marketing yourself proactively to a targeted audience.