If you’re an entrepreneur, you already know that starting a business is a lot of work. While courses and degrees may help you prepare, there are some things you just have to learn on the job. Through trial and error, I learned some hard lessons deep in the trenches. Here are five things I wish I knew before starting my own business.
1. Know your market.
There’s a difference between knowing your market and really knowing your market. After working with hundreds of clients over the past 10 years, I now realize how much our market has evolved. In the past few years, I’ve learned that we can’t service every client in the same way, nor do they need to be serviced the same way. We originally thought that we could provide the same services to every customer, but given that our market is made up of different types of customers, our services should reflect this.
Take note of your customers’ preferences early on to ensure your business model satisfies the needs of the market.
2. See the forest AND the trees.
When you’re first starting your business, you’re in tune with every detail. You probably check every proposal that goes out, every plate that leaves the kitchen, and every order that is sent out for delivery. The details sometimes become so overwhelming that you forget to look at the big picture.
Running a business means you have to be able to see your business both at the micro level and the macro level. The ability to simultaneously analyze the big picture and the individual pieces that make up your business is no easy task. I had a hard time pulling myself out of everyday tasks, but doing so has allowed me to make the changes that have propelled our company forward.
Set yourself up for success by looking at your business from the top and from within. You’ll discover a lot about your company that will help you to both run and grow it successfully.
3. Turn challenges into opportunities.
As an entrepreneur, you’ll go through a lot of ups and downs. That means you have to hear a lot of noes before you hear any yeses. A great idea may turn out to be not such a great idea. Add to that the changes in your industry and the challenges of running a business, and you’ll see why these burdens can prove cumbersome.
Young entrepreneurs often get discouraged when they let challenges get the best of them, but dealing with these hurdles is simply part of running a business. What’s important is that you learn how to turn them into opportunities.
In my business, there are constant changes in the industry and technology. We don’t give up each time we have to rethink our strategy. Instead, the constant push to catch up and stay ahead has allowed us to become laser-focused on what we do and who we serve. Ultimately, these challenges have made us a better company.
When faced with a challenge, take advantage of what’s working and you’ll probably end up better off than you were before.
4. Plan for growth.
This is perhaps one of the hardest challenges for entrepreneurs. The initial excitement of success and growth can be so overwhelming that we often forget to plan ahead. While growth can be a sign of success, sustainable growth is paramount for the longevity of any business.
A growth plan will ensure you have continued growth rather than explosive growth, which can turn out to be disastrous for many businesses. Having a plan means more than just having your financials in order; it means having a systematic way of growing — from how many new employees you need to hire to what size office building you need.
When my business was in its infancy, I made the mistake of hiring new employees whenever we had a surge in work. While that was a good spur-of-the-moment fix, it turned out to be a bad move. I ended up hiring too many people too quickly, and have since learned my lesson.
5. Stay informed.
No matter what industry you’re in, it’s important that you keep your ears and eyes open to what’s going on around you. You have to know what’s changing in your industry and with your customers — whether that means adding something to your restaurant menu to accommodate growing trends, or injecting technology into the way you run your business.
In the marketing industry, I’ve learned that staying ahead is a means of survival. Consumer shopping habits have totally changed in the last few years. If our company had not evolved to meet these new changes, we’d be out of business by now. Stay informed, and learn to make changes based on what’s most important to your industry and customers. This will ensure that you stay relevant and keep your customers engaged.
There will be ups, downs and unexpected turns and twists throughout your career. I know I have gone through my own bumpy ride. While I’ve learned a lot, I wish I had been told to work on these five areas when I first started out.