The toughest thing in business, apart from either seeing the IRS take its cut from your revenue or having your eyes sweat every time you have to do payroll, is looking back to the past and wishing you knew what you know now.
Aside from having connections, being in the right place at the right time, and manufacturing some luck, your experience can be one of the most significant assets of your business. It guides decision making, helps maximize potential, (usually) keeps you from repeating mistakes, and is gold for your other ventures down the road.
Future You, who is swimming in an ocean of experience, wishes Present You had known to put on some sunscreen and to bring a raft to make the most of your trip to entrepreneur beach. Fortunately, Present You still has a chance to make things right by learning from the experience of others and changing the fortune of Future You
Below are 10 business lessons we’re going to share that will put you on the path to having a stronger startup and business mind.
LESSON 1: A Whole New Formula of Elbow Grease
If you don’t have the hunger, you’ll go hungry. The days of sitting back and collecting an impressive paycheck right out of MBA school are long over. Chances are your business is not the next Uber or Facebook—but maybe the next one or even five from now is. When launching any business, there is an inherent amount of work that comes with it. In almost all cases, when first getting started, you have to become a little bit of an expert in just about everything—accounting, strategy, marketing, public relations, sales, customer service, etc. It can seem overwhelming at times and starting a business definitely isn’t easy—but that’s not why you’re doing it anyway, right?
LESSON 2: So Happy Together
Get together with like-minded people and network as soon as and as much as possible. If you surround yourself with good, creative people who bring out the best in you everything else almost always takes care of itself. Good ideas will flow more readily and your team will find ways to make them work. Every good entrepreneur needs a solid idea, but collaboration, especially in this evolving economy, will facilitate more creativity and improve ideas. Who knows, you may even find your next business partner.
LESSON 3: Deal with It
There’ll be days when you wish you went to law school. An airtight agreement that lays out the scope of work, the “if this happens” verbiage, and the payment conditions is worth its weight in gold. Put everything in writing. It can make a business relationship so much easier by letting each party know where they stand – and on what leg. Handshakes, winks, and verbal agreements aren’t worth much these days. Do not use them. You must protect yourself and your company as much as possible. Have a lawyer review your contracts to ensure everything you need to help cover yourself and your company from common issues and the potential fallout is included.
LESSON 4: Stop! Delegate and Listen
Know what you’re good at and where your talents will be the most effective, and let go of everything else. You may be the only employee to start, but when you begin hiring people you must learn to listen to others and divvy up the responsibilities—otherwise, you will burn out, go mad, go broke, or all of the above. One of the toughest things for an entrepreneur to experience is when they feel they don’t control every aspect of their business. Learn to trust those you have hired and who you know are good at what they do. Everything will run more smoothly once you begin to loosen your kung fu grip.
LESSON 5: Take a Step Back
People care about themselves and what your business can do for THEM… period. Just because you think your business or product is the best thing since Betty White doesn’t mean everyone else does. In fact, the majority of people Do. Not. Care. about that sale you announced on Facebook with eight exclamation points or would not even notice if you went out of business. It can be humbling. But think about how many businesses are out there let alone how many you’re competing against in your industry alone. Take a step back and figure out what benefit or value you bring to potential customers. If you were them, why should you care? What would make you care? Think about what drives them. What do they need? What will they need but don’t know it yet? Everyone has needs and, as a business, it’s your job to figure that out and try to fill them.
LESSON 6: Use The News and Take a Stand
Building awareness for a startup can be tough, especially when you have minimal to no funds to spend on marketing or public relations. Constantly scan the news and see if there is any way you can hook your business onto a developing story in some relevant way. Piggybacking on trending topics or “Newsjacking” allows your business a chance to take an interest in something that is garnering headlines and is already on the public’s mind. If you move quickly and take a stand with the story or issue before others do you can become a first mover, and then are on your way to becoming a shaker.
LESSON 7: Be Everywhere
Build your branding by being as active as possible. Make it seem like you are everywhere at all times by joining professional groups and boards, going to events, donating your time to charities, speaking at public events, giving presentations and guest lectures, and networking. The more you put your business out there and are seen the more name recognition you’ll earn and will gain that incredibly important third-party validation. Even if a potential client or customer has never met you, they’ll likely have heard of you and your company which will have the backing of trusted sources that confirm your credibility. Like a rehearsal before the big show, do as many run-throughs as you can. Practice public speaking by talking with as many people as possible, anyone, even in line at the grocery, and you will more likely be able to adapt to all those unpredictable situations that are guaranteed to surface with clients and customers at one time or another.
LESSON 8: Eliminate…uh…Words
Sentence fillers “like,” “um,” and “uh” are credibility killers and can make you appear nervous and unconfident. Remove verbal pollution from your vocabulary as much as possible to project a polished, intelligent, and on the ball image. Make answering questions with “I don’t know” a fineable offense. Even if you don’t know the answer at that moment, have confidence that you will have the answer. It’s more professional to say you’ll find the solution than it is to shrug your shoulders as though you have no clue and aren’t going to do anything about it. Rather than avoiding a difficult or awkward conversation, say what needs to be said—directly and straightforwardly. People will respect you for not dancing around the issue and it shows you have enough respect to not patronize them.
LESSON 9: Fake It ’til You Make It
Perception is everything. Without it, the only people who would make it in this world would be those who are already “there” or are a couple steps from the doorway. You and your business’ worth is, unfortunately, based on how people perceive you and suddenly how you present yourself becomes very important. We’re not saying to lie or exaggerate—just present yourself and your company as you foresee it. When you build your own expectations, beliefs, and perspective, you begin to build confidence. In fact, the placebo effect tells us that expectations alone can be strong enough to overcome diseases and afflictions—in business it works as well. It’s easier to sell yourself to others when you project professionalism than it is admitting your office is the kitchen table… in between meal times. You may be a one-man band at the moment, but that doesn’t mean you have to showcase it. Get on the path to bigger and better—purchase a go-phone so you have an “office” phone number that is separate from your cell phone; use a virtual receptionist to answer and direct your calls; rent out a desk or small office at a co-working space where you can set up shop and receive mail; get into the routine of telling yourself you can be successful. The more you believe you are capable, the more you will be.
LESSON 10: #DoGood
Push a social mission in all you do. An old saying goes, “In seeking happiness for others you find it for yourself.” When you do this, potential clients or customers see it. They begin to know you are about more than the bottom line and trust you more readily with their hard earned money. Join forces with charities/entities that better the community in some way and get your employees involved. This will help convert your business from just another workplace into something others become truly invested in and want to see succeed. It also tends to make the work more worthwhile knowing you are a part of something larger than yourself and is improving the world.
Have some tips you’d like to share? Tweet them to @herofarm.