Starting your own business comes with its fair share of unknowns. What will it look like in five years? Will it even make it five years? When will it be profitable? The list of questions never ends. Being an entrepreneur requires being comfortable with the uncomfortable. After all, if starting a profitable business were a sure thing, wouldn’t everyone do it?
Along the way, you’ll learn plenty of helpful things — some of which will leave you wishing you’d only learned that lesson a few years earlier. While you can’t always learn the hard stuff the easy way, you can learn a thing or two from those who were once in your shoes. To help, Seek Business Capital spoke with entrepreneurs and small business owners to find out what they know now they wish they knew earlier on. Here are seven expert tips and lessons entrepreneurs wish they’d learned at the start of their journey:
1. Start Sooner
“If I could re-do the launch of my business, I would’ve started earlier,” said Ben Watson, CPA, a personal finance expert from DollarSpout.com and founder of Fiscal Fluency. “To be honest, I put more stock in certifications and training courses as an excuse to stall my launch date, because I let imposter syndrome control my emotions. I had my emergency fund and game plan established at least three months before I finally pulled the trigger, and even after going full-time, I was too detail-oriented to really start networking until my website and business cards were pristine. Instead, those three to six months of nitpicking irrelevant details could’ve been used networking, building processes and outsourcing the items I ended up spending far too much time on in the end.”
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2. Listen to Feedback
“I wish I knew how important feedback is. I would definitely go back in time and tell myself to listen,” said Libby Fischer, CEO of Whetstone Education. “It’s important to listen not only to what your customers are saying but also to what your staff is saying, too. Your customers help you understand where the market is going, and your staff helps you understand where the problems in your company are … The most important thing you can do is listen and accept constructive criticism. These pieces of advice and feedback will help you grow not in business, but also as a person in general. Seek help in your peers, customers, and advisors if you’ve hit a wall.”
3. Develop Your Emotional IQ
“Successful entrepreneurs need to exercise high emotional IQ when dealing with customers, employees and partners,” said Kean Graham, founder and CEO of MonetizeMore. “Employees will follow the leader’s emotional IQ path that they set. To have a high emotional IQ means making rational decisions, having empathy for those you work with and sympathizing when necessary to benefit the business in the long term.”
4. You Can’t Do It All Yourself
“The very first business I started I tried to be as lean as possible,” said McKinzie Bean, creator and owner of Moms Make Cents. “This meant trying to do nearly everything myself, not investing in costly tools, not furthering my education on the subject matter, etc. This was incredibly detrimental to the growth of those businesses and they had a very slow start. Once I shifted my mindset and realized, sure, that tool may cost $xx a month, but if by using that tool I’m able to make or save that amount of money or more than it is worth it. Along that same line, I would have hired a team faster. Doing everything myself lead to some major burn out. If I instead had invested in team members I would have been able to scale more quickly and avoided working myself too hard.”
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5. Learn From Others
“I wish I had known that a formal business education can be effectively replaced by the vast amount of knowledge available in books written by business leaders,” said Murray Seward, CEO of Outback Team Building & Training. “These are people who have actually practiced what they preach and can give real-world context to business challenges faced by everyone in business. I also wish I had known the importance of determining your company’s core values, as well as your own, and known it is possible to attract employees who not only have the skill to do the job but also share those core values of the company.”
6. Nurture Real Relationships
“The biggest thing I have learned from both experiences is how important it is to nurture true relationships,” said Bob Graham, co-founder and CEO of Serious Soft Skills. “You can use Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn all day long, but the bread and butter for my businesses has always been people who know, like and trust me. They may be people I have known for years or people I met and got to know more recently. They may be family, family friends, neighbors, people I meet on weekends. They want my help and they point me toward others who need my help. They are my biggest advertisers.”
7. It’s OK to Evolve Over Time
“Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint-hearted. It takes a lot of hustle, but boy is the pay off worth it,” said Megan Close Zavala, CEO of Turn the Page Book Coaching & Editorial. “My biggest advice to business owners who are starting out is that being fearless doesn’t mean you’re never scared; the point is to not succumb to those fears. Not everyone’s professional path has a single destination, and what works for you at 23 may not work for you at 33 or 53 — and that is 100 percent okay. While you want to find your niche, be prepared for your business to evolve over time.”
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