They say there’s no teacher like experience. No matter how many books you read or how many successful business owners you talk to, you truly won’t know what it’s like to run a business until you get your hands dirty and… well, run a business. We asked our small business experts what they’ve learned since opening their businesses. Here’s a list of our favorite answers…
“Don’t over-plan: One of the hardest things about being a small business is striking a balance between staying the course and being adaptable. Early on, err on the side of adaptability and don’t plan too much. You want to have goals, but don’t be so locked into them that you can’t pivot and jump on a great prospect, publicity, or customer service opportunity just because it doesn’t fit your business model.” –Brandon Landis, Responster
“For me, the biggest thing is finding a quick path to a steady stream of income. Long development cycles that don’t get to market early are almost impossible to sustain without that bit of income to keep things going. If I could take what I know now and apply it to my startups at the beginning, it would have meant faster growth without a doubt.” –David Mercer, SME Pals
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is the fact that you can’t do everything alone. Starting out is easy, making sure the books are in order and attending to the small amount of clients is manageable, however, once things start picking up, you’ll need help to keep your head above water.
By hiring an accountant / book keeper, as well as someone to do basic administrative tasks will free up your time to do what you love and you won’t be forced to sit behind your computer screen until early morning hours with financial tasks.” –Gert Hattingh, Oneclickhere
“The biggest lesson you’ve learned since starting your business: *If you are not one of the *lucky ones* that somehow manage to raise a lot of funds or created a product that go viral then create your own *luck*. First step is to put yourself out there and connect with as many people as you can. Build a network that you can leverage on to push your business*.” –Cynthia Siantar, Call Levels
“The biggest lesson that I’ve learned since being an entrepreneur and starting my own business is being “Consistent.” Though we’ve had some amazing times like when we’re hitting our sales goals out of the ball park, we’ve also experienced some setbacks, from delayed shipments to defected products. Amidst it all we continued to be consistent no matter what! Consistency has opened a lot of doors for us and introduced us to a ton of amazing opportunities, ultimately because we stayed focused on the end goal and the overall bigger picture. We didn’t allow our setbacks to derail us from waking up every day and giving it our all. By far I would tell any business owner to continue to push through even when there’s a hard moment but ultimately allow themselves to really enjoy the process.” –Tiffany Sartor, Posh Peyton
“Never, ever, ever stop pitching your services. As soon as you put marketing on the back-burner, it’s suddenly a month later and your sales pipeline is drying up because you’ve been focused on putting out fires, instead of building your business.” –Travis Bennett, Studio Digita
“Being realistic with your goals, whether these are daily, weekly or monthly targets you wish to reach. Realistic and achievable targets are key stepping stones to growing your business.” –Emma Sivell, Sivellink Illustrations and Graphics
“Sometimes the people around you, whether they are employees, business partners, or friends, may have more insights into what you’re doing, or may provide opinions about details that you might have missed, or may contribute with a fresh pair of eyes and come up with better ideas.” –Yasmina Yousfi, Cloudswave
“When you’re starting or growing a business, things are going to go wrong-sometimes all at once! For many new business owners the weight of these problems can be overwhelming. Stressed out and broke, many new entrepreneurs start questioning their reasons for getting into business in the first place. Working for someone else in an established company would be so much easier.
The secret to getting past this is re-framing these problems as puzzles-puzzles that lots of others have encountered and solved (and therefore you can to). If you stick with it long enough, you also start to realize that most things just don’t matter. That key account that, if you lost it, you’d be in big trouble-it’s probably not as key as you perceive it is.
Business is a sport-it’s a war-and as long as you have the right attitude, you are never out of the fight!” –Ben Landers, Blue Corona, Inc.
“If you’re going to partner with someone, make sure you know their vision of success (are they in it for the long-term or only looking to do it for a year and then transition to something else), their business hours (do they sleep in late, are they early to rise, do they prefer only working during 9-to-5 or do they burn the midnight oil), how they’d like to operate (are they focused on re-investing in the business or paying themselves a big salary) and several other important categories. Aligning with the right partner is integral. It could determine if you’re dusting off your resume in 12-months or signing on more clients and looking to expand your venture. After a year, my partner realized she wanted the structure and stability corporate life provided while I confirmed that I’m interested in being my own boss and having the flexibility of entrepreneurship.” –Renita Bryant, SightsSet
“A good website, good products and optimal customer service does not have customers lining up at the door for a start-up unless you are a market disrupter. Success takes time and it takes hard work. You will make mistakes – but that’s ok if you learn from them!” –Graeme Bryant, Little Bloke Fitness
“I think the biggest lesson has been the importance of your online presence. It can be extremely hard to stick out amount everyone else out there. I spent a lot of time researching SEO (search engine optimization), how to correctly use social media and building a website. You need to spend a lot of time researching how to market online. Thankfully there are lots of free resources online. In order to have a successful business you need to use all the online resources that you can find.” –Cliona Bryne, Thimble Hoop
“You have to have a plan, specifically a marketing plan, without you will just be wasting a lot of time and money trying to figure out how to make money.” –Sherron Washington, The P3 Solution
“You’ve never done a deal with a supplier until the products are in your hands. Even having a signed contract seems meaningless to some suppliers, especially those from overseas!
Promoting a brand-spanking new business can feel like you’re running through syrup! Keep plugging away, even when it feels like you’re achieving nothing. Building an audience takes time.” –James Armstrong, Caveman Store
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned since starting my business is that it’s not enough just to have a great product, especially in a business as competitive as photography, you need to sell yourself. Working with you has to be as great as your product if you want good word of mouth and return business.” –Karah Couch, Karah Couch Photography
“The biggest lesson I have learned is that you must always take care of your customers. This is one of those quiet lessons that sneaks up on you. Your customers are the reason you stay in business. Treat them well and your business will thrive. This is different than the customer is always right. Sometimes customers are not right, but you can still do a good job of taking care of them.” –Barney Cohen, Business 360 Northwest
“I’ve always known it, but over the years, it I have become even more aware that “Our People are Our Greatest Resource.” This is especially true in a business where service is so important. Turnover is more difficult for small businesses and keeping top people is critical.” –Bob Bentz, ATS Mobile
“One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that you can exponentially increase your website traffic if you have the media talking about your business. And to get that media attention, you just need to tell a compelling story. What is unique about your business that you can share with the media? Use email and social media to share your story with news producers and bloggers. They are looking for content, and you can benefit from the press.” –Anne Marie Blackman, My Ugly Christmas Sweater, Inc.
“I haven’t given up control of the ship, of course. I’m still very active. What I have given up is trying to be the only talent base in my organization. It’s completely un-scalable to make all of the decisions. Once I decided I wanted the business to grow, I decided I’d better bring on some talented people before my job became tiring and soul-crushing. Hire A players (that is, talented high-performers) and treat them as well as you possibly can. Expect greatness in return, and quickly eliminate anyone who wants to simply mark time.”” –J. Colin Petersen, J- IT Outsource
“Be persistent. Before starting a business, you don’t realize how often you fail. Whether it is a client rejecting your proposal or your car breaking down on the way to a meeting. The key to being successful though is not letting the minor road bumps get in the way of reaching your ultimate goal of running a successful business.” –Jason Parks, The Media Captain
“I wish I’d known sooner that I could, and SHOULD, delegate the things I wasn’t good at and that it would actually save me money in the long run! In fact, it normally ends up making me money. For example, I am very good at getting out to network, meet people and exchange cards for follow-up. I’m also pretty good at making the first outreach. But then I’m on to the next thing and if the other party doesn’t respond, they disappear into the ether for me. By working with a virtual assistant, I can insure that someone is following up and will continue to do so, according to the contact strategy I’ve established, until I either connect with the person or we close them out as an opportunity. Without this process, I’d almost certainly have a zero ROI on my time invested networking. I recommend it highly!” –Elene Cafasso, Enerpace, Inc. Executive Coaching
“Let the market dictate your price. You have no right to determine what a business can and can’t afford – not only does it leave money on the table…but it disrespects the business owner and devalues your brand.” –Kyle Reyes, The Silent Partner Marketing
“Our biggest lesson was to not let fear make our decisions for us! We chose a smaller location because of the uncertainty of starting our new business. We wish instead that we had taken the risk on a bigger, more mainstream location. Because of this, we’ve had to work harder to get our name out there and get the traffic our business needs.” –Jeff and Deadrea Clemmensen, MiPhone Doctor of Fresno
“The biggest lesson I have learned is that there are two critical success factors to long-term success – cultivating relationships and building a strong reputation. My business has expanded through word-of-mouth because I focus on establishing partnerships and delivering 100%. It is easy to put networking on the back burner or cut corners when working on deliverables, especially when you are busy. But it’s worth the extra time and effort in the long run.” –Kim Keating, Keating Advisors
“Don’t fear failure. When we first developed PointDrive we built a prosumer product and model (similar to Dropbox), expecting to drive individual sales reps to our website. We learned that the product needed to be built and sold to the enterprise, so we moved quickly to build robust business features and hire enterprise sales reps. That shift in strategy has paid off as we’ve grown revenues 50% month over month for the past year.” –Tim Swindle, PointDrive
“I have learned to trust my instincts, but never be afraid to ask for input and guidance listen to those who care about your business. I always find people who are better than I am to handle the things I don’t like to do or don’t do well, it’s simple common sense to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you in their areas of expertise. Treat everyone in your business with respect and empathy. It’s good manners, but also good business.” –Chris Dyson, Author of Target Practice, President of Puckstoppers
“GIVE! No, not money. Time. Expertise. Accessibility. Although one might think this is an altruistic move (admittedly, it feels good to offer assistance to those who genuinely need it) it’s a MARKETING tactic. Lots of people ask marketing questions in Facebook groups, on Twitter, at conferences, in the doctor’s office waiting room, at dinner with friends- everywhere. I answer them thoughtfully and completely. When it comes time to hire someone, the folks to whom I’ve offered assistance already know me, they already know I have expertise, and I’m the one they hire.” –Hilary Faverman, Hilary Faverman Communications
“The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is to understand and target your niche. Having worked in education sales for years, I started my business as a consultant helping other companies sell into education. I thought I could get a bigger customer base by adapting the model help out ANY business in ANY industry but I was wrong – the service became so broad that it didn’t really offer much unique value to anyone. I focused back in on our key customers with good results; it’s better to have a handful of great clients you are close to than hundreds you can never really get to know.” –Sarah Allen, Martha Goll Consulting