Every entrepreneur has at least one thing they wish they had known before they started their business. If you could give the younger version of your entrepreneurial self one piece of advice, what would it be? 49 small business professionals reveal to us advice they wish they had before they got into business.
1. Practice patience.
My advice would be patience. It’s easy to get discouraged or impatient when you put in the work, do everything right, and the results trickle in. — Alan Lafrance, Marketer, LawnStarter
2. Understand SEO.
I began my business because I love writing about eco-living and I am passionate about helping people get more sleep. What I didn’t realize was that about 90 percent of the work I do comes down to SEO. I had to invest a significant amount of time, study and energy into learning SEO, even though my passion is sleep. You may have to learn a skill outside of your business idea in order to make your business grow. Are you willing to consistently dedicate time and energy to your business and not get paid? It took about six months before I started to see any commissions and I worked very hard those first months. It is a slow burn but if you need to see immediate results in order to keep yourself motivated, it can be tough. — Leslie Fischer, Founder, Sustainable Slumber
3. Use value-based pricing.
I wish I would have known to use value-based pricing from the beginning. Don’t compete on price which is always a race to the bottom. New businesses are better off providing the best value and customer experience possible. And, of course, charging for it. — Dann Albright, Content Strategy and Marketing Consultant, Dann Albright
4. Set a marketing budget.
Understand your marketing, and how to set a successful marketing budget. This ensure a constant stream of clients coming in through your pipeline. Most businesses assume that having a great business idea or niche is all it takes to get sales. Marketing gets you in front of consumers. It convinces consumers that it’s a good idea to do business with you or buy your products. — Jerryll Noorden, Real Estate Investor, We Buy Houses In Connecticut
5. Don’t be afraid to fail.
You’re only going to find answers in the work. I think it’s a great piece of advice and one I love to hear at the start of every project. You can plan forever, but to get real answers you need to do the work, interact with people, try, and fail. — Marc Lewis, Executive Editor and Co-Founder, Remedy Review
6. Consider your time commitment.
I would have a frank conversation with friends and family about the time commitment I was taking on. Entrepreneurship is made out to be extremely glamorous. However, no one tells you about the loneliness and isolation you face when you have to prioritize work ahead of your personal relationships. Having that conversation in advance would have made it much easier for me to manage those relationships going forward. — Joyeeta Das, Founder + CEO, Gyana
7. Own who you are.
Own who you are and what you do; your elevator pitch is only as good as the confidence you exude. Imposter syndrome is very real, and it held me back for years. Instead of saying, “I’m working on,” or “I’m an aspiring,” confidently state who you are and what you do before launching into who you serve. — Elizabeth Williamsberg, Portrait and Brand Photographer, Elizabeth Williamsberg Photography
8. It’s tough to find a good team!
I wish I had known how difficult it is to find good employees. While I had initially imagined spending most of my day developing products and promoting my business, I’ve found that I actually spend a lot more time and energy on recruiting. Most days, I feel more like a recruiter than an entrepreneur! — Deb Shaw, Founder and Head of Research, MarketsNow
9. Stay on top of your finances.
It is so important to keep finances in order. After a year in business and having to go back over the year’s finances, it was a mess. It probably took me twice as long and twice the money to prepare all of my finances than it would have if I simply set up systems from the start. — Dustyn Ferguson, Founder and Writer, Dime Will Tell
10. Know your audience.
I wish I had known my audience better and researched more consistently. I knew research was important, but it’s far more vital than startups realize in the early stages. — Chanette Sparks, Marketing Consultant, IBJ PR & Marketing
11. Understand national holidays worldwide.
A lot of my suppliers are outside of the country I operate in, so I would advise business owners to know about significant national holidays so that fulfillment problems don’t arise. If your suppliers are in China, for instance, be aware that most establishments close their production for 2-3 weeks in February to observe the Chinese New Year. There’s nothing more stressful than having to wait anxiously during that time, knowing that the longer your customers have to wait, the more unhappy they will get. That’s something nobody talks about, it seems, but it’s important advice for any new business owner that wants to sell goods online. — Elizabeth Bradshaw, Owner, Canvas Art Boutique
12. It takes time to gain clarity.
The big picture vision is what keeps you going, but trying to figure out all the moving pieces, systems and strategy to get there is what makes it challenging. Just ride the wave of the journey! Accept that eventually, you’ll begin to gain clarity and it’ll all start to make sense in time. — Heidi Lynne Kurter, HR and Business Strategy Consultant, Heidi Lynne Consulting
13. Solve a bigger problem.
One of the challenges that startups face is that their problem is not solving a big enough problem. If your company’s problem is not 10x better than the traditional product or service, it will be difficult to have product market fit and scale. Talk to strangers, family, friends, and coworkers. See if they would pay for your product or service, not just see if they like it. — Gene Caballero, Co-Founder, GreenPal
14. Hire for your vision.
Do not wait until you need someone to hire them. Hire before the demand is there or else you will be behind. — Dan Lesniak, Founder & Brokers, Orange Line
15. Think like an entrepreneur, not an employee.
Your mind must shift from that of an employee to a business owner. Working a job is not the same as building a business. The mind shift helped me to develop the proper entrepreneurial mindset required to build a successful business. An employee gets paid just for showing up at their job. A business owner only gets paid when they show up and build their business. — Vito Santoro, Co-Founder, Vaetas
16. Success won’t happen overnight.
I wish I’d known that building a business doesn’t make for an overnight success. I believed so much in my idea that after our launch, I thought I was going to be a billionaire by the end of the year! Eight years into the hustle, I’ve learned that entrepreneurship is being on a mission where nothing can stop you. It will take twice as long as you’d hoped. The cost will be exceedingly more than you’d ever budgeted and will be more challenging than anything you’ll ever try. But, if you give it your all and refuse to give up, you can trust it will be the ride of a lifetime. — Lori Cheek, Founder and CEO, Cheekd
17. Ask for help!
I wish I knew to ask for help early on. I learned to ask or pay for help when it was too late. — Nathalie Noisette, Founder, Credit Conversion
18. Establish the right business relationships.
Cultivating the right business relationships can make the difference between never gaining entry to getting the right foot in the door. The importance of relationships extends far beyond the business benefits. Even the most extroverted entrepreneurs experience periods of intense loneliness as they build their businesses. Having the support of friends and family not only stokes our internal fire, but also provides reprieve, fresh perspective, and new social experiences that enable us to come back fresh each and every day. — Zondra Wilson, Founder, Blu Skin Care
19. Teach, don’t sell.
Educate your audience or potential customers by educating them about your product through content. This gains their trust over time and they will buy your offerings. Network and surround yourself with like-minded people. — Adam Smith, Founder and CEO, A. Smith Media
20. It takes a LOT of motivation.
The one thing I wish I knew before starting a business is how much you have to mentally invest every day in keeping yourself motivated. Your mental fortitude has to be really strong to be able to push through the setbacks, fears, indecisiveness, lethargy, and any other challenges you face on a daily basis. — Renee Serrant-Layne, Founder and Lead Consultant, Renee-Nichole Consulting
21. Update your business plan.
The one thing I wish I had known before I started was how quickly your business plan can, and should, change after you launch. As your business grows, so do you. Keep updating your business plan based on new information you learn about the market. — RJ Weiss, Founder, The Ways to Wealth
22. Don’t take the cheaper shortcut.
Investing a little more money in a better product will always end up being the best course of action. Cheaper shortcuts that negatively impact the product will come back to haunt you tenfold. Invest in a quality product upfront. It will bleed through the rest of your business. — Ashley Rector, Founder, Harness Magazine
23. Learn to be emotionally resilient.
Failure is part of success. Your ability to be emotionally resilient when things simply don’t work is what will ultimately make you successful. If you can’t handle those moments, you’ll never get to experience the incredible high of your business making it. — Jasmine Myers, Business Coach for Women Entrepreneurs, Jasmine Ivy
24. Know which business entities are the best fit for your needs.
I wish we would have investigated more which corporate structure to assume. We formed an LLC, which certainly has its advantages. However, it turns out for our particular situation, an S-Corp would have been more ideal for two main reasons. It would have allowed us to issue two classes of stock. The entity would also have saved the managing members money on payroll taxes. — Jeff Rizzo, Founder & CEO, RIZKNOWS
25. Have a firm understanding of cash flow.
I would tell myself to have a firm grip on my finances as they relate to cash flow, debt and expenses. Most business fail because of financial challenges. It’s important to evaluate your cash flows, cash position, access to debt and investors and the cost to access these funds. The stronger a company is financially, the better decisions they can make regarding investments to grow. — John D. Norce, President, The Medicare Portal
26. Relax, and enjoy the ride!
Sit down and relax, because entrepreneurship is going to be a rollercoaster of a ride. I never really processed the fact that I would be elated in the morning with a new sale, depressed by noon because our marketing expense was too high, and back to elated that evening because a new prospect gave us a review. — Dane Kolbaba, Owner, WatchdogPestControl.com
27. Believe in yourself.
The best advice I wish I would have had was that ignorance is bliss. You do need to be prepared but, for a Type A personality like myself, we have a tendency to feel like we have to know everything. That does nothing, but slow progress. Trust yourself to figure the rest out because you will! — Chelsey Heil, Owner, Creatives by Chelsey
28. Identify the problem first.
Make sure you’re not developing a solution that’s looking for a problem. Identify the problem first. Find out whether people really want it to be solved and what price they’ll pay to have it solved. Then, work on the solution. This way you won’t have to pivot your business in a new direction while you’re bleeding cash. — Darren Cottingham, Director, DT Driver Training
The one thing I wish I knew is the importance of focus and simplicity for scalability. It took me seven months from launch to when realized I need to focus on one product and one niche to sell it to before I was able to scale from 0-6 figures in less than a year. — Laura Egocheaga, Lead Digital Marketing Strategist
30. Get help from your local Chamber of Commerce.
Take full advantage of the resources provided by your local Chamber of Commerce. Today’s Chambers are full of resources, tools, information, and technology specifically earmarked to help local businesses be successful. — Taiisha Bradley, Celebrity Publicist and Creative Strategist, Taiisha Bradley
31. Focus on doing something really well.
Don’t try to create something big, just do something really well. If you happen to be an innovator and are able to create something really unique, great! But for the rest of us, we need a good product that works as intended. Don’t think you need to invent the next Facebook to be a success. I sell tires. It’s not the sexiest vocation, but it’s something that everyone needs and I do it really well. Having an in-demand product is absolutely great and tires never go out of style! — Bill Bender, Owner, Boulder Tire
32. Keep updated financial records.
Keep meticulous records of finances. There is no right system. Ask friends, meet with professionals, and do what is right for you. You can track finances with an Excel spreadsheet or software, but start with a plan and stick to it. Have a plan for bills, paperwork, and receipts. Change it if something does not work. I file every two weeks and put everything that needs to go to the accountant in a separate file system with different color file folders. Having my finances in order provides piece of mind and allows me time for the more creative side of my business. — Libba Durrett, Founder, Sparklers Online
33. Pinpoint your target market before starting the business.
Pinpoint your target market before getting your business up and running. Don’t spend years developing a product that doesn’t have a distinct customer base. It was difficult to pinpoint our market, as we knew we would never make money off the job seeker. Instead, we went after the broader consumer market. — Ross Cohen, Co-Founder, BeenVerified.com
34. You don’t always have to say yes.
I wish someone had told me not to say yes to everything. When it’s just you, a laptop, and your hustle, any interest from a potential client that pops into your email box can be a sweet relief. But, by saying yes to everyone at every price point and for every project, I set myself on a tough path when it came to finding out how much my expertise and work were really worth. — Mike Koehler, Founder, Smirk New Media
35. Surround yourself with people up for the challenge.
The people you start a business with are not always the best ones who grow with you. If you find yourself with people who are not up to the challenge and able to scale, do yourself, and them, a favor and move on. A team player likes to work with other stars. If the team is not on the same page, as your business starts to take off the laggards will feel threatened and the culture will suffer. Keep the bar high and attract the best talent. You will never regret it. — Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder and CEO, Mavens & Moguls
36. Sometimes, you lose people along the way.
People you depend on will leave you. There it is: the best advice I could possibly give you. Your friends are about to leave you. If you didn’t pick your spouse correctly, he or she is about to leave you, or come really close to it. Your sanity is about to leave you as well. You have to be crazy to believe in a future that only you can see. — Antonio T. Smith Jr., President and CEO, ATS Jr. Companies
37. It gets really, really hard.
There are going to be a lot of hard, long, and rough nights. You are going to ride high for a while, but spend those dark nights wondering what you are doing in your life. Learn to mentally overcome those hard nights to be able to reap the rewards in the morning. — Ashley DeLuca, Owner, Ashley K DeLuca
38. Spend time on your website.
I wish I would have spent more time on the website prior to launch. The website is the front door to your business. Launching your business before the website is ready is a bit like running a grand opening sale with a broken front door. — George Kuhn, President, Drive Research
39. Don’t let your business become your life.
Remember that you are not your business. It’s easy to link your identify and self-value directly to the success of your business but this is a fatal mistake. You must learn to make time for yourself and your family. Your business can swallow up your entire life if you let it. — Steven Millstein, Founder, Credit Repair Expert
40. Be careful with your hiring.
Take more time, look at more candidates, and check references. Don’t just make a hire out of desperation. A bad hire is more painful than no hire. A mediocre hire can be the worst because someone just doing the minimum. They’re taking up space on the org chart and payroll, preventing a good hire from being there for years. — Brandon Schroth, Hiring Manager, Gillware Data Recovery
There’s a lot of value in networking and building relationships. The relationships that I’ve formed are what’s opening doors for the future. — Darren Schreher, Digital Manager, INTO THE AM
42. Be yourself.
Don’t look at your competitors for ideas on how to run your business. Follow your heart and inspire yourself and others with original ideas. Don’t doubt yourself. Be true to your company’s mission and move onward and upward. — Lindsey Dinneen , Owner, VidaDance Studio
43. Success isn’t a straight line.
You must acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them to move you closer to where you want to go. — Mogens Miller, CEO and Co-Founder, Sleeknote
44. Be authentically you.
You don’t have to be a large organization to have an impact. If you’re authentic, persistent, and bring a unique perspective, even a small team can drive significant change and create strong customer and industry awareness. — Beth Gerstein, Co-CEO, Brilliant Earth
45. Reach out to mentors.
Seek out mentors and people you look up. Reach out to them for advice and don’t be afraid. Chances you never take will forever be unknown answers. The best results coming from trying things you never thought could turn into something! — Jaclyn Zukerman, JZ Social Enterprises
46. You don’t have all the answers.
My advice is to hire smarter people than you are so that you are surrounded by the best and the brightest. Hire a solid team of people who are focused, creative, and driven. Then, take care of these people so they can flourish in their roles which will allow the company to grow. — Kreg Peeler, Founder, Aktify
47. Carefully consider who you start a business with.
Make sure you’re both able to bring something to table without hindering each other’s success. Balance out one another’s skill sets while still allowing for goals to be surpassed. This keeps from valuing one idea more than the other. — Jacob Dayan, Esq., CEO & Co-Founder, Community Tax
48. Set aside time for yourself.
As the days, weeks and months go by, you will be more obsessed with business issues and your personal life will be slowly fazed out. Stop this from happening from the get go – start a Monday night wine tasting at a local bar, invite your parents to a fixed Sunday brunch, join a futsal soccer team to let off steam, and by all means, try not to talk business! — Nicholas Christensen, Founder, Lottery Critic
49. Have your ideas align with your mission statement.
My best piece of advice is maintaining a “Do Not Do” list. I make sure my ideas align with my mission statement, and if they don’t, I move on. I also make sure to have processes and procedures in place. — Brian Lim, Founder and CEO, iHeartRaves