As entrepreneurs and business owners, there are so many times along our entrepreneurial journey that we say to ourselves, “If only I’d have known then what I know now…” The business lessons that come from experience are invaluable, so we have reached out to the knowledgeable CarolRoth.com contributor network of business owners, experts, advisors and entrepreneurs to find out the biggest business lessons that they have learned. Their answers are presented below in no particular order.
You may notice some similar ideas listed, but I kept them separate, as something in the way one is framed may resonate differently with you.
1. People Won't Come
The biggest lesson I learned and probably the one a lot of people learn at first is that people won't come just because you built an awesome product. You need to go out there and market your products or services in order to earn.
So, before you quit your job, make sure there is a market for your product or service and if you don't have one yet, make a plan on how you will find them.
2. What You See is What You Get!
My biggest lesson: my business is a reflection of me! If I am messy, my business will be messy. If I am unfocused, the business will reflect that. If I am not taking care of the most important things, not just the urgent ones, important things will be dropped from the business.
The business is more than what I do, it is also who I am.
3. It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint!
Starting a successful business is a marathon, not a sprint. From my experience in both my own and when advising others in their business, it takes around three years to start a successful business. The first year is just about figuring out what the hell you are doing. The second is all about finding the product-market fit. The third is when you really start to figure things out and become profitable.
4. Fail Your Way to Success!
I've learned that what I thought was the worst thing that ever happened turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. I can recount a number of times when I thought the world was ending to only laugh about it several years later and thank my lucky stars that that’s how things turned out. I've learned to welcome detours and failures as a part of the entrepreneurial experience. So, it turns out that the cliché “When one door closes, another door opens” is more than a cliché.
5. Touching Lives!
I never realized that creating wealth from an idea would touch so many lives. Not only did my own family benefit but so many others. Employees were able to send their children to school. Retailers were able to hire employees. Manufacturers added workers, sometimes thousands of miles away. Shipping companies added staff. I felt overwhelmed that all that happened from an idea I scribbled on a piece of scrap paper.
6. Cash (Lots and Lots) is King!
If you start a business on a shoestring, make sure the shoe is BIG. You need a "long shoestring". There is no such thing as having too much cash to start, grow, and sustain your business. Make sure your passion does not override your working capital. If you do, you will find yourself at the end of your shoestring. You will lose it all, including your shoes. Going barefoot in summer may be tolerable, but winter is brutal. Keep a close eye on your passion and a closer eye on your cash flow!
7. The Big AHA Moment
One of the biggest lessons for me was learning that I didn't need 8 arms and 24 legs! When I first started as an entrepreneur, I thought I would have to do everything on my own. The result was stress in all areas of my life. I had minimal success. One day, I realized I wasn't the only person on the planet and there were other people who possessed skills that could help move my vision forward. My brand has grown phenomenally ever since. Newsflash! Nobody builds an empire alone. Go figure!
8. Nice Guys Finish First
Be nice to everyone on your way up, because you'll see them again on your way down.
A mentor of mine shared this bit of wisdom with me early in my career and it remains a hallmark of how I do business.
Life is cyclical. Our careers rise and eventually ebb as we age and the next generation begins its ascent. Being good and helpful will help in every phase of your career, help build lasting relationships and make your journey more rewarding.
No one likes working with a jerk.
9. Think Long Term
Have you ever fought with a client over a signed-off proof as to who was right & who was wrong? What happened? 9 out of 10 times, even if you win the battle, you lost the war.
What I mean by that is that the client may pay to have the mistake fixed, but you may never hear from them again.
Take the time to realize, do I want to win the fight or the war? Think long term, work with clients to fix problems, together & find solutions that work for all. It is how long term relationships begin!
10. Don't Be an Ostrich
One recent lesson that I learned was that when it comes to lean times, a business owner must keep on track and be noticed. During the "Mortgage Crisis" and beyond, many small businesses closed due to the drastic change in our financial world. They chose to cut back this, cut back that and participated less in their community. Like an Ostrich, They "Buried Their Head In The Sand!" I believe these are the times you MUST stand up and show that you are here to stay! I DID!
11. Sales Solve 90% of Problems
It's so easy to stay busy with creating systems, processes and updating social sites - but the only true activity that will keep doors open is to create revenue. You need customers and you need to spend quality time creating revenue. The creation of products and services is fun and exciting, but without customers, you don't have a business, you have an expensive hobby.
12. Things Can Change Way too Fast
Things can change, in an instant, through no fault of your own. Many things can change. Someone else might come along and offer a better deal. Economic conditions could change. Health conditions could change. Competition could change. How can you react? How can you prepare? Try to have enough business or opportunities “in the pipeline” to weather these kinds of changes. Plus, advertise consistently, always make as many sales calls as you can, and most of all… Be prepared and good luck!
13. Hire the Person, Not the Paper
It can be tempting to make your first hires people who fill obvious operational holes, but finding the right personalities will always supersede a great match on paper. Find compatible people who have a capacity for learning and communication, and you'll spare yourself from the last thing a small business owner wants: drama. Great technical skill can be wasted when an employee isn't the right fit, so try to look past a shiny resume and keep focused on the human being who handed it to you.
14. In It for the Long Haul!
The biggest lesson that I've learned is that building a business and acquiring clients takes longer than most people expect it to. Just remember these 3 things: 1) Have a tightly focused target market; 2) Be consistent in taking action steps to grow your business, such as posting on social media; 3) Don't underestimate the power videos can have in growing your business.
15. Stick to Your Guns!
I learned that when someone suggests changes or additions to a services contract you offer, you need to analyze exactly why they are asking for those changes. It's most likely not going to be in your favor and can eat up a great deal of time, only to have them decide not to sign it. Trust in your skills and services and stick to your guns. It's your business, and even if you think you need that client, it's okay to say no. Don't be pressured into an arrangement you'll regret!
16. Live in Business Grace
Never give up on a great business! The tough times determine to the most high if you are worthy of the good coming your way. Do good business, as anything less is a waste. Treat others with respect and honor. The real job of a CEO or Founder is to create great products and services for the people to benefit from. Also, study and master as many aspects of business as you can, while delegating tasks to those that focus on one area. Be happy and do good.
17. Don't Be Afraid to Spend Money
When I first started my business, it was more like a side hustle and I viewed the money I earned as "found money". It's money that was mine and that I would deposit into my savings account. In reality, it's not really "my" money in the traditional sense, it was the business's money. I was hesitant to invest in the business because I saw it as a hobby (and the money as gravy). Breaking out of that mindset helped me grow the business beyond my limited expectations!
18. Have a Plan for Freebie Asks
If your business is based upon expertise, you soon discover that lots of folks want your writing, coaching, advice or expert review of a project. Far fewer people are willing to pay for the intangible of brain power. Intellectual and service based entrepreneurs must have a plan for dealing with requests for freebie gigs. The combination of an empty calendar and people who pledge to pay with "exposure" can be deadly to a new entrepreneur. Decide how much time you can afford to give away.
19. Hire Positive People
One of the most challenging things for any business is to grow their team. After experiencing some nuclear fallout from leaving a negative employee in place for too long, I realized that a positive attitude is the single most important character trait that you must look for in every new hire. You can teach someone new skills. You can train someone on how to complete tasks. However, a positive attitude is something an employee has or doesn't have. Make it the #1 item you look for in any new hire.
20. Building a Formidable Network
The most valuable lesson I've learned is the benefit of strong, active networks. These networks provide referrals and opportunities that I otherwise would not have access to. They offer morale support and positive influences. All the while, they are a well of resources from which I can consistently and confidently draw. It's because of my experience and the success it has afforded me that I am a true believer in the old adage, "Your network determines your net worth."
21. Success is a Team Sport
The key lesson I learned during my career is that it's important to be a great coach and mentor. I've always focused on making my team and the people around me successful, and doing my best to help them along their path in their career and life. They, in turn, have made me successful. Even when it doesn't appear that it would help at all - and sometimes it doesn’t - I always help them out and give feedback and advice. More often than not, this helps me and my organization perform at our best.
22. Best ROI? Invest in Yourself
Whatever personal issues you have (procrastination, self-doubt, over confidence, etc.) will become major business problems if you don't get a handle on them. And these issues, left unchecked, will have a direct impact on your bank account. To overcome this, invest in yourself, work on yourself and be willing to make adjustments. Hire the right coach/mentor/advisor and IMPLEMENT what you learn. You will always, guaranteed, make your money back & your business will be more successful as a result.
23. "Ya Gotta Tell It To Sell It!"
Be transparently specific about what you will be bringing to the table, how your business works, how much you charge for your service and what your terms of payment are. Put all this in writing up front. In my experience, it's best to get as much of your fee as you can up front, so that your new client has just as much skin in the game as you do, going into it. And don't waiver, as Don Carleone said, "It's just business, Mikey." Otherwise, you'll be rehashing the past and not creating the future.
The biggest business lesson I've learned is that the story behind my product is as important as the product itself. We sell a line of inspirational jewelry based around one design that contains every letter of the alphabet and every number hidden within it. Unless we tell the story of the design's creation, the jewelry simply won't sell. We spent a lot of time & money pursuing wholesale accounts to find this out. Luckily, we were able to transition to QVC where we've recently become a best-seller.
25. Take ‘No’ For an Answer
I know, it’s crazy isn’t it? After expending all that energy and offering up every applicable marketing idea to obtain a client, the prospect says no, or just doesn’t answer. It used to cause me physical and mental distress as I chased prospective clients, some for two years and more. One thing I learned, there usually is nothing personal to the decision, or lack of one. Just as I try not to get too high when I win a client, so too do I feel better fighting off the blues losing one.
26. Forget Focusing on One Thing
One of the best parts of being open minded is that you see so many business opportunities all around you. The downside was that it used to cause me so much stress that it was hard to get anything done. My success exploded when I realized that I didn't have to focus on only one thing, I just needed to ask for help. Now, I work with a team of like-minded people that help me accomplish all of my goals. So I say, forget focusing, just get people to help you along in your journey.
27. Find Your Fire, Live Inspired!
I live by the words of Marva Collins, "Success doesn't come to you, you GO TO IT!" For many years, I had a heart wrenching fear of stepping outside the 8 to 5 box of limitation. I've fallen flat on my face and I've soared beyond my greatest expectations. My college intern director once said I lacked initiative. That one statement has been the catalyst behind every risk I've taken before I was ready. Find your fire, live inspired, take MASSIVE action and make GALACTIC happen!
28. Don't Go it Alone
Entrepreneurs are great in generating ideas.
Business goes far beyond just the idea. You have to execute and deliver to bring in the cash. What to do?
Find 3 to 5 people who are in businesses different than yours and exchange your experience and your ideas. This is referred to as a Mastermind Group. However, think of it as a Board of Advisors shared by all the participating companies. No money changes hands, but the value is beyond measure.
You are not alone and need not be.
29. PR Unveiled
After working with clients for the past 25 years, the one concept I have successfully helped people understand is that the process in PR is sometimes bigger than media placements. Yes, notice is important, but building your brand, creating positive images and crafting new angles for appropriate media outlets are all part of the magic in the PR process. Many clients have taken my advice to refresh their brand messaging with amazing results. The process can unveil your true message and branding.
30. Do Not Underestimate!
It always costs more than you anticipate and takes longer than you plan to start a new business. Do not underestimate the amount of effort required. Plan for the worst and hope for the best.
31. You Are Not an Island
Entrepreneurship can be lonely—but it doesn't have to be. There are so many others out there trying to find success in a similar way, and many different mediums from which to connect with those people for support, guidance, and even mentorship. If you live in a rural place, seek connections online. Urban dweller? Find a local networking group. Connecting with others will give you the motivation to keep going when things get tough.
32. Don't Swim in a Rip Tide
I got into the oil and gas business at the start of 2015, and the beginning of the largest industry crash in decades. The downturn persists, around half a million have lost their jobs, and I've struggled to survive financially.
In the future, I would not join an industry that is crashing until a confirmed upturn was underway. Swimming against such a strong negative tide can drive you crazy, and undermine your chances of success. Entrepreneurship is hard enough; join a growing industry!
33. I Can't Sell!
The biggest lesson I've learned is that I can't sell. Honestly, I suck at it. I hate being sold to, so I can't sell.
Why is this important to know? Because I need other strategies. In part, that means I need more leads. In part, that means others helping me sell. Unfortunately, in part, it means I keep having to learn that lesson over again.
Know your weakness, for only then can you do something about it.
34. Get Feedback & See the Future
You think you have a great idea, but it's so important to get feedback from people you really trust. But, that's not enough. As Sully told the FAA detractors after he landed his plane on the Hudson: "everything is unprecedented until it happens!" In other words, if people have never heard of what you want to do, you might get very little positive response as it's never been done. Creating a line of Celebrity Rubber Ducks was just such a case for me. But, I could envision it and it worked!!
35. Create Value for Others First
We're all in business to make money. At least, that's the conventional wisdom. But, do you really make money without creating value for someone else first?
Of course not.
So, the purpose of our businesses is to create value for others. Once that's done, we get to keep our fair share. The more value you make for others (opportunity, revenue, advantage), the more you make (in profit, goodwill, loyalty) for yourself.
36. Give Away Your Best Stuff
Nothing positions you as an expert better than sharing your knowledge, for free. If you give enough value, you will build authority quickly and leads from prospective clients will soon follow. The reality is that even when you tell someone exactly how to do something the right way in order to solve their problem, they may not have the time, the resources or the willingness to do it. And, because you were the expert that gave so freely, who else would they go to when it's time to implement?
37. Are You All-Knowing??!
Are you all-knowing? I know I'm not! The most important lesson I've learned through the years of owning several businesses is to ASK FOR A MENTOR! If you are an expert in your industry, ask for a mentor in communication, leadership, or another area you are weak in. Maybe you are a great leader, but new to your industry... get a mentor that is an expert in the industry. I have always had mentors who are industry experts and those who are gifted in other areas to give me a different perspective.
38. Don't Be an Everythingist
Being an entrepreneur, we're all subject to the sparkly object syndrome. And, with all the cool marketing ideas out there, it is easy to lose focus.
The end result is lots of half-baked marketing efforts that never produce what they could.
So, test out some methods you think have potential and then, drive hard on the couple you get some results from. And, continue to work them full-bore.
Doing a few things well always outpaces the shotgun approach.
39. Stop Being too Nice!
In the early days of being in business, I thought being "nice" was a way to win friends and please clients. I'd give discounts, charge for an hour when I'd done an hour and 25 minutes, and be far too much of a "yes man."
I now know that's a surefire way to reduce income and gain less respect. Nobody admires a pushover - and you get more respect and more income by being professional and personable - rather than trying to be a friend to clients.
40. Do What Works and Don't Stop
There's an old adage in sales - "Things work so well that you stop doing them." Why? Boredom, the desire to try something new, the excitement that comes along with trying new stuff. I discovered, though, that those who find the things that work and keep doing those things find the most success in their chosen endeavor. Fail fast, find what works for you, and do those things consistently.
41. Never Stop Learning!
The one lesson I’ve learned that has helped me become a very successful entrepreneur: never ever stop learning. Those that think they know it all when starting-up are in real trouble. Whether it’s from books, audio tapes, or attending meetings/conferences, each provides an opportunity to expand your own knowledge and learn more about your field. Reading sales books and audio tapes had a huge impact on my early years and shaped me into the successful entrepreneur I am today.
42. Cast a Wide Net!
Have an open mind. Cast a wide net and don't be surprised with what you may catch.
You can sort your opportunities that you've caught and keep what you love. Be open minded, aware of the possibilities that exist in places that you would not expect. Never burn your bridges and keep loose contacts available. Do the best you can with each opportunity and display your work or product for others to see.
Thanks to: Paul Scheatzle.
43. Own a Niche
Most entrepreneurs want to be a jack of all trades, offering everything to everyone, and that can work.
But, if you pick just one small niche and focus on it - likely you will be much more successful.
Owing a niche will not only give you confidence in being able to know a subject backwards and forwards, but it will also dramatically assist in your marketing efforts.
And, marketing is often the name of the game.
44. It's Not About You
Make sure your text emphasizes the potential client's needs, not an egocentric website about how great you are. Every service you provide should reflect back to the client and address how they can benefit from knowing this information. Be "client-centric," not self-absorbed.
45. You Can’t Do It All
It’s easy to get used to doing it all yourself. As your company grows, take a step back and identify what’s keeping you from reaching your full potential. Hate numbers? Work toward hiring a bookkeeper. No legal background? Find a lawyer on a project basis. Need help with the basics? Find a part-time assistant.
Repeat after me: I can’t do it all.
But, that’s not a bad thing! You’re growing and need the support of other smart people in order to take your company to the next level.
Jenna Oltersdorf of Snackbox
46. Good Health Leads to Success
I've gone from a morbidly obese failed carnival owner to a successful amusement equipment broker, life goals coach, motivational speaker, and award winning author. I couldn't have done any of this until after beginning to get healthier. Good health and business success are not at odds. If you aren't getting good sleep, eating healthy meals, exercising regularly, and taking time for prayer and meditation, then you won't be successful long term. You owe it to your dreams to care for your body!
47. Learn to Be Selective
When starting out, it's easy to try and sell to everyone and to take on every piece of business that comes your way, but not all business is good business.
Taking on the wrong clients can result in loss of reputation, time wasting and ultimately, it can cost you more than it's worth - quite literally.
Only work with those who truly understand the value you bring and that you have a connection or good relationship with.
The best thing to do is listen to your gut.
48. Have Patience!
My key startup lesson was patience and plan on a longer time schedule. I got frustrated initially with our 90-day progress increments. But, sales takes way longer than I expected, and it can feel for long stretches like you're getting nowhere. We were absolutely frustrated in the short term, but we still ended up smashing our year two revenue goal by 3x. Entrepreneurs tend to overestimate what they can accomplish in 1 or 2 months and underestimate they can accomplish in 1 or 2 years.
49. Failed But NOT a Failure
To fail is to be human. When we first learned to walk, we failed. One step, two steps... we're down. We were so excited, and eager to walk -- with cheering squad intact -- we were able to dry our eyes, get up and start again. Eventually, we walked without falling. Skipped, jumped, and ran! We ran exhausted, until our lungs could take no more. Failing at a business or aspect of our business doesn't mean we are to take on the title of failure, it means we've learned a way that didn't work.
50. Two Heads are Better Than One
My boss at a cemetery I worked at always asked my opinion about any undertaking big or small followed by the exclamation, “David, two heads are better than one!” So true!
With every client, it is hugely important to ask questions and openly listen to their answers. The process always creates an opportunity to provide better service, a more powerful result and an engaged, happy client who comes back for more.
51. Ask Savvy Questions
I have the tendency to get focused and work longer hours when I am trying to do something new. This approach can waste my precious minutes and underutilize available resources.
I learned it is a much better strategy to contact people with expertise in my network, ask them questions, and get advice. It saves time and builds stronger relationships. It also reduces my stress by eliminating the trial and error process and getting straight to my desired success.
52. Are You Listening?
When I began my business, I spent a lot of time creating offers that I thought were the best solutions for the people that I wanted to help, but it didn’t resonate with them. It wasn’t until I connected with my ideal audience and listened to what they were saying that I was able to develop services that my prospects wanted to buy.
One of the best ways I found to connect with my potential clients was to get out and meet them where they hang out.
53. You've Gotta Have Faith
This may seem unconventional, but being a business owner brought me to faith. The ups and downs used to play with my emotions. Since truly becoming a "believer" I've felt a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders. I don't worry about my business anymore. This doesn't mean I don't have deadlines, goals, or disappointments. It just means that I have faith that everything will be alright, after all, that's what is promised to those who follow Him. This light in my life has helped me to dream bigger!
54. Never Give Up!
Starting a new business is a roller coaster ride with a lot of ups and downs. Know that really hard days will come along, and you will likely ask yourself, "Why in the world am I doing this?" But, if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, good days and new opportunities you never expected will arise.
55. Strategic Partners
Strategic partners and effective networking- find the best resource available for a given product or service, and then be the first to bring value in that relationship. For example, when I come across someone that can genuinely help my clients, I don’t ask them how I can advise their clients (i.e., make money off of them), I ask them how I can be an advocate for my clients to work with them. You will make great friends and create solid business relationships at the same time.
56. Never Stop Marketing
My lesson came when I least expected it; isn't that how it always happens? Never stop marketing your business. By stopping, you're stopping your growth and reach dead in its tracks. Evergreen funnels and Facebook Ads will only go so far, consistently marketing your business is something you can never stop doing. Show up and be consistent every day; this consistently keeps you in front of your clients. And, marketing doesn't have to take hours either. Create a plan of action and stick to it.
57. Double Check Your Emails!
What I suggest may seem minor - I religiously check email addresses before I hit the “send” button. A couple years ago, I accidentally sent an internal email – laying out my grand strategy of how to decimate the competition – to a key competitor. It was one of the absolute worst moments of my professional life. I decided I would never let that happen again. I preach to everybody who will listen to check the send-to email addresses before hitting “send”.
58. Avoid Hiring Friends or Family
When I look back at mistakes I made in early on in my entrepreneurial journey, I realize that early hiring practices were terrible. Like everyone else, I thought I could get my entire family working with me and it would be the best company. That was a big mistake. Friends and family have no place in business and I learned that the hard way, so now I make sure that doesn’t happen. We always hire people that have no other ties to us other than the work itself.
59. Never Give Up!
After 16 years working for a cutting tool company, I decided to start my own cutting tool company. My former employer sued, alleging breach of a non-compete clause. Without the resources to fight the lawsuit in federal court, I had no choice but to shut down. But, I never gave up. Two years later, I was ready to start again. I worked night and day, maxed out my credit cards, and just kept going. 13 years later, I have a multi-million dollar company with over 60 employees. Never give up!
60. Be Careful Who You Hire
One of the biggest business lessons I’ve learned is how important it is to be careful with your hiring, take a lot more time, look at a lot more candidates, check a lot more references, and 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 and taking up space on the org chart and payroll is preventing a good hire from being there for years.
61. Choose the Right Platform
If you're an eCommerce store, my best advice is to make sure you select the right platform. We switched over to Shopify after using Magento and it was the best decision we ever made. Shopify is so much easier to use and we’re able to focus more on selling our products to our customers, instead of dealing with technical issues. In other words, you don’t have to be a developer to launch your eCommerce store with Shopify. Everything is easy to understand, straightforward, and to the point.
62. Utilize Your Poker Face
One of the greatest things I learned in business was how to play poker better. I think I have always shown my heart on my sleeve. When I get excited about an idea, I'm usually pretty animated. On the contrary, I show displeasure when something happens that I don’t like. In business, it’s sometimes best to keep certain people guessing about your intentions. It can give you the advantage over a situation in some cases.
63. Attract Top Level Job Seekers
I've learned that with a robust market, our ability to grow is limited only by the number of people we can add to our company. I wish I had known how fast Orlando was going to grow and how competitive it would become to find talent in such a rapidly growing city. With that said, make sure you do everything you can to stand out from other companies. Attract top level job candidates by providing unique benefits that are valuable and difficult to resist.
64. Embrace Change!
Don’t be afraid of change, but rather, embrace it. If something isn’t working, try to find a better way. If new technology or new processes come along, investigate, then invest. Remaining in one spot invites stagnation, not growth. Being an entrepreneur takes a lot of hard work and determination. Do whatever it takes to keep your head above water, and you'll have a chance at succeeding.
65. Be Open and Try New Things
The biggest lesson I've learned in running my startup blog Vyteo.com is to always be open to trying new things. I've worked hard to both promote and monetize it through legitimate means. After many years, I finally decided offering complete marketing services to companies is the best option. I wouldn't have found this if I hadn't spent years selling strategic advice, copywriting assistance, and occasionally video production. Everything builds on itself if you keep building.
Stephen Gibson of Vyteo
66. Trust Your Brand!
One of the biggest business lessons I have learned being an entrepreneur is to trust your brand. I work for a professional cleaning company located in Central NJ. Many of my peers questioned our branding and why we don't advertise. It was important for me to understand the value of our brand and business. We did not cheapen it in any way nor did we take the traditional route. And it paid off! Over the past 5 years, we have become so successful that we are franchising our proven business model!
67. Strong Teams Thrive & Grow
The people you start with are not always the ones who grow with you. The hardest lesson I learned is not getting rid of weak people earlier. I spent more time managing them than finding new customers. I let them hang around much longer than they should have. It would have been better for everyone to let them go as soon as the signs were there. They became more insecure and threatened as we grew, which was not productive for the team. "A" team people like to be surrounded by other stars.
68. Ride the Wave!
The biggest business lesson I have learned on my entrepreneurial journey is to diversify. Business owners must continually perfect their services/products. Identifying expansions of services/products will ensure steady streams of income when the main service/product isn't as profitable. Entrepreneurs must be able to ride the financial and emotional waves. When you diversify, it allows you to sustain until business booms again. Business will boom again if you strategically ride the wave!
69. My Big Mistake
I had a successful gift basket business several years ago, which was both labor and product intense. My big mistake in business was that I didn’t carefully price out each product for the basket. Getting new business was my prime concern. I often gave away too much, which deeply cut into my profit. I did too much guess work. I often neglected adding enough for the shipping costs, extras and labor. Today, I am hand-painting tote bags and learned my lesson about pricing.
70. Don't Give Up Unless it's Time
We hear often to never give up… but it's more important to know when it's time to say enough is enough. If you're chasing the $ signs but you don't enjoy what you're doing, you'll get ahead faster by giving up the chance for the money and chasing your love.
71. The Routine
When you are engaged only in the current issues, you can lose the overall view of the situation. You should identify your weaknesses. You need to determine what you will do if something happens to the key factor that makes the business successful. When I was engaged in affiliate marketing, it was a great need to learn to code while there was time because the work was organized. It was necessary to use this time rationally and to obtain new knowledge that would make it possible to survive.
72. Tap Into the Law of Attraction
One of the biggest lessons I have had in my business is understanding that Skill & knowledge were not enough to see the growth I wanted. In my 20 year career in retail buying at management level, I found that those 2 attributes propelled me forward. However, in my own business, I found that mindset work has been the key to my success. Tapping into the universal laws, digging deep to work on blocks, self-esteem and my belief systems was the point in which I saw a change in my businesses growth.
73. Good Planning is Essential
A lesson I learned quickly is the importance of planning. It’s easy to start out with a vague vision of what you want to achieve, but if you don’t define or control that vision, you can incur unexpected costs. This is such a common problem for small businesses, it has a name of its own: scope creep. In the early days of Find Me a Gift, I began a project quoted to cost £40K over 3 months, but due to lack of clear goals ended up costing £90K and taking 12 months- I never made that mistake again!
74. Budget Your Spending
One of the biggest lessons I've learned as a business owner is never losing track of the money that your company earns. Speaking from experience, it can be challenging and too easy lose track of where money is going.
I learned that budgeting your earnings and your bills is the best way that you can properly manage your business. Always stay top of your spending.
75. Hire Nice People
One invaluable lesson is the importance of not only employing great people, but nice people. They may be brilliant, but if they’re troublesome or not a team player, they can end up being disruptive. Hire people who are great and nice. Having a happy and harmonious team all moving in the same direction is one of the main keys to success in any business.
76. The Perfect Fit
One of the biggest lessons I have learned is the importance of finding candidates that will complement the company culture. I used to focus on the technical skills of the candidate, whether they had been in a similar role before or had the right qualifications. Over time, I’ve come to learn than we don’t just need people who have the functional skills to do the job, if we want to grow, we need the right people on board who support the company’s vision and will build on that foundation.
77. Stop Trying to Make Money
The first twenty years of my business apprenticeship were spent trying to make money. That thinking however, only took me so far.
One day, something clicked and I realized "Business is not a money making game. Business is a value creating game."
From that day, everything changed. The more I moved my focus from 'making money' to 'creating value', the more financially successful I became.
78. Stay Patient
One of my biggest lessons is to stay patient when trying to work with prospective clients. I used to see our business as invaluable, wondering why clients saw us as interrupting their day, rather than being desperate to work with us. It’s rare that you’ll be their priority, but it’s always worth staying patient. Never burn your bridges; it’s remarkable how, given time, many people who were initially hesitant to work with us have gone on to become our most valuable clients.
79. Do Your OWN Research
-Inappropriate Council and formed incorrect company ($20K mistake)-if you plan taking your company public, make sure you form the correct corporation. We were told that we didn't need to set up a C-Corp in Delaware even though Delaware is the most tax favorable state for C-Corps.
Lesson learned? Speak to multiple councils to ensure you create your business properly.
80. Prioritize Problem Solving
Solve for the problem at hand and not your future problems.
When I started GreenBlender, our main “problem” was to see if people wanted smoothie ingredients delivered. Initially, it was not how to source the produce or how to ship it. Only after we realized there was demand, we could then figure out where to find and ship all the ingredients.
It can be very overwhelming to start and run a business and I have found this to be the best way to prioritize time, yielding the best results.
81. Picture Not-So-Perfect
I learned the hard way the importance of finding your niche. At first, I tried to be everything to potential clients (I was a photographer). It was a terrible way to do business and it burned me out so badly that I stopped photographing for a few years. I'm back to it now, part-time for fun, while I work full-time doing content strategy for Verizon. The difference now is, I know my strengths and what niche I want to specialize in: portraits!
RaShea Drake of Verizon
82. Your Reputation is Everything
The biggest business lesson I learned since starting my business over seven years ago is to be honest in everything that we say and do. By having followed this simple philosophy, we have built a reputation that can be trusted. We've heard stories about businesses that have overcharged customers or repaired things that weren't even broken and that's a surefire way to lose credibility. It takes a long time to build an excellent reputation and there's nothing worth tarnishing that for.
83. Focus on the Long Game
The biggest lesson I learned over the years as a freelance web designer & SEO is to focus on the long game. This puts the pressure off of me to hit a specific goal that I put in place for myself, and with this freedom, I actually find myself feeling more motivated. It may sound counterproductive, but it has worked wonders for me. When I decided to stop putting pressure on myself to hit a specific dollar amount each month, I started to enjoy the process and found my work to be way more fulfilling.
84. Remember to Laugh Every Day!
When you cultivate a laughter practice, you are strengthening your emotional resilience to take on the inevitable “learning moments” with a smile. Laughter helps to take the pressure off, as it works to dispel feelings of stress and anxiety. Studies have shown that laughter boosts your mood within seconds, brings fresh oxygen to your brain and increases mental clarity and creativity. So, follow your joy. Have fun with your business - and remember to laugh every day!
85. Tap Dancing to Work Every Day
Start & end every day with top performers. This gives me momentum to "tap dance" to work. I make my first interaction with someone rocking a project/new solution or with a client. I end my day similarly - conversations with one at the top of their game, leading a team, etc. I love to create platforms for individuals to grow/see brighter futures – whether leaders at Talent Plus or at a client. I do engage with those struggling/needing insight – I simply choose not to start & end my day there.
86. Hard Lessons Learned Well
The biggest lesson I have learned in the 12 years I have owned POUCHEE is to accept my mistakes, own them and LEARN. Lessons can truly be difficult, but also so valuable if we don't dwell on them. This makes the successes so much sweeter.
87. Remember Your ROI
My biggest business lesson learned would be paying strict attention to my company’s ROI. It's easy to lose money while focusing too much on your brand’s growth. Remember to know where you are spending your hard-earned marketing dollars and how that investment is paying off. Once I created a cash-flow plan and determined my expenses, my revenue became stronger than ever and I added more money to our savings. It is also wise to create a backup savings account in the event of a downturn!
88. Don't Drown or get Sunburnt!
The entrepreneur boat rocks up and down. There are times when you literally feel like you are going to lose your footing and get knocked overboard. And, there are equally times when you are aboard the proverbial luxury yacht, laying back and taking in the sun. Don't panic when you are sinking and don't luxuriate when you are successful. The tides will always turn and I've learned that the best course of action is to modulate both the lows AND the highs, not get caught up in "this is how it is now".
89. Business Humble Pie
Starting a decluttering business, not a stretch. I'm a retired social worker. Going from therapist to clearing clutter and pest poop helps me understand the service industry humble pie. More daunting is managing teams of independent contractors. Being a manager is not in my DNA. Delegating is a talent. It takes a delicate and forceful balance. Projects become a circus act or a polished picture. I learned the art of detachment years ago. Putting a blue aura around me versus armor is the secret!
90. Scaling Takes Time and Energy
Scaling company culture and distribution can be very challenging. A lot of people believe that if you build a great product, customers will automatically come. In my experience building a growing company, it's a much more complicated process that includes hiring the right people, establishing a positive culture, and motivating everyone to do their best work.
91. Don’t Make the Same Mistake
The worst mistake I ever made was not buying the proper insurance coverage to run my business.
My previous company was a landscape contracting firm, but I grew to 125 employees and $8 million a year in annual revenue- last year I sold the company to a national organization.
In addition to the basic liability and workers comp insurances, our company also pays for employment law liability insurance.
92. Work-Life Balance
Take at least one day a week completely off. As entrepreneurs, we tend to work more than most. On one hand, we have to and on the other, we’re so invested and passionate in what we’re doing that we can easily get lost in it. So, it’s very important to make ourselves take a day off to recharge our batteries and catch our breath. Then, we can’t help but to come back with a fresh outlook, new ideas and a different perspective.
93. Don't Delay Getting Started
Don't wait to get started. You will never be perfectly ready to start a business, so you might as well take action and adjust along the way.
94. The Only Constant is Change!
You must continue to innovate, be attentive to new opportunities in the market, new advertising media such as Facebook, Whatsapp, YouTube, Instagram, etc.
The next big change will come thanks to Artificial Intelligence and especially to Deep Learning. Do you know what it is, how you can use it to improve your business or even so your competition does not win?
Do not stand idly by repeating the same business model again and again, because it is what is working right now; you must innovate!
95. Setting Expectations
ONE of the biggest business lessons I learned on my entrepreneurial journey is to set the right expectations from the very beginning. Some of the issues we find ourselves dealing with are a direct result of people not being on the same page. Had we made sure we were all having the same understanding about the mission of the company, we would not find ourselves trying to fix what should have been clarified in the very beginning. Have an open dialogue early on with team members to avoid this.
96. Sometimes, Fire Your Client
The most impactful lesson that I've learned in business is that sometimes, you have to fire clients. Not that long ago, we followed the mantra "the customer is always right," and facilitated almost anything that was asked of us. Then, one client was rarely, if ever, happy with the work we were doing. Initially, we just thought it was a communication error, but over time, we knew it was just a bad fit. After nearly six months of chaos, I had an honest conversation and severed the relationship.
97. Don't Be Afraid to Fail
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Most lessons come from failure. Learning doesn’t stop when you graduate, so don’t be afraid to ask other professionals questions. Try learning from their mistakes before making your own. However, even then, it’s impossible to know everything. The only people who always do everything right are the ones who don’t do anything at all. Things look different when you put them in practice. Thus, see your mistakes as a natural learning process.
98. Work with Others (Seriously)
You won’t be able to do everything yourself. Find professionals who can help you grow your business. Having a team is crucial, because you will need to use your time efficiently. Choose a skill that you are particularly good at and leave the rest to those who can do that job better.
99. Confidentiality Agreement
The biggest lesson I learned was how important it is to sign a confidentiality agreement before discussing business ideas with potential partners. I visited a Chinese factory with my original design and did not ask them to sign the confidentiality agreement before sharing my design. While I was sitting in their office, the MD drove to Shanghai, 3 hours away, and applied for a utility patent. Now, I don’t talk to anyone about anything without first signing a confidentiality agreement.
100. Pinpoint Your Customer Base
The toughest business lesson I learned was: don't spend years developing a product that doesn't have a distinct customer base. I wish someone had given us that advice earlier, but maybe it's one of those things you have to learn yourself. You have to feel the pain before you appreciate it. 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.
101. One Lesson to Rule Them All
The highest impact business lesson I've ever learned is the 80/20 rule.
Put simply, it teaches us that 80% of outcomes are the result of 20% of inputs. Meaning, a small percentage of your efforts will generate a majority of your business growth.
For example, a small percentage of your clients will account for the majority of your success. I also find that 20% of clients account for 80% of the headaches.
When seen through this lens, high level business concepts become much simpler.
102. No Pain, No Gain!
Pain is the most precious gift you can ever receive. EVER!!!
I know it sounds weird, but that's what I have learned and experienced. It's actually all about the mindset and your emotional strength. Yes, there's a dark side to pain, only if you take it that way. But, with pain comes self-realization, which brings in the best of yourself. It's the only way you can grow to your greatest heights because pain gives you the power to hustle to your maximum limits & everything is achievable with hustle.
103. The Power of Active Listening
An active listening session involves sitting down with someone you've had an argument with. You then agree to take turns speaking for five minutes. While one of you is speaking, the other cannot react or say anything. You can have a mediator enforce the rules if needed.
This arrangement makes sure each party is given enough time to explain his/her respective side. One session was all it took for me to patch things up with a business partner I've been in an argument with for weeks.
104. Clients Inspire New Services
As an innovation agency of 18 years, we've learned that despite "eating our own dog food;" that is, using the same idea generation processes to market ourselves that we use on behalf of our clients, client requests are still the best source of inspiration for new services.
A good example of this is our creative strategy service, disruptive war gaming, which came directly from a client request to help them do a better job of anticipating competitive challenges and industry disruptions.
105. Biggest Lesson: Mentorship
As an entrepreneur in government contracting, my biggest lesson learned is the power of mentorship. I met a successful small business government contractor as his business was graduating out of the SBA's 8(a) certification program. I was only 3 months into my 8(a) certification and quickly teamed with him on contracts. My mentor knew how to best service the agency, which allowed me to learn and grow within the agency. Soon after, I landed my first $2.5 million government contract with the DHS.
106. Avoid the Friend Zone
The most important business decisions you will make is with employment. When I started my company 14 years ago, I chose to hire a friend out of convenience and trust. I knew this guy – he was my best friend. Unfortunately, our goals were not aligned and one year later, he stormed out and disappeared – never to be seen or heard from again. Today, I make sure to put candidates through a series of interviews and take the time to find the right fit. The right people make all the difference.
107. Social Media for the Win!
Never be afraid to ask for help from anyone on social media.
I recently started and sold an ecommerce store 7 months later for good profit. While struggling to find credible Chinese suppliers, a Chinese stranger on a Facebook group proved helpful in calling the local factories to get me better prices. To ensure faster shipping, he had it sent to him, and he got me faster courier services to the States. He also didn't charge extra in consulting fees; all I had to do was pay the required costs.
108. You Can't Fake It
Poor leadership uses "process" like a security blanket. If you are in the process of... it means you're moving in the right direction, right? Wrong. Effective leaders use Goals to point the enterprise in the right direction. There is a place for "process" and "goals". Know what you really need and don't allow cerebrals, who've never run a business, talk you out of goals in lieu of process. Regardless of the type of business you're in, it comes down to leadership- you can't fake it.
Do you know any business lessons that weren’t included? Please share your thoughts below. And as always, many thanks to everyone that contributed to this article!