Biz RegretWhen I talk to entrepreneurs and business owners, a common theme that I frequently hear about is their business regrets- what they wish that they had known when they started their business. Hindsight is definitely 20/20, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from someone else’s regrets to avoid making those same mistakes and having those same business regrets. Here are a few tips:

(1) Learn About Business in General

One, if not the most common, regret that I hear from entrepreneurs is that they wish that they learned more about running a business in general before starting their own. In order to have a successful business, you have to understand “business”, not just your particular area of expertise. I can’t say this enough, but just because you know how to make great lasagna doesn’t mean that you know how to run a great Italian restaurant.

Prepare, prepare, prepare! Do your research before you start out. Take some business classes and follow someone who is already successfully running a business similar to yours to see what they are doing. From organizations like SCORE to a whole host of business blogs and books (I personally recommend my own book, The Entrepreneur Equation), there is a virtual sea of information out there (and a lot of it is free!), so take advantage of it. Work in the industry and make sure that you understand what it takes to run and operate it on a day-to-day basis. It’s so much more than making lasagna all day (and in fact, you’ll probably have to hire someone else to make that lasagna), so if that was your main reason for opening a restaurant, think twice before you start!

And if all of this preparing and researching sounds like too much work for you, think three times before you start!

(2) Build Up Your Network First

I also hear from business owners that they wish that they were better connected. We’ve all heard the cliché “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” and this can definitely be true in business. To avoid this frequent business regret, build up your network before you start your business.

But even if you’ve already put the OPEN sign in your window, it’s never too late to build up your network. The best way to do this is to seek out those people that you would like to be connected with and find ways to be genuinely helpful without expecting anything in return. And this is easier than ever with social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Hang out where those that you want to connect with hang out; look for conferences, networking events and even attend events that they themselves are putting on and offer to help. Build up your network through goodwill and you will have an extensive network to draw upon in your times of business need.

(3) Surround Yourself with the Right People

One last regret that I constantly hear is about people- from working with the wrong business partner to hiring the wrong employees, suppliers, legal counsel and/or everyone in between. It is so important to thoroughly vet anyone that you work with to make sure that they have the same values and shared goals for your business. Get references from trusted sources, look into their online profiles and history to find possible red flags, and trust your instincts. Don’t just take your Aunt Sally’s word- business relationships are for the long haul and working with the wrong people can have a catastrophic impact on your business.

It’s easy to be on the same page when everything is new and exciting at the start of your business, so that is a great time to clearly define and outline each individual’s responsibilities and duties. Put it in writing and have everyone sign off on it- this can be re-evaluated as time goes on, but this way, everyone is starting off on the same page. And if you can’t agree before you even start, then this is a HUGE red flag that you are probably not well-suited for working together. Because, when the going gets tough (and it will!), those business relationships will really be challenged and tested. Having everything in writing will help hold everyone accountable and offer a buffer or safeguard against a messy falling-out or worse.

What other tips do you have for preventing business regret? Please share them below.

Thanks to Monique Y. Wells of Understanding Time Management, Ryan Critchett of iMobileRescue iPad Insurance and Kim Flynn of Kim Flynn Consulting: for Women for the inspiration behind some of these ideas.