I took a few years gap in entrepreneurship to get a steady job and learn about an industry for which I had developed a passion: education. In 2010 I made the transition back to the world of entrepreneurship and here are 10 of my lessons from this year:
1. Action is the Real Difference
You can theorize on paper and discuss ideas all you want. Write the longest and the most detailed business plans but unless you go out and take action, nothing will happen. The best lesson for me in 2010 was taking action is what makes the entrepreneur. The rest read all the books, know how to make a business in theory and have these great ideas, but as they don’t want to risk “looking like an idiot” they will have their “great ideas” collect dust. Unless you do something, nothing will happen.
2. Accept Stupidity As the Cost of Doing Something New
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. But when you are going through setting up you will make a ton of “mistakes”. This is a part of the learning process. Don’t “kick yourself” too hard. Take the learnings and move on. You can spend too long looking back at the decision you wish you would have made. Take it for granted that you will make “awesome” decisions and make some “stupid” moves. Just strive to get better and as long as you keep moving, you will get there.
3. Think Big. Act Small.
I always think that my “great” idea will get a million users. Give yourself smaller targets. Focus on the first customer. Than the fifth customer. Then tenth customer. Then twentieth customer. I focused on the million mark, forgetting to collect the single customers along the way. Most business plans draw a hockey stick chart to show them. Instead it is usually a steady growth. You need to think big to be able to persevere through the tough times, but along the way act small.
4. Your Charity and Your Business are Two Separate Entities
An employee sitting around and not doing much kills your cash flow. I’ve hired sales people that didn’t sell. Programmers that didn’t program. And designers that didn’t design too well. All this came out of my pocket. I was too much of a “give them another chance” and felt bad about letting people go. This cost me a huge amount of headache and could have spent the money on other resources. If you are paying someone a salary and not getting the output than consider that money as something you could have given to charity but instead you are financing an employee’s lifestyle. I’ve gone hungry, so my employees could get paid. Lessons are if your resources are not producing than learn to make the tough decisions as they will also understand that you are not a charity but someone that needs to make money for yourself too.
5. Remove Tire Kickers Quickly
As a small business you have a burn rate. Every day is costing you money. Many potential clients will ask you for business plans and proposals but they have no intention of buying (or are too low in the hierarchy to be able to buy). I’ve learned to be better at not wasting time with “tire kickers” -those people that come to your car showroom, kick a few tires, ask how much and leave. Governments and large corporations especially can kill your cash flow by dragging out a decision for months without giving you the business. You need to keep pitching for the “big projects” but ensure you go in with the questions to identify the tire kickers quickly and learn to say “no” or not invest a huge amount of time in those projects.
6. Find Purpose
When I had a business a few years ago, I got bored. I didn’t feel like working at it any more. Now I find businesses that have a “purpose” bigger than making money. I look to see how I can help the world, and hopefully the money follows. Webpreneur University teaches people entrepreneurship. I’ve built products and services that I would use myself and it makes it easier for me to work the long hours it takes to build up a business.
7. Base Your Business Around Your Life, Not Your Life Around Your Business
You will spend more time on your business than you will with your spouse, children or friends. You might as well love what you do. Figure out which city you want to live in, which industry you want, what kind of people you want to work with. I can meet an exceptional employee/investor/client but if I don’t feel like I will enjoy working with them, I don’t go for it. If I wanted to live a life on someone else’s terms, I would get a job. I remind myself to love what I do, that if people are causing me stress – it’s time to cut those relationships. I choose the city that I live in. I choose the hours I work and the people I work with. Even at the expense of “profit”. This keeps me sane and ensures that I work harder as I love what I do. Making money and not loving what you do, is almost as bad as sticking with a job and boss you hate simply as the rewards in a few years time will make it worth it.
8. Have Self Belief
I started to invest in an office and Webpreneur University in 2009, while I still had a job and steady cash flow. As some friends and family members found out about it they told me I was crazy to build a university so I listened and shut it down. I ended up doing the same idea but the self doubt cost me at least 6 months. I’ve learned not to share my ideas/plans with people who are likely to tell me my ideas are dumb. Its easy to criticize something. If you have a dream – go for it, even if your parents/friends/family think you are crazy. Your self belief will get you there. Remember if you are doing anything new than there will be plenty of criticism along the way – I know many would be entrepreneurs, not taking action as their parents told them to play it safe and get a job. As 9 out of 10 businesses fail, “they” are probably right – but do you want a life where you simply do what everyone else does? Yes, things haven’t happened as fast as I would like them to, but the new found self belief means that I keep working to achieve my goals one day at a time.
9. Filter Your Advice
There are no barriers to giving advice. No formal qualifications are needed. Just ensure that you filter through the advice from books/parents/friends/lawyers/employees/mentors and take responsibility for the ultimate decision. I spent too many of my early years listening to anyone who had anything to say about anything. Ultimately, you know your industry, product and customers better than someone that you spent an hour discussing your problem with. Yes, take messages on board, but ultimately what they say is not necessarily the right solution for you. Especially be careful taking advice from a “mentor” or salesperson that has a stake in the decision you make. I’ve given “bad” advice (not on purpose!) and received plenty of bad advice as well. Just ensure you ultimately take responsibility for your action.
10. Enjoy the Now
I delayed gratification on many things, thinking that “when my business makes it, I will do X”. I’ve learned to enjoy and reward myself along the way. It’s a marathon with many sprints in the middle, and if you go from a sprint to sprint, without reward you will burn out. Remember you are doing this for yourself, so enjoy the journey rather than waiting to get to a destination. Entrepreneurship is a life long game, and the destination is always further than you think.