Want to get a crash course on owning a small business before you invest your money? Pull a $100 out and take 10 different small business owners out for coffee, shut your mouth and listen to their wisdom.
Many small business owners, including me, made the mistake of thinking starting a business was fairly easy. I knew I had to hustle, but I believed success was sure to come and weekends would remain “down time”. Failures of different sorts are bound to happen in all small businesses, but take the time to learn from the best leaders can save you from making business dooming mistakes. Here are a few mistakes I have learned from over the past few years.
- Intern with a leader in your industry. When you spend time studying under others in the industry, you skip the heartache and wasted time and money on learning neophyte business lessons. My first business was a clothing line and since I did not have the resourced or clientele to go into large production, I had to rely on other fulfillment houses to produce my products which drove my costs up. Over time, I learned of ways to reduce costs through production (that you only learn hands on); it would have saved me much frustration and profit if I had spent time in the industry getting this knowledge before starting my business.
- Admit when you suck at doing something and hire someone else….even if you don’t have the money. I am the luckiest business partner in the world when it comes to working with someone who compliments me so perfectly. I am a sales person and a visionary at heart. I HATE the details. I struggle with keeping the books and staying organized. Brad, my business partner,is an operations guy to the core. He keeps the books and manages licenses to products we purchase; he makes sure that everything is always “buttoned up”. While I always, always know what is going on, I don’t have to make sure that my lunch at Ted’s Montana grill with a client is line itemed to T&E in our books at the end of the year.
- Never, ever expect anyone to do anything for you. The reality of this statement might sound a bit harsh, but it is truth. Many friends will offer to help, promise promote your business or introduce you to some of their contacts, but they won’t. Don’t take it personally, friends mean well, but never make good on promises. This also applies to trading work for “exposure”. Listen up, never give away your work for free because you are devaluing your services. I am not objecting to pro-bono work, but stating that if someone does not have (or willing to spend) investable dollars to hire you then don’t waste your time on trying to prove your worth to them.
- Pick your friends wisely. RTL Digital Media thrives on relationships. We do not have thousands of clients and that is not our goal. We would rather have 50 clients with good, healthy and productive relationships than 700 clients we don’t know and can’t predict their behavior. Be careful who you do business with from a consulting and a client perspective. If your gut is telling you to walk away from a relationship then start running. Brad and I have been very, very smart about knowing when to say “no”. Saying “no” is saying “yes” to business and emotional stability.
- Be prepared to give up a piece of yourself. Many new business owners think once you set up shop, put a sign in the yard that clients will be lining up at the door. This will never, ever happen. You have to work your tail off to get no-where for a long time. In the end, the effort will pay off, but expect to sacrifice time with family, friends and relationships for your business. If you expect it to take 3 months to become a success, triple that and you might have a healthy perspective on how long success probably will take.
- Don’t hire just anyone. A while back I heard a business expert say “Don’t hire a junior person and plan to develop them. Hire the best and let them do their job”. I am not saying that junior web developers cannot be outstanding assets; I am saying NOT to hire someone just to get a job done who does not have the skill set. Hire for what you need, not what you hope someone will become. And never, ever hire someone just to fill the empty seat. It costs you three times the amount of time to correct problems created by a bad hire than to do the work in the first place
- Never stop being grateful: Sometimes we allow ourselves to get caught up in the moment of success in business. Celebrating business wins is well deserved and important to do, but becoming prideful of the strides you have made leads to frustration and anxiety for where you are not. Work really hard and take a moment to be grateful for the doors that have opened and opportunities that have presented themselves; gratitude keeps the heart joyful.
- Keep your family first. It is so very easy to let the drive for the need of success to get between you and your spouse. As the old saying goes “an unhappy wife is an unhappy life” stands true in business. No matter how broke you are and how hard you work, continue to make your spouse the first priority. When there is harmony in the home then your emotions and stress are more open to take on the struggles of the work world.
- It is always your fault. With every new client, we learn new lessons. Early in RTL’s history we had a client that taught me a valuable lesson in responsibility or what happens when someone lacks ownership of their business. I bent over backwards for our client and did more than agreed in our contract. I exceeded my responsibility and my client never completed their marching orders when it came to launching projects. The client blamed me for her failures in the project and rightfully so, due to my failure in taking on her as a client in the first place. When I was interviewing her as a potential client, I had noted that her struggles in business had ALWAYS been someone else’s fault. In my mind, I chalked it up to being young and not understanding what “owning” your business/career/life really meant. I saw the problem she had and I chose to ignore it. The client caused me significant headache and it was my fault because I chose to take her own despite my gut telling me otherwise. I failed in my decision making and I am the one responsible for the added stress and wasted time in that relationship.
Each business owner has their own set of lessons to share. Lessons that can save you considerable heartache down the road. What is your business lesson you can share with us?