Starting a new business is challenging. It is not easy, and in most cases, it will require that you put your heart and soul to it to succeed. You’re putting yourself on the line. You’re putting your money and reputation at risk. It is hard work.
But the rewards of starting a business can be enormous. There are the immense joy and satisfaction of seeing your business make a difference in the life of other people. There’s the pride in seeing something that you’ve created turn into a huge success.
If you are about to start a business, here are 25 lessons that can guide you:
1. Dream big
The most successful entrepreneurs dream big. Believe in yourself and in your business idea. Visualize how your business will not only change your life but revolutionize the world.
2. Match your dreams with action.
It’s one thing to dream big, and another to do everything to see it through. Execution is key. Take the initiative and ensure that you are working every day to attain your dream. Dreams without any sweat equity are just pipe dreams.
3. Believe in your business.
Your goal is to champion your business. Be confident in your product or service. You should be the first to believe what the business can do, and how it can change the lives of your target market.
4. Know that your business is bigger than you.
Your business will not only affect you but your customers. It is not just about you, or your partners, or even your shareholders eventually.
5. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
Mistakes are inevitable, no matter how hard you try to do what you think is best. Expect missteps along the way; those are simply part of the journey. The most important part is that you learn from your mistakes.
6. Open your mind to possibilities.
Opportunities are everywhere, and your role is to spot those opportunities that can contribute to the growth and success of your business.
7. There is no single path to success.
In fact, there are a lot of ways that you can earn more than a million dollars. Try and try – until you succeed. Your original plan may not work, but don’t be discouraged. Learn from your mistakes, change or shake-up your idea, or use a different approach altogether. The key is to find which way to go to achieve your dream.
8. Plan wisely.
You need to set clear goals for your business and carve a path for its direction. Where do you see the business in a month, in a year, or in five years — and how do you intend to reach it? But be aware that even with the best planning, things can happen sometimes that can throw you off. When thinking about what you want to achieve in the future, think of the possibilities, and come up with plans on what you will do should the situation arise.
9. Understand your business.
Learn everything you can about the business. Learn what factors are needed to make the business work. Know what triggers the supply and demand of your business, in order to control your costs, manage inventory and generate revenues. Talk to other business owners. Connect with peers and network with other business owners in your industry.
10. Know your financials.
It is important to understand when, how and why you will earn money. Make every effort to personally understand the financials of the business (not just relying on your accountant to explain the numbers to you and what it means). Knowing your numbers could help you understand your reality, and where exactly your business stands. By knowing your numbers, you can make better decisions for your business.
11. Know and respect your customers.
Your business will only exist if you are able to attract and keep customers, and you can only do so if you understand what your customers want and treat them with respect. Listen to what your customers need and really want. Keep your focus on customers’ feedback. Get their opinions about what’s working (and what’s not) about your business. Put your shoes in your customers and look at your business from their perspective. Ask questions they may ask, from whether your prices are reasonable to how easy is it to find information or products on your website. Show them how important they are for your business. Respond to their queries immediately, consider their comments, and basically, keep them happy.
12. Get out of your shell and comfort zone.
Entrepreneurship will challenge you, and will force you to extend yourself in ways you never imagined possible. Success in business is about being bold, not afraid to take chances or won’t back down from failures. At the end of the day, it feels good to realize that you’ve just done something that you never expected you could do.
13. Don’t be afraid to fail.
In almost all cases, success only comes after trying, failing a few times, and learning from your mistakes: and it feels that much more satisfying because it’s been earned. Sometimes, the best opportunities come from your worst mistakes.
14. Never put all your eggs in one basket.
Diversification is important. Looking for other ways to earn money when you think you’re already sitting on a goldmine can seem counterproductive. However, your business has a stronger chance of surviving if you don’t rely on a single source of income, a single customer or a single supplier. With several sources of income, you hedge your bets when one income source dries up (you just never know!). Relying on a single customer is also risky, especially if the customer suddenly dumps you and decides to go with your competitor.
15. Network, network and network.
Reach out to other people and network — from industry events, other conference or seminar attendees, or online. Wherever you go, always keep a business card handy. Join social media sites and find like-minded individuals who will support and inspire you. You just never know who you’ll meet and what impact they may have on your business.
16. Time is gold.
This is especially true for a home-based entrepreneur who wears many hats. Being your own boss means charting the course of your business, as well as your day. Budget your time efficiently, making sure that you complete the most important tasks of the day while allowing you some free time to relax and unwind. If you feel you are getting bogged down with routine administrative tasks with little time for marketing or other activities, consider getting outside help for your business.
17. You need thick skin to survive.
When you put yourself out there with your business, chances are others will have something to say about it, and not all of them are positive. You can’t please everybody, so be prepared to receive criticisms and even flack. Customers, bankers, prospective investors may not be impressed or happy with your business. What they say can sting, even hurt you. Accept criticisms graciously, and always keep an open mind. Use all feedback to your advantage.
18. Know and research your competitors.
Research products that resemble your offering, and then strive to make yours better. Look at how your competitors do things, where they are getting the most success, and even their blunders — and use the information to improve how you do things in your business.
19. Be prepared to sacrifice.
Working on a business may mean personal sacrifices on your part — e.g. fewer activities with friends, less sleep. Unlike a 9-to-5 job that is easier to turn off after business hours, you will live and breathe your business 24/7. Know what’s important to you, but understand that entrepreneurship requires full commitment and some sacrifices may be in order.
20. Learn to communicate.
Communication is important in business. Whether you are talking to a potential investor, a partner or your web designer, you must learn how to communicate your thoughts clearly and cohesively.
21. Seek out advisors and mentors.
Reach out to people who have the experience, savvy and knowledge about what you are trying to accomplish with your business. Find a mentor: they can give you guidance and advice that may be invaluable in navigating rough spots in your business. They may even be able to open doors for you.
22. Strive to live a balanced life.
Starting and operating a company can be very stressful. You need balance in your life, taking time to unwind, relax and recharge your batteries. Remember to make time for the important things in life.
23. Think positive.
When you tell others (including family and friends) of your plans to start a business, chances are that some of them will discourage you and try to stop you. They may think of your business idea as crazy or they may simply not think that you have what it takes to become a successful business owner. Stay away from negative elements. Focus on people who encourage, motivate and inspire you to go forward.
24. Embrace technology.
Technology and gadgets can make your work process more efficient, allowing you to get more things done. Get tech-savvy and learn what technologies can make your business better.
25. Have fun!
Do what you love and find a business that is fun for you. Entrepreneurship is like a roller coaster ride: sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down. Enjoy the ride. When you enjoy doing something, it will not feel like work at all. The passion you have for your business will help see you through its most challenging times. Never lose sight of why you wanted to become an entrepreneur first.
Originally published on June 10, 2011. Updated on January 17, 2020.