When I started my first business at 20 years old, I knew absolutely nothing about running and growing business. I studied entrepreneurship and business development but that was all paperwork. Almost two decades later, I looked back and realized that had I known then what I know now things could’ve been very different today.
In thinking about all the things that I wish I knew more about, I am sharing ten of the most important ones for anyone who is thinking to get started in their own business.
- Develop and cultivate a personal and business mindset. Your mindset is extremely important for getting started and growing a business. A business fantasy and an actual business is very different. Having the right mindset from the get go will help your business beyond levels you can imagine. Developing my personal mindset was something I started doing late that I wish I had done earlier. I was a spiritual person and that helped me a lot, but I didn’t have the right mindset personally. I didn’t have the right business mindset either. I didn’t spend enough time developing me personally or cultivating my mind for business. This had caused me to mix business with pleasure too often and I suffered great loss as a result. My mind wasn’t in the right place. Getting your mind in the right place will be the greatest thing you can do for yourself and your business. I started changing my mindset through reading and learning. I started opening my mind to new things and became intentional about it.
- Know what it is you want to do. When I got started in my first business, I was all over the place trying to please everyone. I would add a service if someone wanted it and lose sight of what my goals were initially. This didn’t help. After a while I was offering too many things and was saying yes to everything. I had to focus. Knowing what you want and sticking to it is important in growing. It will take you more time to grow if you keep trying to please everyone. Focus on one thing and learn how to do it well so that you can grow as quickly as possible. Once you are satisfied with that growth you can begin to add other things but I would still caution you to be careful. It is costly to do a lot of things and with no money, somethings just wont get done. Keep it simple and be great at it.
- Have a street business plan and maintain it. Though I learned how to develop and write business plans in college, I realized that its not necessarily the same in the real world. A real business plan to me is one that appreciates the business in the streets and not the one in the corporate office. This is especially valuable when you are just starting out. The corporate business plan included all the fancy stuff about business that I didn’t have to deal with in my first 3 years in business. A street business plan to me is like an action plan of how you will be growing the business weekly over the next several weeks. What will you be doing exactly? Write those things down in your own words and do them. The part where I had to hustle away and make sales weren’t in my corporate business plan. It wasn’t simplified enough for the business I was doing and this is where I went wrong. I didn’t know how to simplify it. A street business plan is as simple as it gets even a 10 year old could follow it. Report to your plan and update it often so that your business stay on track.
- Have mentors who are successful business owners. Almost all the people I took advise and mentoring from didn’t run a business themselves. They were a bunch of bookworms that was telling you what they read here and there. Even if they ran a business, it wasn’t anything like what I was working on and so to be fair to them, they didn’t know how to grow a business like that. Instead of pointing me to the right persons, most people tried to help but only because they felt terrible not knowing what to tell me. Avoid mentors who have never ran a business in their life and particularly one that isn’t necessarily close to what you are doing. It felt hard trying to find a good mentor but if you keep trying, you’ll find one. The best mentor is one who you can meet in person and talk with but if that is difficult, find a book or watch videos from that person and do what they advise. But don’t run your business without a mentor if you want to be successful.
- Hire the right set of smart people and be very careful of friends. Friends who wish you well and mean you no harm can unconsciously hurt your business. The worst mistake I made was not doing anything about the issues I allow my friends to cause in my business immediately. I instead tried to work with the situation as a way of showing I cared but I destroyed my business eventually. Today those friendships aren’t the same. Hiring the right set of smart people with the skills that can help your business grow is vital. I didn’t hire people that I felt were smarter. I avoided those people because I feared they would come and take my business away. I had to unlearn that as it didn’t make any sense. Having smarter people around you, helps you to move faster and get things done that you wouldn’t otherwise know how to do. Your business grows much faster with smarter people around.
- Be intentional about reading and learning. Today I’m reading at least three books monthly intentionally. The books I read are carefully selected to help me grow as a person and as an entrepreneur. Back then, I didn’t think it was important to read about growing my business. I felt like all the reading and learning I did in college was sufficient and I only need to apply it in the real world. I was wrong about that too. Be very intentional about how you spend your time reading and learning. Nothing is wrong with being widely read but it makes total sense to be selective in what you feed your mind with as you build your business. Read and learn things that matter to what you do. I have carved out reading and learning times on my schedule on a daily basis. The moment you aren’t learning is the moment when nothing matters in life. It’s a dead moment.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about your mistakes and failures. Pretending that everything was going great hurt me more than it helped me. I felt embarrassed and ashamed to tell anyone about my failures. In my mind people would think I am stupid. I had to get rid of that mentality and start sharing my failures and mistakes. I didn’t do it to be humiliated. I want to learn how to avoid them in the future. I didn’t just share with anyone either. Sharing your mistakes and failures with others who can empathize and help is healthy. It is easier doing this today because more people are sharing and that has helped in a lot of ways for us to share too. Talk to someone about your failures and get the help you need to overcome them.
- Focus on adding value first and other things will be added. Hustling to make money and get paid was the order of the day. I wasn’t being true to my mission of helping people. I was more about getting paid. I was wrong about that too. Of course, getting paid is why we do business in the first place, but I realized that not adding value to the people I was serving and staying true to my mission was setting me up for failure. And fail I did. I wasn’t adding value. I wasn’t going out of my way to add value. I wasn’t asking how I could add value. If you focus on value first, I guarantee that everything else will fall into place.
- Know your numbers well enough to do them. This is no joke. Not knowing your numbers can hurt your business. Learning the basic principles of accounting like cash flow, profit and loss statements and balance sheet are super important. The more you know about your numbers, the better your business can perform. I didn’t think those were necessary just starting out. But I was wrong about that too. There is no need to wait for the numbers to get big or business to do very well before you start working the numbers. Start working your numbers now. Now is the right time to do it. When you work your numbers, you are helping your business and no doubt saving it. Regardless of how small you think the numbers are, learn them and know what they stand for. This will be your game changer.
- Be yourself. The last thing I would share for starters is to be yourself. Find something that you love doing or you are passionate about and do that. Often times that allows you to reflect the true you. Passion doesn’t pay the bills they say but I can tell you that being true to what you do by being yourself will get you beyond bill paying status. Imitating others won’t get you very far. And yes, you can copy successful people but that you can do by being yourself too. When you are yourself, things flow right and will matter to the people you care about. If your business is about fulfilling a mission, only by being you that mission will be truly accomplished. Whatever you chose to do, just be yourself and you will not regret it.
I still feel like I am scratching the surface in business and as an entrepreneur. There is so much to learn and overcome. But getting started is the hardest part. Once you are up and running, things do get better as you keep going. I hope what I shared was helpful in someways. Please feel free to share with others who could also benefit. I know it’s not all new information but it certainly doesn’t hurt repeating. Much success to you.