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Being an entrepreneur is not a spectator sport. Nor is it for the faint of heart. But mix a little bit of passion with a fair amount of planning, and a business can grow up to be anything you want it to be.
Here are nine lessons you should learn on the road to creating a company that suits your life.
1. Know what you want
Is it your desire to be the king of your own empire or do you simply want the freedom to spend afternoons with your children? Maybe you want something in between? I often hear from entrepreneurs who want a business that allows them to send their kids to college one day and then support their retirement. They want to be able to conduct business wherever they are. They want to create a product or service they love. That’s good motivation since the hours you spend on your business will likely far exceed anything you ever did at your desk job. Your motivation has to be big enough to overcome the challenges ahead.
2. Listen more than you speak
Relationships matter, and networking events are a great way to make that connection. They’re also a great place to meet potential clients, although not everyone gets the memo on how to network successfully. Events such as these are not business card drops, but timed learning opportunities. Introduce yourself to a new person and ask questions until you find some common ground. If you listen more than you speak, the chances are greater you’ll hear when you are able to offer a true solution to problems.
3. Wrap them up in a hug
Everyone is online. We’re all staring into screens, typing or texting away, disjointed and distracted. But if you find a way to bring people together, whether it’s online or on your street, they won’t ever forget it. Give them what they want, whether it’s knowledge, acceptance, humor. People are searching for a way to connect with others, because in those smaller venues, they have a greater chance of being heard.
4. Get proof
People will spend good money on things they value. If you’re new in business, though, it may be a tough sell, so get proof that you are as good as you say you are. I interviewed an architect a few months ago who today has a million-dollar business. But when he started, he had exactly one client- a mother he knew from one of his children’s sports team. That one client gave him referral after referral and it helped his business take off. Relationships matter, but you still have to do the work.
5. Get social
The other day my son wanted to install a server on my computer. I immediately got concerned. Will it compromise my computer? Will I lose everything on my hard drive? Why is this necessary? But my son told me I had nothing to worry about. He had checked reviews, done oodles of research and made sure he knew everything he needed to know about servers. Where did he get that information? On the internet. Did I mention he is 10 years old? Millennials and those behind them will go to the internet for answers before they do anything else. They want to see reviews and testimonials with their own eyes. And they’re not afraid to dig to get the information they want. That means they’re trying to see if your product or service is worth their time and money. So it’s important you’re there to answer those questions. That means having a website, a social media presence, and this is critical, engagement with customers on social media.
6. Say what you’ll do, do what you say
No matter how old a customer is, this one thing stands the test of time. Simply do what you say you’re going to do. It’s what separates mediocre businesses from great companies. Talk to any consumer. Ask them about any company, and they’ll have an opinion about the product or service it offers. Chances are, the response you get will relate directly to whether they promptly received what was promised.
7. Keep your eyes on your own paper
Every time I watch Shark Tank, I think about something I can quickly sew, mold or craft to make a million dollars. It’s inspiring. It’s deflating. So often we take what’s happening around us and we allow it to weigh on us. We analyze, we agonize, and then, we don’t move forward. The only thing you have control over is you. And that means getting to work. Don’t worry about what’s happening with another entrepreneur or another company. You can only worry about you. So get to it!
8. Start small and grow big
I had a client once who wanted to be on the Today Show. She had never been in the media before. It’s not to say it can’t happen, but if you’re hoping to be seen as an expert, it’s important you are seen as an expert somewhere else before you take the national stage. Start small. Begin booking appearances in your local newspaper, on TV, or on the radio. Then work your way up. The same holds true for business. In general, test your idea in your circle and listen for the reaction. If there’s traction, follow it as far as it goes.
9. Don’t give up
Too many people let fear and failure stand in the way. I get it completely. Entrepreneurship can be scary. But it’s important to keep going. My dad swore up and down he would not get a laptop 7 years ago. He’s pretty stubborn, but 7 years ago, my brother and I bought him his first one. And now he can’t live without it. He’s also on Facebook. A lot. People change. If you can show them the value, they’ll be happy to try something new.
That’s it. Nine lessons to learn when you’re an entrepreneur. Learn them well, as they come in handy not only in business, but in life.
What lessons would you add to the list? Please post them in the comments below.