A Quick Guide to Surviving 'Year 1' as an Entrepreneur
Five years ago, startup activity was clearly in a slump, and many entrepreneurs were struggling. But these days, things are looking up, according to the 2015 Kauffman Index. There’s an upswing in entrepreneurs launching their own companies, and we've just experienced what Kauffman shows is the biggest year-over-year increase in nearly two decades.
Unfortunately, many of these entrepreneurs won’t make it.
In the first two years of business, three out of every 10 startups expire. At the five-year mark, half of those startups are gone, according to the Small Business Administration. There are a lot of reasons for this, but most failures are due to inexperience and poor planning. You can greatly improve your odds of success by following these strategies and committing yourself to success.
1. Set short-term goals.
A lot can change in the first year of your business, so don’t focus primarily on big goals. Part of growing your business is setting those overarching goals, but you need to break them down into smaller milestones and short-term goals. This makes every major goal more achievable by giving you a clear road map to follow. You can also weigh the talent of your team against those milestones and delegate tasks based on the strongest candidate for the job.
2. Cut the negative people from your life.
When anyone tells you, “You can’t do that,” or “That won’t work,” it's time to cut ties. Cutting the negative people from your life is a kind of call to action for anyone who is going to achieve anything. No one thought John D. Rockefeller would roll up all the oil companies in the United States. No one expected Andrew Carnegie would be able to buy up all the steel companies in America, either.
So, ignore the naysayers, and don’t let them influence your decisions.
3. Surround yourself with cheerleaders, to avoid burnout.
In the darkest hours of your darkest days, you will lean back in your seat and want to sweep everything from your desk. You’ll get frustrated, suffer burnout and want to quit. This is where you benefit from surrounding yourself with people who share your vision and are as passionate about what you’re doing as you are (or usually are).
Your cheerleaders can and will refresh you and help get you back on course, and they’re worth every penny.
4. Be as organized as possible.
There are going to be a lot of meetings, specs, strategies, calls, projects, travel, conferences and more meetings during the first year. Don’t make the mistake of trying to keep track with a Notepad program, some Sticky Notes and your memory.
Talk to other entrepreneurs and successful business owners, and find out how they stay organized. Find a method that works for you and use it. Check it daily; update it daily.
5. Follow up.
You don’t have to spend every waking moment immediately responding to the chime of your email, but when you do allow time for this task, make sure you respond to everyone. If you don’t have time to give a long reply, then at least respond with a brief note telling your contacts that you received their messages and reviewed them and will get back to them soon. Then make sure you follow up.
In the first year of your business, you’re building relationships with vendors, customers, investors, professionals and other entrepreneurs. That little bit of effort of responding to messages will go a long way in helping you build and maintain relationships.
6. Hire people before you need them.
If you’re swamped and can’t keep up, it’s already too late -- and your delay will cost you more to hire a new employee. The reason: reduced company performance. Your delay will have happened because you either forecasted your growth wrong, or were so successful that your forecast was wrong.
When you plan and forecast, then, be mindful of where you’ll likely need people the most. Hire people before you actually need them. Don’t ever try to save money by running a lean team. That will only cost you time, money and relationships.
7. Fire people before they’re a problem.
A solid onboarding process can help alleviate a lot of problems with new hires. You may still encounter a bad egg here and there during that crucial first first year. But don’t let yourself be so preoccupied with your business that you don’t tend to his or her poor performance. Negative attitudes will also undermine your growth and become a poison pill for your team. If the problem can’t be immediately corrected, remove the offending employee and move on.
8. Execute quickly.
When you let hours and days slip by without making a decision, you risk a missed opportunity. All the brilliant ideas and strategic planning in the world won’t help your business grow if you fail to act. Make decisions quickly, and take action immediately.
9. Be open to change.
What sounds great on paper and in a presentation may not work quite the way you intended. Don’t get set in your ways and insist that things must be done the way you imagined them. Everything is subject to change when you launch a business. During the first year, be prepared to see your vision, your marketing, your audience and even your business model change.
10. Never stop taking risks.
The most exhilarating part of being an entrepreneur is making a plan and then taking the leap. It is endlessly exciting to see if something works, and the novelty of seeing an idea succeed never goes away. Don’t be paralyzed by the thought of failure. Just starting your business was a risk in itself, but you took action nonetheless. There’s no reason for additional risks to slow you down. If something doesn’t work, find a solution and move forward.
11. Network like crazy.
Whether it’s with a social network or a local business networking group, get involved in the discussion and start linking up with other entrepreneurs. Sites like LinkedIn and Quora give you opportunities to establish expertise and learn from others.
12. Record everything.
You’ll experience a lot of sleeplessness at night and daydream by day as ideas rush through your mind like a runaway bullet train. That's okay: Let nothing escape you, even if an idea initially seems like a bad one. Make voice memos on your mobile device or take notes on a tablet -- and keep these recording aids with you at all times. You never know when a new idea could trigger a better idea to grow your business.
13. Start early and put value in rest.
You’re no good to anyone if you’re brain-dead. You might think you’re getting more done by working around the clock and running on fumes, but the only thing you’re doing is torturing yourself and putting your new venture at risk.
Set a cutoff time and go to sleep at a decent hour, then wake up early and refreshed. Get your exercise in and put food in your stomach. You’ll be more focused, have more energy and get a lot more done in less time.
14. Disconnect often.
Along with real sleep, you need to know when to disconnect. Disconnect from the phone, from email, from social media. Give your brain quality downtime well before you plan to go to sleep. You might not be able to disconnect every day, but find the time to do it every week.
15. Control your spending.
You don’t really need that $5,000 wood wraparound desk, do you? It might be cool to fill your lobby with expensive furniture and a flat screen . . . but why? Focus your spending on things that provide value and help to generate revenue. If that desired purchase won't help grow your business, don’t overspend on it. In fact, don’t spend on it at all unless you absolutely need it.
If entrepreneurship was easy, everyone would do it and succeed. But it’s not easy. Entrepreneurship is hard work. Many entrepreneurs will drop out of the race early on due to failure, or fear of failure. You don't have to be one of them.
If you take the time to prepare, learn and bolster yourself, then you greatly improve your odds of success.
What advice would you share with other entrepreneurs? What tips were most helpful to you when starting out? Share in the comments below:
In his 14-plus years as a marketer and entrepreneur, Sujan Patel has helped hundreds of companies boost online traffic and sales and strengthen their online brand reputation. Patel is the co-founder of Web Profits and Mailshake.