7 Things I Wish I Knew When I Began as an Entrepreneur
Risk comes with the job, but you don't have to take every gamble.
There’s risk in everything, but don’t listen to the rumors. Entrepreneurship shouldn’t be a trip to the casino. You don’t have to quit your job to get started. You don’t have to drop out of college to get in the game. You don’t have to invest your entire life savings into a new venture. Success or failure as an entrepreneur shouldn’t be treated like a gamble.
Entrepreneurship should be the opposite. It should involve testing and validating ideas. It should involve trusting, but verifying, assumptions. It should be about maximizing upside and minimizing downside. It might not make for a sizzling news story, but why bet it all if you don’t have to? Sure, it’s great knowing you beat the odds, but how will you feel if you don’t?
What follows are several other bits of wisdom I’ve acquired over my six-year career as an ecommerce entrepreneur. I share dozens of other tips in my newest guide, but wanted to share these seven with you, as they’re some of the most important.
1. Do your best, next.
Stop trying to predict the future. Instead, focus deeply on your most pressing tasks today. Get the menial stuff out of the way first. Then dedicate the rest of your your day to deep work on the tasks that will have the biggest impact. In time, you’ll notice opportunities will begin to emerge tomorrow as a result of what you accomplished in the past.
2. Don't build a nightclub in a graveyard.
You could have the most valuable idea in the world but, if it’s in front of the wrong audience, it’ll be worthless. Everybody wants something, but nobody will take just anything. Proper positioning is half the battle, so pick a niche, and develop a deep understanding of the needs within it before taking your idea to market.
3. The bottom line is the bottom line.
You shouldn’t have a single thing on your website that doesn’t drive sales. When it comes to building an ecommerce site, there’s an awful lot of bells and whistles you can play around with and a million different metrics you can track. Don’t get distracted. Bottom line is the bottom line.
4. Aim small, miss small.
This is a quote from a talk Tim Ferriss gave at a private Shopify event last summer. This concept, to me, is all about maximizing upside while minimizing downside -- something I say an awful lot. Ask yourself what actions you can take as a founder that, succeed or fail, you'll still come out on top. Start small. Catastrophic losses aren’t good for anyone. Plus, it’s a really inefficient way to learn.
5. Don’t complicate things.
Just starting out as an ecommerce entrepreneur? Then create a compelling offer, take it to market, validate it by generating cash flow and start a dialogue with your customers to keep refining that compelling offer. That’s it. Don’t overcomplicate it. You’ll have plenty of complexity to deal with later as your business starts to grow. Ask yourself: “What would this look like if it were simple?”
6. Be real with yourself.
Don’t have customers? Then you’re not an entrepreneur. Back when I was a teen, I gave out business cards that read, “Brian Roberts, Entrepreneur, CEO” -- what does that even mean! Don’t broadcast your title, just put in the work. The title will follow. Like I said in my first point, focus on doing meaningful tasks day in and day out. The rest will work itself out. Being an entrepreneur takes confidence. But there's a dichotomy, because at the same time you are building confidence, you are constantly humbling yourself and assessing your situation as honestly as possible. Otherwise, you'll just keep spiraling out of control and never make any real progress.
7. Ditch the business plan.
Projections are worthless if you have no real data to base them on. Instead, write what I call a market plan. I cover the full gamut of what a market plan is and how to write one in my new ecommerce guide. But, for the sake of brevity, it involves you outlining who your potential customers are, where they congregate and who your potential collaborators and distribution partners could be.
Unlike a business plan, this document is designed to help you hit the ground running and have you covering a considerable amount of distance in a short period of time. Another reason I’m against the business plan is because it requires a substantial time investment. That’s precious time you could spend doing meaningful work (see tip one), testing assumptions, creating compelling offers or having a dialogue with potential customers to learn more.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor