7 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Starting a Business
Don't make the same mistakes with your online startup.
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One year ago, I launched a lifestyle website that helps people make the best purchase decisions and provides them with informational content on different topics. It's a growing platform stacked with valuable reviews and buying guides written by knowledgeable experts in each space. Though the company has been able to stick to its mission and hire several employees, I've made more than a few mistakes along the way.
This problem isn't unusual, mind you. Ask any business person, and he or she will be able to list countless blunders he or she has committed in his or her career. Heck, hindsight is always 20/20. Here are the seven biggest mistakes I've learned from.
1. Don't try and do everything yourself
Letting go is a great strategy. I love my business, so when it just became too much for me alone, I had two choices: either hire someone else or do everything myself and risk burning out before the company grew into something big enough to allow for other people in management positions.
Asking others to help has worked really well for me because they're able to take on more responsibility as my company grows. This way, I don't have to manage all aspects by myself while also doing what is required of an owner and manager role.
Related: 6 Tips for Hiring the Right People
2. Get mentors and meet regularly
This comes back to the point above about trying to do everything yourself . ..you can't. Mentors are a great way to avoid costly mistakes and also help you grow in business. It's worth your time when they provide access not only to their networks of contacts, but also to insight that might save you from making some common mistakes as well.
Think about all the times when this could come in handy: if you have an idea for how you should move forward with something at your company or maybe even need advice on what salary increase would be fair given your recent success. A mentor wouldn't just offer you suggestions — he or she would already know first-hand which answer was best.
3. Find like-minded people, not like-skilled people
We started my website with four writers, all of us working remotely. All of us were motivated to try building something bigger than ourselves. Still, in reality, no one knew anything about business operations or marketing, or even SEO. It took a year too long before we brought on equally enthusiastic people who had different skill sets and things began to take off.
4. Prepare to be three times as big
I wish I had known about the three-times rule before starting an online business. This is a company infrastructure mindset. Ask yourself: If my business tripled in size overnight, would I have the right employees to take care of it? Would they know what their roles are and how they're expected to act when things go wrong? Will there be enough computers or desks for them all if we grow too fast? Think about your team's workload now — can you handle the added strain that comes with growth at scale without investing more time upfront, so each employee has less work on his or her plate as operations expand exponentially over time?
When those potential scenarios become a reality (and they will), you don't want to squander them because you didn't plan ahead.
Related: Make 2021 Your Year of Growth with These Growth-Hacking Strategies
5. Ignore the naysayers
When you start to tell people about your business, they will question it. Peers and strangers alike are going to be hostile or give you their passive-aggressive opinions about your business, and that's okay . Just remember it's your business, not theirs. You decide to start on your own, take a risk and do something you're passionate about. At first, I questioned what I was doing all the time. Would we have enough money for payroll? Could we afford another employee? Were we growing at a sustainable rate? This is where it's important not to become a naysayer yourself. If you believe in something, to hell with what everyone else says about your dream. Go after it and get it.
6. It's okay to end a business engagement
This is a big one. When you begin doing business with someone, he or she may have been the best client in town when it comes to monthly revenue. Still, his or her product might not be what your company needs for its long-term viability. We terminated our first client six months into working together because we realized that he wasn't going to work out as an ideal partner and customer for us even though he was paying off his debt very nicely at $600 per month.
This client was causing 80 percent of our headaches and was contributing less than 5 percent of our revenue. This math didn't add up. By freeing up more time and cutting down on the annoyances, something significant happened. We could take all of that free time and put it toward marketing strategy and doubling our best clients. It played an essential part in our company's growth over the next quarter. It may be counterintuitive, but sometimes letting go of business can create more revenue opportunities.
7. Pay for the tools that your business needs
Paying for software and services can be a tough pill to swallow when you're just starting your business, but it's something that could ultimately pay off in the long run. Software is expensive upfront without any guarantees of how well it'll perform or whether the company will stick with it over time. But I always evaluate every new piece of software we buy based on lifetime value instead of immediate cost-benefit analysis — because as soon as my team members starts using a service, more often than not, they start seeing significant benefits from said service, which usually pays for itself relatively quickly.
We pay a yearly fee to Getty Images for photos. That's not cheap, but the time we save by using their images instead of searching is just about priceless. The legal safety that comes with these quality pictures saves us from getting sued or having our work taken down. The upfront cost is a drop in the bucket relative to the payoff in the grand scheme of things.
Related: 5 Strategic Use Cases for Software in Your Business
It's not uncommon for startups to make mistakes while building their business. You will want mentors that you can lean on and learn from in order to stay successful. Still, some things should be avoided, so as long as occasional mistakes happen, they won't hurt your company too much. Test new ideas and get feedback so you know what features need work or if the whole idea needs changing altogether.
Failure is just a lesson waiting to be learned from. Sure, it's tough when you pivot your business model and test new ideas for feedback only to find that they don't work out the way you'd hoped — but every mistake or setback always comes with something valuable in return if you don't let your pride get in the way of admitting what needs changing.