11 Things You Learn Your First Year as an Entrepreneur
I officially launched my business on April 30, 2014. It hasn’t even been a full year and I already feel like I’m dripping with wisdom that only comes from first-hand experience. I’m a work in progress, as most of us are, and while I certainly don’t have all the answers, I thought what better time to reflect on the last eight months than right now before we start a new year. We can all learn a thing or two from each other and if you are thinking about starting your own business or you’re walking the path right now – I hope you find my musings both valuable and encouraging.
1. It’s scary – like jumping out of an airplane scary
Look before you leap helps, but you still have to leap. Jumping into a self-employed career is scary, because you are solely relying on yourself to succeed. It’s a risk to follow an idea into actuality and you can’t know what you don’t know. There are a lot of unknowns and your livelihood depends on it – no pressure. That being said, that first step is the scariest and then you find the ride is exciting, fun and rejuvenating. You somehow get over being scared and make the decision that total failure isn’t an option, that you will land on your feet ready to run harder and faster than you’ve ever run before.
2. You’ll never work harder for a dollar in your life
Any entrepreneur will tell you that it’s hard work. “If it were easy, everyone would do it.” Remember? Whether you have a product or a service you’re trying to sell, you need to hustle and I don’t mean “do the best you can” kind of hustle. I mean “Holy shit! My ass is on fire and I need to find water” kind of hustle. If you’re like me, you went from a 9-5 type job where you were responsible for your function to a 24/7 blitzkrieg where you are responsible for everything from operations, business development, marketing, sales, and customer service to accounting (the list goes on). Then, when you do finally receive your first payment, you wipe the sweat off your brow and say, “Holy shit! My ass is still on fire!” And so it goes for a while… but don’t worry, you can do it.
3. If you wait for perfect, you’ll die waiting
I work with many entrepreneurs and start-ups, so I know I’m not alone in having felt this way. Many of us drag our feet to make our websites go live or announce our business on social media and to family and friends, “because it’s not perfect yet.” Allow me to save you some time: It’s not perfect; it’s never going to be perfect; and no one cares but you. Obviously, don’t put garbage out there, but my point is that you will learn very quickly what’s working and what’s not working only AFTER you start putting yourself out there and receiving feedback. We learn when we do. It’s 1000% OK to make the necessary adjustments as you go, but if you think perfect is the prerequisite to begin your business – then you may actually never begin.
4. Failure is your friend
While total failure isn’t a friend I want, failures are a natural part of the journey. We all stumble and make mistakes. Fortunately, when we can learn from our failures is when we really grow and succeed. As I mentioned earlier, we can’t know what we don’t know. Therefore, we sometimes walk ourselves right into a humdinger of a situation. Hindsight is always 20/20 and we can find ourselves in the face-palm position a lot in the beginning screaming, “That was such a stupid mistake I made; I know better!” followed by “Holy shit! My ass is still on fire!” My point: you don’t have time to throw yourself a pity party and no one likes a man or woman-baby. Yes, we make mistakes. Yes, we fail. Got it? Ok, good. Now let’s move on smarter than when we started.
5. Hermits don’t prosper
I think we can all agree that relationships fuel growth. Building good relationships takes time and vulnerability, but it’s worth every second. Once you go out on your own, you may find that you feel lonely or even isolated. You may not be working in a bustling office with coworkers anymore. The days that may have been peppered with social escapes are gone and now it’s you and your business. I have found immeasurable value in my online and offline communities. I make it a high priority to connect with people and to stay connected. As an entrepreneur, hiding away in the shadows is really not going to serve you or your business objectives. As a budding entrepreneur, make sure you’re getting out there, meeting people, building bridges and planting seeds. As far as you think you may be able to take your business, it’s nothing compared to the potential opportunities out there.
6. Surrounding yourself with people smarter than you, does make you smarter
This one is pretty self-explanatory. You NEED people in your life that know more than you. They will challenge you, test you, and grow you more than you can ever grow on your own. I had the good fortune of being invited into a women’s entrepreneur mastermind group. Once a month, we still get together with five other entrepreneurs and share one problem or scenario with the group to receive feedback. In fact, I joined the group back when I had what we all laughed was a “secret business,” because I hadn’t officially launched my site yet (refer back to #1 and #3!) After one session with five other people who had been where I was and who gave me the swift kick in the ass I needed to get off my laurels and buck-up, I announced my business 24-hours later. That’s what the power of surrounding yourself with smarter people than you can do. It can turn inaction into action, offer life perspective for your ears only, and build you up from the inside out. If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, surround yourself with successful entrepreneurs. We is greater than me.
7. The word “No” holds a special place in your heart
This is a word I struggled with – still wrestle with every now and again. It is such a powerful word and one that isn’t the easiest to say and is especially hard to hear when you’re trying to get your business going. Though, over these last eight months of building my business, I’ve really come to appreciate the word, “No.” No one is looking out for your business’ best interests besides you. Therefore, you need to be extra keen to make smart decisions for your business and its future. The truth is, not everyone is an ideal client for your business and not every opportunity that presents itself is the right opportunity for you. As an entrepreneur, you need to be both comfortable saying the word, “No” and hearing it from others. Being told, “No” by a client you think would be great or an opportunity you really wanted is not pleasant, but it’s the natural course of things. If you’re doing it right, you’ll probably face your fair share of rejection – but keep at it and learn how to turn, “No” into “Yes.”
8. No matter how good you are, you have to be an even stronger negotiator and salesperson
Ah, yes. Sharpen your tools folks, because you need to learn how to negotiate and sell. I’ve done more negotiating and selling in these last eight months than I probably did my entire life leading up to this point. You will be negotiating with EVERYONE: your loved-ones, the bank, vendors, customers, partners, EVERYONE. This is also where #7 plays a big role, too. As an entrepreneur, you are a salesperson: you need to be able to sell yourself, business, service or product. Communicating clearly and knowing how to highlight the value to the listener is a must-have skill set. If you’re weak in these areas, you will learn the hard way pretty quickly…
9. Eat a slice of humble pie every day – it’s good for the soul
Two of the most insightful things you discover when you launch your own business is 1. How flawed you are; and 2. How much support you have anyway. I have seen the ugliest parts of myself through this process and what a blessing it has been. We all have demons and there are obviously things about every one of us that can hinder our ability to succeed. Being aware of our shortcomings helps us to overcome them. Having a support system of people who love us in spite of our flaws and who believe in us keeps us grounded. I’m a confident and capable person, but try to remember on a daily basis that it’s not all about me and I have a lot of gratitude to give to others. Make sure you remember that, too.
10. Always keep learning
Learning is never finished. There is always something new to know, a skill to develop or a technology to implement. The world changes quickly and so being nimble, adaptable, and always seeking knowledge is a pretty necessary entrepreneurial quality you realize you need right away.
11. It is a very rewarding path
Despite the challenges every entrepreneur faces, it is quite simply the most rewarding choice I have ever made for my career. I am able to spend every day helping people by doing exactly what I love. When you follow your passion and are able to make a living at it – I really can’t imagine a more harmonized life. It’s an amazing journey I would want for anyone who wants it for himself.
Have any insights of your own?! Please share your first year experiences below.
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