Of course every
business owner has a different environment, culture, clients, and therefore
their own unique issues to deal with. And, it’s been said that you can’t learn
how to find business success without making your own mistakes. But, that does
not mean you have to make all the mistakes – you can learn from the mistakes of
others. A survey of business owners resulted in the following list of top 20
things they learned the hard way.
Lessons You Don't Want To
You can’t do
everything on your own. Building
a team is essential because there are only so many hours one person can
devote to a business. Exactly when you reach that limit depends on how much
you work in your business (as opposed to on your business). If you’re a
young single person, you might be able to do everything for a year or two.
But if you have a family, your dedication will eventually hurt those
relationships. Build a team that can carry on when you’re not available.
You may think
your product is perfect, but your clients may not. Listen
to user feedback: Your opinion may not be the best one. The key takeaway
here is release your product or service early and often. You won’t know if
you have a great product or service until your customers use and stress it.
It’s like some of the contestants on American Idol. They think they’re
talented, their friends and family think so, but when they get on a bigger
stage, their short comings become obvious.
Do one thing
really well. Entrepreneurs
often try to be everything to everyone, but it’s hard to be
successful in a store that sells stationary, baby toys and vintage wine.
Specialize, and you can profit from what you do provide. That said, if there
is a skill or service that would make your core product or service better,
before you hand over a completed project to a client. This
is especially important if you provide a service. Once you turn over those
findings, website or design project, you won’t have much bargaining power.
is not sustainable. You
may think, “I don’t need to charge $200 an hour, I can charge $100 and make
way more than I was making as an employee!” But you might find out a short
time later that your “great” rate is unsustainable. By the time you pay
taxes, employees, rework costs, business licenses, insurance, etc., that
$200/hour is looking more realistic. Compete on quality, expertise and your
niche focus (see #3) instead of price.
flexibility help you survive the lean times. Balance
accepting customer needs/requests with sticking to your strengths. However,
when it makes good business sense to add to your product line or services
offerings go slow. Be patient, scale slowly — partly out of necessity — and
build your company without debt.
your actual market. Only
build your product or service portfolio based on an answer to market demand.
Because, if you simply think “Wow, maybe xx industry could use yy prodct,”
you might be disappointed at the results. Put another way: You would never
start a restaurant without having worked in one…and built a strong
experience base, so you could lead the growth of that business.
Never enter a
partnership without a buy/sell agreement. No
matter how well you think you know someone, you just don’t know when he or
she will want to retire or do something else. Even if it’s on amicable
terms, know how you can get rid of one another when it’s time for one of you
to move on.
Be grateful. Appreciate
loyal customers who show you there is a demand for what you do. There is no
dollar amount you can put on the value of brand advocates. Good will
translates into more loyal customers.
those who look after you. You
want people to recommend your product or service because they like it. But,
it does not hurt to say thank you when they do by sending them a small token
of your thanks. Some companies send a company shirt, others offer a
“night-on-the-town” (paid expenses for night out with the significant
other). Other companies offer free services as the thank you.
It’s not a
sale until it’s paid for. This
sounds obvious, but I’ve known small business owners who get very excited
about orders and/or meetings with prospective clients. But until the money
for those products or services is in the bank, it doesn’t count.
more money being “wrong” than proving you are right. Rather
than fight with an unhappy customer and say, “You’re using our product
incorrectly,” or “You don’t know enough to use our product,” just refund
their money. In the long run, these people consume so much of the support
team’s time and energy that it’s more cost effective this way. They’re not
your ideal client, and that’s OK – it’s best to just walk away.
leave companies — they leave management. This
lesson goes for both employees and customers. A manager will lose staff if
the employees think they’re not being listened to or valued. Customers will
stop using your products or services if they are dissatisfied with them. The
quality and reliability of your products and services is a reflection of
The way you
present your business should be a reflection of your audience. If
you have serious clients, be serious. If you have young, fun-loving clients,
have a sense of humor. You have to find your niche and build your content to
suit them. For example, Constant Contact and MailChimp do essentially the
same thing, but their marketing content reflects very different client
service project scope in advance. Have
a clear contract before work begins. Once a project goes beyond the
documented plan, charge for it. If you agreed to translate 10 pages, but get
20 pages, the client should pay you for them. If your contract makes that
clear at the outset, it is easier to control scope creep.
company sells a variety of products, make sure your sales team is selling
every single one of them. This
might sound like a tall order — depending on how many products your company
sells — but your sales team will only spend time selling the easy to sell
items, unless you measure them on selling them all.
think you’ve tested your product enough, test it some more. Never
release a product until it has been tested, tested again and tested by
people who don’t work for you.
how social media networks work. When
Twitter was first available for businesses, people used it like an ad in a
newspaper. If you go on a channel and use it the wrong way, it could do more
harm than good.
Save up. You
can operate at a loss for a number of years but you can only run out of cash
once. Have a rainy day fund that has at least two or three months’ operating
expense in it. And have a line of credit available, even if you don’t plan
to use it. Having a CPA look at your books once a quarter is also a good
people, get out of their way, and trust them to do a good job. (See #1)