Today is my son Mason’s 3rd birthday. Of course, today brings back a flood of memories not just from Mason’s birth, but from exactly a year later, when I decided to quit my job and become an entrepreneur.
Looking back now, I didn’t have a great plan, but I knew I would figure out a lot as I went along. That was both a good and a bad plan (as I’ll explain in a moment).
Since then, I’ve had many ups and downs and I’ve learned a lot.
Although I had done a fair amount of advance planning, there were many lessons I learned that you can’t absorb from books or endless research. Some of these lessons will only come from doing it for yourself.
So if you are an entrepreneur or you’re thinking about becoming one, I have some advice for you.
Here are 11 things I have learned in the past two years of being an entrepreneur:
1. Provide 100% Kick-Ass Service to your Customers
The first lesson is to give your clients or customers the best possible service you can. Everything flows from doing your job well. If you have 2 clients, make them feel like you are 100% dedicated to them. If you have 20 clients, make sure they all think you are their one and only commitment.
If you are selling a product, you should be constantly iterating so that the product they receive is becoming more and more responsive to the needs of the market.
2. Read Books
I am always reading books aimed at helping me to improve my knowledge and skills. Some of the best books aimed at entrepreneurs I read in my first two years as an entrepreneur include (in no particular order):
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries (referral link)
Drive by Dan Pink (referral link)
Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port (referral link)
Reinventing You by Dorie Clark (referral link)
The Impact Equation by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith (referral link)
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg (referral link)
Influence by Robert Cialdini (referral link)
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (referral link)
I am really looking forward to finishing one of the best books on copywriting ever written, Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz (referral link), and to reading my friend Jaime Tardy’s forthcoming book, Eventual Millionaire (referral link) when it comes out early next year. Also on my shortlist are: The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More with Less by Richard Koch, and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith (referral link).
3. Listen to Your Customer
It’s important to listen to what your customer wants, and you may need to change your offerings to suit that desire.
Your customer will not always clearly articulate what they want. You need to get it out of them by asking questions and communicating clearly.
If you are in a service profession like I am, it’s important to understand your client’s expectations and desires at the outset. It’s also important to set expectations in advance so your client doesn’t have inflated or unreasonable expectations of what you are capable of achieving.
Even if you achieve a great result, some clients may not be happy if they had an expectation in their head (often unarticulated to you) of how the result would be achieved or what it would cost them.
4. Build a Minimum Viable Audience
The Minimum Viable Audience (MVA) is a concept adapted from the Lean Startup methodology of creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). A MVA is the bare minimum audience of potential customers that you need to be able to support your business.
On the day I opened the doors to my new law practice, I had a minimum viable audience (MVA), because I had spent 2-3 years working on building loyal clients and referral partners. That’s the advantage of working in the same line of work as your new business.
By comparison, if you are (for example) a yoga instructor and want to open a new flower shop, you’ll need a whole new set of customers. It’s much harder.
I’m currently building a whole new MVA for my online offerings, focused first on how to network effectively, because that has resonated with a lot of people. I’m building my MVA a lot faster today than I was two years ago, because today I know a lot more about what works and what doesn’t. These things take longer than you would like them to.
5. Have Long-Term Goals and Work Towards Them
Your business a few years from now may not look the same as it does today. The market may change, your needs may evolve, and/or your interests may wane. It’s important to evaluate what you want your business to look like 3 years, 5 years and 10 years from now, and then to take steps to move your business in that direction.
6. Don’t Lose Sight of Short Term
I’ve always been a day dreamer. For a long time I was better at dreaming up ideas than I was at implementing them. But if you ignore the short term revenue needs for your business, you’ll never get to achieving your long-term dreams because you’ll go bankrupt.
7. Engage in Regular Planning
I’ve written before about the significant role planning has played in my business. I think taking the time to plan out your days, weeks and months is crucially important.
8. Don’t Be Afraid to Try and Fail
Failure is really undervalued in business. If you aren’t failing in a small way regularly, then you aren’t trying enough. New ideas and new products require some amount of failure.
I’ll give you an example. If there’s one thing I think I’m pretty good at, it’s writing. I’ve been a writer as long as I can remember, and I’ve written for President Clinton at the White House, the Governor of California, Forbes, Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, and a few other very popular blogs. The other day, I received a rejection from my request to do some writing for a particular blog.
Failure happens. Move on.
9. Be Disciplined
When you are an entrepreneur, it’s easy to slack off, in large ways and small.
I find that most entrepreneurs don’t lose discipline in large ways. They don’t take a whole day off to go surfing very often, unless they have put in the hard work up front to earn it.
But some entrepreneurs do slack off in more granular, yet still-insidious ways.
It’s important to figure out what formula works for you and continue it. For example, here’s what works well for me right now:
wake up early (around 5:30am) and write for 45-60 minutes
focus on revenue-generating, billable work during the morning hours
go for a walk or exercise around lunchtime, or go to lunch with someone. It’s important to get out of the office.
spend time on non-revenue-generating administrative or marketing work in the afternoon hours
spend time with my family in the evening and unplug from work during that time.
10. Maximize Your Time By Killing Two (or More) Birds with One Stone
When I made the switch from an employee mentality (just getting through the day) to an entrepreneurial mentality (doing whatever I can to get ahead), I started studying productivity.
One of the things I’ve learned is the value of automation and stretching your time further.
Now, if I have a repetitive task I can automate, I do it. That frees up my time to spend on more worthy endeavors.
Also, if I can have an hour of my time do double-duty, I’ll do it. For example, if I can write an article that can be published across multiple vehicles, my time is better spent. I may have spent one hour writing the article, but I get more bang for my buck because it’s published in a newsletter or two, on my blog, to my email list, etc.
Similarly, my podcast is a way of having my own professional development and continuing education also serve as marketing and networking. In other words, if I spend 60 minutes doing an hour long podcast, my time is being stretched further because I’m providing something of value to the world, I’m educating myself, I’m making a personal connection with someone I admire, and I’m helping to market my business.
11. Don’t Undervalue the Power of Motivation
Zig Ziglar said, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”
I used to be the kind of person who didn’t care much about nurturing my own motivation. I realize now that’s pretty short-sighted. It’s ignoring our own humanity.
My friend the business coach Kevin Waldron, who built a $24 million per year business from scratch, helped to disabuse me of my misconceptions about motivation. While he was building his business, Kevin spent a great amount of time on personal growth and development, through coaching programs and personal enrichment, goal-setting and retreats, and it worked out pretty well for him.
12. Cultivate and Nurture Relationships (Bonus Tip)
Nothing I’ve done in the past two years could have been possible without dozens upon dozens of key relationships.
In fact, I believe relationships are so important to being an entrepreneur that I took the time to package up everything I’ve learned over 20 years of networking into the Power Networking System. It is a step-by-step system for creating a networking plan that will help you use relationships to grow your business and advance your career.
I also created a free, 50+ page ebook, How to Create Your Personal Networking Plan, which you can download for free from this site. Helping others get better at using relationships in a win-win, positive and productive way has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in the past two years.
That’s it from me. What advice do you have for being a better entrepreneur? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.