11 Things I Learned in 2 Years of Being an Entrepreneur

entrepreneurToday 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):

 

 

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.

 

 

Comments

  1. My advice is that if you are going to be seeing one-on-one clients as well as building an online following for blogs and webinars, understand that these are two different animals, two separate businesses that take different marketing strategies and different skills. Focus on one and dive to build your revenue, your network, and your skills in that area before jumping into the other. Otherwise, it’s easy to get lost in all the confusion.

  2. Make sure you love what you’re doing and it makes you happy. With or without the money you have to be a certain type of person to enjoy this life. If you don’t accept it and get out or you will probably never get very far.

  3. carolsanford says:

    Be responsible. That is conscious of and take responsibility for the impacts and side effects of your engagements and action. We live in a world on multi-directional reciprocity to keep the whole healthy. It is not about exchanges only but are we doing and being what make the systems we live inwhole

  4. Anna Karlqvist says:

    Remember that economy is part of your core business. When people advice you to stay focused on your revenue generating core business and get help to do the other things, include accounting to your core until you make a good income. There are excellent accounting systems (low monthly fee) helping you do it yourself. You have to learn the tax laws anyway and cash flow is really a vital part of your business.

  5. Steve Nicewarner says:

    Great article, and great comments too. Here’s my addition;

    Don’t be afraid to invest in your business, and yourself: When starting out, it is easy to be miserly. After all, there is little income and plenty of expenses. Don’t let that prevent you from making investments in your business and yourself. Hire out for a needed skill, take a course to develop your own skills. Spend wisely, but don’t be afraid to spend on what you need to.

  6. Sarah Morgan says:

    Thank you – another clear, practical article. I love point 8 particularly and have posted it and your link on my Facebook page.

    One thing I’ve learnt is to focus more on getting things (marketing) out there, than trying to make things perfect. When I started out as an independent massage therapist, I delayed posting flyers out as I wanted them to look ‘just right’. My business advisor said to me:
    ‘ How many flyers have you got out?’
    Me: ‘None.’
    Him:’ How many clients have you got?’
    Me: ‘None.’
    ‘Well, no-one’s going to act on perfect flyers that aren’t out there! Get them out as is and tweak them later.’

    I think being a perfectionist has helped me gain great feedback with my massages – because I give care and attention to what I’m doing. But I’ve learnt it can be a handicap elsewhere.

    Another quote that really helped me was ” If you’re not embarrassed by your earlier attempts, you’re not making progress”

    These things have given me the conviction to stride out as I am because my aim is always to be getting better. And if your essence is full of goodness – that is actually what others respond to – more than any amount of perfect branding.

  7. J Michael Blair says:

    Thank you John for a very insightful article. Your openness and honesty are refreshing. I picked up a number of valuable tips that I’m already beginning to apply to my personal, entrepreneurial adventure.

    The most important and urgent for me is the idea to make sure I remain “motivated”, by maintaining a level of accountability to someone besides myself. The importance of a “coach” or “mentor” is priceless, and may be the one missing ingredient, the unrecognized “need” in many entrepreneurial failures.

    I have only one important tip to share; one that has long been a personal nemesis for me. Having always been prone to try and juggle too many important projects at one time. I am finally learning that I can accomplish much more when I stay focused on a single task to its conclusion.

    First I decide which “thing” is most important, then i get busy doing all I can to get it done. When I do have to set it aside for some reason, I focus as much attention as necessary to whatever that “hold-up” is, so that I can complete that task and move on to the next.

  8. Warren J Kruger says:

    Here are 3 tips required to be efficient and best of all save you heaps in unnecessary taxes:
    1. Hire a professional to do things you hate doing or just don’t have the expertise to do.
    2. Keep good records. No receipt=No tax deduction. Good records help you measure how you’re going. You can’t control something you don’t measure.
    3. And very best of all, DO NOT TAKE ADVICE FROM THOSE NOT QUALIFIED TO GIVE IT…!!!!!!!!

  9. Don’t get discouraged. It’s an easy trap to fall into when things don’t go as planned. Allow five minutes of anger, then sit back and look at the problem from a different perspective. Learn that what you did didn’t work, so like Edison, try again avoiding the past issue. Remember why you went into this process and don’t let a momentary failure signal your end. Make it your rebirth!

  10. Jane Mulder says:

    Join your local chamber of commerce.
    Make your money from your clients, not off the backs of your vendors or employees.
    If you find a great vendor pay their bills on-time, give them all your business, and defend them to your client if there is a problem. There are fewer great vendors than there are clients!
    Use Quickbooks, free, online!
    Subscribe to Inc. magazine.
    Work on Saturdays.
    Don’t release all of a project until the client has paid their bill.
    Bill in 3 stages, upon acceptance of a signed quote, mid-project, and at the end. And don’t proceed with the next phase until you are paid as cash flow is so important.
    Don’t do spec work.
    Incorporate as an S corporation at the very least and list it on all your materials.

  11. Teresa Almeida d'Eca says:

    My two cents: don’t give up if your project doesn’t kick off as you expected. Give it time, especially if you truly believe in it and its benefits.

  12. Also when exploring who to hire, note not “just” how much they have accomplished but also how far they had to accomplish it: that demonstrates perseverance and ingenuity, vital traits for entrepreneurs

  13. OneAmericanAmongMany says:

    One word of advice: hope for the best but assume everything – and I do mean EVERYTHING – will go wrong. Always have a Plan B, and additional resources available. If you never need them, great.

  14. Lexie Bykova says:

    I’m only beginning and have struggled with a lot, but one key thing I’m
    focused on is SHOW UP. Since overwhelm gets in the way of my showing up,
    I’ve learned to split my work into small digestible chunks, manually
    write them down so they fit into a small (!) day planner and focus only
    on those. When I do this and consciously ignore the rest of
    AAAAAA-SO-MUCH-has-to-be-done I can actually finish the day with a few
    completed things and now I’m observing in surprise those small wins
    building up into something visible.

  15. Jeremiah Jones says:

    ALWAYS BE ON THE LOOK OUT TO DO GOOD FOR OTHERS
    I’m totally new to this, but one thing that constantly surprises me is that the more I seek opportunities to do good in my community, and just be good to other people, the more things on the business side move forward. That, and being able to help others in need, whether it be via a charity, or volunteering, is just plain fun.

  16. christopherwills says:

    I’m sure most know this anyway but sometimes the obvious needs stating; get an accountant so you don’t waste any money.

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