When I started my first business, I had no mentors. I had barely any money. I had pretty much nothing except my wits, self-belief, and a huge fear of failure. How badly I could have used some good advice! Here are five things I wish somebody had told me:
1. Your first 6 months are your test.
I don’t know anybody who started a business and had customers coming to them the first day, week, or month. I’ve found that it takes six months at minimum to get on your feet and start getting customers. That’s why I call the first six months every entrepreneur’s first test: can you survive a period of spending money without making money, watching your efforts seemingly come to nothing, and having very little encouragement to move forward? Most entrepreneurs drop off during that time. Some hang on a little longer, quitting around the one year mark. I don’t fault them; not making money and facing discouragement around every corner is pretty awful. But those who have the stamina – and the stomach – to keep going even after it seems like they’re going to fail, are the ones that succeed.
“Get used to staring at the computer waiting for something to happen in your first six months of business. But not to worry – it gets better.”
2. If you work intelligently in the same field for a long time, you will come out ahead.
One thing I sometimes wish I had done differently is starting 8 different businesses in my first 8 years. Sure, 5 of them were successful – good on me – but imagine if I had put all of that time and effort into just one of them. That business would likely be tremendous. That is why I advocate taking enough time to decide what you truly want to do before becoming an entrepreneur: Because once you commit to a business and see even a little bit of success, you gain the opportunity to be tomorrow’s veteran of that industry. I’m not saying you shouldn’t get out of a business that you’re not happy with or that isn’t giving you a good financial return; but if possible, try to stick to one thing. Experience is king in the land of entrepreneurship, and slow and steady can win the race.
3. Good employees are the secret to building your business.
As a new entrepreneur, your first instinct is usually to do everything yourself. But learning how to delegate work is essential to building a real business. The first time you experience this phenomenon for yourself, you will know exactly what I mean. I still remember the first time I hired an employee, and how much time it freed up for me. If that employee could simply pay his own salary with the work he did for my company, I could hire another employee, and another employee. The goal was to keep my time as free as possible for business building, leaving the mechanics of the business to the people on my team.
4. Steer clear of fields you don’t understand.
This is one I had to learn the hard way. Running a popular kids website with no technical background meant supervising a 12-person programming team that knew far more about my site than I did. The situation was mind numbing; the staff often had to make decisions on my behalf because I couldn’t understand the architecture of our website. This led to a lot of inefficiencies which cost time and money. For that same reason, I implore you to enter a field that you naturally enjoy and have some experience with. Growing your company when you fully understand its intricacies is daunting enough; but growing your company when you can’t comprehend its operations is not wise.
“Reading programming code was never my thing…”
5. Work with a co-founder.
It can be tempting to keep control of your company – as well as all the equity – but the price of doing so is too high. The reality is that running a company requires numerous skills that are rarely all found in one person. In my company, I handle the front-facing aspects (publicity, sales, speaking), while my partner handles the “back room” stuff: hiring, accounting, legal and other operational stuff. We both love our jobs but wouldn’t want to touch the other one’s responsibilities. The complement is perfect. I hope that all of you have a co-founder or partner that you feel the same way about. Building a business is a long journey and you need complete trust, complementary support, and a companion with which to weather the extreme highs and lows.
By Evan Bailyn, CEO of First Page Sage
Evan, thank you for the encouraging article. After nearly 3 years of planning, I just opened my payday loan store today. My goal is 1 customer in the first week, I hope that’s not too optimistic. After reading your article, I decided to give this at least 6 months to be profitable.