Starting your own business is certainly exciting and can be the dream of a lifetime for many people. What does it take to make it? Here is my “short but sweet” list of the 3 things I wish I had known before starting a business, and will steer your new business toward success.
Listen and Adapt
Along the lines of that classic real estate adage “location, location, location,” I quickly learned the essential rule of success in running my small business, especially in the early days, was “customers, customers, customers.”
You may have an innovative and novel new widget or service, and your family and friends may absolutely love it, encouraging you to “go into business” and sell it to the world. But before you get started, validate that the buying public will happily part with their precious dollars for your product. Bigger businesses call this market research, and they have sophisticated ways of developing and testing new products through focus groups and analyzing demographic data.
Most small business owners don’t have the luxury of doing this. However, with a little investment, I suggest offering your product or service in its existing form through a broader extended network (through social media and immediate friend and family networks), through local retailers (where you can get honest and quick feedback) and local events (such as farmers markets and community events).
From these experiences, focus your energy on listening and learning about how people feel about the price, product, packaging and brand. If they don’t buy, try to understand their reasons. This initial period of running your business should be primarily considered market and product development, with the idea you will gather, synthesize and evaluate the live feedback and then adjust, innovate and improve your product/service to meet the market needs. Be prepared to hear (and appreciate) honest feedback as it may not always be presented in a palatable form. One caveat: Be careful to collect as much info from various sources/locations so you may consider which input is relevant to your targeted market group of clients.
I remember working at a Fortune 500 company and listening with great skepticism as our CEO stated, “Our people are the most valuable asset!” How could this impersonal, cold corporation mean that? After all, this was the same company that downsized loyal staff and primarily seemed to focus on the stock price.
Well, after running a business, I can tell you good people are critically relevant to your success. You see, you cannot do it alone. Well, you can for a while, but inevitably, if you want to really grow your business you must count on (and trust) other people. They will likely not have the same passion, work ethic and vision as you, but you will appreciate what they bring to the table. Be sure to take your time to hire carefully.
Understand Balance Is a Myth
If you’re quite fortunate, you will have a well-balanced life as you start and grow your business. However, I recommend you prepare for an overwhelmingly busy and financially restricted environment.
Having worked in various small and mid-sized companies (and even in large companies), I know that there is rarely enough money or time for running a successful small business. Prepare yourself to be working all hours and all days in order to realize your vision.
I’ve tried to live a more balanced life, but it is just not possible, as I have seen from my own experience and other successful growing businesses. As an entrepreneur you will (and must) be immersed in driving your vision to reality.