I had the pleasure of being a part of a panel on entrepreneurship last night hosted by the Grand Rapids Area Professionals for Excellence at the Warehaus in Holland. It was a great event with some great participants and I was very honored to be asked to sit in. The moderator asked me to prepare 10 minutes on the common mistakes made early on in business ownership. I’m probably not the most qualified to be speaking on this topic but I gave it a shot and it went over pretty well. I titled the talk: Common Sense is Hard. Here are the 5 things I specifically spoke about. These are not magical business techniques or short cuts. They are common sense principles that I wish I had listened to earlier. Enjoy…
Find out what you’re good at and do that often.
Maybe more importantly, be mature enough to understand what you are not good at and be willing to hire other people to do it for you. That may mean taking on a business partner. It may mean an assistant. Whatever it is, do some self-reflection and figure out what you are good at and what you aren’t. A mistake I, and others, have made is thinking that everything lives and dies based on your individual efforts. Though that may be true short term – long term, you will need to know your personal core competencies and the core competencies of your business in order to sustain. Some of these things you have no way of knowing yet. The only way to figure them out is to have to do them yourself and, through honest reflection, decide what you can be best at for your organization. Maybe you’re the problem…
Learn to let your business make decisions.
We all want to be everything to everyone. I think today more than ever people, specifically entrepreneurs, are striving to prove their self worth and value. This can be good and it can be bad. Ultimately, businesses exist to make money. That is all. There will come a time when what is best for your business may not be best for people in your business or even for you. I’ve specifically advised people to take a course of action that was less beneficial financially to me, because it was best for their business or because it was best for our business. Business isn’t personal but we can make it very personal. The key to this concept is knowing when to make those decisions. I’m not advising anyone to be a cold-hearted asshole or anything. What I’m saying is that there comes a time when tough conversations will need to be had and tough decisions will need to be made with the best interest of the business in mind.
You will have problems your first few years…most likely, they will not be the one’s you expected to have.
Things rarely turn out perfectly. Business is surely no exception. A common misconception by young entrepreneurs is, “If only I were in charge! We wouldn’t have any of these problems.” Maybe you’re right. I doubt it, but maybe. You may be able to fix the problems you consciously set out to eliminate when you start your business. I promise though, from the bottom of my heart, you will have problems. Be prepared. Have people in your corner you can rely on. Run the situation by them and find a solution together. This brings me to my next point…
Your people make your organization. Choose wisely.
Your business may be you or it may be 500 people. This point holds true either way. I gave a talk, and think I even have a blog on here, about organizational values vs. the value of the organization. Both, I believe, are driven by the components of the organization. The people who organize or execute all drive these components. I don’t care how much you believe in what you want your company to be. If you don’t find people who share your vision, you will struggle. Maybe not visibly or financially so much, but it could mentally destroy you.
Analyze Risk, Act Anyway.
I was at an event a couple months back and I was listening to Michael Bowers, the Dean of Business from Davenport University speak on the university’s new entrepreneurship center and degree program. One of the questions he posed was, “Are entrepreneurs, risk takers?” The obvious answer is yes. His point was that although entrepreneurs are risk takers, they are very calculated. I believe this to be true. The main difference between an entrepreneur and an employee though, is that an entrepreneur is willing to act even if the risk is unknown.
There are probably thousands more thoughts one could add to this list. Things like living cheaply, learning from failure, failure is ok, and get proof of concept before you ask anyone for money. These are all great topics worthy of discussion. You’ll learn more than you ever thought possible starting and running a business. You’ll learn things you wish you knew years ago, and things you didn’t even know you needed to understand! The journey isn’t easy and it’s not for everyone. But if you are one of those crazy few who are willing to stick your ass out there and get it kicked around for a while, it will be worth it.