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5 Lessons I’ve Learned That I Would Go Back And Give My Start-Up Self
Starting a business is hard. Maintaining and growing a business can be even more challenging. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight vision, I looked back at my very first business ventures and wondered if there’s anything that I would’ve done differently, or not done at all.
Here are some pieces of advice that I wish I could go back and give my start-up self. Maybe you’re struggling with some of these areas, too and can take some helpful hints from my own struggles and experiences.
1. Have Faith In Your Idea
Having faith in yourself and your ideas will keep you going when things get rough. This goes beyond confidence; this is hope. Keeping the fire burning is the way to succeed and thrive in a competitive world. I had plenty of long, sleepless nights in those early days… stressing about finances, business plans, employees and vendors… you name it.
However one thing that I always had was faith in my ideas and thought got me through those bad nights and the sometimes zombie-like days that lingered after. The thing with faith is that it’s not just a nice touchy-feely idea: it’s a consistent proactive practice that will help you in your life.
So that’s nice -- everyone wants to have faith in themselves and what they’re doing… but how do you build it?
In times of doubt when you feel your faith starting to sleep, here are a few tips that will help you out that really helped me.
- Think back on how you’ve gotten through in the past. Odds are pretty good if you’re reading this right now, you’re doing okay enough to be having your basic needs met (think: food, shelter, internet access, etc). So if you’ve gotten this far, why couldn’t you get a little further to the next level? Sometimes it helps to fan the fire of your faith by remembering how you have come this far and things have always worked out. You’re alive. You have this great idea. Remember how far you’ve come and ignite the belief that you’ll go even further.
- Get some sleep. I’ve found personally that my faith in myself starts to rapidly diminish when my sleep quality is suffering. Lack of sleep actually affects your brain. You’re going to have a much better time in business and in life if you get the sleep you need. It’s hard to have faith when you’re exhausted.
- Share your service to build your faith. Often times when your faith in yourself and your idea is suddenly diminished, it’s because you’re focusing too inward. You’re putting yourself under the microscope and forgetting why you and your idea exist… to help others. If you cultivate faith in the improvement that your product or service is bringing to other’s lives, you’ll find something bigger than yourself to anchor that faith, too. Believe you can make a difference in other people’s lives by having faith in your idea and seeing it through to fruition.
2. Get A Life… Plan.
Think about how important a business plan is. It’s the foundation of your brand and helps you see what you wish to accomplish. You should have a personal life plan to keep yourself healthy (mentally and physically) and happy outside of your work. When I first started out I was going balls to the wall in my business and sometimes sleep was suffering. You know the cycle that follows. Bad sleep, means bad brainpower, skipping exercise, eating poorly and the downward spiral spins out of control. Make a personal plan for your life that you integrate and adhere to with the same weight as your business plan.
It’s important to realize that a well-balanced life is the key to success. If you burn yourself out or burn out your relationships, you’re going to suffer emotionally, mentally and physically. A successful business is just one very important aspect of a well-lived life.
I had to learn to cultivate balance through boundaries with my personal life plan that carried equal importance with my business. It took some time to figure that balance out but now I’d say that’s a crucial part of every small business owner’s path.
How do you build a life plan?
Here are some things to consider.
- A great question to ask yourself comes from David Brooks TED TALK: “Should you live for your resume or your eulogy?” David suggests that we each have an innate desire for success that builds our resume and a craving for community, love and connection that builds our eulogy. Discover both of your inner drives and then balance them so they don’t get out of whack.
- Figure out how to set boundaries for yourself and then stick to them. By creating strong personal and professional boundaries, you’re able to treat both aspect of your life important. Set time for exercise and be as unwilling to skip that as you would an important business meeting. Carve out certain deadlines for personal time each day, like a strict 7pm cut-off from work and focus on your family in the evenings without the distraction of work. Find the boundaries that work for you to stick to your life plan.
- Ask for Help. If you need to get some professional help to better set-up your life plan -- do it! Having trouble sticking to your exercise boundaries? Might be time to hire a trainer to help you form the habit and hold you accountable. Struggling with unplugging from work to spend time with your partner or family? Look into outsourcing some of the business where it makes sense to gain back from time for your life plan. Don’t be afraid to recognize you can’t do it all yourself, get the help you need to set up your successful life.
3. Don’t Be Afraid To Grab Attention
Your name is your brand in the beginning stages, especially if you have a service-based company. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and get attention. You want to be respectfully noticed if you wish to succeed in this type of business. As the old adage goes, the best-designed billboard in a desert still isn’t going to see success. You need to get yourself and your business out into the awareness of the world to start your movement.
How do you do this?
There are several ways to get attention that are effective, including paid and free options for whatever budget you’ve got going.
Get noticed with a budget:
- You need a marketing plan. This should already be part of your business plan overall but make sure you’re checking in on the plan and holding whomever is responsible for marketing, accountable for results -- whether that’s a staff member or an agency. Don’t overlook this important paid part of your plan.
- Try social media. If your marketing plan doesn’t include social media, you need to incorporate that facet into your plan. You don’t have to go crazy. There are very affordable start-up priced solutions for social media that include options like $99Social, where you pay $99/month for social media monitoring or HubSpot, where you can pay as little as $200/month for in-bound marketing options and help. Also, you’ll want to seek out an actual social media advertising plan as part of your marketing strategy. Facebook ads and Google Adwords campaigns are easy to set-up; you set the budget and you control where and how you advertise.
- Have a PR plan. Get a PR agent or hire a PR agency to get you more opportunities to get noticed. They’ll work on your behalf to have you and your brand featured in articles, websites, news stories and more across multiple platforms like social media, online, print and on-air. It’s a great opportunity for you to have editorial content written about what you do so make sure this is part of the plan.
Get noticed for free:
- Your website should have a blog or news section where you provide regular, free and very sharable high-value content. It’s important that it’s of good quality and very valuable as the better your content, the more likely it is to get shared and for your readers to return. Create that value and your readers and fans will share the word organically about you and your product.
- Write for an expert conglomerate online. There are countless high-quality websites in the world that gather and share the best of best in your niche. Find out what the leading sites in your market are and then ask to write for them or provide some other kind of content that will add value to their site and their readers lives, because it will in turn spread the word about you. Offer up your best! Check out options like Medium.com and Q&A site Quora.com for submitted content as well. These two are highly popular and sharable and could rocket launch the word about you and what you do
4. Focus Your Efforts On A Niche
As long as we’re talking about writing in your niche market, I should probably mention that one of the biggest pieces of advice I’d give my younger self is to stick to a niche.
When your first start out it’s so easy to be busting at the seams with all your great ideas. And while those are great thought starters and super cool for building enthusiasm, you need to slow down and focus. Remember the saying, “the Jack of all trades in the master of none.”
It’s fine to have your freak out moment of overreaching enthusiasm, but then you’re going to want to rein it in and stick with your most promising idea and focus your efforts on that specific niche.
Here are some tips to help you get focused:
Brain dump. When you start and your head is bursting with ideas, write them out. Get a notepad and start listing all the kick-ass ideas you’ve got swirling around in your brain, until your hands can’t hold a pen or your brain is empty, whichever one comes first. Then I highly suggest you put the notebook down and walk away for 24 hours. When you come back and open it up, which ideas really look doable to you? Ask yourself:
- Which idea really has merit?
- How could this idea meet the needs of an undeserved niche?
- How could this idea revolutionize a niche?
- Do I have the skills or resources to maximize the skills of those needed to get this idea going?
Try the circles method. Grab a piece of paper and draw three circles that overlap in the middle. In the left one write, “What I’m good at,” in the right one write, “What I like doing,” and in the bottom circle write, “What I could make money at.” This is like the holy trinity of niche discovery. List out the things you’re good at and the things you actually like to do.
This doesn’t just have to be business either: it should include hobbies, skills, and passions, list it all out. Then in the bottom circle, “things I can make money at,” see if any of your list of ideas from the notepad fit there. If they do, great, write ‘em down!
Now… take a look at your area in the middle of the three circles, the overlap section. What ideas have you listed that your could make money doing, that also meet the criteria of the other two circles (things you like doing and are actually good at doing).
If you find a niche idea that fits there, that’s the one I’d suggest going forward with pursuing. It’s focused enough and matches your aptitudes that it’ll be that much easier for you to have the faith and passion required to see it through!
5. There’s An “I” In Life For A Reason
At the end of the day, the biggest lesson I’ve learned from being involved in my entrepreneurial and small business pursuits is that I’m responsible for everything that’s happening in my life. Once I learned this valuable lesson, that for better or worse my life is in my hands, I became a much happier person.
Taking accountability for my life has been an amazing lesson because it’s led me to realize that while you should soak up all the knowledge you can, at the end of the day your life is your own.
Do what feels right to you. Take responsibility for your shortcomings and commit to your improvement every day. You’re the only one that can achieve the success you yearn for.
Get serious and take control of your life now!