Starting a business is hard work, but it doesn’t have to be as hard as some make it out to be.
What’s harder is growing that business and staying passionate about it as time goes on.
I ran my first company for nine years, and I’m three years into my second company. Both times around, I found that many of the challenges are the same. Here are four things for current and aspiring entrepreneurs to consider.
Don’t Overthink the Startup
Alright, let me help you start your laundry list. You need to… (deep breath) raise money, make your product or service perfect, finish your business plan, survey your target market, create your pitch deck, find investors, get funded, quit your job, find an accountant, decide on your exit strategy, and make your product perfect.
I get it. And at a certain level there are truths to some of these things. But think about this. Do you need all of that?
First of all, forget perfection. Create a Minimal Viable Product and start selling. Do you have to quit your job? What if you worked on your new business during nights and weekends until you can afford to quit your day job? And by the way, if you read that and thought to yourself that you wouldn’t want to give up your nights and weekends to start your business, then maybe entrepreneurship isn’t for you.
Once you start making money, get an accountant. An exit plan? I guarantee it will be scrapped by month 5 after you’ve already pivoted a few times. You need to take your product and start selling it. Not good at sales? Get good at it, or find someone that is.
Many people overthink starting their business. Sell something that people want, and make more money than you spend – you can figure out the rest from there.
Ignore Doubt (Your Own and Everyone Else's)
In 2004, someone asked me why I hadn’t started my own business yet. I was running a sales office for a fast-growing payments company. I knew that one day I wanted to start my own business in the same industry, but the thought of how far behind I would be to all my competitors put doubt in my mind.
The excuse mentality is paralyzing. It’s easy to make excuses and convince yourself why something is too hard or won’t work. It’s even easier to make those excuses when others don’t believe in you either, especially friends or family. The thought of failing while someone is watching after they didn’t believe in you (or even if they did) drives many to never start.
My fix was this: I started using that negativity as fuel. Every “go get a real job” or “the grass is always greener” comment is lodged in my mind. I have an insane amount of self-motivation, but why drives me even more is to prove wrong those who doubted me along the way.
Next time someone doubts you on something that you know in your heart is right, don’t let it phase you. Just keep it in a little place in the back of your mind for when you need that extra drive. The best revenge is massive success.
Always Follow Your Gut
Your business is up and running, but now the real work begins. You’re selling your product now, getting feedback from customers, improving your product, and maybe even hiring. In all phases, it’s important that you always trust your instincts.
For example, years ago I was hiring a sales manager. Interview after interview came in and I couldn’t find someone I liked. Finally, a promising candidate applied and I invited him in to meet with me. He was built for the role – experience, leadership skills, fit the culture of the company, and very driven.
A few days after I interviewed him, I called him back to come in for another round.
The same experienced and motivated person showed up, but he was wearing the same suit and tie as he had on in the last visit. I kept telling myself that he probably just forgot. Rationalizing it like, “Oh, he probably wears suits every day, with all the job interviews this sought-after candidate must be on, he is probably going through a new suit every day. It was certainly an oversight.”
So, I brought him in one last time a few days after. What do you suppose he wore to the interview? The same suit I had become very familiar with. Everything else about him was perfect for the role, so I offered him the position to manage the sales team.
Three months later I had to let him go. As time went on, he drifted farther and farther from the stellar interviewee who showed up months prior, and he had a tendency to (you guessed it) ignore many of the details in our sales process.
The lesson? Always follow your gut. Don’t ignore red flags. It will come back to bite you.
Don't Be Afraid to Re-invent Yourself
Even when you’re running the business, you’re going to get bored. It happens, it’s human nature. If you do the same thing over and over again, you’ll become uninterested in your own company.
Think about the last time you went on vacation. How did you feel when you got there? You were excited to be on a new adventure and get a break from your normal routine. But on day 10? Not so exciting anymore, right?
If you become uninterested and bored, it might be time to spark change in your own company. Growing a business is all about sales, and excitement sells. If you aren’t excited, neither will your market be.
At my last company, I was stuck in a rut and my business started to feel less like a growing business and more like a job. Instead of giving up, we invested in new technology and built an online platform to help our clients store secure payment information and pay invoices electronically via email.
This ignited a new spark in myself and the company. It opened up new doors and opportunities and changed the entire outlook of the organization.
Bonus: Do It Today
Look in the mirror and ask yourself what you want your company, your career, and your life to look like. Work backwards from that.
Go with your gut, find what fuels you, and do what you love to do. Test and try everything, and don’t be afraid to fail. Now get out there, you’ve got doubters to prove wrong.