It is often said that being an entrepreneur means that you’ll often have to blaze your own trail and find you own way. Being an entrepreneur means not having career guides, counselors or road maps that will guide you from one step to the next. Sometimes you will just have to make it up as you go. For this reason, whenever possible, up-and-coming entrepreneurs are encouraged to seek out established entrepreneurs to request their help through mentoring. There are many established entrepreneurs who want to help the next generation of entrepreneurs who are seeking insight and insider education. Here are 10 tips that you will often hear veteran entrepreneurs share with the next generation of business leaders.
1. Keep your focus on the big picture. Far to often, fist-time entrepreneurs are driven to jump at that next big opportunity. The problem is that these opportunities may not be offered for their benefit, but for the benefit of the person or organization that is making these great opportunities available to a first-time entrepreneur. Keeping your focus on the big picture will help you navigate towards what you really want and what will be successful for you. Most importantly while starting up, find the one thing you do well and focus on it, rather than getting bogged down by other things that you are not particularly good at.
2. Persevere and know what your skills are. Perseverance should go hand-in-hand with you big vision in order to help move your business forward. Avoid jumping onto the latest trending business that you really have no knowledge of. To truly succeed as an entrepreneur, you have to find something you have passion for, as well as an excellent knowledge of the product or service your business will be offering. This is not only important to you succeeding, but your passion will encourage you to grow your skills and knowledge of that business concept and the skill needed to take it to the next level. If you start a business that you do not have your heart invested in, your chances of failure will increase.
3. Create a solid business plan, but be flexible. Every business college professor will tell you that famous quote “If you don’t plan, then you’re planning to fail.” But not every college professor teaching business has been an entrepreneur. What they don’t often tell you is that you may need to create multiple plans and be prepared to be flexible with what you put into those plans. You should have one master plan that will guide you and make adjustments along the way. This plan will help you track your progress and keep you focused. Your plan might also involve the securing of financing, finding investors, outlining your marketing plans and goals, and so on. It should also serve as a road map for those you bring into your business to help you market your product or service.
4. Have your elevator pitches refined for various audiences. Yes, you should have a few different elevator pitches that can be delivered in 30 seconds or less. These pitches should be available for a chance encounter with a potential customer or a prospective investor. You need to be able to pull out the one for that person. Your 30-second pitch should include your mission, you service or product goals and the benefit to your customers or investors – without it sounding like a heavy-handed sales pitch. If you cannot outline your pitch in 30 seconds or less, you might be wasting your breath and the recipient’s time.
5. Know who knows what you don’t – and don’t be afraid to ask. Surrounding yourself with mentors, experts and advisers will help you become a better business owner and not come off as a “know-it-all.” Finding successful, knowledgeable individuals with whom you share common interests does not need to be a chore. This is especially true if those individuals have mutual business goals and can see the value of working with you for the long-term.
6. Put your feet in the fire and learn from the heat. Nobody can hand you a crystal ball that will predict which parts of your plans will work and which will need re-working. You are going to make mistakes – even with the most thorough planning. The goal is to spend as little time getting your business started as possible. Be prepared to make changes by learning from those mistakes and not repeating them.
7. Nobody is just going to hand you money. Seasoned entrepreneurs will tell you that if your start-up needs a great deal of cash and capital to get off the ground, you may want to go back to the planning stages and find a way to get off the ground with little investment. Investors will not look at you until you can simplify the idea to the point were it is a manageable early-stage venture where they can see growth potential. In other words, you need to forget about grand “out of the starting gate” plans and demonstrate how you and your business idea are worthy of their money.
8. Look and act like a start-up. Even if you have some capital behind you, don’t show up to a business meeting driving a brand new sports car, or invite clients to a penthouse office suite. You will scare them away as they think you are too reckless, expensive or arrogant. The lifeblood of your company is your cash flow on hand and available credit. So learn to be frugal and keep an eye on how every dollar is spent. If you need office space to run your business and have clients or vendors visit your office, consider renting semi-private office space or shared office at an office business centre that will save you money. A serviced office at a business centre will also save you from having to make capital investments such as photocopiers or printers, furniture and a telephone system. They will also provide you with meeting rooms that have state-of-the-art equipment. Be honest with your customers and vendors that you are renting in a business centre, because they will see this as sound business savvy.
9. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Take a look around and see what is already working in other people’s business models in your industry. Consider the software applications they are using and what successful business models you can emulate. Learn to save time and money by using industry standards. Wait until you are more established to make your own modifications and improvements. Trying to “reinvent the wheel” right out of the gate will only distract you from your core business and cost you money if the new wheel “falls off.”
10. Take care of your health and avoid burnout. Unlike those who are working a 9-to-5 job, entrepreneurs often find themselves working long and exhausting days without a day off. Not taking care of yourself and not taking time for yourself will not only burn you out, but it will cause you to be less productive and therefore less profitable. It is most important that you realize that your health is literally the most important thing in your life. It is not just important to rest your body, eat right and find time to get exercise. You also need to find ways of maintaining your mental health. Being an entrepreneur can often be a very lonely existence and some may become more isolated from the reality of their poor mental health. Depression can also be a problem for entrepreneurs – especially when they are trying to prove that they have what it takes while pretending they have got it all together.
While not really a success tip for entrepreneurs, I thought I should add some additional advice that I have heard from countless entrepreneurs: Know when to call is quits! Not every business you start will succeed. Sometimes you have to realize this and accept your losses before they drag you down. Part of being an entrepreneur is accepting the risk of failure – and being ready to move on to that next challenging business venture.