After much anticipation, stress and a little desperation, I finally did it. I started my own business! And it failed (as is painfully documented here). After learning my background, someone asked me how I decided to start my new business. I replied, “I closed my eyes and jumped.” While that is a good way for adventures to begin, I wasn’t cliff diving off the Hawaiian Islands. I was making a decision that could impact the rest of my life and risking my career, life savings, and professional reputation. Was I naïve to think I could go into business with my eyes closed? Now that my eyes have been forced open by reality (along with my keen powers of hindsight), I see that I did some things wrong:
1. Marketing – I would estimate that 90% of a new business is marketing. I spent months, if not years, thinking about what type of business I wanted to start. But it didn’t matter what kind of business I started… I owned a marketing company… with one client. My main job was to market my business, my service, myself. I only spent about 10% of my time and effort actually doing the intended purpose of the business. So without enough time and effort on marketing, my business was only operating at 10% of its potential. Without marketing, you have no clients; without clients, you have no business.
2. Passion – It’s not enough to be passionate about owning a business (which I was), you have to be passionate about owning your business (which I wasn’t). Passion is contagious! If you don’t love your business concept, neither will anyone else. You have to be able to portray your business with such passion that it makes people excited to become your client. A new business depends on your ability to get and keep clients, and you have to surrender your entire life to that purpose. You no longer have a personal life; your life is your business. If you don’t love it, you won’t be able to do it.
3. Restraint – Go big or go home! I scaled back the plans for my business to save money. I thought I was being smart and innovative. Instead, I was killing my business. Starting a business is not the time to be conservative! You have to make a big splash in the market to make your business known and show that you’re a legitimate competitor in your industry. By cutting corners, potential clients will see your business as an amateur start-up and will either go elsewhere to a more professional option or will expect to pay discount prices that will hurt your profits. Too much restraint will only restrain your potential. Making a big splash might cost big bucks, but it will pay off in the end.
4. Weaknesses – Don’t expect to suddenly excel at things you’re not good at. I knew my weaknesses before starting my business, but I thought my adrenaline and drive to succeed would take over and compensate for those weaknesses. However, instead, the stress of running a business on my own only amplified my weaknesses and caused them to create real limitations to my success. A high pressure, high risk environment is not the time for a journey of self-discovery and personal development. A better plan is to develop new skills before starting your business, or find an alternative, so your weaknesses won’t be a setback, such as outsourcing those parts of the business. Knowing what you can’t do and finding help turns weaknesses into strengths.
5. Dependence – I might just be bitter, but I’ve learned that people usually do three things: 1) Tell you they want to help you, so they look like a hero, 2) Not help you, 3) Help themselves. This is a recipe for disaster. If your business fails because it was too reliant on outsiders with no real stake in its success, the only person hurt by its failure is you. Never let anyone else get into a position of power where your business is dependent on them. Trusting other people cost me way too much time, money, and ultimately, my business. If possible, have alternative options and back-up plans available, so you won’t be too reliant on any one investor, partner, contractor, or even client. Then the only person with control over your business will be you.
6. Discounts – Like many new businesses, some of my first clients were my family and friends. And like many family and friends, they expected discounts. And I was happy to give it to them, since, I reasoned, any money was better than no money. However, doing so was a slippery slope and a big mistake. A lot of new clients come from referrals from existing clients, so when your friends tell their friends that you’re willing to negotiate on prices, they expect a deal as well… and so on. Soon, you will be providing all your services at discounted rates, which makes it more difficult to meet your profit goals. Handing out deals de-values your services and your time, not to mention creates a record keeping nightmare when everyone is paying a different price for the same service. Just say no to special deals. If they’re really your friends, they will be willing to pay you what you’re worth!
Starting a business is always a risk. Proper preparation and planning can reduce that risk, but nothing can eliminate it. However, if all you see is every possible risk, consequence, and negative outcome that could occur, you’ll be too scared to ever take a chance at owning your own business. What is the solution? Close your eyes and jump! That doesn’t mean you should ignore the risks; it just means that after you assess and accept the risks, you should focus on the potential positives rather than the negatives. I took a huge risk… a well-managed, calculated risk, and I was prepared to accept the consequences. Even though my risk wasn’t followed by reward, I will never regret taking that leap!
Did I do some things wrong? Absolutely! But I did something right too. I took a risk and followed my dreams. And if I hadn’t closed my eyes and jumped, I might never have done it. Then I’d still be miserable in my old career, afraid to take a chance on something new. Success and happiness aren’t usually found by taking the easy road. I chose a difficult path, but now I’m more prepared for whatever I decide to do next. I choose to learn from what I did wrong, but focus on what I did right… with both eyes wide open, looking toward the future.