Just two short years ago, I left Ameriprise Financial and started my own financial planning practice—but it seems like a lifetime ago! As I reflect on everything that’s happened during the past two years, I realize how much I’ve learned from being an entrepreneur. I’ve learned so much about myself and business in general that if I really wanted to go crazy, I could probably come up with 1,000-plus lessons to include on this list! But who would want to read a blog post that long?
To spare you, I’ve narrowed down my list to the 50 things I’ve learned from being an entrepreneur. Of course, these are lessons from my own personal journey of starting a business, but if you are a woman embarking on starting your own business, hopefully you’ll be able to relate to or learn from my list.
Since I’m not allowed to have comments on my blog, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what lessons you’ve learned from being an entrepreneur. I would love to hear them.
Realize that starting a business is like having a baby. You’ll need to be there every moment for its first few years to feed, nurture, grow and protect it as it develops and transitions through its many cycles and stages.
Understand that it will take a lot of blood, sweat, tears, time, energy and hard work to begin and maintain your business.
Break down and let yourself have moments of defeat. It’s OK. Starting a business is hard work and you’re human, so let yourself really feel the many emotions you’ll experience on a daily basis.
Properly communicate the time commitment involved in starting a business to those most important to you in life—i.e. your spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, family and friends. Let them know you still love them, even though your time with them will be limited. This was something I did not do a good job of when I started my business, but luckily I have the best family and friends who have supported me throughout it all, even when I wasn’t around a lot.
Build a strong support system. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and the work you’re doing. You will have many days when you want to give up, and these people will be there to remind you to keep going.
Believe in yourself. Even with a strong support system, you still need to believe in yourself and find the inner strength you’ll need to pick yourself up and keep going when things get really tough.
Be clear on the grand vision for your business and how your business will support the lifestyle you ultimately desire. From there, create clear, meaningful goals for your business
Create a strong brand handbook and marketing plan. These things become the “why?” behind your business and will be the foundation for all your business decisions.
Complete five key tasks that will grow your business every day. For example, you may need to schedule two marketing meetings, two client meetings and make 20 calls to prospects every day to ensure you’re meeting your business goals. Whatever the key tasks are for your business, make sure you start your day by completing them first.
Be patient. Things will happen at the pace they’re supposed to for your own personal and business growth.
Be yourself in your business. Don’t make the mistake I did and pretend to be someone else. I waited too long to learn this lesson, and now that I’m embracing myself more in life and in business, I feel so much more relaxed, real, fulfilled and happy. Life is way too short to not be yourself. Plus, there’s only one you, and you need to share that with the world!
Do what you want to do with your business—not what you think you “should” do. The more you operate from the “why?” point of view, the more success you’ll have and the happier you’ll be along the way.
Be clear about your ideal client and try not to work with anyone outside of this profile. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: “But I need customers/clients!” However, remember that the better the fit, the better you’ll be able to provide amazing service and value—and the more you’ll enjoy what you do.
Seek out business advice, but always remember to filter that advice through your own life vision, values and goals. Not everyone who gives you advice truly knows you and what you’re trying to create, so at the end of the day, always trust your own gut and intuition when making business decisions.
Don’t listen to the naysayers or the people who will inevitably tell you “no” or “you can’t do it.” You know you can do it. Let those negative words flow right through you, and keep moving
Rejoice in rejection. The more you can thrive on being rejected, the more quickly you’ll move toward finding the clients/customers who say “yes” and who are a better fit for your business. Don’t be afraid to turn away clients who are not a good fit. There will always be many more who are a good fit. You just need to find them.
Learn to manage your time and energy efficiently. Sometimes that means taking a break and doing something separate from your business. The more alive you feel, the better you will be in your business.
Step out of your comfort zone every day.
Never stop marketing. Marketing is critical to your business success in the beginning, and it needs to be a top priority.
Always be open to trying new ways of marketing, and test what works for you—and what doesn’t.
Create epic content. OK, so I’m pretty sure my own content isn’t epic yet, but I’m learning! I majored in business economics in college, so writing has always been difficult for me. But you know what my motto is now? “Screw that! I am a writer!” Actually, I really enjoy writing when I allow myself to be me and write in my own voice and from my own point of view—hence the new direction in my blog posts. I’m working on developing my writing skills by taking classes and learning from other writers I look up to, and I thank you for allowing me to grow as a writer and find my own voice in front of your eyes.
Understand that things will not go according to plan. It’s OK. Go with the flow. Be adaptable. Be open to different ways of doing things. It’s 2012, and we are moving at such a rapid pace that you can’t afford to get stuck on old ways of thinking or in old business models. Be flexible and ready to change your business direction at any time
Understand that you will make mistakes. Mistakes are a part of life, and you cannot avoid them in your business. Instead, accept them, learn from them and forgive yourself for not knowing everything. No one does.
Be open to new people, ideas and opportunities. You never know who you’ll meet and how they might affect your business.
Manage your business cash flow carefully. This will be hard in the beginning. Clients will not pay on time, unexpected expenses will come up and you will not know exactly where your next paycheck is coming from. Having a cash cushion before you start a business can help with the cash flow uncertainty in its early stages.
Separate your personal and business finances as much as possible. Open up a separate business account to keep good records of your business income and expenses for tax time.
Build a great professional support team. This should include a CPA, attorney, business coach, financial planner, insurance broker, etc. Work with professionals who understand you and your business and who will allow you to ask as many questions as needed.
Delegate. Giving up control is hard to do, as no one cares more about your business than you do. However, you must delegate work that others can do for you to free up your time so you can grow your business, create new products/services/marketing ideas, and allow for more time for your personal life.
And speaking of your personal life: Disengage from your business and allow time for other things in your life. I learned this lesson the hard way. I became way too rigid during the past six years, but now I’m embracing my fun-loving, social, free-spirited nature again. When you take time away from your business to enjoy other interests in life, you’ll feel more fulfilled and happy—which in turn will make you a much better person and business owner!
Roll with the punches. Don’t ride the emotional highs or lows too much or too often. Instead, strive to find an emotional medium.
Don’t be afraid to have an opinion. This has been a huge one for me in my business. Although it’s super scary for me to embrace my own opinions in my business model and my writing, it is so much more rewarding just being me and owning my truth.
Don’t compete with those with more experience than you. Ah, man, I have wasted so much time on this one! Instead of comparing yourself to others, learn from those with more experience than you—but make sure you also learn how to turn on your tunnel vision and do things at your own pace.
Show up every day with a new, positive attitude. Remember this quote: “The past is history, the future is a mystery, this moment is a gift, that is why it is called the present.” —Deepak Chopra
Never, ever, give up on your dreams. I mean ever! For real. Your dreams matter.
Always lend a hand and help others first. The more you give, the more you receive in all areas of your life, including your business.
Be gracious and always say “thank you.” Showing appreciation still goes far in life and in business.
Stand up for yourself. There have been so many times when people behaved in a way that made me upset or uncomfortable, and I should have said something or voiced my opinion, But didn’t, because I was too afraid of being mean or being thought of a certain way. Not anymore. You have to stand up for yourself. It’s not about proving that you’re right and they’re wrong; it’s about explaining how you feel in a clear, compassionate way so you both can learn from the experience and move on.
Do business with people who share the abundance mentality. Life’s too short to be around people with a scarcity mentality. There is more than enough for everyone.
Talk to your mentors or business advisory board regularly. Tell them where you’re struggling, be it in life or business, listen to their advice and learn from their personal journeys.
Reward the cheerleaders in your life. These are the people who are always there for you, cheering you on. Send thank-you cards or small gifts often to show them how much they mean to you. Always be grateful for these people, as they’re the gems in your life and therefore should be treated with the utmost care and love.
Practice the Golden Rule in business and treat everyone the way you would want to be treated.
Understand that you are more powerful than you think. I know it’s scary, but it’s so freaking cool, too! You have the ability to be and do anything in life, so go for it!
Celebrate your mini successes. If you’re like me, you may forget to do this since you’re always striving to be more and do more. But if you don’t take the time to celebrate the small things, you’ll get burned out and will be left unsatisfied and unfulfilled.
The journey is the destination. Be in it for the long term, and enjoy the ride.
Always play the game with heart. Always.
Let things go. Remember that if one door closes, another one will open.
Realize you’re not perfect and that you don’t have all the answers. Instead, be willing to learn the things you need to along the way.
Understand things will fall apart so you can build them back up again. How cool is that? You can constantly create, transform, learn, grow and strive to be better and more amazing in life and in business.
Smile often, and laugh it off. Smiling and laughing can instantly change your mood and remind you that life is too short to stress about your business all the time.
Have fun! Remember that life is an adventure, and so is starting your own business. Enjoy it!