15 years ago I was sitting on the couch, trying to decide if I wanted to start my own business or go back into a corporate job. I had been laid off and the company graciously paid for 6 months of outplacement services which was about to run out. And as I sat there staring at the ceiling, asking what I should do, the phone rang.
It was my friend Connie, needing help and a friend to talk to. I remember the moment clearly, because that phone call was the answer to my question, and so my coaching business was launched. I told Connie what was going on and she offered to pay me. I did not even know what to charge at that point, but she insisted… and became my first client. I was now an entrepreneur.
Even though I had gotten some training and support from the outplacement service on starting a business, I had no idea what I was getting into. I was excited, because I thought I had a great service and could help a lot of people. I had no idea that I’d need to become a marketing guru, embrace ever-changing technology like “cloud-based services”, learn how to make proposals and manage customer service… Sure, on some superficial level I knew that I’d need to do these things but I just never thought about the “how” of these tasks that make a business run. Unfortunately, this hasn’t changed in today’s world of start-ups and bright-eyed entrepreneurs wanting to change the world. Most new business owners have the same holes in their knowledge as I did when I started.
15 years is a major milestone, primarily because most small businesses don’t make it past their first year, let alone make it to 15 years. I’m not exactly sure how I did it, frankly, but if I had to give an answer it would be through sheer grit, determination, and persistence. In today’s vernacular, “mindset”. I was determined to succeed. And although I still don’t always feel successful I am grateful to be on this path. I will say, however, that if I had known then what I know now I most likely would have run right back to a corporate job. It’s easier in some ways.
It would bore you to tears to go through all the details of my ups and downs as I reminisce over the life of my business, but here are some of the highlights and lessons I’ve learned from 15 years as an entrepreneur.
- The first sale is the brightest memory in the book. It gets harder to make sales from there.
- In the beginning I truly believed that people were sincere when they said they loved my product or service. I grew to hate the response “call me in a week” and have learned to love “no” just as much as “yes” to my proposals. No means move on to someone else who will be a better client and referral partner.
- Marketing and sales require clarity about the benefits a client will receive – the “WIFFM” (what’s in it for me” message is absolutely critical. It has taken me a looooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnnnngggggggggggggg time to learn this lesson.
- Build a team that has the skills you need, and be prepared to let some of them go as you outgrow them. Be sure to test for skills and don’t just take someone’s word that they have them. Even good friends can let you down.
- My first coach told me to accept the value my clients placed on my service instead of looking at it from my perspective. I’m in business because I have special skills that are easy for me… and rocket science for those who hire me to help them. I’ve never forgotten this lesson and shift in perspective.
- DIY (Do it yourself) only gets you so far. If you have big ideas about growing your business to a multi-million dollar enterprise you will need to spend money and hire people, even if only virtually or as contractors rather than employees. Choose which tasks to outsource wisely and put controls in place so you don’t suffer from fraud or abuse.
- I have to say this one – because I’m a numbers person and because this is the most widely overlooked task in entrepreneurship… Stay on top of your accounting and create a written budget annually. This is what I coach clients on the most lately – and it is what keeps businesses small.
If you’re interested in learning more about entrepreneurship and getting coaching from an experienced business owner, feel free to contact me. I’d love to help you get unstuck!