Several weeks ago, I set out to get in touch with as many successful small business owners as possible and harvest from them as many insights as possible for how our readers could make sure their businesses lived past their formative years.
I was floored with the amount and the range of advice pouring in – namely from HARO, Reddit, & personal emails – and this guide represents the curation of that advice.
Over 50 hand-picked tips, practical advice, and laid out strategies coming from business that stayed small, business that grew huge, businesses founded by Superbowl-winning athletes, and more. In short, there’s something here for everyone.
If you like this / find it helpful, please do share it and spread the word – or at least drop us a comment!
Mindset & Motivation
“I believe, the single most important factor in running a small business is passion. You HAVE to be passionate about what you’re doing, not only to make it through the first year, but through every day.
As you will know, being an entrepreneur isn’t easy. While there are highs, the lows have the potential of killing that passion, and therefore the belief that you can succeed. As many small businesses can’t afford a large team to keep you going, you need to wake up every morning (sometimes dragging yourself out of bed to face another day of challenges!), with the same passion and energy you had when you first thought of your small business idea. If you’re not able to do this, you’re not going to make it. Entrepreneurship is an emotional rollercoaster!
When you truly believe what you’re doing is the right path, in my case for myself and other small businesses, it makes the work less daunting. And makes the highs and successes that much sweeter.”
Bethan, Founder/CEO at The Craft Star
2 – Don’t be afraid to ask for help and work with a mentor to help accelerate your path to profitability.
“Our first year in business was a success, due to one pivotal decision we made: work with a mentor! Being completely new to business, there were many challenges we faced that we were unprepared for. Instead of playing a guessing game or spending enormous amounts of time trying to figure it out on our own, we had a mentor that assisted us in taking a direct, effective path toward profitable success. She worked with us on many facets of our business, but one important characteristic she helped us hone in on was who were we selling to and exactly what were we selling them? Helping our mindset move from commodity-selling to relationship-building made a critical difference during that initial year when most small businesses falter.”
Carrie Seibert, Owner/Founder, Soap Commander, LLC
3 – Make your company a person, give them an identity and core values.
“The major piece of advice we always share with our clients is that they need to know what their core values are. We always ask them what does your company stand for? These values are so important because they will be the guiding post for how you hire employees, create your advertising message, select colors for your website or packaging and ultimately who you will serve, your clients. Without core values your company will simply be in the wind without a clear direction or cohesive message.”
Connie Chi, Branding Chief for Vitality Branding
4 – Help entrench goals in your subconscious by writing them down and reviewing them each day.
“I recommend that entrepreneurs go to a quite place out in nature and write down their goals. It is so important to read your affirmations and goals daily, as I learned that if you read something over and over again, your subconscious mind will believe in it and bring it to life.” – Gwen Keefe, founder of children’s cup company Poli Sippy Cup.
5 – Be proactive about getting your mind in the right place to succeed.
“Maintain a positive attitude, because that is essential for success… Having a positive attitude is a conscious choice, so when negative thoughts creep in, stop them in their tracks and replace them with positive self-talk. Repeat words or phrases that focus on affirming truths about you. Surround yourself with like-minded women who are an inspiration and who will provide encouragement. Positivity allows you to see the potential that lies within you and gives you the faith to step outside of the box to achieve your dreams.” – Grainne Kelly, founder of inflatable booster seat company BubbleBum.us
6 – Set your sights high, then get obsessed.
“ My latest business, an insurance brokerage grew 127% in the first year. The approach that ensured the growth of the business is obsession with getting the business off the ground and successful. Most people who start a business want to survive the first year, well I wanted to thrive, so I invested all of my resources for 365 days, non-stop. No vacations, very little days off, and the perpetual grind. I was called crazy, irrational, and yes, obsessed, but I wouldn’t do it any other way.” – Michael Senderovich, President of Zeyger Insurance.
7 – A handful of lessons from business veteran Ben Brooks.
“I could write a book on all of the unexpected lessons I’ve learned in starting two businesses. Here are a few:
- Getting organized: I’ve always considered myself a fairly organized person but the systems I used to stay that way quickly collapsed as I took on the complexity of an entire business. I ended up hiring a Certified Professional Organizer (CPO) to work with me on getting hyper-organtized, both in the physical and digital sense. I’ve found that staying organized is mission critical to managing down my anxiety and feeling powerful.
- Focus on earning money, not spending it: When people first get started with a business it seems all of the focus is on spending money, not earning it. I got great advice that instead of worrying about everything I’d eventually need to buy or build, I sound instead put my focus on how to earn money now. In reality what you invest in early on is often wrong because you learn a lot along the way. So resist the temptation to make big investments until you get out in the market, deliver product/services, get feedback, and learn.
- Sadness: There’s a lot of talk about Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) that social media arrouses in us. When you start a business you simply have MO, as you know you’re missing out on other things so you can focus and put the effort into your new venture. This brought me a significant amount of sadness even though I knew I was chasing my dreams.
- Conviction in myself: A surprising upside benefit of starting a business was greater self confidence. By investing my own money, time, social capital and reputation into my ideas I developed greater conviction in my own capabilities. How I hold myself in groups, what behavior I put up with, and how I chose to spend my time have all evolved.
- Shedding perfectionist impulses: Since I’m the owner of my business with my proverbial “name on the door” I had impulses to try and make everything perfect. After all, it was a reflection of me, right? I’ve learned that I waste a lot of time and resources on too many rounds of revisions without getting useful feedback, and in the end produce too little as the process is so inefficient. Getting more comfortable with things being imperfect, incomplete, and in process has allowed me to get things to market faster, learn more, and be innovative.
- Managing myself: While it sounds great to “be your own boss” who cracks the whip, gives you feedback, provides encouragement, and recognizes your achievements? Oh yeah, maybe having a boss isn’t so bad after all. In addition to everything else that business owners have to learn and do, being their own manager is a rough adjustment.
- Website later: EVERYONE is obsessed with the idea that they need to build a website (and design a visual identity) before they are in businses. But ask yourself, why? What role does your website have in your business? Unless you are in ecommerce it is often just a calling card or fancy brochure. I developed a 6-figure business with only an $88 investment in busienss cards before I ever created a website.
Planning & Goal Setting
“Yes, you are passionate! Yes, you have vision! Yes, you are the best in your field! But there is someone who knows more, and has more experience. Find a mentor NOW! Maybe someone in your field. Maybe a business coach, and definitely a financial coach. An outside eye is essential to your sanity in the beginning. Jump in and don’t be afraid. Make a choice and move forward. In the beginning there are so many options and question marks. Don’t let them get you stuck. It’s fun! Let the excitement push you forward.”
Kitte Bodmer, owner at Kitta Bodmer Photography
9 – Don’t just “wing it” when it comes to scheduling, write out time windows for each task for the day and stick to them.
“Each morning, take 5 minutes to write out a schedule for the day and try your best to stick to that schedule. Have certain time frames set aside to check emails, work on specific projects, etc. When you’re working on specific projects, also keep your email closed so you do not get distracted. This will really help you, because you will feel more accomplished when you cross items off of the schedule.” – Amanda Henke, owner of Annie B’s Caramels
10 – As a business, act – right now – how you want to act when you grow up.
“In the quest for short-term survival, small companies commonly act very inefficiently, with multiple members of the team helping out with all aspects of the operations, marketing, sales, et cetera. Unfortunately, this also means that no one team member is truly accountable for any one aspect of the business. If something goes wrong somewhere along the way, who takes responsibility for that? Clearly define your roles, clearly define your processes, and clearly define exactly how you want your business to work from the very get-go. By doing so, you can scale much more easily and have a company organizational structure that others can buy into.
Keith Shields, CEO at Designli
11 – Ask your customers to help dictate product direction first.
“My piece of advice is to leverage your prospects/customers to make business decisions. Before even building a product, get in touch with prospects and have add many conversations as possible. Let them make decisions for you instead of guessing or doing “what makes sense” to you.
After we started taking this approach with IncentFit, we decreased our own work by 60% and increased our functional output by 3 times. Meaning we stopped working on things our customers didn’t ultimately care about and instead created valuable output for customers three times faster.”
Gabe Priyev Founder at IncentFit
12 – Audit how you spend your time each day.
As Tea Drops has scaled, I have learned that focus is paramount. I listened to a podcast earlier this year that really revealed the lack of focus often prevalent in the workplace. It stated that on a good day, business owners spend roughly 23 minutes of their day on work that is actually important. The rest of our day is often spent tackling urgent, but non-important work — or worse, unimportant tasks. It is key to think about how we spend our time each day. Time is one of the few commodities that cannot be replenished.
One critical exercise I’ve found helpful is to outline my top three priorities as soon as I awake. Then there is no question as to what I need to work on during the day and limits the opportunity for distractions to creep in.
Another helpful exercise is to make every effort to not check email until after my first priority of the day is complete. Email should be a helpful instrument to accomplish your daily tasks, but the inbox should never be allowed to run your day. I’ve found it helpful to turn email notifications off my phone and computer, and to set aside certain times of the day to check email (5-10 mins max) with the purpose of efficiently responding — that means not letting emails that could be responded to in a minute or less sit there and take up inbox space. Emails that require a longer response can be addressed at the end of the day.
– Sivani Patel, Tea Drops
13 – Don’t be afraid to pivot and change direction as you find your place.
Paul Dillon now runs a firm that helps veterans start their own businesses, but it wasn’t until a chance assignment on veterans from a local publication that he pivoted his businesses and found his niche:
“ Your first idea for your business might not be the right one. Be flexible! And, find an area or industry that is under served where you can add value…then go for it! Don’t take no for an answer. If you meet with rejection, get up, brush yourself off, and try again. There is always more that one way to skin the proverbial cat. “ – Paul A. Dillon, CMC
14 – Plan for the best, prepare for the worst, AKA have a buffer.
“Everything you’re planning on could go wrong. Most critical is that things will take longer and will cost more than you expect. You survive by working in a buffer into your planning. Hope for the best, assume the worst.
We thought what we were doing – texting between businesses and customers – would catch on within 12-24 months. It has taken four years longer. We are now 10,500 businesses strong. At the end of year 1, we had less than 1,000 and struggled to grow.
If not for being very scrappy and frugal about our finances initially we never would’ve survived to see the market come into it’s own. We know this for a fact because many of our competitors who started around the same time (and even raised more money than us), didn’t live to see the day.
Adi Bittan of Owner Listens
15 – Pay painfully close attention to your first 100 customers.
“My advice for any new business is to have a laser focus on your first one hundred customers. Find out what they love about your service and more importantly where they are struggling. You need to constantly adapt your offering until you get this right. If you delight your first hundred customers and offer them an amazing experience the next ten thousand will be easy! To this day I still email every new customer that uses our service and our team provide a courtesy call to ensure we’re constantly delivering the best possible experience. – Matthew Connelly, CEO of I Hate Ironing
16 – Establish your longterm goals from the beginning, then plan out the sacrifices you’ll need to get there.
“When I started Roman Blinds Direct, an e-commerce business, we initially had all of our products drop-shipped from other manufacturers. We started as a single-room business and with a skeleton staff, working hard to keep our costs low. Eventually, we established ourselves enough to be able to move to a larger premises – this afforded us the opportunity to bring in our own in-house production team, which was always our intention. By manufacturing our own products rather than having them drop-shipped, we were able to cut our costs by more than 20%, giving up scope for further expansion. We now operate from a 40,000 sq ft facility and employ over 180 members of staff, from Marketing to Production, and turn over more than £15m a year. My advice to any small business is to establish your long-term goals in the very beginning and make the necessary provisions for getting there.” – Darren Green – Founder and CEO of Roman Blinds Direct
Back to Table of Contents
- Seek support… For any small business owner (athletes included), there comes a point when you can’t (and shouldn’t) dive into your own pockets anymore. And for some, that point might come during the first year in business. The more you speak with people who are successful in business, the more you realize no one uses their own funds and resources exclusively. It may be difficult at times—I had to really fight with myself because I hate asking for things—but seeking financing to expand your business is a savvy and smart decision.
- Have a game plan. All new small businesses must have a game plan when it comes to seeking financing. Ex-pro athlete or not, if you know you’re going to need financing for your business, project out a year in advance from whenever the start of your search might be. Then during that year, take care of your credit. Unlike LeaseQ and other non-bank options, banks typically only look at one or two factors, and bad credit could come back to bite you—not only during the first year, but in years to come. – Isaiah Standback, co-owner of Steadfast Fitness & Performance (and a Super Bowl Champion, woohoo!)
18 – Learn to bootstrap and build a business, AKA don’t just play the ‘funding game.’
Whether you have to or not… learn to bootstrap. There’s an insane amount of funding being passed out in the start-up space this generation. Seems like almost any millennial with an idea feels entitled to ‘freebies’ and far too often we as a generation are set up to be ‘soft.’ There is tremendous value in the ‘grind’ of only having two pennies to rub together. It is the absolute birth place of creativity and determination to do things you wouldn’t consider yourself capable of. Big things happen when people are stretched far enough to grow. You’re more inclined to see opportunities you otherwise wouldn’t when you have to proverbially squeeze water out of a rock. You value clients who are the feedback of your market space because they are your oxygen. Too much funding can be a slippery slope in early stages of a company when the safety net is always in our peripheral. Not to mention the personal development that comes from an entrepreneur when she or he has to make sacrifices to create what they are passionate about and push through the resistance life throws our way. Lessons learned in the bootstrap phase creates a grounded and inspiring leader as a foundation for a company.
When it comes time to take on funding, by then you usually know exactly where it is you need to put those dollars to multiply them because you’ve been strategic and self aware enough as a company to know your strengths and weaknesses. By then you’ve probably recruited equally passionate visionaries who are growth-focused in a big picture mindset verses valuing less important aspects of company culture like pingpong tournaments and incentivized trips. I don’t knock funding in the slightest. There are companies who started with generous financial boosts and receive B and C rounds while maintaining a progressive revenue stream. The rhetorical question might be are they equally resilient through the turbulent atmosphere start-up world evokes? – Lauren Watkins, president of Urbana Custom Clothier
19 – Learn to manage your money and exercise self-control.
The best thing you can do to make your business last past your first year is manage your money like crazy. If you are lucky, you are working off savings or have an investor. If you also have to hold down on a job, things are going to be tough! The number one reason that businesses fail is that they run out of money. So, make a financial plan that makes sense, and stick to it. My first year in business I made about $5,000 — and I live in San Francisco! I bootstrapped everything (luckily, digital marketing doesn’t have much overhead) and started building my brand. This is extra advice, but you have to keep your attitude up the whole time. It helps to understand that, unless you are an exception, business will be slow at first. Take time that year to build your brand, get ultra organized, and practice self-care so fear doesn’t start controlling you. And watch yo’ money, honey!
– Anna Colibri, Founder/Digital Marketer
Colibri Digital Marketing
Marketing & Advertising Strategy
The best piece of advice I can offer is this: Look for where the intent to buy already is. If you want to start a food truck, the absolute best place to go is where the hungry people are. For us, when starting LawnStarter Lawn Care Service, we started with direct mail. It worked — and still works — but only during certain times of year. Plus, it was expensive. Then we tried daily deals, and that worked but attracted people who just wanted a deal — not people who would be long-term customers. So we started asking people where they learned about their lawn care provider. The two top responses were searching Google for lawn care near them and looking in the phone book. So, we started investing in those channels, and that’s what brought us from dozens to thousands of recurring customers.
Ryan Farley, co-founder of LawnStarter
21 – Your passion is important, but not as important as making sure it addresses customer pain points.
“To get past your first year, you must know where your customers are going to come from before you take the leap. It’s easy as a business owner to be blinded by your own passion for your work and your idea. Marketing, marketing, marketing is critical. Does your message perfectly address how you remove people’s pain points? Are you crystal clear about who will love you and why? How are you getting your messaging in front of these people? Will your brand wow your prospects and turn interest into inquiry? I had a full-time job my first year in business, but was able to generate $90K in sales through networking and testing my message and audience. The next year when I made the leap and quit my job, my company generated over $450K in revenue, because I knew exactly what gap I was filling in the market and stayed laser focused on meeting that need. Dacia Coffey, CEO & Marketing Strategist at The Marketing Blender
22 – Get personal with your customers, remember you’re building relationships in addition to just closing sales.
“Initially, customer contact was through our site and through email. Once we realized that an online business still has a very personal component to it, our numbers surged. Rather than strictly online contact, our Director of Admissions called each new prospect. This gave the opportunity to establish a rapport with the potential customer, trust in our skills as educators and confidence in the educational services we could provide. This shift in strategy helped to increase our enrollment by almost 40% which, in turn, boosted revenue. Today, we are a strong, financially sound presence in the online homeschool market.”
– Victoria Marin, Co-Owner, Adirondack Learning Academy
23 – Nail your value proposition before starting your marketing.
“The main mistake I made when I first started my business was failing to nail my value proposition or what is it about our product and offer that compels people to say yes?
Until I knew this, any marketing efforts or spend in any channels was like like pouring gasoline on wet leaves.
For instance, when we first launched, we thought people would like our service because it’s a cheaper way to get their grass cut. What we found through copy testing in different channels such as ad-words and FB is that the customers ability to get same day service is a much more effective and compelling subset of our value prop that drives more visitors and more conversions on our landing pages.
Nailing your value prop first is crucial.”
Bryan Clayton, owner of Green Pal
24 – Always have a guarantee for your customers that addresses their most likely concern(s) with your product.
“Always have a guarantee. If you know what concerns your customers – whether it is fit/ size (clothing), timelines (delivery by a certain date), or taste (food!), have a guarantee that directly addresses their concern.
For our customers – mostly men buying gifts for women – their #1 concern is, will the lingerie fit? Our company has a 100% fit guarantee. The guarantee “seal” is on every page of our website… We believe that this guarantee has helped [Enclosed] tremendously with securing customer purchases. Although we can not show an uptick in sales because we’ve had this policy since our launch, we’ve received numerous reviews that have shown the effectiveness of this guarantee.
Antonia Townsend, CEO/Founder at Enclosed
25 – Get creative with your market research.
“One tactic we used during our first year getting started, was to see what items were selling well on eBay. Then, we would test out selling each product on eBay before putting them on our website or stocking the item. Within a few months, I was making enough of an income to quit my full time job. We would use eBay research tools and completed sales data to determine what we should be selling. Within about 6 months, we went from nearly no revenue to $35-40K/month.” – Kim Hawkins, owner of discount event & wedding supply company Wholesale Event Solutions (founded 2006)
26 – Marketing doesn’t have to come with a hefty price tag. In fact, it probably shouldn’t until you’re making sales.
“My advice would be to keep overhead and startup costs as low as possible. We’ve kept marketing costs to almost nil by writing and pitching human-interest stories about how our invention and business came about.
Our first editorial coverage in a targeted niche magazine propelled our brand and sales by 500% when the article ran.”
Jill Bong, Alpha Hen at Chicken Armor
27 – Start telling your story to anyone who will listen, and then some.
“Tell your story. Market your product. After I created a Touch-Up Paint Pen, I had no clue how to sell it. I had the product on Amazon and I had a basic e-commerce website, but sales came in at a snail’s pace. Advertising was not in my budget. So I wrote to every editor of every newspaper and magazine I could think of, introducing the product and telling the story behind it. Lo and behold, the Editor of the NY Times House & Home Section loved it and gave it a small write-up with a photo in the Thursday House & Home Section of the paper. By 7:30 a.m., I had over 10,000 orders.One mention, in one magazine or paper, can launch your business. As the owner/creator, it’s your job to make sure you tell your story to everyone, everywhere.Debbie Wiener, owner at furniture retailer Slob Proof
28 – Free doesn’t always mean you’ll make less money.
”Affilorama, an affiliate marketing training portal, started as a paid-only service for $30 per month. After not seeing the results we expected, we changed our pricing structure to include a new free option and a new $70-per-month premium option. Within the first month of implementing our new pricing strategy, our revenue and customer base tripled! The free plan has not negatively impacted our revenue, and our customer base continues to grow.” – Simon Slade, CEO at Affilorama and Doubledot Media
29 – Don’t be afraid to make a splash and stand out from what’s “expected” in your industry.
“When we first started The Bookkeeper, we felt that, to be taken seriously, we had to look and act like any other “respectable” bookkeeping firm. Using that strategy, we did a great job of disappearing into a sea of options, and went months with only a couple of clients (whom we knew through personal connections). When we started showcasing how we’re different (flat monthly rates, included CFO services, etc..), people started noticing us. Our number of clients rose exponentially; two years later, we currently have over two dozen ongoing clients, with more being added monthly.”
– Courtney Barbee, junior partner at The Bookkeeper
30 – Researching your customers should be priority #1.
Do your research and get educated—Many new business owners focus their attention on their skills and industry knowledge. Many don’t take the time to do additional research on their ideal customers. Also, to find new business ideas, often the best sources are from other industries and markets. When seeking new answers, all business owners are your peers.
Zondra Wilson, owner and founder of Blu Skin Care, LLC.
31 – Facebook advertising with a laser focus and attentive split-testing.
“Using Facebook advertising and careful targeting to reach our ideal audiences, we started to split test different ads, to see which ones performed the best. The goal was to find one or two different ads which worked very well and use a lot of money on these ads to expose ourselves to our target audience. It didn’t take much longer than a couple of weeks, and combining these ads with a sizeable budget grew our brand awareness in our small, but carefully picked audience. To mare sure we were getting the most out of these new visitors on our website, we used remarketing to re-engage the users who didn’t contact us yet to get a price quote. This led to many people contacting us to get a price quote and seeking advice with their own marketing efforts. This has shown to be a great investment for our company, as we grew our monthly revenue by 400 % in just 4 months.”
– Kristian Larsen, Head of Paid Social – https://pl-partners.dk
32 – Get a toll-free number to help instill trust for larger purchases.
“If you sell online, get a toll-free phone number, put it front and center on your website and make sure to answer it when someone calls. Before we got ours, we were selling a lot of our lower-priced items, but almost none of the higher-priced ones ($1000+). Once we put the 800 number on our website, we started getting a few calls per week from customers who ended up buying higher-priced items.
Our profits more than doubled. What’s more, most callers don’t even have any real questions for us; I think they just want to verify that our business is legitimate before making a large purchase. – Henry CrespoJob, Owner of Grow Light Central
33 – Constantly and consistently put your brand out there to help cultivate mindshare.
“Small businesses, especially those who are just starting out need to be present. Since most small businesses aren’t brands yet, they need to constantly and authentically remind their potential customers who they are and that they exists. Brands are easily top of mind for many customers, so small businesses need to do something unique to stand out. We’ve found that giving constant attention to our Instagram account has really helped business and deliver quality leads. Sharing behind-the-scenes insights is a unique look at what we do and how we accomplish our goals on each project, and potential customers love that! Beside seeing our following grow month over month for the last 15 months we’ve been able to build our business and increase revenues, too.”
Tim Ryan, Founder & Director TAR Productions
34 – Think outside the box when it comes to social networks & communities.
We’ve always understood the importance of a strong digital presence, and growing our business online has been a priority since day 1. But it wasn’t until we started looking beyond the typical platforms like Facebook and Twitter that we really started to notice significant growth in our digital presence. One of our most successful tactics for growth was submitting content to Reddit on a regular basis. Although it is not generally considered a popular platform for businesses to use, the huge amount of traffic and ‘buzz’ that you can generate on Reddit is just too good to overlook. We would generally submit one piece of content every fortnight, and within the first month of using Reddit our traffic and email signups increased by 120%” – Max Robinson, Guardian Removals
35 – When you land press coverage, take full advantage and use it as more than a passing mention.
“We are 12 years old, but one of the most important steps in our first year which helped lead to immediate and sustained growth was when we placed our press mentions on our homepage. In this day and age where anyone can have an online business, consumers are looking for an indication of something that can give them trust in the business. We had focused on PR when we launched, which brings in sales on its own, but when we listed the places that had covered us on our homepage there was an immediate boost in sales.”
Paul Shrater, Co-founder & COO at Minimus.biz
36 – Think about goals other than direct profit that might add to your appeal.
“I can offer one unorthodox piece of advice to new business owners. Reject profit maximization as your main goal of business and adopt a social value integration model. You can differentiate yourself from any other business in your niche and help your community. At SocialsFirm, not only do we solve a unique pain point, but 50% of our revenues are being used to incubate social entrepreneurial ventures. We consult businesses around the globe on millennial strategy implementation. Our expertise lies in leveraging social media and social good for increased sales and brand engagement. Our revenues are then used in the fund to offer fellowships and direct social programs through the incubator. The system acts as a real-life kickstarter; instead of donating to a social cause or product and receiving a reward, funding businesses can receive consulting services and social recognition for funding the incubator to create sustainable social startups.”
Matthew Martinez, founder at SocialsFirm
37 – Listen to what people want, even if it’s not what you thought they wanted.
“[You should] listen to what people want not what you want: What I wish someone had told me early was don’t try to be all things to all people. We have had the most devoted 18 month – 5 year old crowd you could ever want. But when our kids grew up, we wanted to add more and more for older kids. The problem with that is the kids naturally moved on to other things, mostly sports related that we just didn’t have the space to compete against. By focusing so much time and equipment towards that older group, we spent less money on advertising and equipment for the customers that really wanted to come to us.
If I had it to do over I would have niched down and focused on dominating the market of kids 18 month – 5 years and maybe set up a referral program for kids that out-grew our classes. – Kevin, location owner at Kids U Gym
Kevin also had this advice to offer:
“…Be straightforward with your customer, I want you to pay me to join this class or camp.
We gave away a lot of free community events, and did a lot of fund raisers for schools and charities around us, but we never made them an offer afterward. i.e. your people that just had a great time at our gym, and really appreciate that we helped you out, can now get 15% off of _______!
Follow up those good feelings with a way that they can get involved in your business.”
38 – Track your marketing campaigns, relentlessly, so that you won’t waste money on low-ROI activities.
“Specifically, I mean ask every new customer how they heard about you and record that data. As a new small business owner you should constantly be experimenting with new marketing campaigns to grow your customer base and get exposure in your community. It’s incredibly important to record REAL data about which marketing campaigns are working and which campaigns are a waste of money. For every new campaign you launch, decide ahead of time on a fair trial period for that campaign. Record how many new customers you get, and tabulate your total sales for those new customers. We did this at my business and were able to cut 40% of our marketing expenses, and re-invest that money into marketing efforts that were generating stronger results. This resulted in a 30% sales increase with no additional marketing spend!”
Matt Ham, Owner of Computer Repair Doctor
39 – If you have a unique product but no established brand, don’t think this means you need to be a wholesaler – start making sales on your own site and Amazon from day one.
“If you have a unique product, start selling online via your own online shop and on other popular platforms such as Amazon.
We were partnering with other online retailers and focused on wholesale for the first 5-6 years. Should have started our own online shop and selling on Amazon right from the start.
– K.B. Lee
Founder & CEO
Management & Leadership
40 – Outsource early so you can focus on your strengths and the most critical areas of developing your business.
“When you have the opportunity to outsource something in your business, OUTSOURCE it! Too many business owners try to wear every single hat in the beginning, which is sometimes necessary but not always effective. If you can leverage different outsourcing options (i.e. contractors, back of the house accounting, etc.) it will free up time to focus on your highest and best use for growing the business! When we started to outsource the proper business activities, we saw a growth in net profit margin from 16% to around 30%. It is key to identify the different things you can outsource and determine which ones are not critical for you to do yourself.” – Robert Rodrigues, Partner at www.PowerDigitalMarketing.com
41 – Make sure your initial team can make up for any skillsets you lack.
“One thing I wish I’d done differently… Having brought the wrong team on board when I first started building my business nearly five years ago. If I’d known what I know now… I wish someone had told me the importance of having a technical co-founder on board when I started out. I had a team, but the two gentlemen I brought on had the same exact background. I didn’t need two of the same skill sets. The technical aspect of my business has been one of the bigger challenges I’ve faced and it’s the one thing I definitely would have approached differently from day one.”
Lori Cheek, Founder/ CEO at Cheekd
42 – When choosing who to surround yourself with, remember that you hold the keys.
“Don’t listen to all of the naysayers. As soon as you decide to start a business, you will find a line forming of people (supposed experts) telling you “it won’t work”. If these people really knew so much, they would be successful entrepreneurs themselves. Don’t take advice from someone unless they meet two criteria, one – they have started a successful business themselves and two, they are a hundred percent committed to helping you make your business successful.
The two most important words for an entrepreneur to understand are “Ultimate Responsibility”. To succeed in a new business, you must give-up finger pointing, blame, excuses and rationalization. You must own everything that happens inside of your business. If it is not right, fix it, don’t make excuses about it.”
David Naylor, Executive VP Global Leadership at 2logical
43 – Answer HARO Queries & Be Proactive About PR
“My top advice for year one in business is to join HARO and answer queries. The fact is that reporters are there waiting for someone like you to help with their stories. You want your business to get seen? You want to noted as an expert in your industry? Then you need to be quoted. Within the last month alone, I’ve been quoted on at least 10 sites relevant to my industry, with links back to my site. – Eric Brantner, founder of Scribblrs.com
44 – Establish brand, voice, and culture early on.
While your product may change (or might be perfect from the beginning!), you should focus on building a consistent brand and voice that won’t fall apart just because a certain product line does.
“We’re now going on four years old and I think the most important thing I would tell a new small business owner is to remember to establish a brand and culture that is coherent, communicated well, and worth fighting for from the beginning. Your products can be the best thing in the world and sell great, but your brand is your legacy. If you establish that clearly and firmly from the start you’ll be a lot better suited to make a lasting impact that you and everyone else will want to be a part of from the start.” – AJ Fountain, president of Dr. Squatch Soap Co.
45 – Encourage leadership to blossom.
“…maintain positive, energetic, and personal relationships with all of your core team members. Having those relationships will help make certain that everyone is always putting in 110% effort and taking charge of their work. Also, ensure everyone stays up-to-date with the latest in your industry. Consistently reading about the latest tools that startups use and discussing new software and technologies with your team will inspire members to think up innovative new ideas.” – Joel Schwartz, founder of social voice app Parlor.me
46 – Be a great leader not through having every answer, but through approachability and humility.
“Fantastic leaders earn respect by being humble. They leave the ‘my way or the highway’ mentality at the door. They also roll up their sleeves and work with the team by brainstorming and sharing ideas to work through complex issues. They foster an atmosphere where it’s not only acceptable, but desirable, for the team to ask a lot of questions. Great leaders are also honest about the fact that they don’t know every answer, and that they’ll know a lot more two years from now than they do today.” – Ross Cohen, co-founder of online background check platform BeenVerified.
47 – You’re no longer a regular employee, so come to terms with being a fully-responsible business owner.
“My most important piece of advice for any entrepreneur starting a business is to have the right mindset. You are no longer an employee. You are a business owner. This is not like working for a large company where another department takes care of administrative tasks, accounting, HR, business development, and revenue forecasting while you manage people in a single department or make an individual contribution to a team. You own, and should feel responsible for, each decision the company makes. You’re about to work for someone who doesn’t care about your excuses and can be in fact the toughest boss you’ve ever met: yourself. You are completely accountable for all of your actions. It is completely up to you how hard you work, how strategically you build relationships, and how well you deliver on expectations. Your revenue, and often times your ability to sustain yourself, depends on this. There is no regular paycheck. But your opportunities are limitless. And the feeling of success that you’ve earned with your own sweat equity is like no other feeling in the world. After we shifted to our current mindset as business owners rather than employees, we saw a significant increase in both our revenue and the number of clients who wanted to work with us.” – Max Brown, Founder, Silicon Beach Talent |
48 – Before hiring for a role, test it yourself to make sure your business can get direct value from it.
“In the early days, until you’re motoring, never hire for a role until you can do the job yourself and get some kind of value from it. As a founder you can’t delegate the discovery of product-market fit, or the discovery of how to sell.”
“I am a strong believer that the #1 thing that you need to do to get your business to last past the first year is consistency. I spent every single day working as hard as I could and once I got results, I just pushed that much harder. You can’t take days off and think that things are just going to happen for you. You need to MAKE them happen. I get so many clients that sit back and think that if they have help with social media, that’s all they need. You can’t sit back and hope for the best. No matter what type of business you have, whether it’s a service or a product, you need to be out there knocking on doors to let the world find out about you! There is always something more that you could be doing. Never take a day off your first year, that the most important year!”
– Julie Cimity, owner of Branding Monster
50 – Look for the quickest path to your task goals.
“The one piece of advice I can give to a new business would be [to] do work smarter.. Define your goals and strategies and reverse engineer the amount of time it takes to get you there. Figure out how to reduce that time by breaking your overall goal into smaller, testable action steps. Instead of reaching out to 1,000 bloggers, reach out to 50 and measure the results. If no one gets back to you, adjust your pitch and contact the next 50. If you can’t get a bite move on to the next strategy. Don’t continue doing things that are not effective. You can always revisit a strategy in the future.”
Judah Lamm, Co Founder & CTO at Skill Silo
51 – Be ready to pivot (and appreciate your ability to do so as a new/small business).
“I’d say the single most important thing your first year in business is to make sure you can pivot on your business plan quickly if you are not making any money. The beauty of small businesses is that you are able to pivot so quickly to take advantage of things you didn’t foresee as a problem when writing your business plan or idea. So take advantage of that and be ready to either tweak your business to accommodate something that changed in the industry or do something completely different just to survive.”
Paul Trowe, CEO, at Replay Games
52 – Dig down and find your business model before scaling.
It can be easy to want to run with an idea and pour money into ads and outreach without validating your idea, but that can be a good way to dig your business into an early grave – don’t make assumptions you haven’t tested and validated. That’s the lesson from Garrett Smith, Founder and CEO at Pitch + Pivot
Put more succinctly: “Try on the business model yourself before you scale.”
53 – Find creative ways to source your talent.
“I was spending a lot of money on getting products shots for my brand. Products shots required a studio rental, hiring a photographer, models, stylists, makeup artists and not to mention my time on site the day of the shoot. I had the idea one day that cell phone cameras have come a long way and many of them now take excellent photos. I thought, why hire a photographer, stylist, makeup artist, etc when I can find aspiring models with a good sense of style and makeup skills! With the internet and social media there is no limit to connecting with people around the world.
I saw a 60% savings by incorporating the following business approach. I decided to post an ad for models that were interested in taking photos for a lookbook. The deal was that I would send them my shirts for free and they would style them creatively with their clothing and accessories. They would use their cell phone camera or any other camera they choose to take several shots in each shirt. I also paid them for their work in exchange for a signed release to become the owner of the photos. My first ad garnered over 250 responses. I knew I was on to something. With that ad I have had a well-established artist and an actress respond and work with me. So the results have been very fruitful. I have come across many creative people (I call them “hidden gems”) waiting for an opportunity to showcase their gifts and talents. Using this marketing strategy I have been able to gain a group of diverse eclectic photos of people, wearing my products, that represent the world we live in. This is perfect for my brand since I aim to make an impact on humanity.”
Antoinette Rodney-Celestine, Founder of oneWORD, a clothing company with a mission.
54 – Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.
“The first time we had finally landed our first big account, and we to deliver it in a few weeks, the machine we need to wrap the burritos wasn’t working. We could absolutely not figure out how to fix it. I don’t even know how to change my oil in my car, but I was on my hands and knees at 2 a.m. with a wrench trying to figure it out. We eventually did and made the order in full and on time, but at that moment I felt very, very alone. I realized with 100% certainty that nobody is going to do this for me. Until we had the money to hire experts, I needed to figure out how to solve our problems myself. It’s safe to assume everything is going to go wrong because it will.” – Mike Adair, founder & CEO at Red’s Natural Foods
55 – Just because you’re a founder, don’t be a jack of all trades and master of none.
“…Don’t be a jack of all trades and a master of none. While having a broad range of skill sets is vital, I think it’s more important to focus specifically on what makes you valuable to the team. This helps clarify roles, delineate work streams, and increase overall productivity by allowing yourself and your team to focus on their individual strengths to achieve team goals.” – Anthony Franciosi, founder of eco-conscious cannabis company HonestMarijuana
56 – Personalize what you can, automate the rest.
Personal attention is key when starting a new business, but make sure that tasks which disproportionately eat up time are at least semi- automated:
“I am a piano teacher and former music school owner. I’m not one who likes to waste time, so when I started to notice that I was rewriting basically the same email over and over every time a prospective student emailed me, I decided to systematize the process with canned email responses. Pre-writing this one email emails easily saves me 30 minutes every time I respond to a lesson inquiry!”
Andrea Miller of Music Studio Startup
57 – Map actions closely to ROI; skip the nice-to-have in favor of the practical.
The best advice I can give new small business owners is to focus on marketing, and more importantly, a return on investment. In the first year it is easy to get caught up in actions that won’t actually generate any cash flow. A lot of new business owners are in a hurry to buy new chairs, desks, expensive equipment, business cards, letter heads and many more things that, in retrospect, will mean nothing for your growth. This is a dangerous allocation of money and time because it can be the reason you don’t make it out of your first year. Instead focus on determining how you are going to consistently acquire new customers through different marketing strategies. This goes for both internet and brick and mortar businesses.
In our first year we were so busy trying to perfect the website that we didn’t realize this whole time we didn’t create a way to generate leads and the cash was running low. We lost our office and all the fancy tech we bought in the process. We survived by selling everything and using the cash to attack our content marketing and SEO strategy. This allowed us to start closing sales from our own leads within a couple months and brought us to positive cash flow. We then continued to focus our efforts on that strategy and doubled our revenue every quarter since. So my advice is to build your marketing, then your sales, and your business will have no choice but to grow from there. Constantly focus on the concept of opportunity cost and always choose to allocate all your resources on the activity that will have a direct impact on your revenue. Most new businesses don’t do this, and end up in the graveyard as a statistic. You can focus on being perfect and making a difference once you are making revenue, you have to make money before you can make change.