I was recently asked by a startup owner what lessons I have learned in my six years as an entrepreneur. While that question wasn’t anything new, it still made me stop and reflect on my entrepreneurial journey. I reflected on the mistakes I’d made, the times I stumbled, the successes I recorded, the failures, the depression and misery, the achievements…
I came up with six major lessons from six years as the founder of over four businesses, summarising the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Now, while this list doesn’t summarise all the lessons you need to implement or know to grow a business as successful as mine. That comes off the back of years of experience, and tens of thousands of hours working on my business, standing in my laboratory creating products, growing my network, working with various individuals, funding and mentoring female-owned startups, writing a best-selling book, creating online courses, hosting trainings and live classes, among a host of other activities.
These six points are what I will offer:
Pick a niche and be the best at it
Instead of being a “jack of all trades and master of none,” it is better to pick a niche and be known for it. Be the “go-to person” or “go-to business” in a particular niche. Not only would this get you better customers, countless referrals and more money, but make you an authority in your niche as well. Therefore, master your craft. Aspire and work toward being the best person in your space.
Be 100% responsible for every facet of your startup
If there’s one thing being an entrepreneur has taught me over and over, it is that everything catches up with you eventually, no matter how hard you work to escape them. As an entrepreneur, you will be consistently faced with big and difficult issues, that if not nipped in the bud and solved quickly, could become worse.
Over the years, I’ve made several mistakes, including not quickly disengaging a client or staff who doesn’t share my brand values, and not following up on cold leads. They all caught up with me, and the price I had to pay to eventually solve them when I took up the responsibility was huge. When tough issues come up, therefore, please, deal with them swiftly.
Know your numbers!
Only a few small business owners really know the expenses incurred monthly. When you don’t know how much it costs you to run your business, you can’t know if your business is generating revenue or running at a loss.
Additionally, I see many new startup owners place the full responsibility of their business’s finances solely on the shoulders of their accountants. What happens to being financially literate yourself? Dear entrepreneur, it is important, as well as your responsibility, to know your numbers!
Entrepreneurship isn’t for the faint-hearted. Sure, you don’t have a boss breathing down your back, or have to report to a superior. While the grass might seem greener on the other side—other businesses busy racking up awards, making more money, opening outlets in different parts of the country, closing deals—the reality is much different. My advice? Toughen up and get on with it. Consistency pays, and when you put in the work and position yourself as the go-to person in your field, everything else will follow.
Never take our intuition for granted
As entrepreneurs, we tend to develop an intuition that benefits us and our businesses. However, we make the mistake of not listening to our guts, which most times have dire consequences, at least from my experience. We need to listen to our intuition in every business situation or decision we make.
The more we use it, the better the protection it serves us.
Learn from those who have waded the waters before you
Finally, learn from those who “have walked the walk” before you did. If done well, you can learn from tons of amazingly successful people who won’t hesitate to share with you the tips and strategies necessary to grow your business if you ask them. However, while it’s great to seek advice, please be careful from whom you take advice. Since we live in a world where anyone, thanks to the internet, can easily label themselves coaches or mentors, ensure that you do your due diligence. Ask the right questions, and be sure that the people advising you are worth their onions.
Also, I will suggest that you don’t abuse the access mentors provide you. A business mentor doesn’t owe you their time, and they don’t have to give you advice about your personal life, that’s the job of a life coach. Be clear on what and why you are seeking mentorship and set realistic goals to help you maximise the time you get from your chosen mentor.
While I’ve highlighted my 6 biggest lessons, it won’t hurt to add that you treat everyone with respect. By this, I mean treating your customers (potential and existing), employees, independent contractors, competitors, suppliers, your community – basically, treat everyone with respect!
Additionally, there’s a saying that “Show me your friends and I’ll show you who you are.” I can’t emphasise enough how important your peer group is. The kind of people you move with plays a huge impact. If they are supportive, energetic and smart, keep them in your circle. If they are lazy, criticise you (not constructively), unsupportive, toxic/negative, then it’s important you discard them as quickly as possible, because they will only slow you down and eventually make you lose focus.