Like all "big" life decisions, the hope is that we learn something along the way, and my short time as an entrepreneur has not disappointed in that regard. There have been small lessons (like learning the hard way that it isn't clever to Skype in your skivvies). And there are the big lessons that might make the difference between making it from one quarter to the next. Below are a few of the big ones, which by learning, have made all the difference to my business.
Don't be penny wise and pound foolish
When you're an entrepreneur, you look at every expenditure with a keen eye, as you should. But I found there are rabbit holes and loggerheads that can negatively impact your business performance, costing big bucks in the name of saving a few quid. For example, I have been trying to upgrade my website for months. The only thing standing in the way is getting the copy written. I'm a decent writer. I could do it, but I haven't. It has taken the backseat to my primary business. For. Six. Months. I finally hired a copywriter to take on the project, and voila! 4 days later I have the copy. It cost me about the equivalent of a day's work. I am still asking myself why I didn't do it earlier.
IT is a huge time suck for me. I can fix most things on my computer (thank you Google and the world of blogging nerds!) but the time it takes seems endless. I learned early on that to invest in a good IT support service is invaluable and pays dividends. And finding good partners who make your life easier (like GoDaddy vs Microsoft for my 365 email services) is always worth the investment.
Pick your partners well
Unless you are running a huge multinational, there is no possible way you can have all the experts in every field as your employees. But you can have their expertise at your fingertips by creating a good network of partners. Some people are big fans of freelance websites like e-lance, oDesk and others. But keep in mind that these partners are a representation of your brand, either as input into your end product or as a conduit to market. Pick those partners well. You are only as strong as your weakest link. Check references, trading history, and that their reputation is solid. But most of all make sure that you feel there is a cultural alignment. In start-up phase, you're bringing everyone into the trenches with you. Make sure it's people you like and trust.
Be afraid of commitment
The feeling of having your own office certainly makes you feel like you've "arrived." But office leases range anywhere from 5-20 years. That is a huge commitment for a start-up. Most fully established firms have difficulty with 5 year headcount and growth projections; it's almost impossible for a new company. The modern world of work, at least for knowledge workers, allows for tremendous flexibility and virtual mobility. Most people, even if they have an office, work on the road, in their home, or from client site. The office has become a place for people to gather more than anything else. If that is your goal, consider the option of work hubs or coworking spaces. Many work hubs curate their membership to focus on a particular industry, so you can still have water-cooler moments that lead to great ideas. Ask yourself what an office really brings to you (collaboration, gravitas, a place other than your kitchen table) and look to find that in alternative work environments. The lack of overhead will do your bottom line a big favour.
You're not a failure even if you fail
No one will judge you. Ok, some may judge you. People do love a good bit of schadenfreude now and then, don't they. It's in our nature. But the stories of entrepreneurs who failed only to succeed in their second, fifth, or tenth attempt abound. The only failure is the failure to try. I'm 40-something (a southern woman never tells her age) and despite the noise around energetic young entrepreneurs, I feel having a few economic cycles under my belt helps give me perspective.
I still struggle sometimes with what other people will think if we don't make it for the long-haul, but with every day trading I feel a bit more confident that even if this business folded, the knowledge I've gained would allow me to get going on a new venture without much downtime.
So in summary: delegate, keep good company, don't lock yourself in, stay positive, and most importantly, always, always, wear your trousers on a Skype call.