Starting any small business involves a lot of hard work, long hours, and inevitable setbacks. Hopefully, all of that is worth it when the business starts to see profit and success.
Mistakes and setbacks are part of the course, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work to avoid them.
1. Always Put the Business First
Many businesses are a product of the founder’s passion. Whether it’s a chef opening a restaurant, an artist starting a gallery, or an engineer venturing out with their own product idea, business owners get into it to do what they love each day.
Unfortunately, most of running a business isn’t the passion that motivated you in the first place. Your time will be taken up by the day-to-day operations, and you’ll be expected to wear a lot of business-oriented hats.
2. The Customer is the Focus
This may seem obvious, but the customer has to be the focus and goal of your business. If you’re thinking that you’re in business to make money, you won’t get far. Successful businesses bring in a profit, of course, but they do so by providing a service or product that solves a problem for a customer. Even the most innovative product would fail if no one needed it.
Make sure your product or service provides value to your customers. If you have competitors, what do they well and not so well? What can you do better?
For example, numerous manufacturers produce circuit boards, but they vary in quality and features. A printed circuit board with better heat resistance would provide an edge on the market, all while solving a problem for customers.
3. You Might Fail
You might fail. In fact, it’s more likely that you will fail than find success, since the majority of startups fail. That doesn’t mean you will fail, but it does mean that you’re going against the odds.
It’s best to keep your job as long as possible. It will be hard to balance a job and starting a business, but you’ll be thankful if you hit a snag and need that job to fall back on. If you don’t succeed, take those lessons and apply them to your next idea.
4. You’re on Your Own
Most people work in environments with management and other employees. They have people to go to if they have questions or problems, and there’s a sense of community.
At your startup, you’re responsible for all the decisions and responsibility. Even with a team, you’re the one making the final decisions and taking on the burden.
5. Budgeting is Crucial
Most small businesses take time before they generate a profit. Budgeting and managing your cash flow is vital to ensuring you have the money to keep your business running. If you don’t manage your money right, you could end up spending more than you make and taking on debt.
If you experience significant growth, make sure you budget like you’re still in the early stages. The business climate can change on a dime, so it’s good to have a cushion or emergency fund.
6. Keep Your Job
Balancing a job and launching a business is challenging, but that’s an important part of creating a foundation for the future. Your startup may take time to become profitable, or worse, you could end up closing. If you quit your job, you’ll have to add worrying about your income to your stress.
It’s best to keep your job, at least part-time, or take on freelancing to ensure that you have financial security and an income source outside of the business.
7. Engage with Customers
Consumers care more about buying from a brand with a human behind it, rather than some massive corporation. You can use this to your advantage with your startup to show your customers why you started and what’s in it for them.
Engaging with customers is crucial, but many owners focus on administrative, marketing, or product development and neglect their customers. Budget some time to respond to social media comments, emails, or blog posts. The time you put in now will pay off in the future.
8. Ask for Help
Entrepreneurs are go-getters, which is great for business but not so great for delegating. Startup owners tend to take everything on, which leads to mistakes, missing tasks, and burnout.
Ask for help. There’s no need to do it all yourself, especially with a wealth of freelancers, automation software, and contractors available. Hire accountants, web designers, graphic designers, and writers as needed and focus on the tasks that only you can do.
9. Watch the Competition
Competitors are influential to your marketing positioning and business success. Nearly every aspect of a competitor’s business, from the website and marketing to the pricing and customer base, have an indirect effect on your business.
Keep an eye on the competition and see what they do well. Pay attention to social media and read reviews to get a pulse on their customer base. The more you can learn, the more you can make positive, informed decisions for your own business.
10. Have Fun
Launching a startup is a lot of time, work, effort, money, and stress, but you need to make time for fun. Sure, put the work in, but make sure you schedule time to relax and spend time with friends or family, enjoy your hobby, or spend time in nature. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
While this list is helpful for knowing what to avoid, you should accept that you will make mistakes when you launch your startup. All business owners overcome challenges and learn along the way – it’s how you handle the stress and obstacles that determine your success.
Justin Ou is Co-founders and Marketing Manager of Gerber Labs, an Orange County based engineering startup that is currently rolling out a platform that makes custom printed circuit boards (PCB’s) accessible to electrical engineering students, hobbyists and small businesses.