As entrepreneurs, we all follow our own path. For some, the rise to financial success is a long, slow, painful process; for others, things just seem to magically fall into place. I believe that the latter isn’t a result of magic, however, but is the sure sign of an entrepreneur who understands the importance of learning from, adapting to, and growing with their business.
Following are 10 lessons every entrepreneur must learn in order to build a long-term, healthy and sustainable business.
1. The customer is not always right.
From day one, we’re told that “the customer is always right”. We’re expected to bend over backwards to please every single customer, even when they’re clearly and painfully wrong. This maxim, however, can do a serious disservice to ourselves, to our employees, and to our customers. Give your customers the benefit of the doubt, but not at the expense of your (or your employees’) dignity.
2. Time is money.
Money, customers, ideas: all resources you can potentially gain more of. Time, however, is the one commodity you’ll always have a finite amount of. One way to ensure you make the most of your time is to assign an hourly dollar amount to your tasks. Ask yourself: What would be a fair wage for the tasks I perform? If someone else can competently accomplish these tasks for less money, let them do it so you can focus on higher level, revenue-generating tasks. As a business owner, you should only do the tasks that only you can do.
3. Not all money is good money.
This is a lesson many entrepreneurs struggle with early in their career. When you’re getting your business of the ground, it’s easy to fall into the trap of taking money from anyone who offers it. Problem is, not all customers or clients are worth it. Avoid clients who take up too much of your time, who consistently have unrealistic expectations, or who you just generally dread working with. It’s just not worth it!
4. There are no cheap shortcuts in marketing.
I often speak to business owners who want marketing advice, but who then shun my recommendations as being “too expensive”. But the truth is, cheap marketing can make your brand look cheap. Low-quality content, cheap ads and ‘budget’ SEO may save you money in the short-term, but the damage they do to your brand’s reputation can last far longer.
5. Outsource as much as possible.
See #2 above: If you don’t have in-house staff to share the workload, consider outsourcing. Many entrepreneurs find that hiring an overseas virtual assistant (James’ entrepreneur.com article) significantly reduces the time they need to spend on routine tasks, freeing them up to work on revenue-generating tasks.
6. Build your personal brand as well as your company brand.
Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of focusing on building their company brand to the exclusion of building their personal brand. However, your personal brand will differentiate you from your competitors, give you authority and credibility in your field, and stick with you in the event your company ultimately experiences failure.
7. Work is life: and life’s too short to hate your work.
“And while there’s been a lot of talk over the years about work life separation or work life balance, our whole thing is about work life integration. Because it’s just life — and the ideal would be if you can be the same person at home as you are in the office and vice versa.” — Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com
Work/life balance is something many entrepreneurs struggle with, which is why I’m such a huge fan of Tony Hsieh’s approach. When you’re passionate about what you do, and when you focus on happiness (both your own and that of your employees’), work isn’t just something you do to fund your ‘real life’. It becomes infinitely more enjoyable and meaningful, and significantly reduces your chances of experiencing burnout.
8. Hire people who are smarter than you.
“My philosophy is to always find the smartest people you can. Hire people smarter than you.” — Donny Deutsch
Face it: There will always be people who are smarter than you. If you’re lucky enough to find these people, hire them. Focus on the things that you’re best at, and give them the freedom to do the same.
9. Best practices may not be best for your customers.
Particularly when you’re just starting a business, it’s easy to get caught up in doing what others tell you is the ‘best way’ to do something. Problem is, ‘they’ don’t know your customers or clients. Use best practices as a starting point, but adapt them to meet the unique needs of your business and customers.
10. Just do it.
Planning, strategizing and weighing options all have important roles within a business; however there comes a point in time when you just have to do it. You know the quote: “Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing perfectly”. Stop worrying about doing every perfectly, and just do it. Analysis paralysis or simply the lack of ability to execute a plan will stifle growth, innovation, and progress in any business.
There you have it: 10 lessons every entrepreneur must learn in order to build a profitable and sustainable business. Not easy lessons, to be sure; but ones that ensure the best possible chance of long-term success.
For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!