There’s no better teacher than experience. That’s especially true when it comes to starting a successful business. Having built one profitable business from the ground up doesn’t guarantee success in your next venture. However, it does provide for some valuable lessons that can be applied to most any business as it grows.
Excitement about the possibilities is a natural part of any new venture. In fact, you should have a passion for your business. But that enthusiasm cuts both ways, and it can cloud judgment and hamper you in making sound business decisions.
So keep that in mind and make decisions with a clear head as much as possible. Turn to your advisers and trusted confidants to keep your zeal in check so it doesn’t run your business into the ground.
One of the main lessons you learn when running a new business is fiscal restraint. Your most precious commodity is the money you have on hand to invest in your business, especially during the start-up phase. Minimize your overhead. Don’t overspend. A good rule of thumb is to have enough capital on hand to get you through at least one year.
The last thing you want to do is end up underfunded, where you have enough cash to get you 90 percent there, but then it runs out just before you get to the finish line. If that happens, you will end up spending the majority of your time looking for new investors — and not on growing your business.
Don’t let perfection be the enemy. You will always be focused on perfecting your product or service — or at least, you should be. For sure, your competition will be, and they will leave you in the dust if you’re not constantly improving. However, it’s critical to get out to market as soon as you can — even if you recognize the need for improvements. Otherwise, you will miss opportunities and give your competition an opening.
Once your business is up and running, you can secure valuable feedback from paying customers and clients that can be used to continually improve.
That leads to another tenet entrepreneurs learn early from their first start-up. Once your business is operating, you must focus on the user or customer experience. In the Web-based companies we have built, that meant making sure that the websites are easy to use and that all client and potential clients understand their value. The same principle holds true whether you sell widgets, insurance, cars or a Web-based service.
As you focus on customer experience, you will find that it is probably very different from your own perceptions. Remember, your audience is not you. It’s paying customers. And you must make sure that they have the best experience possible to keep them coming back and, with hope, referring others to you.
My partners and I learned in building our first Web-based company, an online document management service called Document Nation, that we’re not building a site for hard-core users or “techies.” To succeed, all of our customers — from the entry-level employees to a company’s CEO — must be able to not only use the site but recognize how it makes their lives easier.
We’re applying the same principal to spendLO.com, a website that matches consumers’ service needs with reliable neighborhood companies. Document Nation and spendLO are two very different companies, but they’re the same in the sense that a user who has a basic understanding of the Web can use both.
The same holds true for any product or service. If your customer doesn’t understand how your business will help them, the prospect of success becomes dim.
Finally, a common challenge many entrepreneurs must overcome with their first start-up is finding partners and employees who complement their skills, rather than duplicate them. If you are strong in marketing, you need to find people with the skills to help in finance. If you’re the technical guru, you need to find a top sales executive.
That’s how you build a team that will take your company to the next level, whether it’s your next start-up or current venture. <<
Corey Leff is founder and CEO of spendLO, an innovative Web-based company that allows consumers to shop for local services at the lowest prices. Leff also serves as managing partner and director of business development for Document Nation where he has helped oversee the company’s dramatic growth from a start-up to one of the top small businesses in Florida. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.