It was exciting. And terrifying. Still is. If you’ve started a business, you know what I mean.
I think sometimes about what I would have told myself then, based on what I know now. Which instincts I’d reinforce as sound, which lessons I wish I’d have learned earlier.
So to remind myself and possibly to help others, here are my 10 recommendations when starting a business.
1. Build & print stuff later
My first business cards were freebies from VistaPrint.com. My first Web site was a $9.99/month GoDaddy.com “Website Tonight” template. I had those for at least eight months, until I had the revenue to create a brand and build more professional assets. My first clients, the people that knew me, didn’t care about my business cards or Web site. They cared most about what I could do for them.
I still don’t have a brochure. Or letterhead. Or anything else that businesses “need” (so they say), but that I’ve somehow managed to do without. I know other folks who have started businesses and spend thousands up-front on materials that mostly sit in their boxes gathering dust. Save your money, or better yet, spend it on things that build pipeline and preference among prospective customers.
2. Start building your network as early as possible
Three years before I started the business, I begin more actively networking. Every day. I started my monthly newsletter. Began working on my first book. That network (which continues to grow through daily activity) fueled my first two years worth of clients. I hate to think about where I’d be without that network when I started.
This might not help those who have already started a business, but for anyone anywhere with even the twinkling that you may someday want to do it, start building a network. Meet people. Follow up. Stay in touch. Automate as much of that as you can via newsletters, LinkedIn, Twitter, whatever you’re comfortable with and your network is already using. Don’t overthink the tactics, just get started and do it every day.
3. Obsess about delivering value daily
No matter what you’re selling, this is the most important thing you’ll do. It’s about showing up. Treating their business as your own. Constantly thinking about their objectives and how to achieve them (including and beyond the scope of the product or service you’re directly offering).
Value isn’t defined by you, it’s defined by the customer. Or the prospect who might still make a referral. Or the past customer who has a new project for you. The best entrepreneurs I know obsess about value and it permeates their organization.
4. Hire only when it hurts
You will always have more to do than what’s currently on your plate. You will always feel stretched by the current book of business you have. You will always feel like another one or three people is more than justified.
But especially for a new business, hiring is expensive. It adds significantly to your costs, and there’s a lot more soft costs in managing people than you might expect. No question, most businesses can’t grow and scale without employees. But think thrice before pulling the trigger, and make sure you really need it.
5. Surprise people
This is related to delivering value, but goes well beyond that. This is also the small stuff. Sometimes superficial stuff. Send a client an article you found related to their business. Don’t just email it, but clip it out and send it with a hand-written note.
Send a thank you note, for something they did or simply for being a customer. Remember details. Follow up. Ship it overnight instead of ground. Make referrals. Few of these things take a lot of time, and together they might take 15-20 minutes out of your day. But they add up in a material way.