What I Wish I Knew Before I Started My Own Business

starting your own business

It might be impossible to turn back the hands of time, but every top entrepreneur is happy to share the advice they wish they knew from the beginning of their business journeys.

We asked this exact question to a group of successful business founders, giving the next generation of entrepreneurs some wisdom to remember.

Problems = Opportunities

Obstacles are inevitable in any major life pursuit, especially one with so many variables as starting a business from scratch. Reframe these problems and look at them in a new light.

“Start approaching every problem as an opportunity and your entire outlook on business and life will change for the better,” said Jeff Goodwin, Senior Director of Performance Marketing at Orgain. “Everything gets easier and you stop beating yourself up over little things. That’s one thing I wish I knew starting out, and young folks should learn that ASAP.”

Your mindset is your choice, so make it work in your favor.

Right Place, Right Time

We look at top business minds and want to replicate their trajectories, but the truth is that these are one-in-a-billion cases. Everyone is unique and must operate on their own timeframe.

“Everyone always says they wish they got started earlier, but as a counterpoint, you might not just be in the right position to begin,” said Kelli Lane, CMO of Genexa. “Don’t waste time or hesitate too much, but also don’t wait until it’s too late to take a chance in life.”

As most business leaders will tell you, it’s always better to take action than to watch from the sidelines.

Don’t Fear Failure

Every entrepreneur has an unusual relationship with failure. They don’t see it as a win or loss, but rather a chance to learn from mistakes and do better next time.

“Learn how to fail forward,” said Elias Janetis, CEO and Founder of Squeeze. “You’ve created solid short- and long-term business plans, and you know what needs your start-up is going to address. Now, all that’s left to do is build your business. This is where failure is inevitable. On some level, failure happens to everyone. The key to success is learning how to turn your failures into opportunities for growth.”

This may seem like a trite point, but it’s not so easy to apply it to your own life.

Fueled by Feedback

You’ll have no shortage of feedback in the world of entrepreneurship, whether you like it or not. The question is how you’ll respond to feedback, whether it’s glowingly positive or brutally harsh.

“You’ve got to acknowledge feedback, but not let it sway you from your mission in any significant way,” said Ben Teicher, President of Healthy Directions. “That goes for positive reinforcement and negative critique. Keep a level head no matter what people say and push forward steadily.”

The next time you receive feedback good or bad, take it to heart and act on it immediately.

Take a Breath

Building a business is nonstop pressure. If it’s not coming from external sources, it’s coming from yourself. Sometimes, the best advice is to relax a bit and take your time.

“To just breathe,” said Ben Cook, Jr., Esq., Vice President and General Counsel at Cook Digital Corp. and Printed Kicks. “I’ve always been impatient when it comes to getting tasks done, and like most business owners, I don’t have many days ‘off.’ Some things take time, and the fastest result is rarely the best answer.”

If you’re feeling stressed out and not making the progress you want, try lightening up and things will come more easily.

Tolerate Risk

Starting a business is inherently risky, but that’s the case for many aspects of life. How much risk are you willing to tolerate, and how are you prepared to handle it?

“Almost everything worthwhile carries with it some sort of risk, whether it’s starting a new business, whether it’s leaving home, whether it’s getting married, or whether it’s flying into space,” said Chris Hadfield, retired Canadian Space Agency Astronaut and Engineer.

If anyone deserves to speak about risk and reward, it’s a decorated Canadian astronaut!

Clarify Desires

The common thread across entrepreneurs of every industry and generation is obvious enough – they have a clear mission and are willing to do whatever it takes to reach their goals.

“Know what you want, and why you want it. I think we get closer to accomplishing our dreams and life goals by optimizing our time and following our intuition,” said Olamide Olowe, CEO of Topicals. “I’ve learned to optimize my time better by being clear on personal and work goals and why they are important to me and using technology to help me stay organized and track the small tasks that are important for accomplishing a specific goal.” 

Do you know what you want, or do you still need to make that decision before taking the next step?

Treat Yourself

A lot of business building happens on your own with nobody looking over your shoulder. It takes a lot of discipline and self-motivation, and you need to give yourself incentives to keep going.

“Reward yourself in small ways as much as possible,” said Omid Semino, CEO of Diamond Mansion. “When you begin feeling like you aren’t gaining anything from your work, that’s when you can easily lose motivation. Give yourself a gift for every quota you meet or goal you achieve. It’ll keep you energized and excited to put effort into your business.”

Don’t indulge yourself too much or get thrown off course, but some relaxation and reward is a healthy way to stay ahead.

Set Boundaries

You might have loads of talent and plenty of ambition, but if you can’t set boundaries for yourself and others, you simply won’t achieve the level of success you want.

Sometimes, boundaries mean setting limits on how much you work and avoiding burnout.

“The most important thing I wish I knew before I started my own business is how to separate work from leisure,” said Carrie Derocher, CMO of TextSanity. “So many times people push themselves to the limit when they start off, but after a while they get burnt out. This burnout is extremely common and should be discussed far more than it currently is. Pace yourself. Just because you are ambitious does not mean you have to push yourself over the edge.” 

We’ve all experienced burnout to some degree, and it’s never fun. Make sure it doesn’t happen in the first place.

Get to the Grind

It’s easy to be enamored with the media representation of entrepreneurship, but don’t forget that it takes months – often years – of hard work to get results.

“So much has to happen behind the scenes to get a business off the ground, and not all of it is glamorous or exciting,” said Benjamin Smith, Founder and CEO of Disco. “I now know that there’s a lot of grunt work and grinding that goes into the process, and that’s just part of the journey.”

The work won’t always be fun, but it will definitely be worth it.

Customer Connection

There’s only so much you can achieve in an echo chamber of team members and investors. Eventually, you’ll need to connect with customers and get that cash flowing.

“The one thing that everyone starting off a new business should remember is that connections to the customers is key to success,” said Jeffery Brown, President of Big Fig Mattress. “You want to create lifelong customers as soon as possible. The more connection you make with your customers the far higher chance there is that they will spread the word to their friends and family which will make a community of repeat customers. Keep the focus small and key in how you can make the personal connections the priority.”

Don’t be the business builder who forgets about the customer – you won’t make it very far.

Plan A, B, and C

Your first and most “perfect” plan is rarely the one that actually gets implemented. Be ready to pivot to different strategies on the fly, even when you want to cling to the original one.

“Always have a backup plan. If an element of your idea falls through, be prepared to be transformative,” said Kaz Amor, Founder of VoCe Haircare. “Also, if you decide to self-fund, be prepared to look at other avenues. It is always helpful to seek funding. Don’t be set on your plans from the start. Industries change, times change, and trends change. Be flexible and you’ll stay on top of it.”

Just look at 2020 as the ultimate case study in business pivoting, and see what lessons were learned across industries.

Never Burn Out

We can’t emphasize the importance of work/life balance enough when building a business, especially if you’re the type-A personality that always burns the midnight oil.

“We’ve only got so much time in the day, so give yourself some breathing room when it comes to advancing your business,” said Guna Kakulapati Co-Founder and CEO of CureSkin. “Things will fall into place over time, and you’re better off recharging your batteries than pushing through the wall and potentially burning out.”

The quality of your work declines after a certain amount of prolonged strain, so be aware of your own limits.

What Matters Most

Speaking of being overworked, you owe it to your friends and family to be there for them, even when your business is in the early stages.

“I’ve always been pretty good about routines and boundaries, but all business founders will find themselves in a situation where compromises must be made,” said Dr. Blake Livingood, Founder of Livingood Daily. “Know what you can and can’t handle, and never sacrifice health or relationships along the way.”

Remember: your loved ones are the people you must rely upon down the line, even once you reach new heights of success.

Not so Fast

You might think that starting a business is a race with only one winner, but this is a misconception that needs to be revised. Business is the ultimate “long game” and there is never a moment of ultimate victory.

“There are many things I wish I knew before I started my own business,” said Grant Hosking, Co-Founder of Total Hydration. “One of them is having patience. No business is built in a day. In order to become successful, you must plant the seeds and watch them grow and realize it won’t happen overnight.”

Also be skeptical of the “overnight success” concept, despite what you might see on social media or TV.

Shortcuts Don’t Exist

There are ways to accelerate and maybe even simplify the process of starting a business, but don’t confuse useful tools and tactics with shortcuts.

“There is no such thing as a shortcut in business, even if it seems like you can get away with cutting corners,” said Dennis Hegstad, Co-Founder of LiveRecover. “The second you start looking for the cheap or easy way around obstacles, that’s when you will face consequences. Stay sharp and always put in 100% effort.”

Things might take longer than you anticipated, but the hands-on approach is always superior to shortcuts.

Fill the Gaps

Hiring is one of the trickiest aspects of building a business, and many founders forget to give it the proper amount of focus. Find gaps in your talent pool strictly based on your needs.

“One key that everyone starting a business should know is that when you start your hiring process you should always hire to your weaknesses,” said Chris Gadek, Head of Growth at AdQuick. “It is one thing to always hire someone that is good at what they do or that is qualified, but if you hire a bunch of people that are qualified for the same reason then you are not going to fill the holes in your business.”

Be careful of hiring people out of ego or boredom, because that helps nobody in the long run.

Tough Choices

Decisions, decisions. That’s the name of the game when starting a new company. You’ll have to make tough ones at some point, so do this confidently and without hesitation.

“In my experience as CEO, I found that the most important decisions tested my courage far more than my intelligence,” said Venture Capital Entrepreneur Ben Horowitz. “Every time you make the hard, correct decision you become a bit more courageous, and every time you make the easy, wrong decision you become a bit more cowardly.”

You set a precedent for yourself and others when making tough calls, so stay strong no matter what.

Don’t Chase Perfection

All the great business founders appear to be perfect on the surface, but this is so far removed from the truth. Perfectionism is a dangerous trap that halts progress and joy.

“Anyone can say that they should have done this or that when getting started, but the truth is that perfection is impossible,” said Brent Sanders, CEO of Wicksly. “We’re only able to work with what we’re given and make the best of the situation. Work hard and stay focused, but be okay with slipping up and learning from mistakes.”

When you abandon the idea of perfection, the whole process becomes more fun and you actually accomplish more in the end.

One Thing at a Time

During your non-stop work week, take some time to stop and think about the priorities of your company as a whole. You might realize that you’re focusing on the wrong area and need to readjust.

“To get the ball rolling you should always focus around a single product or service and master it,” said Joshua Tatum, Co-Founder of Canvas Cultures. “Ambition is great, but the last thing you want is for your ambition to hinder your profitability. If you start opening up a handful of other avenues for your business then you will not be able to get out the same quality for each so quickly. Instead of doing this, make sure the singular product or service you provide is perfect, then you can start branching out your business.” 

When in doubt, stay focused on the product, because that’s the true core of your company’s value.

Delegate Directly

Whether you’ve got a big team of devoted staff members or just a few close friends at HQ, you can’t do it alone. Master the art of delegation so you don’t get bogged down.

“The faster you learn to delegate, the more quickly you can get your business moving and really gain some traction,” said Nik Sharma, CEO of Sharma Brands. “You don’t want to be the person who thinks they can handle everything on their own. You’ve got teammates who are there to help, so utilize the full team.”

Delegation doesn’t come naturally to some of us, so we must treat it as a skill like any other and cultivate it over time.

Fully Commit

This is the big difference between entrepreneurship and something like a side-hustle or part-time job. It’s the thing that takes up the majority of your energy and passion, and requires total commitment.

“I wish I knew that when you’re actually running your business, it is an all-day and all-night job,” said Jay Shah, CEO and Founder of Auris, Inc. “Leading a company has its rewards, but it is also a huge time commitment. You have to be ready for whatever comes your way no matter what time of day or night.”

If this business is truly your calling, however, this process won’t feel like a chore.

Be Selective with Advice

From social media to your own circle of family and friends, you’ll be hearing a lot of advice on your business journey – much of it unsolicited.

“I’d give a piece of meta-advice and say that you should only take advice from those you admire or want to replicate in some way,” said Dr. Robert Applebaum of Applebaum M.D. “Talk is cheap, so look to people who are truly successful in your field and emulate them to get on the right track.”

You can smile and nod when you receive advice, but only apply it if you trust the source.

Break the Mold

Great business leaders and investors can’t always explain how they achieved astronomical success, and that’s the big paradox of advice. Going with your gut and taking risks is the ultimate differentiator.

“Take chances on ideas or people that might not be the most traditional or ‘safe’ bet,” said Mike Pasley, Founder of Famous IRL. “When you move outside the expected boundaries and take a risk, you set yourself up for more exciting and interesting opportunities.”

Nobody can tell you the perfect move for every scenario – it’s all on you, at the end of the day.

Delay the Payoff

The ability to readjust expectations is a very underrated trait in the business game. Things are never going to go as you envision them exactly, and they’ll typically take a lot longer to come to fruition.

“Everything in our society is now, now, now – but building a business just isn’t like that,” said Ashley Troutman, Senior Director of Brand Management at Mother Dirt. “It takes delayed gratification and the ability to make long-term choices that pay off down the road.”

The people who understand this truth can take losses, learn from mistakes, and thrive in the long run.

Action > Everything Else

Weighing options, debating strategies – these can be worthwhile pursuits, but they’re a means to an end, and we shouldn’t forget that. Make a choice and get to work if you want results. There’s no way around that.

“You can read all the books and motivational quotes you want, but there’s no substitute for getting the work done,” said Roy Ferman, CEO and Board Chairman of Seek Capital. “Try to accomplish something every day that you’re proud of, even if it doesn’t seem that big. That effort will compound over time and serve you well.”

Remember Every Step

People who don’t react viscerally to praise and criticism are naturally suited for success in business. They take an objective look at every outcome and base their next move on data, with instinct to guide them.

“Learn from every success and failure, no matter how painful or joyful the experience might be,” said Travis Killian, CEO and Founder of Everlasting Comfort. “Reflect on those moments and store them in your memory banks for future reference, because you’ll be in a similar situation once again before you know it.”

One day you might be the entrepreneur featured in a piece like this, giving the next generation advice about what you wish you knew! Keep this wisdom in mind as you push forward and enjoy the process, no matter what your goals may be.

About Mohit Tater

Mohit is the co-founder and editor of Entrepreneurship Life, a place where entrepreneurs, start-ups, and business owners can find wide ranging information, advice, resources, and tools for starting, running, and growing their businesses.