The 7 Toughest Startup Lessons You Don't Want to Learn the Hard Way

By Kimanzi Constable | Small Business

I started my first business at 19 years old and thought I knew it all. The business quickly grew to $500,000 in gross revenue with five employees in three states. Business was good, but because I didn’t learn how to manage my business, things quickly got out of control.

Six years into the business, because of mismanaging the finances, I was $100,000 in debt. My dream of entrepreneurship had turned into a nightmare. This experience taught me some lessons that young entrepreneurs need to know.

Related: 10 Lessons to Learn From Failing Startups (Including My Own)

According to the Ecoprenuerist 54 percent of young Americans (ages 18-34) want to become an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship can be wonderful if you build your business the right way.

1. Be clear about who your customer is

If you’re a “jack of all trades,” you will have a tough time growing your business. Your efforts to grow, such as marketing, will be scattered. Seth Godin said, “If you try to reach the whole world you’ll end up reaching no one.”

The more specific you can get as to who your ideal customer is the better. It will help you figure out the best way to find and reach new customers. Your efforts to find new business will be focused.

2. Don’t over promise and under deliver

Brent Beshore at the Huffington Post says that if you promise your customers a miracle, you should deliver one. To grow your business, you have to be the kind of business that stands behinds it’s promise. When you start out in business there are going to be limits on what you can do, that’s ok. Focus on your strengths. 

3. Stay organized

When you’re not organized, it’s frustrating for everyone: your employees, your customers and your sanity! Organization is important to keep your business running smoothly. A lack of organization will repel new customers from doing business with you. Simplify things to keep your businesses organized. The lean start up model is successful because of its simplicity.

4. Stay on top of your taxes

There are entire libraries with books written specifically about taxes. It’s important to hire a professional! Mishandling taxes has destroyed many businesses. Don’t let history repeat itself with your business.

Related: Top Tax Write-Offs That Could Get You in Trouble With the IRS

5. Focus on what’s important to growing your business

One of the important lessons you can learn as an entrepreneur is where to focus your time. Spend time growing your business, not just in it.

If you own a smart phone, you have the world's knowledge in your pocket. That can be a blessing or a curse. As you research ways to grow your business, you can quickly become the victim of information overload. Don’t get distracted by all the bright, shiny things that you read are the latest “must do” things for entrepreneurs.

6. Speed of implementation is crucial

Entrepreneurs can have many good ideas, but the most successful entrepreneurs know how turn a good idea into a viable product or service for their business.

You always want to put your best product out to your market, but realize that it takes time and feedback from your customers to get your best. Once you have an idea, get that idea out to your market as a beta version.

Let your customers know this is a beta version that you’re building upon. Don’t worry about making it perfect at first. That feedback you get from your customers using the beta version will be invaluable in creating the final version.

7. Quickly get over failure and set-backs

Fear of failure is one of the biggest things that holds entrepreneurs back. Whether it’s Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs or any other successful entrepreneur, a common theme you’ll find is failure.

Successful entrepreneurs view failure as a momentary set back, not a business-ending event. When you experience failure, realize it’s not the end of the world and determine to come back even stronger because of it.

After I learned these lessons, I was able to pivot and get my business back on track. My business grew as a result, and I was able to pay off all the debt. Today I operate a successful business from Maui, Hawaii.

Don’t be that “know it all” entrepreneur. Learn these lessons now and your business will thrive.

Related: It's Good to Feel Stupid: 5 Thoughts on Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt

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