Seven Tips From Successful Entrepreneurs: What They Wish They Had Known

Happy Small Business Month! NerdWallet surveyed successful small business owners what they wish they had known when they were just starting out. Below, we’ve compiled their seven most frequently cited tips.

1. Hire an accountant

“Hire a professional accountant and bookkeeper to manage your financial transactions. Although managing your personal finances may soundsimple enough, there are many deductions, loop holes and requirements thatonly professionally trained financial professionals are trained to identifyand manage. If the company finances are not properly managed, theaccountant and bookkeeper may have to re-do all of your work to properly complete your annual taxes. Fees for duplicate efforts, incorrect entriesor late filings can be astronomical and unnecessary.”

“My number one tip? Consult a CPA before filling out any paperwork or choosing what type of business you’ll set up. There are pros and cons to be aware of when deciding between an LLC, sole proprietorship, S-Corp, etc.You may have to pay a consulting fee or hourly fee but it’s money well spent. Nothing is worse than paying unnecessary taxes!”

  • Jovim Ventura of InoPrints, a Chicago-based printing company

“I wish I had known to hire an accountant from the beginning to create our income statements monthly, to keep our financial report card clean and up to date.”

2. Get mentors and ask them questions

There’s an entire industry of people online that provide cookie cutter advice on how to start, run and market your business. It may seem smart to tap into each resource and get as much information as you can for free, but you’ll end up confused. None of them will give you the WHOLE story. Its better to find a mentor or a Business coach that will know more about the unique aspects of your business and give you advice tailored to that. Business Coaches areespecially useful if you’re starting your business based on a passion or talent that you have, but aren’t quite sure how to turn that into revenue or market yourself.

  • Madison Isom of Arrow Travel, a Birmingham-based travel agency

“I wish I had known or reached out to more people that could have mentored me. I threw myself into my job with no prior sales experience and would be much further if I had more help or mentors all along.”

“Never be afraid to ask others for help/advice, even if you think they’re “too high up” or “too busy.” We’ve all been there and often want to help others. I also volunteer at the Women’s Small Business Accelerator, a non-profit small business incubator.”

“Mentorship works up, down and sideways. Do you have a mentor (no? find one). Are you giving your mentors as much as they have given you? Are you giving those below you a hand up? Are you a good citizen and corporate citizen? Your company will be part of a community, find that community and nurture it. Your small business venture will be an integral part of your state’s economy. Become an active participant in the economic and business communities in your state.”

3. Do your research and use trustworthy sources

“Read lots of business books instead of watching TV (unless it’s Shark Tank). Spending $200 on good business books, studying and applying the information diligently will save you $1000′s of dollars (possibly millions) in lost time.”

“Don’t overpay for “expert” leadership. When you decide to bring in help to run the business don’t be overly impressed by big name experience and huge salaries listed on their resume. First check them out every way you can to make sure the person is everything they claim to be. (If so, why did their last employer let such a wonder escape?) And even if they are, will that expertise translate to your business? A successful manager at Macy’s may crash and burn disastrously working in a start-up boutique without thekind of resource that were used to previously. It’s not necessarily the same skill set.”

  • David Costello of Servicescape, a professional service marketplace

My biggest tip for new entrepreneurs would be to avoid learning from trial-and-error as much as possible. Instead, talk to people who have been there, in the trenches, those who know your business and the industry and can offer lessons learned. Look at the competition, and do as much research as possible before starting your venture.”

“To run an effective small business you must know how to research effectively. A lot of good research starts in a search engine. Knowing how to search effectively to both find unique and specific information but also how to find alternative viewpoints and further questions to look into is an essential part of starting a small business. My company has grown rapidly in the past 18 months following a six-figure Kickstarter campaign and a huge launch this Spring. We have had to use Google searching and academic databases for market research about our product, for researching vertical markets and learning about competitors, canonical jargon, and to learn about online marketing strategies and business development. It helped us identify areas where we needed help and areas where we could execute by ourselves.”

4. Use social media, but don’t expect it to fix everything

  • Nasser Mahamadeen of EZShovel, a shovel handle company

“Use all forms of social media: Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and even blogs.”

“Too many business owners are under the impression that social media marketing or some media coverage is going to solve all of their problems -more often than not, it won’t. And there are so many companies that claim to be social media gurus/ninjas/savants that it can be difficult to differentiate between those that know what they’re talking about and theones that are just wannabees.

5. Focus on retaining loyal customers rather than only attracting new customers

“I’ve learned a lot about customer service over the years. In the early days, I felt it was important to explain to an upset customer why somethinghappened, getting caught up in fault, blame and defending company honor. Iread a book by Jeffrey Gitomer called “Customer satisfaction is worthless, customer loyalty is priceless”. One of the things he said that struck me was, “How much money are you spending to obtain new customers, now think about how much money you’re spending to keep the ones you have.” Duh, what a concept! Now I know that no one wants to hear anything other than, “I’m so sorry that happened. Let’s fix it.” Once you can separate yourself from trying to explain why something happened, it’s incredibly freeing. Everyone wants to be able to fix a problem. Why wallow in what got you there if you can just make the customer happy again?”

  • Rachelle Ferneau of Dear Coco, an artisan chocolate company

“Don’t underestimate the importance of good customer service, and make it a priority from the start. In particular, even when your time is very tight, make sure to reply to your customers right away. We make every effort to answer customer inquiries and return emails and calls within one business day; we also reach out to customers via handwritten thank yous included in every one of our outgoing shipments for a personal touch and email followups to make sure our customers were satisfied with our products and experience with us. Your customers will remember your prompt and friendly attention and that, combined with delivering on your product or services,will be rewarded by repeat business. Remember that it is more difficult to recruit a new customer than it is to keep a current one happy.”

  • Rich Kahn of eZanga, a web search engine

“Keep your customers close and listen to their feedback. They are the lifeblood of your company and pay your bills. If their needs change, be quick and flexible to make adjustments. If you do not take their needs into consideration, someone else will and you will lose them

“Just meeting people, growing your contact list and building relationships will not grow your business. You need to actually look for clients and customers who will pay you. I spend a lot of time meeting people but later realized that I need to start closing deals.”

6. Don’t be afraid to change your plans

“Your initial idea of the business will likely not be where you end up. Be open and flexible to the evolution of your product or service. Remain responsive to your customers and the market as this calibration will help strengthen your overall offering.”

“With multiple businesses under my belt now, I can look back and say the best moves I made were opportunistic – following what the market was offering me, rather than trying to impose my assumptions and strategies. Launching a business always means you’ll veer off your plan. Yes I have a loose plan but then I follow the money. When people spend their money, that’s the best kind of feedback you can get.”

7. Small business owners have to be good salespeople

“I wish someone had warned me that “small business owner” is the same thing as “salesperson.” I would have gotten professional sales training much,much sooner! It would have helped me figure out what I was offering, how I was offering it, how to overcome common objections, and to be more confident about my rates/fees.”

“I learned that as much as you plan to put into marketing (money and time),it’s never enough. Without marketing of some sort (even word of mouth), you have no sale. And without the sale you have no business.”

“In marketing, know your audience. Often before you decide what form of social media or even marketing it is important to know who your target market is. There is always a limited number of time and energy so it is important to work intelligently and efficiently. One of the best ways to dothat is by understanding who to target. It could be the difference between a successful campaign and an unsuccessful campaign.”

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