What Business Owners Wish They’d Known Before Starting

Leaving your cushy job (with its consistency and security) to start your own business can feel like jumping off a cliff without a parachute. That feeling comes from the sudden unknown you’ll face: When will I turn a profit? Will anyone buy what I’m selling? Is this crazy?

Conventional advice tends toward platitudes like “follow your dreams” instead of providing concrete answers to the flurry of questions that go along with a scary new endeavor. So we spoke to 17 women who struck out on their own to find out what they wish they’d known before they started. Wisdom ahead.

Straight From the Source

Straight From the Source

Leaving your cushy job (with its consistency and security) to start your own business can feel like jumping off a cliff without a parachute. That feeling comes from the sudden unknown you’ll face: When will I turn a profit? Will anyone buy what I’m selling? Is this crazy?

Conventional advice tends toward platitudes like “follow your dreams” instead of providing concrete answers to the flurry of questions that go along with a scary new endeavor. So we spoke to 17 women who struck out on their own to find out what they wish they’d known before they started. Wisdom ahead.

Don’t Worry About Being Liked

Don’t Worry About Being Liked

“I wish I had known not to take things too personally. Don’t worry about decisions in terms of if someone will be upset with you or not – it’s just business and they’re not lying awake at night thinking about it, trust me.” —Jessica (Sutton) Maniatis, JSGD

…But It Can Be Seriously Lonely
“I wish I had known that the beginning can be very lonely and disheartening for a new small-business owner — especially one who really didn’t know what she was doing. But focusing on the long game can get you far.” —Rony Vardi, Catbird

Remember: Little Things Add Up

Remember: Little Things Add Up

“In the first year running my business I felt like no one knew who we were and it felt like that would never change. I was spinning my wheels trying to get a foot in the door to get people to notice I had this really good idea, and I thought I would [be] stuck in that phase forever. I wish I had known that that work — all the coffees and email introductions — really does pay off. I wish I would have known that the work was worth it, that time goes by fast, and that things change quickly.” —Carla Sandine, Highway Twenty

So Set Manageable Goals
“Set small goals to achieve, versus big, likely out-of-reach goals. By hitting smaller milestones, you’re able to build up your successes and maintain that forward motion of a growing business. Setting lofty goals, like publishing a book to be listed on the New York Times best sellers list, while admirable, can make you feel like a failure if you don’t hit it. Especially as an indie company, baby steps have proven to increase our success more than hoping to achieve things that might be considered successful in the mainstream industry.” —Ashley Ruggirello, REUTS Publications

Don’t Try to Be Like Everyone Else

Don’t Try to Be Like Everyone Else

“I tried to be like everyone else so that I could position the company alongside my competitors and compete side by side. What I didn’t realize back then was that by doing so, you are limiting your potential and creating a boundary around what is achievable. You also stifle innovation because you are restricting your thought process by conforming to what is an industry standard.” —Mellissah Smith, Marketing Eye

Specialize, Specialize, Specialize
“One thing I underestimated when I was starting Ritual is how much people appreciate a narrow focus in a business, a specific point of view. It’s counterintuitive. You’d think that businesses that offer the widest array of products or flavors or styles would have the broadest appeal. I’ve found the opposite: that the more you refine your vision for your business, the more you curate, the more customers your business attracts.”  —Eileen Hassi Rinaldi, Ritual Roasters

Recognize Bad Hires

Recognize Bad Hires

“The first time I realized I had much to learn was when I made a bad hire. I gave too many chances, which cost me several clients and lost money in wages for keeping someone on too long. I believed that with great coaching I could turn things around. Unfortunately, there are times where we have to recognize a bad fit even when we really like the people we’ve hired.” —Emily LaRusch, Back Office Betties Virtual Receptionists

Don’t Overlook the Logistics
“I started my business five years ago, and I wish I had known then how important it would be to develop systems in my business. I cannot tell you how many hours I’ve wasted over the years accomplishing tasks that could have been done more efficiently if I had kept a procedure manual. I also wish I’d known sooner how beneficial it is to hire a virtual assistant to handle the tasks that take too long, or the tasks I just don’t enjoy doing! It’s wonderful having someone else on hand to free me up to manage client work and drum up new business.” —Gloria Rand, Internet Marketing Expert

Don’t Underestimate Digital

Don’t Underestimate Digital

“Digital is everything these days. We’re not talking just putting up a Facebook page or setting up Google AdWords. You need to understand the analytics and be prepared to adjust, trial-and-error on almost a daily basis. If you’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable with SMM or SEO, learn it or find someone who knows it.” —Alice Pai, Pichi Pichi

And Speak Your Clients’ Language
“Often when you are in the business you don’t always use the same words to communicate the needs of the customers as the customers do. If I had known that I needed to spend time to figure out what words clients use to describe their problem and not the industry terms, I would have saved myself lots of time and money.” —Andrea Travillian, Take a Smart Step

Know Your Numbers

Know Your Numbers

“Every move you make as a business owner comes down to dollars and cents! Marketing efforts need to give a return on investment and your cost of goods have to yield a good margin, or there is really no point. I cannot repeat it enough: Be certain you always think about the numbers before you make decisions.” —Christy Cook, Teach My

Realize There Will Always Be Delays
“I am still surprised by how much padding needs to be added to production planning, and how on-top of manufacturers and suppliers one needs to be. Even if there is a great relationship and great trust, I wish I had understood from the beginning how much care needs to go into making sure things that are out of your hands get completed or delivered on time.” —Lee Anderson, Starkweather

Be Prepared for Less Than Enthusiastic Support

Be Prepared for Less Than Enthusiastic Support

“I think the most disconcerting thing I learned is that when you are a female small-business owner, it is the people who are closest to you who devalue what you do. I was perceived as partaking in a hobby, not growing a business. Some girlfriends would seem taken aback when they called during the day, asked if I was busy and I responded, ‘Yes, I’m working.’ I learned that there are different places for my friendships to reside and I have chosen to insulate myself with those who are supportive (most of whom are sister entrepreneurs).” —LaTricia Woods, Mahogany Xan

But Don’t Forget It’s OK to Ask for Help
“It’s OK to ask questions even if it means saying, ‘I know nothing about this. Can you tell me more?’ When we first started [our] business we felt we needed to be experts in our field, in business, in all components of everything. There was so much to learn and only so many Internet searches you could do before it was information overload. We always met people who would say, ‘Ask me anything,’ and we felt compelled to ask something that sounded like we knew what we were talking about or else we just asked nothing and lost the contact. Now we know not to lose these opportunities.” —Stacy Leung, Adela Mei

The Job Never Ends

The Job Never Ends

“As a small-business owner, friends and family may not understand why you’re always ‘on,’ but the truth is when you start and run a small business it will always be on your mind and vying for your attention. There will be roller coaster emotions. There will definitely be tough days. This does not mean your business won’t make it. Conversely, there will definitely be the highest moments of accomplishment. This also won’t mean you get to sit back and relax finally. Starting your own small business means being able to ride the roller coaster.” —Jennifer Vickery, National Strategies Public Relations

But It’s Important to Block Out Off-the-Clock Time
“When you are not punching a time card, it can be nearly impossible to find time to decompress, spend time with family, etc. As a small-business owner, I can always find more work that needs to be done, but when time blocking, you can carve out some time for personal activities and some rejuvenation time.” —Naomi Hattaway, 8th & Home

Develop Your Own Concept of Success

Develop Your Own Concept of Success

“The key to success was finding what success meant for me. I spent a lot of time looking at what success meant for others and spent a lot of wasted time trying to fit that image. When I stepped outside of that and followed my own path, I found a lot more success, and it was success I actually wanted!” —Stacey Harris, The Stacey Harris

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