1. Prepare to change direction
he first few years of a business startup are often the most exciting and most frightening. Many times, the decisions you make (and don’t) during this time can dictate whether your business will succeed.
It’s easy to look back and wish you had done things differently when you’re older, wiser and more experienced. But, of course, we don’t have that luxury. I asked some successful women entrepreneurs to offer their insight, what they learned after they launched their companies and the advice they would offer would-be women business owners. Here’s advice based on my early experiences and those of the women I consulted.
When I began my first accounting practice, I decided it would be a bookkeeping service. However, once it got started, the prospects wanted to do their own accounting and instead hired my company for consulting services to ensure they kept their books correctly and advise them on what the financial results showed.
I had to step back, listen to what my customers wanted and make the necessary shift in my offerings.
My friend Sarah Elliott, owner of Intend2Lead, a leadership development company in Austin, experienced something similar. Her company’s original focus was to create a public leadership development program for the CPA industry. But then Elliott found that larger firms wanted to work with her company to design and develop in-house leadership programs, so she shifted her business model.
“Opportunities can occur when you least expect,” Elliott says. “I learned not to be afraid to let go of something just because I made some past investment in it.”
2. Seek advice from others
The more due diligence you can do upfront, the better, says Sarah Webb, owner of Plaid for Women, a Fort Worth-based digital media platform for women.
“Interview as many women business
owners in your industry as you can. You can better understand your market from day-to-day interactions compared with a textbook perspective.”
I’ve found it’s important to develop these relationships so you can crossreference clients as well. Even though you’re in the same industry, you typically have a different focus or niche, so you can refer customers who are not a fit for your own business.
3. Be ready to learn new skills
Your responsibilities will always expand beyond what you think. When I opened my first business, I thought I would be working part time.
I soon realized that I alone was ultimately responsible for what happens with the customer. That’s why it’s important to have a working knowledge of what the people do in your business in case you are in a pinch.
Suzanne Daniels, owner of the coffeehouse Brentwood Social House in Austin, quickly realized that she had to be more than a restaurant manager.
“I had to be the plumber, repair person and overall knower and fixer of all things,” she says. “Realize you will have to learn on the go, or need to set aside time to learn new skills that affect your business.”
4. Get your personal finances in order
As an adviser and board member for many startups, I see company founders take out loans on their personal assets to run their businesses and max out credit cards.
It’s important to create a business plan and financial forecast to ensure you have the financial stability to run your business. One of my key learnings is that whatever you predict it will cost, double it on your forecasts.
Webb agrees: “Reduce your personal debt and save as much as you can before you begin. Lowering financial stress in your personal life can mean you can focus more attention on your business’s cash flow, bottom line and budget.”
5. Listen to your gut
Our bodies warn us when something doesn’t feel right. It’s our choice whether or not to listen.
“Too many times, I have secondguessed my decisions and looked for validation and guidance from others who I thought knew more and dismissed my own thoughts and opinions,” Daniels says.
Insight and advice from others is great, but trust your instincts on whether a particular course of action is the right move.
6. Change your idea of failure
Be OK with failing fast and always have an innovative mindset. Don’t waste too much time on an initiative that is not producing results. Instead, learn what worked and what didn’t, and apply those lessons next time.
“I believe all things we characterize as failures are really learning opportunities,” Elliott says. “A new business is a continuous learning cycle and feedback loop. The key is to look for lessons every time until you get where you want to be.”
Amy Vetter is an entrepreneur, business executive, speaker and CPA.