1. Pre­pare to change di­rec­tion

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - People On The Move -

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.

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