Starting a business is one of the most exciting career choices you can make. There’s nothing quite like watching something you’ve built from the ground-up grow into a successful organization that provides true value to customers.
It’s also one of the most difficult career paths, as there are so many factors that go into getting a business off the ground, from market research to funding to developing a market strategy and building a team.
There are certain pieces of advice every entrepreneur should be equipped with before they embark on their entrepreneurial journey. The following are five things that I certainly wish I knew beforehand.
Don’t be above seeking advice. Some of the best entrepreneurs I know are also some of the best listeners. They understand that leading a company doesn’t mean doing everything on their own. And while entrepreneurs are not required to have all the right answers, they are required to find them, which many times come from listening to trusted people outside of the organization.
Yes, great entrepreneurs are great decision-makers, too. They surround themselves with a sounding board of confidantes who offer different perspectives and solutions to business challenges, and they take those perspectives into account when making decisions.
So establish a close circle of confidantes not affiliated with your company and open yourself up to new ideas. It gets lonely at the top, and sometimes you need to talk to someone with a fresh perspective that can see the situation clearly and in a different light.
Don’t jump the gun and attack the market before fully understanding the field that you’re entering. There are many important questions that you need to answer before you begin selling your product or service.
If you’re selling to businesses, who are you selling to specifically within those businesses? Are you targeting a specific size of company? Are you selling to a specific industry? Should you focus on servicing customers in a certain geographic location?
To build a successful business you first need a very deep understanding of your market and customer and how your product brings them value. Then, equally as important, you need to be able to explain that value so that potential customers clearly understand what you can help them to accomplish.
After you’ve established the right value proposition and started to acquire customers, focus on customer success to keep them and to continue to grow your business. The more your team can help customers succeed with your product, the more closely you can associate your organization with your customers’ successes and gain a reputation as an essential vendor to industry-leading businesses.
Developing a large group of happy and successful customers will create a group of people willing to tell their success stories, act as a reference on your behalf, and refer more business to you.
Keep in mind that, particularly at the beginning stages of the business, you’re going to spend a lot of time working closely with the team you hire. Ideally you want to hire people who are smarter and more talented than you are at what they do so that you have individual experts for specific roles within your organization.
Just remember to take company culture seriously too. Each time you hire someone, consider whether you will enjoy working closely with this person and whether other existing members of your team will as well.
Create opportunities for career growth to keep those employees long-term, and create a culture of open communication to keep everyone engaged and productive.
Drive decisions with data, not emotions. This is often one of the most difficult entrepreneurial strategies to perfect. It requires an understanding of the most impactful metrics to your organization, a disciplined focus on performance analytics, and an investment in technology that will help to analyze and measure performance against pre-determined goals.
It’s also one of the most valuable skills once perfected, as performance metrics can help you better understand what’s working and what’s not so that you can take corrective action if necessary.
Embrace failure as a learning event. And whatever you do, don’t dwell on past failures, as doing so will only prevent you from quickly moving forward. Understand what happened, decide what you could do differently next time, and take corrective action.
Have conviction in your instinct. Many people will tell you that you will fail. You have to know when to listen to their input and suggestions for change and when to trust your instinct to move forward with the plan you have in place. Remember that resiliency is one of the strongest characteristics of successful entrepreneurs. If you have the right team, strategy, and value proposition in place, that resiliency will pay off.
—Rob S. Hull is founder and chairman of Adaptive Insights, an intuitive, cloud-based solution for corporate performance management. Prior to founding Adaptive Insights, Hull served as CEO of ChemTracker and as CFO for a number of market-leading software companies, including LoopNet and Risk Management Solutions.