For those of you just tuning in, nine months ago, I quit my executive job to pursue my dream. Nope, no big buy-out, just me feeling the pull of a calling and taking the leap. “Are you crazy?” was my most frequently heard phrase at that time. It’s been nine months to birth this business. Although I’m certainly not an expert on building a start-up, I’m confident enough in the momentum that I wanted to share my lessons learned, in the hopes of saving others some time.
10 Lessons For Succeeding as an Entrepreneur
1. Differentiate your brand
Talk about lessons learned. This was the biggest lesson of all. It’s tempting to be all things to all people, but that just makes you look like everyone else. It’s been an evolution, but I’m finding it vital to define and differentiate my brand and to share it consistently wherever I show up.
2. Be scrappy, then patient
Of all the lessons learned, this is a close second. There’s no doubt this year has been a constant hustle. I’ve worked most days, including the weekends; gotten up early and worked like a machine; and, spoken to and written for anyone who asked.
And for the first six months, I wondered if ANY of the bulbs I’d been planting would sprout. And then, just about six months to the day, work started coming in. I don’t regret the scrappy, but I do regret the angst. If you’re doing the right thing, be patient with yourself, this stuff takes time.
3. Don’t underestimate your value
Seth Godin’s recent advice pretty much sums up my first six months.
“Begin with the smallest possible project in which someone will pay you money to solve a problem they know they have. Charge less than it’s worth and more than it costs you. Repeat.”
That’s a great way to start and I have no regrets. BUT, I soon learned I was really undervaluing my work. Have the confidence to charge what you’re worth.
4. Work comes from unusual places
This was the biggest surprise lessons learned. The strength of loose ties is so true. Wonderful people from my business past are popping up in companies all over the country. The friend of a friend thing is working well too. Always operate with high integrity and confident humility, you never know who is paying attention.
4. Being nice is a great business strategy
Call it karma or luck, but two of my favorite projects came from just reaching out to someone to check in as a caring human being when they needed support. I’m pretty sure nice has trumped any marketing strategy I’ve tried so far.
6. Always provide more than expected
The old adage, “under promise, over deliver” doesn’t quite sum it up. I see it more as “carefully design what will best meet their needs, and then think of a bonus topper.”
7. “Competitors” make amazing strategic partners
I love working with other leadership folks with the same mission and the same journey. It’s the best way to learn, grow, and collaborate.
8. Some people are just selfish, recognize the signs
I had a few disappointing false starts in terms of collaborators. I’ve learned to ask more questions and to talk about the tough stuff like money, sooner in the game.
9. Diversify your strategy
As I was getting started, it was tough to expect too much momentum from any one channel. But I found that investing in building some speaking, consulting, coaching,writing and some teaching created a nice integrated approach, as well as supported my long-term vision of making a broader impact on the world. I don’t think my business would have been profitable as quickly if I had just picked one arena.
10. Don’t neglect your health
Start-ups can take a toll. The first six months I ate too much and exercised to little- a terrible formula. I’ve now gotten a grip and realized that being a healthy role model is all part of the brand. I’m also finding I’m more productive returning to my healthier lifestyle again.
It’s not been easy, but I’ve never looked back. Thank you all for being an amazing part of this journey and of the path forward.
A few articles we’ve written in Entrepreneur since the original writing of this post.