What I’ve Learned About Succeeding as an Entrepreneur So Far
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 taken nine months to birth this business, and it’s been a wild and fulfilling ride.
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’ve learned succeeding as an entrepreneur means taking a stand to differentiate your brand.
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 yes, I’ve 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. 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 of the 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 too 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.
How Your Leadership Style Could Be Stifling Innovation and Problem-Solving at Your Company
How to Be the Leader Employees Want to See Walk Through the Door
2021 Update on the Let’s Grow Leaders Journey
If you’re just finding Let’s Grow Leaders for the first time, check out our latest “About Page” for an update (spoiler alert, this part of the succeeding as an entrepreneur journey includes a love story.
Thanks for the reminder that hard work and sweat pays off. It’s hard not to give up and give into the dip… but with sticking with it through the pain.
Collaborating with you has been a JOY! Look forward to seeing our projects come to life in 2015!
Alli, Thanks so much. I so agree, our collaboration has been so much fun. It’s going to be a great new year.
Happy New Year to you Karin. Your blogs have been wonderful and thanks for sharing these valuable startup lessons. Wishing you and your company a wonderful 2015.
Thanks so very much. I look forward to exploring leadership with you some more in 2015.
I plan on following your path in 2016, so 2015 is going to be a big year for me in preparation. This is one post I will keep close to my heart. Thank you!
Happy New Years!
Bill, Excellent thanks so much for the vote of confidence! Thanks for your amazing contributions to the LGL community. Namaste.
Congrats on reaching this milestone Karin. These are some great insights that I can relate to and I’m sure others can as well. Your comment about competitors making great strategic partners reminds me of a term we use in lean startup, Co-oppetition 🙂 And indeed, I too have learned tough lessons from false starts with potential collaborators http://rosabellaconsulting.com/blog/dos-donts-falling-collaboration-sync/. My favorite lesson you shared is Be Scrappy, Be Patient – what a great reminder, thanks!
Wishing you a wonderful 2015!
Ariana, Thanks so much. So glad you shared your awesome post. Namaste.
Awesome post… thanks for sharing your insights and hope you are taking a moment to reflect on all you have achieved – congrats!
Confident. Humility. Your blog posts speak in a language that is so appealing, so real. When I read your posts, I am amazed how you find the right balance between advice and stories. I think the stories teach so well and I imagine as you went through these 9 months, you learned the story-telling craft so that it gets easier to write and teach each week.
In terms of your 10 lessons, I like “Being nice is a great business strategy.” Earlier today I came across a name I think about maybe twice per year. I wrote this former colleague and simply wished her a happy holiday and gave her an 8 word update on my new position. It was that simple to make a re-connection, to reach out and shake a hand. Good will and being nice often comes full circle and often in unexpected ways.
David, Thanks so very much. You are a great storyteller as well. I always value your contributions and your insights. I agree that it’s often much easier to reconnect than we may think. People always like to be thought of.
Happy 2015 Karin and congratulations with such an inspiring way of starting up your business. I identify very much with your lessons learned (I became an entrepreneur 1,5 years ago). It takes an open heart, an honest mindset of abundance, courage to think big together, giving trust, free sharing, intimacy, focus (strategic quitting) and deeply connected collaboration with partners and clients in order for the most beautiful and meaningful projects to emerge. I have been blessed, like you, to be on this entrepreneurial journey of discovery and discernment, with ups and downs, joys and pains, huge excitement and disappointments in collaboration partners. Overall the journey is incredible positive and inspiring, to follow my passion and start to co-create new realities with like minded partners based on what is wanting to happen in the business world. I had no idea you are partnering with Alli. I am very curious to learn more about your shared project! All the best to you!
Jacky, Thanks so much for sharing a bit about your journey. It sounds amazing. I would love to connect further. Alli and I are up to an number of things. We partnered on the Parents Guide to Leadership (free ebook https://letsgrowleaders.com/publications/parents-guide-to-leadership/) in anticipation of the release of our children’s leadership picture book this year. We’ve also been working with 16 authors on a book on a collaboration on Energized Leadership that will be coming out in the 1st quarter. Let’s talk more.
Sounds amazing Karin! Just downloaded yours and Alli’s ebook. Really looking forward to more :).
This article was a very timely one for me. I’ve started a new project (my blog) and often feel like I’m spinning my wheels. It’s true what you say, patience is key. Those bulbs will eventually blossom! Looking forward to seeing more of your site.
Brad, Hang in there! It’s worth it.
those are some great lessons for anyone starting off as an entrepreneur.lesson seven is most noteworthy for me. We are the average of the five people you spend the most time with on an ongoing basis.we can improve the service that we offer by listening to our competition and learning from their application of strategy.
David, great add! thanks!
Karin, thank you for sharing. I’m currently building up to make a similar move as you.
Can you elaborate regarding what you found most effective during the six months when you were planting bulbs? What did you find most effective in generating opportunities?
Bruce, awesome. The most important thing is showing up consistently and building genuine relationships.