What I Wish I Had Known Before I Started My First Business

what-i-wish-i-had-known-before-i-started-my-first-businessI am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.

If you could go back and give yourself business advice when you first started your business, what would you tell yourself?

I started my first business, Doodads Promotional Products, when I was 19.  I didn’t have any idea what I was doing.  I call myself an “accidental entrepreneur” because I never set out to own or start a business and this just landed in my lap.  I won’t bore you with the story except to say that I’m so glad I took that leap.  It hasn’t always been easy, but I Iove my lifestyle and all that Doodads has taught me.  I’ll be forever grateful for the startup bug that was planted in me.  I’ve started, sold and grown 8 other businesses since then.

That said, if I could go back and tell my 19-year-old self a few things about business this is what I would say: (Otherwise known as powerful things I learned the hard way…)

First, Business-to-business marketing (and business operations, for that matter) is very different from business-to-consumer marketing.  The sooner you figure that out the more money you’ll make.

Second, Just because your 19-year-old brain likes the font Tiki Surf doesn’t mean that it’s a good font for a legitimate business (just sayin’).  All that stuff that you read about branding and understanding your target market before you design the most important part of your brand, is true.  If you don’t know about branding, read a book or seek the advice of a professional before you pay for a logo.  You’ll end up redoing it later.

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Third, Track all of your marketing activities and expenditures and calculate your return on investment.  Don’t continue to pay for yellow page ads (remember this was the 90s!) when networking at the Chamber of Commerce lunches brings you more business.  In my business I learned that that people aren’t buying an imprinted pen, they are buying ME.  It’s about the customer service experience and the expertise you provide as a value added resource.  When I learned that I could be an extension of their marketing team and provide advice above and beyond promotional items, my business boomed.

Fourth, Build a powerful support team.  Every entrepreneur needs three levels of support.

Foundational Support – The people who work with you (employees, virtual assistants, contractors) that handle the tasks in your business that keep you from focusing on revenue-generating activities.

Friend Support – Find cheerleaders.  Some friends will be nay-sayers or will overwhelm you with not-so-helpful advice.  Build a friend network that is sitting at the front row of your events, promoting your company in an organic way and who support you in your efforts in life and business.

Mentor Support – Get coaches.  Learn from people who have gone before you.  Be moldable.  Take advice you’re given from the experts that land in your path.  Find trailblazers that will teach you how to “get there faster”.

Fifth, Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You don’t know it all.  Like number four, remember that though you are a smart 19-year-old, there are a lot of things you don’t know and understand.

Sixth, Marketing is like the laundry – the job is never done.  Marketing isn’t a project or to-do list item.  It’s a regular activity in your business that should be part of your daily, weekly and monthly focus.  Fill your pipeline and keep it flowing.  Evolve.  Times change.  Technology changes.  Try to stay ahead of the curve and think like a client.  How can you anticipate their needs?

Seventh, You will make mistakes.  Say “I’m sorry” a lot.  Own up to when you drop the ball.  People like honesty more than they like your excuses and blame.  Be real.  They are human, too.  Get back up, brush yourself off and don’t let pride hold you back.

I would love to hear, what would you go back and tell yourself before you started your first business?

Also, take a look at the information below.  Are entrepreneurs passionate?

Originally Published on StartupPrincess.com on September 23, 2013

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