Sometimes we ask for advice. Other times, we don’t even know we have a problem until someone says something that strikes a chord because it's so relevant. That's why we’re always looking to learn more about entrepreneurship and pass that knowledge on to our readers.
Maybe it’s a few simple words of wisdom that become ingrained in your memory or a piece of advice that speaks directly to a problem you’re currently dealing with. Whatever the case may be, we tapped our network of seasoned business pro’s and asked them: what’s the biggest business lesson you’ve had to learn as an entrepreneur?
20 of them weighed in, and here are their nuggets of wisdom.
- Nail down your target market BEFORE developing your product
“For business success, it is crucial to not spend years developing a product that doesn't have a distinct customer base. I wish someone had given us that advice earlier, but maybe it's one of those things you have to learn yourself. You have to feel the pain before you appreciate it. It was difficult to pinpoint our market, as we knew we would never make money off the job seeker. Instead, we went after the broader consumer market.”
-Ross Cohen, co-founder of BeenVerified.com
- Never stop adapting
"Embrace experimentation. Running tests can be one of the best ways to learn how you can improve different areas of your business. This can include almost anything--sales, social media marketing, and employee training. For my company, experimentation has helped us reach a product market fit. We are constantly making tweaks to our products and testing new styles to see what resonates best with our customers. Even though we don't always get it right, we keep learning and adapting."
-Huib Maat, Founder of Pairfum
- Don’t lay all your cards on the table
“One of the greatest things I learned in business was how to play poker better. I think I have always shown my heart on my sleeve. I show excitement when I get excited about an idea, I show displeasure when something happens that I don’t like. In business, it’s sometimes best to keep certain people guessing about your intentions. It can give you the advantage over a situation in some cases.”
Dan Roberge, president of Maintenance Care
- Double check before hitting send
“Religiously check email addresses before you hit the “send” button. A couple years ago, I accidentally sent an internal email – laying out my grand strategy of how to decimate the competition – to a key competitor. It was one of the absolute worst moments of my professional life. I decided I would never let that happen again. I preach to everybody who will listen to check the send-to email addresses before hitting ‘send.’ I also made it official company policy.”
-Christoph Seitz, co-owner of CFR Rinkens
- Say no
“There are so many daily distractions that figuring out who is worth your time can be the defining factor between success and failure. Today I use my three-step evaluation process for screening opportunities; will this opportunity move the company forward? Will my decision matter in ten years’ time? And is this a win-win situation?”
-André Gauci, CEO and co-founder of Fusioo
- Have plain old good manners
“Things like responding to emails on time, doing what you say you'll do and being genuinely honest and hard-working to not only the customers, but all people -- suppliers, third party agents, random people you hand a flyer to on the street. It gives others a faith in you and more likely to recommend you as a trusted friend, rather than a business.”
-Dylan Gallagher, founder of Orange Sky Adventures
- You're allowed to walk away
“Just because you're halfway in doesn't mean you need go all in... or that can't leave it behind. Too many times we're afraid to call it quits on a project, an employee, a client, etc. because of the time we've put in. That has nothing to do with anything.”
-Adam G. Dailey, author at Keep Moving Fast
- Wait out the right opportunities
“All great leaders and successful entrepreneurs are defined by patience and their willingness to endure. Calmly wait for the right opportunity and don't swing for the fences at every pitch. I've also learned first-hand that success doesn't happen overnight, and focusing on the process, not the result, will develop a mindset of patience that ensures continued growth.
-Bryan Koontz, CEO of Guidefitter
- Seek out team members who make up for your weaknesses
“The first thing entrepreneurs need to admit is they are not the expert in every field of building a business. If you are a great marketer, you need to find an IT person and a financial person who compliments your strengths. Traits to look for include motivated, self-directed, service minded, relationship oriented, attention to detail needed, team player, technical knowledge or an aptitude for knowledge, approachable and confident, has energy, and is willing to improve continuously.
-Marc Joseph, CEO of Dollar Days International
- Set a routine—and not just for work
“I've come to find that it's super easy to get demotivated, burn out, and run out of ideas if you work without some sort of discipline. While I'm working, it's been tremendously valuable setting a routine of goal setting and weekly reflection that's helped my productivity to be more consistent. Outside of work, focusing on activities such as meditation, daily exercise, and spending quality family time has also actually helped me become a lot more effective.”
-Gunhee Park, co-founder of Populum
- Don’t spend money on things you don’t need
“It’s really easy to spend money, but it’s a lot harder to make money. When you’re starting a business, it’s extremely important to don’t spend money on things you don’t need and you can do yourself. When you get to the point where you validate the business, you validate your concept, and you know that you’re going to move forward, at that point, you can start spending as much money as you want.”
-Jan Bednar, Founder of ShipMonk
- Let bad employees go sooner rather than later
“The hardest lesson I learned when I started my company is not getting rid of weak people earlier than I did in the first few years of my business. I spent more time managing them than finding new customers. I knew in my gut they were not up to snuff, but out of loyalty to them I let them hang around much longer than they should have. It would have been better for everyone to let them go as soon as the signs were there.”
-Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls
- Set clear expectations for your team
“Break things down for your team with interim project goals. Once you assign this, don't over-manage them; if your team is great, they’ll find a way to complete everything you asked for. It’s a waste of time for them and very frustrating if you don't make sure they understand what you expect them to deliver. That project’s failure ends up being 100% on you."
-James McArthur, CEO of FormTap 3D
- Surround yourself with exceptional people
“Never be the smartest person amongst your peers. You need people to challenge you and move you to the next level. Every time my business grew it was because others in the room asked better questions, had better advice or had faced a similar challenge.”
-Drew J. Stevens Ph.d., president of Stevens Consulting
- Be an emotional archaeologist
“I approach every meeting with a prospect or client with my ‘invisible shovel’, digging away at the core of the person’s problems and challenges. It’s not an interrogation, but a conversation that is subtle and friendly. It will ultimately reveal how my company and services can help them succeed. By truly listening (not just hearing) what people are saying, I have been able to ask quality questions on a deep level. Quality questions bring quality information.”
-Susan Young, CEO of Get In Front Communications
- Never stop trying
“We have seen it with every school we deal with. The best teachers in London, the ones that have the most revenues and the most students, are the ones that e-mail us on the weekends to ask for feedback on their classes, and at night to update us about a new workshop or a change to the timetable. And whatever the challenge is, they don’t solve it with intelligence or contacts, they solve it by trying again, and again, and again… Until they succeed.”
-Pedro Caseiro, co-founder of Obby
- Assume every problem has a solution
“One of the most critical lessons I've learned as an entrepreneur is the value of perseverance and mindset. There’s a challenge? Let’s take it on. A roadblock came up? We’re getting around it. Entrepreneurs face lots of challenges, and when you’re trying to change an established industry it can overwhelming. But I always start with “how do we make it happen”, and that mindset is key to driving progress.
-Rashmi Melgiri, COO and co-Founder of CoverWallet
- Set clear and specific goals from day one
“It’s not enough to simply say, ‘I’m good at this,’ or ‘I can be successful doing this.’ You must know EXACTLY what it is you want to be, BEFORE you set out your shingle. Doing so ensures that you have a clear understanding not only of who you are and where you’re going, but what you are not, and where you should not be going; what you will say ‘yes’ to, and what you must say ‘no’ to.”
-David Jacobson, founder and CEO of TrivWorks
- Figure out your value proposition before pumping money into marketing
“When we first launched, we thought people would like our service because it’s a cheaper way to get their grass cut. What we found through copy testing in different channels such as ad-words and Facebook is that the custome’rs ability to get same-day service is a much more effective and compelling subset of our value prop that drives more visitors and more conversions on our landing pages. Nailing your value prop first is crucial.”
-Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal
- There’s no such thing as the “perfect moment”
“Don’t wait until things are perfect to make a move. General George Patton’s quote that ‘a good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week’ was combined with the lesson learned a long time ago that you just have to take the leap and make it happen.”
-Hank Yuloff, owner of Yuloff Creative Marketing Solutions
What's the number one business lesson you've learned? Leave a comment and share it with us!