Although I’d always been entrepreneurial growing up, I wouldn’t call any of my small ventures a business. The first real business I started was when I was 19. It was a small home services business in my hometown. Although it was nothing really special, I ran the business for four years profitably, servicing over 2000 customers. Not bad for someone that had never run a business before, didn’t know how to run a business, and had never even taken a single business class. So, how was I able to do it successfully at 19? Here are the top 10 reasons:
1) I Got a Business Coach/Mentor
By far, this was the most critical reason for my success. I had the drive and desire to run a business, but had no experience or know-how to do it. Looking back, it was the smartest decision I could have made. Even to this day, I continue to work with a business coach, despite having started 4 different businesses successfully, and having coached 100’s of entrepreneurs to success. A business coach/mentor can provide valuable experience, different perspective and help you with your own blind spots. They can hold you accountable as needed, and ensure you make it through challenges successfully. A business coach can add a tonne of value and save you an immense amount of time. It was especially critical in my first business when I had very little experience. I had the willingness and the drive, my coach made sure they were pointed on the right things.
2) I Listened to Other Entrepreneurs
I actively sought input from other entrepreneurs, most of which were in the same or similar type business; though I was always happy to listen to any entrepreneur willing to share experience. You’d be surprised at how many entrepreneurs are willing to help you, even competitors. By hearing others' lessons and experience, I learned many things to do, and many things not to do. I remember one business owner telling me, “The best entrepreneurs are thieves – they steal others' experience to help them achieve even faster and greater success.” It was as simple as asking. The worst thing that happened is I got a no, but if you don’t ask, you'll never know.
3) I Built a Detailed and Solid Plan
This was very important to my success and one of the areas my business coach really helped me. I started with my end goals and worked backwards laying out the road map to get there. There were a few things that were key to my plan: smart numbers, backup, and details.
Smart Numbers – All numbers used in the plan were smart. For example, I
planned to land 50% of customer pitches versus planning to land 90%,
which could be possible, but not realistic. It was important my plan was
Backup – I ensured there was a lot of backup time and space built into the
plan to ensure I could stay on track. This allowed me to stay on track,
even when things went wrong, which they did a number of times.
Details – Most importantly my plan was detailed. I included everything
I felt was important and built it as if I was handing it off to someone else.
I wanted to be detailed enough that someone else could read it, understand
it, and follow it to success. I included plans for marketing, sales, financial,
operations, hiring, my own development and learning. Having this much
detail in the plan made it much easier to focus on the execution of the
business, and made it much easier to adjust when needed.
In my experience, getting the plan right is more than half the battle.
4) I Got Ahead and Consistently Overshot My Plan
I quickly learned that things don’t always go as planned, and even when they do, there’s probably a challenge coming right around the corner. A key for me was getting ahead of my plan. Going into a week, I typically tried to achieve 20-25% more than what my plan called for. If things went well, it was a great week, but when things didn’t go well I often found myself still achieving the original goal. On the few occasions that I came up short, I only missed my goals by a very little margin, which had little effect because I had beaten many other times. Hitting and beating goals not only feels amazing, but also put me in a position to not have to worry about every little thing that went wrong. It saved lots of stress and tension that many entrepreneurs go through when just getting by. I definitely had to dig in to beat my goals, as my goals weren’t easy, but digging in was well worth it.
5) I Worked Hard on Skill Development
One of the many things my business coach taught me was that having a good fundamental skill base would lead to much more consistent and longer term success. When I was 19, I had very little skill in most areas needed to run my business, so I studied hard. I made a list of the skills I felt I needed to be successful, and I worked to start getting better in each of them. I read books, read articles, took some online courses, attended conferences, talked to others that had the skill, and got direct feedback and coaching from my business coach. This was critical to my success. There were a number of skills I struggled in at first, but the more I worked at them, the better the results became. I remember only closing one deal on the first 15 or 20 proposals. I worked on the skill, had my coach come out to observe me and give me feedback, and by the end of the year my close rate was about 60%.
6) I Worked My Butt Off
Most entrepreneurs will tell you running a business is not easy, and very few entrepreneurs get lucky and achieve easy success. I’ve always felt that hard work is pre-requisite to success. This was especially true for me when I lacked the skill and experience. I was able to make up a lot of my gap just by working hard. There were times that things took me twice as long as it would an experienced person, but regardless of how long it was going to take, if it was important I was getting it done. At the beginning I was working 80-90 hours per week consistently. Working that hard played a big part in my success that first year, but also the rest of my life. When you experience working that hard, the work ethic carries forward in future things you do. Also, they say that it takes about 1000 hours to be an expert at something; you get there a lot quicker when putting in 80-90 hours per week!
7) I Pushed Through Challenges Rather Than Giving Up
Although I had a great plan, there were definitely a number of unplanned challenges that came my way. There were a number of times that I could have given up on my goals, or given up entirely. Instead, I took each challenge as an opportunity to learn and gain experience. Every problem can be solved; some are just more complex than others or take more time to solve. But, by sitting down and generating options, and getting input from my coach and from others, I was always able to make it through. These are often the times I feel that I learned and grew the most. The more challenges you face and overcome the more experience you gain and the more confidence you build. The key to getting through was to stick with it and not give up.
8) I Didn’t Accept “No” From Customers
Not accepting a “No” from a customer doesn’t mean that I was pushy or annoying in trying to make sales, nor does it mean I landed all sales. When I did get a “no”, I always looked at it as a “not now”. This pushed me to really listen to the customer to understand why they weren’t buying, and to figure out what they would say “yes” to. If I was able to deliver what they were looking for, I adjusted my offer to that. I didn’t lower price. I didn’t do services that weren’t in our model. I listened to the customer and did my best to give them what they wanted. This led to many happy customers that felt listened to, which led to more customers, and so on. It also didn’t hurt that I stood behind my work with a guarantee.
9) I Built a Great Team
My philosophy when hiring was to look at the person more than whether or not they could do the job they were applying for. I felt that if I got good people on the team, they could help us achieve our goals. More importantly, I looked for people that strived for more than the job they were applying for; people that wanted my job. This had a big impact on the success of my first business. I ended up with a number of great people that wanted to learn, wanted to move up, were willing to take on more, and that cared about the quality of work they were doing. This ultimately led to us overachieving on many goals and growing much faster than I ever could have planned for. It also forced me to have to change my role constantly to give them space to grow and take on more – which in turn helped everyone grow more.
10) I Had a Great Support Network
I was very lucky that I had friends and family that supported me in my entrepreneurial pursuit. Living with an entrepreneur is not easy, especially when they’re working 80-90 hours per week. I didn’t have a lot of money at the time, as I was paying my own way through university, and am very grateful my parents helped me with a small loan to get me off the ground. They also provided both support and space as I needed it. My friends, the true friends, were there when I popped my head up, even though I disappeared at times for weeks (if not months) to work on the business. My coach helped guide me through the good and the bad, and was there every step of the way. It was such a blessing to have someone that had been there before, with me to help me move along my entrepreneurial journey. This support network helped me immensely through my first entrepreneurial experience.
Starting a business at any age is a great accomplishment, but doing it at such a young age with very little experience is something that I’ll always be proud of. The above top 10 reasons are the biggest reasons of many that I was successful. Work on your skills, learn from others, stay open, plan diligently, work hard, don’t give up, and surround yourself with the right people and you will be successful. It worked for me.
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