17 Lessons We Learned in 2017
It's common knowledge that people learn faster from their mistakes than their successes in life. The same is true in entrepreneurship. As soon as something doesn't go according to plan in your business, you scramble to put it back on track because time is money. Contrast that when things go well: most would be more relaxed than reflective on what enabled the success to happen. The rare bird in business would be someone who can learn effectively from both the bad and the good situations equally.
As much as we want our app users and blog followers both to know all the shortcuts and how to avoid all the pitfalls (and believe us, we want to avoid them, too!), you'll have to learn a lot of these on your own. But to the extent we can share our own experiences this past year so that you can look out for good - and bad - lessons, we've put together our top 17 list:
1. Your business is only as good as the people working for it... or running it.
It's no secret that your business is made up of people, even if that's only one person. It's always a good idea to put in the time and effort to make your business capable of functioning when you're not there, but a functioning business is very different from a growing business. If you want your business to be healthy, to be growing, and to be successful, the people in your business need to be the same way.
Entrepreneurs, this means you need to take care of yourselves. Go for runs, eat healthy dinners, take breaks, try not to work weekends, and get some space from your work. If you've got a team, encourage them to do the same.
2. A great business requires a great ability to learn, not prior knowledge.
No one starts a business (or even starts a job) already knowing how to do everything that will be required of them. If you're starting a business for the first time, it's likely that you don't have prior experience in accounting, financial projects, marketing, product development, legal, and customer service. Neither do your first employees.
To be successful, you don't need to know how to get everything done already. Instead, you need to know how to find the right resources to get you there. Whether you're Googling "how to hide a row in excel" or searching StartBlox for how to hire, you'll know how to find out what you need to know, and that's enough.
3. Get to know your team.
At the end of the day, your team will have your back. That means you need to have theirs, too. If you're working with a co-founder or managing a team of 20, the relationships you form with your team will help keep everyone motivated and accountable as your business starts to grow. Tighter-knit teams are more honest, offer more feedback, and more successfully build off of each other's ideas to help the business grow.
4. Relationships matter.
Pay attention to the relationships you form outside of your internal team. No business functions in an isolated environment, so take care when you're interacting with customers, social media followers, blog readers, partners, and even competitors. Any number of the people you're interacting with on a daily basis could become the key to your success, so treat each with respect and personalized attention.
5. Communication is king.
Employees and customers alike appreciate being kept in the loop. It can be simple to fly solo in your business, making quick decisions and predicting the consequences of those is easier when it's only your perspective that you have to take into account. Don't forget, though, that your team will need to understand their role in your changing business, and your customers will want to know your product is evolving. Make sure to communicate your decisions, why they're happening, and what role each of your stakeholders has in the next phase of your company.
6. 80% of your work is sustaining the business, 20% of your work is game-changing.
As a business owner (or even small business employee), it can feel like your to-do list never ends. Between your bookkeeping and daily marketing efforts, it's difficult to find time to think big-picture or implement your grand ideas. Remember that you're not alone when 80% of your time is spent on maintaining the status quo. Make the most of the other 20%. Use that time to implement your big ideas, talk to new partners who can help make those happen, and dream up your next game-changing project.
7. Stay one step ahead. (Plan, plan, plan!)
Always have a plan. Without one, you'll find yourself agonizing over every to-do list, every priority, and every decision. Use a plan to understand where you want your business to be in the next year, and then use that as a map that guides your efforts every day. When time flies by and your calendar is always filled, you'll still know that your efforts are playing into the bigger picture.
8. Things will always take longer than you expect (and cost more).
No one said that your plan would always stay on-course. Inevitably, parts your work will take longer than you think they will. In the long run, build a contingency into your plan to account for potential delays. On a daily basis, be realistic about how much you can get done in a single workday. Use a combination of daily and weekly to-do lists to set your expectations correctly, and get comfortable with the idea of not getting everything done. No one can do everything, so don't fret when you don't get it all done.
9. No matter how much you plan, something could always go wrong.
Yes, we did say to have a plan, but don't be surprised when something goes wrong. A business plan is a great compass, but it's never going to predict every roadblock in your path. When you hit a wall or when an idea fails, take a moment to breathe, and then move on.
10. You almost always have options.
There's more than one way to approach every task. Whether you're looking to hire someone and don't know what to choose or you've hit a wall with your website, there are so many solutions that you can pick and choose from. Since every business is different, it's important to take a moment, do some research, and find the right fit for your business. One size does not fit all in small business.
11. Every employee is different.
Not every employee will be able to perform well in the same situations. Some employees may work best in a coffee shop on Saturday morning while others crave the structure of an office and a desk. Some employees may want to sit down and chat through their plans, while others may want to send a document your way for approval. It's important to learn the art of adaptable leadership while retaining the structure you need to keep every employee accountable.
12. Validate and iterate in every part of your business.
When you have an idea, take the time to test it before acting on it. If you're dreaming up a new product, ask your customers how they'd feel about it. If you're considering a new coaching strategy, speak with your employees about what they want. Even once your idea is in place, be watchful for ways that you could improve it. The best businesses are constantly improving their products, their customer experiences, and their employee experiences.
13. Pay attention to what your customers do, not just what they say.
Checking in with your customers is an important part of your business' success, but just doing what they say won't ever get you anywhere. If you really want to know what a customer thinks of your business, pay attention to what they do. If you have a product, find a way to understand how your customers interact with it. Do they use the product often? Do they replace it often? Do they consider it an important piece of their lives?
14. Every dissatisfied customer comes with a new opportunity.
When you're paying close attention to how customers interact with your business, you may find out that they're not entirely satisfied. You could consider this a problem, or you could realize that your customers are letting you know that you could fill their needs in another way. Take note of your customers' silence (or complaints, if they happen), and develop a product or service that tackles those issues directly.
15. Chaos is a good thing.
If you're feeling calm about your business, there could be two things happening: you've either handed the reins to someone else to manage your company for you, or you've stopped growing. When you feel like your business is a little chaotic, it's likely because you've got the right number of irons in the fire. As long as every new initiative you're juggling is in line with your plan (yes, we still think it's important to have a plan), and you're not dropping the ball on any part of your business, chaos is a helpful hint that you're heading in the right direction.
16. On the compete-to-collaborate spectrum, don't be afraid to collaborate.
It's amazing what happens when you choose to work with other businesses. There are more opportunities that you may realize to leverage your competitors' resources to achieve mutual benefit. Whether you're a bookstore competing with a local rival or a coffee shop situated between two others, initiatives like co-marketing or co-hosting events could drive more business for everyone in your neighborhood.
17. Motivation (and types of motivation) matters.
If you're starting a business, you should know what motivates you. Are you aiming to get rich quick, or are you trying to solve a problem for your customers? Be aware of different types, because they will change the way you make decisions about your business and the path you take to success.
For StartBlox, the aim is not to make a quick buck and then leave the market. Our team sees a real need for small business support, and we make decisions that help us help our market - even when they take a little longer to turn a profit. In doing so, we're confident that our work will be more sustainable and impactful for our team and our users in the long run.