Being an entrepreneur is tough. Not only do you have to penetrate what is likely a saturated market, you’ll have to do it with a new product, a new service, an unknown brand, and limited resources. Most startups don’t even make it to their anniversary before falling apart. That is why I sometimes have to pinch myself when I share with you that this year marks the 20th Anniversary of IMAGEHAUS. I needed all the help I could get just to stand a chance. So that is why I am going to share five tips that I used to keep the odds in my favor:
1. Keep Moving Toward What Works
One of the most common reasons startups fail is strict adherence to a plan. It’s also an understandable reason. Thorough planning is a key part of running a successful business, and just because something went wrong doesn’t mean you have to run back to the drawing board. However, that also doesn’t mean you should stick to the plan “till death do you part.”
Take some time every few weeks to re-asses your strategy. What may have seemed reasonable at the start may no longer be the optimal approach to achieve your goals. Sometimes, it’s because of outside forces. Other times, it’s because you’ve learned more about business and now know a better way to do things. You need a plan, but plans are not set in stone. If you see something that works better, don’t hesitate to adjust your approach.
2. Remember Your Reason
Perfectly good startups fall apart all the time. It’s not always the business or the strategy that fails. Sometimes, it’s the entrepreneur’s heart. Passion can so easily be eroded by the daily grind, or unexpected difficulty, or a series of mishaps and failures. You may fall to the same trap if you’re not careful.
Keep a reminder of why you started the startup nearby. A picture of your family, for example, can perk you up during a tough day. A poster of a place you want to go to for vacation can remind you of your desire to travel, which a successful business will help you accomplish. Or perhaps it is clearly defining what the community would be like without your business in it. If it keeps you inspired, keep it near you. For me, it was many things like this, but I think it was the work we do for our non-profit clients through our 4C Giving program that inspired me the most.
3. Be Slow to Partner Up
The value of a business partner cannot be underestimated. They fill in gaps in your knowledge and skills, provide another perspective, and can keep the journey from getting lonely. However, getting into this relationship should not be rushed. Partnerships, once formalized, are difficult to untangle.
Take getting a partner slowly. Make sure they add diversity to the startup’s portfolio, and that you can work well with them. If possible, try working with them on a short project, so you can make a more informed decision.
4. Learn to Delegate
You can’t do everything on your own. You can’t be everywhere, you don’t know everything, and you don’t have enough time. Fortunately, nothing about being an entrepreneur demands a solo-approach. Put money and effort toward developing a team that can ease your load. Hire an agency to work on one-time tasks, such as brand strategy and graphics development, as soon as possible. Find employees who you can trust to form your core team. The more you delegate, the more time you have to focus on the big picture.
5. Keep Your Fin (Chin) Up
Being an entrepreneur is an ordeal. It will push you to your limits, make you question yourself, and will put a weight on your shoulders that you may have never thought possible. However, entrepreneurship is also tremendously rewarding. It gives you power and agency over your life, and if done well enough, can provide you with financial independence, security, and most importantly—Happiness.
It was in my first year of business that my first big challenge was dealt, and that was the horrific event of 9/11 that put the country in its first recession. As many Americans, I found myself unable to sleep, so I got up and watched some TV in hopes that it would make me tired so I could fall back to sleep. As my mind was racing full of anxious ideas and concerns, and while flipping through the channels, I landed on a show about sharks on the discovery channel. As I watched the show, I learned that sharks cannot survive if they don’t keep moving forward. As most fish have gills that pump the water through their gills to get oxygen, sharks are without pumps. Therefore, they have to always keep moving forward so water can pass through their gills providing them the ability to get the oxygen they need to stay alive. From watching this came my first, of many, quotes. “Knowing to succeed is to keep moving forward”. It has served me well over the years for many different situations I found myself getting into over the years. This was my way of reminding myself to take the high road to overcome the challenges. This idea also lead to the birth of our mascot, the shark. On a regular basis you will find the office candy jar filled with gummy sharks that remind us daily that success and the mere ability to stay alive is often solved by just having the mindset to keep moving forward.
Don’t let all the bad experiences involved in running a business get you down. They’re part of the journey. Learn from them and focus on the good, on what you can get out of your effort. Keep your fin (chin) up and your eyes on the horizon.
Being a successful entrepreneur is about the little victories; stacking them up until you can go for a big win. Hopefully these tips and shared stories will get you started on those achievements, but are far from the only advice you’ll need to succeed. Keep your eyes and mind open for more things to learn, and eventually, you’ll find the success you want.