5 Lessons I Learned From Starting a Business
According to the United States Small Business Administration, there are 30.2 million small businesses in the US, making up 99.9% of all businesses. Even if we are overly conservative and assume that each small business is owned by a unique person, that still means that only 9.1% of people in the US are business owners.
There are few activities that match the unique nature of skills required to be a business owner, or at least a successful one. Owning and operating your own business brings its own set of unique challenges and obstacles that must be overcome.
As someone who has taken the plunge, I would like to share some things I learned upfront that I hope can help you, whether you are already on your business journey or are considering walking down that path!
1. You may have to do it all at first. (And That’s OK)
When I first started EID Visions in March 2017, I was slightly overwhelmed by all that there was to do. When you first start a business, you may be forced to wear a lot of hats. As Founder and CEO, I functioned as an accountant to make sure we can pay our bills, our general counsel to draft contracts and make sure we were in compliance with all federal and state filings, the IT department to make sure our technology worked the way it’s supposed to, and everything in between. If it was a role or function at EID Visions, I had my hand in it.
It wasn’t until late 2018 when I took on a partner, our wonderful Chief Operating Officer, Priscilla Acosta, that I was able to better align my responsibilities with my strengths. By dividing the work, both of us are not only able to fulfil our responsibilities, but we are able to do it in a way that we each find more rewarding. I was able to remove myself from the trees so that I was better able to see the forest. I can now function as a true CEO and work on more big picture tasks that better serve the company.
While the beginning will often require that you do everything, as your business grows and needs change, you may reach a point where, to get to the next level, you will need to rely on outside help. When your business is in its infancy, it can make sense to do your own bookkeeping. As your revenue increases and you hire employees, it is probably a good idea to save yourself a lot of trouble in the long term by hiring an accountant and company to do your payroll. If you are starting out, it can make sense to setup your own wireless network. If you have a building’s worth of offices, it would probably make sense to have someone else set it up so they can do it in a way that relies on best practices and can scale up easily.
The same goes for marketing. At first, it can be easy to spread your message by managing your own company Facebook and Twitter. Later on however, the time will come when it is necessary to revisit that to move to the next level and utilize a multichannel marketing plan to best achieve your goals. What first got us to where we are won’t be able to take us to the next level.
You have to do it all in the beginning but at some point your hustle will allow you to bring in other people and share responsibilities.
However, while it is necessary in the long term to have an “exit strategy” of sorts to remove yourself from having to do everything, it is fine to understand that at the beginning, that is the way it goes and that’s OK. As long as you are prioritizing the most important things at the beginning, that will better serve you in being able to delegate some of those hats to others on your team in the future.
2. Discipline is key.
This lesson is something that I didn’t necessarily learn exclusively from starting a business but it was made much clearer in the context of my entrepreneurial journey.
With many other roles, there is an external force at play that provides for some accountability. Whether it be a professor who is looking at an assignment or a supervisor who needs you to meet a deadline, there is often a concrete result that needs to be delivered at a particular time. When operating your own business, that won’t necessarily be the case. If something isn’t working right or goals aren’t being met, there isn’t anyone who will necessarily follow up with you about it. Discipline is key to make sure that you are accountable to yourself. Many times it can be easy to lie to ourselves as a defense mechanism of sorts against failure. However, the reality is that if you fail to deliver, the only person’s expectations you failed to meet are your own. This can be a blessing if you use it to be driven or a curse if you take that opportunity to grant yourself excessive leniency.
The “EID” in EID Visions actually stands for Excellence in Discipline. It’s something that I have worked on incorporating into all aspects of my life and it is no different in a business context!
I’ve found that adhering to a schedule and maintaining a to-do list are excellent tools to ensure that I am able to stay on top of everything.
I recently saw a quote by James Clear, an author that I followed on Twitter after reading his book Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. The quote that struck me was, “When making plans, think big. When making progress, think small.”
This resonated because as a business owner, there is often pressure from myself to be “perfect” because I view the business as an extension of myself. As such, I want to make sure that any first impressions are as great as they can be. While this can be good in theory, it becomes all too easy to suffer from analysis paralysis and delay your start. While the perfectionist in me shudders at the thought of anything less than 100%, the reality is that, it is better than a 0% or never starting. As the old proverb goes, “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”
I was driven to incorporate EID Visions the year after I received my master’s degree in Technology Commercialization and Entrepreneurship. After finishing grad school, I was left with a void that was best filled by starting a business. I’ve taught a first year course on entrepreneurship, but for the most part, my work in higher education does not afford me the frequent opportunity to exercise the “business area” of my brain. While I enjoy working in higher education, by starting EID Visions, I was able to create an opportunity that gave me another stream of personal fulfillment.
4. It’s not too late!
Another thing that starting a business helped me realize is that it is not too late. I started EID Visions when I was 24 years old and I foolishly thought that was too late and I was “too old.” We see many portrayals in the media of the extreme cases where these large companies were founded by a very young person with an idea that took off. That is what “success” looks like to many and if you weren’t planning your IPO in kindergarten you missed the boat.
I came across an article that referenced a working paper co-written by Pierre Azoulay, a professor from the MIT Sloan School of Management. In Dr. Azoulay’s paper, he found that the average age of an entrepreneur that starts a company and goes on to hire at least one employee is 42 years old.
This ran contrary to what I had previously thought regarding what a typical timeline is for starting a business. Even if you are older than 42, what matters is that you find something that you are passionate about and can use to effectively grow your business. The main takeaway is that it’s never too late. If you have an idea, go for it!
This article on LinkedIn has a series of motivating infographics that are relevant.
I found the following facts particularly inspiring:
- Momofuku Ando, created the first instant ramen at 48 years old.
- Mary Kay sold home goods door to door until 45.
- Vera Wang had only written about fashion until she was 39.
- Gordon Moore founded Intel at 39.
- At 30, Julia Child knew no French cuisine.
5. Self care is important.
Admittedly on lesson five, it may be a bit of a misnomer to say I’ve truly “learned it” because it is a constant thing I strive to be better at. However, when having your own business, it is important to practice self-compassion. You wouldn’t drive a car if it had no oil. The engine would seize. Much like a car, you must also take care of yourself to make sure you are able to perform at your best.
I could write an entire blog post on this alone (and I’m sure I will at some point!), but in the interest of keeping this brief, don’t forget to take care of yourself in addition to your business. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean separating yourself from your work. You should find a way to incorporate your work in a routine that is healthy and sustainable in the long run. Self-care can be more than spa days and Netflix binges. It can also look like setting aside some time for a long term project you have been meaning to get to or setting a routine to take care of some lower level stuff you want to make sure doesn’t get lost by the wayside. It’s especially important to do this when you remember that you’ll have to wear a lot of hats (See Lesson One).
What have you learned?
These are five things I’ve learned while navigating my entrepreneurial journey. They are some of the more obvious lessons I’ve learned but I’m learning something new everyday and look forward to continued growth!