18 Lessons I've Learned from Being an Entrepreneur for a Year
It's the beginning of October! To most people, this just means getting closer to Christmas. But for me, it's a big milestone: It marks 1 year of InnerFront! (Note: The LLC was registered only a few months ago, but I made my first dollar a year ago this week!) To commemorate this, I wanted to write a blog post about what I've learned in the last year of being an entrepreneur.
Before I get started, I wanted to give a shoutout to four people who have really invested in me:
- Matt MacBeth, CEO of Pi Lab- Matt was my very first client. He talked to me and somehow decided I was worth investing in, which makes me feel very honored. With his unique perspective on startups and founders, he's shown me the ropes of starting a business,.
- Ron Brumbarger, CEO of Bitwise- Ron has owned his business for the last 25 years. He has given me a valuable glimpse into building a small business and making it run for a long time.
- Mike Kelly, Managing Partner at DeveloperTown- I met Mike at a networking event. When I told him what I did, he looked confused. I said, "I know my pitch is bad, but I'm trying to work on it." He responded with, "Yeah, it is pretty bad." Long story short, he helped me fine-tune my pitch. More significantly than that, Mike has become an incredible mentor of mine, helping me develop InnerFront and showing me how he has been a part of building an Inc. 5000 company.
- Patrick Bet-David, CEO of PHP Agency- Even though he doesn't know me, Patrick has shown me a lot about starting and running a business. His YouTube channel, Valuetainment, gives entrepreneurs incredible insights into things like scaling a business, developing leadership qualities, and, showing why certain companies scale or fail. I hope one day to meet him, and Patrick, if you ever see this blog post, can I get on your calendar, just to stop by your office and say, "Hey!"? ;)
These men are the four entrepreneurs who have impacted how I've started my business. Without them, InnerFront would be non-existent.
I took some time today to think about what I've learned through these mentors and through my own experience. Here are 18 thoughts I had:
1. Entrepreneurs can make a big impact- even in small ways
If you pay attention to anything in the startup world, you know that startups are all about "making an impact on the world." Young people view launching a startup and scaling it as the best means to have a big impact on the world.
But consider for a second the effects of small businesses. Not everyone will be able to grow successfully, so what about the "small guy"?
Even that company can have a huge impact. Just look at InnerFront.
We've partnered with an awesome organization called Bridges to America, which unites separated refugee families. In addition to sponsoring this organization, my company also steps up when we hear about events or people whose needs particularly resonate with us. On 23, 2017, we hosted a small party to write encouraging letters to a boy who was being bullied at his school- and the results were incredible! We found out about the boy, then organized and promoted the event- all within four days- and had over 20 letters written for him!
InnerFront may be a small organization, but we're making a big impact.
2. The stress level is pretty high...
It doesn't take a research on the internet to find an article from an entrepreneur about the stress of starting a business. Why?
Because it's stressful!!
As an entrepreneur, so many thoughts go through your head:
- What if this doesn't succeed?
- What if we run out of money?
- If we lose this customer, how will I be able to pay my employees?
- I wonder if this is even what I'm supposed to be doing..?
- Another company wants me to work for them. Should I take that job?
- What if my customer ends up switching to another company?
- ...and a million more questions.
All those questions go through your head and may stress you out...
3. ...but it is pretty manageable, once you know how to deal with it...
Learning stress management is extremely important as an entrepreneur. Why? Because it will consume you if you don't learn how to manage it!
To manage everything, I make note of everything that I have to get done on a to-do list I have on my phone. But I don't just have a running to-do list; when I find a new task to be completed, I schedule it to be done on a specific day. Then, I'll have my phone remind me on that day to get the task done.
If I have a larger task to accomplish, I will schedule it on my phone calendar. Then, when the time comes to focus on that task, I go all-in on it. I ignore everything else and focus on that single task.
Entrepreneurs also have to know how to de-stress. I do one of the following three things to deflate: playing Call of Duty, working out, or hanging out with friends. Those three things help me take my mind off work and relax for a little bit.
You can also de-stress with the knowledge that the stress of entrepreneurship is higher than some jobs...
4. ...but the stress level is not as high as some other jobs.
I'm going to put this out there: being in the military must be way more stressful than being an entrepreneur. I have no doubt about it. And with that, thank you to all who have served in the military.
Yes, I'm sure other jobs out there are more stressful than being an entrepreneur is. And to those who take on those jobs, thank you!
5. Sales is hugely important...
If I could do one thing over again in my company, it would be focusing more on sales earlier on. I'm just now really focusing on sales. InnerFront could easily be twice the size it is right now if I had done so earlier!
However, it's better to start selling now than never. Sales run a business: Without sales, you have no revenue, which means you have no money to operate. And if you run your sales well, you can make your company a sales machine, and will be able to make sales without having to invest a lot of resources.
Sales is fun and important...
6. ...but so is your operating system.
What is your operating system?
Well, it's the way your company run and how you deliver your product or service. In the case of InnerFront, it's when we create content ideas, manage social media, and develop websites efficiently and effectively.
Without good operations, your sales don't matter: Ultimately, you won't be able to deliver on your product or service.
7. Some entrepreneurs are some really annoying.
Wow. There are some REALLY annoying entrepreneurs. I could tell you so many stories, but I’ll go with this one.
One day, I got a call from a man I had never spoken to. We'll call him Chuck. Chuck runs his own small business. However, he violates the #1 rule of small business: Focus on your business and don't get distracted with other opportunities. In addition to his own small business, he's also involved in three other small businesses.
But that's not even why he was annoying. Chuck called me out of the blue (he got my number through LinkedIn) and asked me to just tell him a little more about myself. I told him and proceeded to politely ask him to tell me more about himself.
This was a mistake.
Chuck didn't just tell me the concise version of his story. He went on. For an hour. About everything he does. To make matters worse, at the end of the call, he just wrapped things up. He didn't even try to sell me his services or say that he was interested in my services! He trapped me on the phone for an hour just so he could tell me about himself!
I'm not an anti-social person by any means, and don't get me wrong, I LOVE entrepreneurs. That being said, as anyone should, respect a person's time. If Chuck would have done this all in a 15 minute call, I would have enjoyed talking to him! But instead, decided waste my time so as to make me never want to do business with him.
The main way to not be an annoying entrepreneur is just to take into account the other person you're talking to. Realize that they probably have a busy schedule, and unless you're a close friend or business associate, whatever you're about to talk to the other person about probably isn't extremely important to them. If you keep that in mind, other businesspeople will like you- because you show respect.
8. Personal development is everything
What do I mean by personal development?
It's anything that makes you a better version of yourself. This could include:
- Learning memory techniques
- Reading self-help books
- Learning a new language
- Learning how to absorb information quickly
- Developing a new skill
- Breaking an addiction
- And a plethora of other things.
Personal development is important because if you don't improve yourself, the way you work, the way you think, and the way you act will never change. This will lead to a fall in your productivity and therefore a fall in your business.
This brings me to me next point...
9. You must must remain a lifelong learner
Things are constantly changing in the world of entrepreneurship. And to keep up, you HAVE TO be constantly learning about new strategies, business practices, and trends to be able to stay relevant in the market.
10. Speed may be important, but take your time to do things correctly
Many people in the startup world discuss the importance of being the first in the market and growing your startup quickly. This is not wrong, as some very smart and experienced people evangelize this ideology.
However, what people aren't talking about is being excellent. Don't strive for speed; instead, strive for excellence in accomplishing your mission.
I originally made the mistake of thinking about how to grow InnerFront. I never really thought about how to serve the customer excellently.
Once I realized my mistake, I made a list of everything I could do to serve my customer and focused on that. Now my focus is not on growth or efficiency: it's on excellence. From there, I'll scale.
11. People automatically think you're a millionaire
...or they assume you're dirt poor. But if you show you're not dirt poor, they think you're a millionaire.
Guess what though?
I'M NOT A MILLIONAIRE! Heck, I haven't even "made it" yet. I'm still in the grind. However, I'm also not dirt poor. Plenty of entrepreneurs sit between millionaire status and dirt poor status, and that's where I belong!
12. Being a young entrepreneur immediately earns people's respect, whether you deserve it or not
Prior to being an entrepreneur, not many people respected my abilities, and I understand why! I was an overly ambitious young buck.
After I quit my job and started selling my services, I noticed something: People respect that. People see you pursuing your dreams and goals and respect this pursuit because the majority of people don’t actively pursue their dreams.
That being said, at times, I feel people give me too much credit. A lot of people ask me how to start a business, how to grow it, and all sorts of questions. While I have some answers, I still don't have all the answers because I'm only 21 and have just owned my business for a year! I don't have a ton of experience.
13. People expect you to act differently
You know when you watch a tv show or a movie and a character begins to make quite a bit of money, his or her close friends and family often say, "You've changed"?
Yes, making money can change you. People often expect you to change, which can put extra, unnecessary pressure on you to act differently. They expect you to be more serious. They expect you to be professional 100% of the time. When you start profiting from your business, people may not anticipate you remaining the same person you were before your success.
14. Inbound marketing is a lot easier and more fun than outbound
Learn inbound. Period. End of story.
Outbound marketing and sales is so boring, and putting in the effort to make inbound work is so much more fun than outbound.
15. You need to be dedicated
On the first day of self-employment, you may be tempted to think, "I worked so hard to make enough to leave my job. I'll go ahead and relax today!"
That's called laziness, and it is poisonous. It will run you out of business. Whatever you do, don't be lazy. Work hard and stick to your business. It'll pay off eventually, but you must stay dedicated and active to see the positive results.
16. Iterate, iterate, iterate
Software companies frequently talk about iterating their software products to match customer demands. However, service and product companies can both iterate quite a bit, as well.
InnerFront started out as a LinkedIn account management service. However, we realized there was zero demand for this. After listening to customers, we pivoted and iterated our service offering to influencer development. This change has worked out so much better and we can clearly see there's a market for this.
17. Listen to your customers
Riding off of #16, you must listen to your customers. As I've told quite a few people, the easiest way to start a business is to sell people what they want. That's what product-market fit is all about, and that's how companies have scaled. They have a product that has demand.
To start and grow your business, you must begin with with a product or service. But before you go to far, ask your customers what they think of your product or service, how they use it, and how you can improve. By getting this feedback, you will be able to have a successful company much quicker simply by listening to your customers.
18. DON'T EVER COMPROMISE ON THE PEOPLE AROUND YOU
Remember, life is all about people. When you get to the end of your life, would you rather have a million dollars and be alone, or have a lot of friends and have an average life?
Yes, money is important, but people are the center of this world:
Your customers? People.
Your family? People.
Your friends? People.
People are at the heart of life! Don't compromise on your relationships. Yes, sometimes you won't be able to spend as much time with your friends as you wish you could, but it's extremely important to continually foster those relationships.
So there you have it! The 18 lessons I've learned after being an entrepreneur for a year! Check back with me next year for more lessons ;)