12 essential lessons learned in business

“Lessons learned first time around in business are never wasted by second time around entrepreneurs.”

In the course of our work in The Entrepreneurs Academy, we have met loads of people that are on their second time round. I’d also consider myself to have been round the block numerous times as it is now 18 years since I started what is now The Entrepreneurs Academy. I have amassed MANY learnings and have had many positive failures under my belt that I have survived and learned from).

The kinds of lessons learned include:

1. Hard work is needed, but it is not enough. We must all stand back from our businesses and work smart, not just hard. In other words, don’t get stuck in the operations, delegate out what you can as soon as you can and keep trying to do yourself out of a job so you can lead your business to success.

2. The financials don’t lie and reading management accounts should never be delegated – these are the pulse of your business, they tell you how you’re doing and allow you to play with different scenarios to optimise your structure and your profit.

3. Discipline is needed and fundamentally we must never take our focus off two things: 1. Is what I am doing now giving rise to increased sales? 2. Is what I am doing now going to help us increase our margin or create more profit? If not, why am I doing it? The second one is the overall goal of any business and we often miss it. There are LOADS of things we can all spend our time doing as entrepreneurs and with technology we could spend a full day every day on social media. A big mistake is thinking that activity results in positive business results.

4. Spend time finding your purpose, it will help keep you on the right track. This is particularly useful when your having tough days as it reminds you why you’re doing all of this work.  Also, it gives additional meaning to your working life which can only stand to benefit you in the long run.

5. You can never do enough market research. This is an ever changing world and we need to keep up. Most businesses will do some form of market research at the start, but if you want to be as competitive as possible, you have to continuously challenge yourself to find the latest needs of customers. The more you can find out their needs, the better you’ll be able to service them.

6. The right mentor is invaluable. Experienced mentors can save you time and money, give you years of experience without having to go though all of the ups and downs that they went through, and of course they can provide you with much needed support throughout your entrepreneurial journey.

7. Follow your gut but always refer back to the financials. If you want to start a values based organisation, it’s important to follow your gut and do what you think is right. Having said that, it’s never a good idea to move forward blindly, you must always keep your financials in mind so that you know the steps you’re taking are feasible and will help your business – not hurt it.

8. Fail fast because a lot of entrepreneurs hold onto a bad idea/bad product/bad service for too long. You should “fail” quickly and then either dump it and go again or twist your idea/business so that it does meet a need and can make a profit. If it’s going to work or going to fail, you want to know as soon as possible. There is one thing worse than failing fast… and that is failing slowly.

9. Hire slowly and let go quickly – we entrepreneurs often make poor hiring decisions. Hire SWANS (Smart, Work Hard, Great Attitude and Nice). Remember that you’re going to have to work with these people day-in and day-out, so make sure that they’re the right fit for your business from the start.

10. Don’t be afraid to think big. This is great for expanding your idea and your business, and it may even work to your advantage in terms of economies of scale. That is, the more you goods you produce, the cheaper they become to produce. This way you can increase your profit margin and make more sales.

11. Sell, sell, sell. Too many business courses ignore the importance of selling, and too many entrepreneurs get stuck in the “doing” and think the selling will just follow – it doesn’t. Focus on your sales strategy from the very start or get an external consultant to help you if necessary. Remember, if you’ve no sales, you’ve no business.

12. Invest in yourself – your health and your learning – otherwise you become the lid and the limiting factor in your business. Read widely, learn from experts in your industry and continuously seek to make new distinctions that will help drive your business forward.