I was asked to give a presentation to a business class at The Salt Lake Community College recently. I was told that the students would be looking for advice that has helped me on my path to success. I gave a pretty raw and real presentation on what it is like to start your own business.
One of the questions they asked me was:
What golden nuggets of advice can they share that will save students time and money in starting their own business?
When I gave my answer I told the audience that unfortunately almost nothing on my list would save them both time and money.
My answers to this question are basically the best advice I could give to someone who is starting a business right now in 2016.
Focus On Your Customer
I can't take credit for this one as it is straight out of the mouth of one of my mentors, my dad. Rick Roberge once told me:
"Nobody cares about you or what you do; they only care about how you can help them."
Let me give you an example of how this works.
If someone were to ask me what I did for a living and I didn't have this advice, I would tell them that I do bookkeeping for small businesses.
With this advice in mind, I tell them that I help small businesses grow through an understanding of their finances.
Understand What You Should Be Working On
When you ask a new business owner the question: "How's business going?"
The typical response is: "Really good... I'm just so busy."
Most of these people (but not all) are busy working on all of the wrong things. It is a syndrome I refer to as busy being busy.
As a small business owner, it is incredibly important that you stay focused on important business tasks, not on what you happen to be presented with for tasks.
Find Great Mentors
One thing that will save you both time and money is to find a great business mentor with whom you can work. Having a great mentor gives you an outsider's perspective on the issues you are facing. Mentors have been through many of the same challenging situations that you will face and they will be able to help you.
The one thing I was sure to mention about finding a mentor was to aim really, really high. Don't be afraid to ask a really well-respected person to be your mentor. They didn't get to where they are today without help and many will be willing to give back. The worse someone can say is, "No."
Make a list of prospective mentors and aim high.
ABS - Always Be Sourcing
As I scaled up my business, one thing I noticed is how important hiring is. I totally underestimated how difficult it would be to assemble the right team.
One of my biggest concerns now as a business owner is sourcing employees.
When I am at a networking event, I am asking for introductions to potential employees. I spend at least one hour per week looking on LinkedIn for people to potentially hire. Even in my personal life, I am sure to let people know we are hiring if the situation is right.
One of my golden rules is: always be sourcing... always.
You never know when you are going to lose a good employee or your business will have a sudden surge in demand that requires you to expand your workforce quickly.
Invest Time And Money In Training
Another one of the things I drastically underestimated was the importance of training employees. It's embarrassing to write that as now it seems so obvious.
The truth is that my first two hires went so well, I thought I was the best damn businessman out there. I patted myself on the back and said, "Good job."
Then, guess what happened with hires 4-6? Fail, fail, and you guessed it fail. It wasn't until then that I knew we had a problem.
There is a great old CEO saying that I love with regard to training.
A manager asks the CEO: "What happens if we train employees and they leave?"
The CEO responds: "What happens if we don't and they stay?"
Make sure you have a solid formal training process in place for all new hires.
Don't Be Afraid To Take On Debt To Accelerate The Business
One lesson I learned, primarily from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, was that taking on debt isn't necessarily a bad thing for a business.
America is such a debt-crazed country. Why is it that people will rack up credit card debt, take a loan on a vehicle, and a mortgage on their house, but they won't take a loan out to invest in their business?
Taking on debt can actually be a really positive move for a small business, if it is the right time. The key thing in terms of timing is that the business is ready to scale, has a great strategic plan, and is confident that the investment will help them grow rapidly and eventually allow them to repay the debt.
Realize That Starting And Running A Successful Business Is Hard
I left that students that day with this final thought: Starting a small business is hard. I then read them a quote from Ben Horowitz's book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things. Ben put it brilliantly when he said:
"Hard things are hard because there are no easy answers or recipes. They are hard because your emotions are at odds with your logic. They are hard because you don't know the answer and you cannot ask for help without showing weakness."
There is a lot of truth in Ben's words.
Starting a business is hard and there are no easy answers or recipes to make your business a success.
The big takeaway is that when you don't know the answer to a problem, don't be afraid to ask for help and show that you are vulnerable.
Real entrepreneurs will respect you and they will be willing to help.
What advice do you have for new entrepreneurs who are looking to start their own business?
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