10 Laws: The Entrepreneurship Tabernacle
I made a lot of mistakes in the first year of my startup journey. In the spirit of celebrating and sharing failure- here is a brutally honest and unapologetic list of 10 things not to do during your first year of entrepreneurship.
I. Don’t go to business networking events
When you first start out, you may feel lost and are sure to feel lonely. The human instinct would have you surround yourselves with others. Perhaps others feeling this way too, in a similar position to you.
But a quick logic check. How would it help you to surround yourself with a bunch of others who feel equally lost? Sure, it may reassure you somewhat and provide a few coffee mates, but more likely it will just lead to wasting critical time growing your business.
Find mentors with more mature businesses to act as coaches and seek out accountability buddies
II. Don’t add people who ‘seem cool’ on LinkedIn and invite them for coffee without a clear reason
This is another strange pang of instinct you get when you start out- seeking out companionship where it may or may not be welcome. LinkedIn is a great way to cultivate networks, but not a place for fan-crushing on your successful business idols.
If you are planning on reaching out to someone for a coffee, make sure there are a few key reasons for doing so that you can outline in your contact note. On this, unless there is clear relevance, always write a short note on your connection request explaining why you’re seeking to connect.
Make your approaches clear, relevant and necessary or at least have a reason for connecting
III. Don’t adopt a ‘taking mindset’
The best people I know always seem to be giving to others and helping others in some way. They make this a core part of their approach to doing business. However, many entrepreneurs starting out are too focussed on fulfilling their own needs and interests.
The common symptoms of this are not asking others questions about themselves and their business, not offering your assistance at opportune times and always bringing conversations back to your hero’s journey and current struggles.
You need to return to the social contract and think of the economics and behavioural elements of the situation. Why would anyone want to be involved with somebody who is all take, take, take or me me me?
Always look to offer others your help before asking for anything in return
IV. Don’t spend 80% of your time having coffees with other entrepreneurs
What you are doing here is not business development or growth activity, it is simply distracting yourself from the important task at hand. It is a good idea to have these coffee check-ins but for no more than say 2–3 coffees a week or 2 hours of your time.
Make sure these coffees are with people who inspire you to work harder, not distract you on wild goose chase ideas that they are working on in addition to their own fledgling startup project.
Entrepreneurs have a plethora or amazing ideas all the time. But only one of them; if that will survive as the main idea and go on to have a chance of succeeding in the marketplace.
You will inevitably become bogged down and sidetracked considering partnerships, joint ventures and investment in things that fall well outside what your primary focus needs to be- build your business.
Spend the vast majority of your time building a sustainable revenue generating business
V. Don’t spend your time applying for grants, awards and competitions
This one may sound self-explanatory and seem obvious, but the above and all your reasons for doing so scream that this comes from a place of running a currently unsustainable business.
It also sends a message that you crave the spotlight and grants, rather than being able to create and scale a sound business model.
A mentor once said to me the best way to grow your business is to show that it is making money by working hard to acquire customers and clients and to focus on retaining them.
Focus all the energy that you would have put into these pursuits into writing a great regular blog, finding mentors and testing your ideas with as many experienced practitioners and potential customers and clients as possible.
Which sounds better — “I won a $100,000 dollar grant, which has kept me going” or “I built a business doing $100,000 in first year revenue”?
VI. Don’t treat your time as free, because it isn’t
Every hour that you spend not growing your business through directly related activity is time that you are giving away for free.
This is commendable and encouraged if it is in the service of helping others and voluntary work, but not ok if it’s due to a lack of focus.
Try and imagine your calendar is theoretically full of billable revenue at your notional hourly rate. Start to account for your time from this perspective and you’ll find yourself far more productive!
It’s important to practice this from an early stage because if you are successful in growing your business, you will have to make all your decisions from this frame of reference
Each hour that you do not engage in productive growth related activity, is lost value that you could be building into your business
VII. Don’t neglect your follow up game
When you are running around like crazy and meeting copious amounts of people it can be hard to remember the high value conversations and interactions you have.
It can be even harder to remember to follow up with people who have given you their time. But forgetting to do so is both lazy and unprofessional.
Also, because most people have poor follow up game, this is a chance for you to showcase your relative professionalism and strong follow up game.
This shows you are reliable, committed and interested in maintaining an ongoing relationship.
If a meeting creates value for you, write a short note to the person you met thanking them for their time and express gratitude for lessons learned
VIII. Don’t forget to prepare for meetings
It staggers me how many people attend meetings without preparing for who will be there, what the key items of alignment might be and some efforts to understand the other attendees worldviews, ventures and interests.
If you are attending a meeting with anyone, take some time to figure our how they spend their time, what is important to them and their likely future interests and alignment with your work areas.
You don’t need to know everything about them, but do make an effort to know their mindset, background and likely current and future agenda.
Spend 20 minutes preparing for each meeting you plan to attend and memorise at least 2–3 points of common interest or alignment to bring up at the meeting
IX. Don’t be late- actually try and be early
Lateness is a deliberate decision to prioritise the value of your time over the person’s time you are meeting. Even if it isn’t intentional, it can be avoided 95% of the time by planning to arrive wherever you need to be at least 10–15 minutes early.
Arriving late is disrespectful, unprofessional and leaves a bad impression early on in the mind of the person you are meeting. By contrast, if you follow the above suggestion and arrive 10–15 minutes early, you will find that you’ve demonstrated politeness, respect, professionalism and courtesy.
Arriving within 5 minutes of the arranged time is ok, arriving 5–10 minutes late is acceptable with an email, text or call and anything over 10 minutes without explanation is grounds for an early departure and meeting cancellation.
Respect your meeting partners and colleagues by establishing a reputation of punctuality and respectfulness
X. Don’t ever cancel meetings unless you physically cannot attend
I’ve wasted way too much time in year 1 having to change my plans due to night before and day of meeting cancellations.
Much like the previous point, cancelling last minute can be quite disrespectful and inconveniences your meeting partner. They are also far less likely to want to try and arrange another meeting with you after a first cancellation.
Barring a severe onset of flu, contagious symptoms or a broken limb, make a habit of keeping your commitments. Showing up despite barriers shows resolve and strength of character.
Despite having an aggravated prolapsed L5 disc (back) in the past few months, I made a point not to miss any meetings.
Show your reliability and resolve by never cancelling meetings
What are your personal commandments for entrepreneurship?