Top 10 Most Impactful Business Lessons Entrepreneurs Often Learn the Hard Way
You know all those inspirational business leaders? The ones people use the names of to sell books (Steve Jobs) and movies (Mark Zuckerberg) and leadership seminars (Walt Disney)?
You know how those people got so smart? By making mistakes.
Sometimes gigantic ones that cost them millions, maybe billions of dollars.
Not to say they didn’t learn from their successes, too. When things go really right, smart leaders are able to build on those successes.
But the sad truth is that nobody starts their first business (or their second or even their third) with all the answers. Even the ones who aced business school. Even the ones who are marketing whizzes or have the next big “disruptive” idea. None of that means that starting your own business is going to be easier.
Jyot Singh, founder and leader at RTS Labs, has been working, learning, and building his innovative tech think tank for six years. In those six years, he’s made some mistakes, celebrated many successes, and learned some very valuable lessons that we’ve decided to share with our Medium readers: Jyot’s top 10 most impactful business lessons entrepreneurs often learn the hard way.
Because not all lessons have to be learned the hard way. Hopefully, other aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners can learn vicariously through the lessons Jyot has learned.
And THAT should free those of you reading to make new mistakes and learn new lessons of your own, which you will then hopefully write up in an article and share with the rest of us.
Which these top 10 most impactful business lessons Jyot has learned while building RTS Labs could have the biggest effect on your business efforts — whether you’re in startup phase or growing phase?
Hire “A” players
Having A players early on, even though they may be expensive, is extremely important. Your employees are the heart and soul of your business. They are what makes it run day in and day out. Hire for talent and for culture fit, because good employees who believe in you and your company mission will treat your customers right and stand the test of time. Skills can be trained. Personality and work ethic can’t.
Hiring just to fill a position and meet a budget is a waste of time, because you will essentially have to replace that person. Bad employees bring down the morale and productivity of the entire team. They can have a negative effect on a customer’s impression of your business, and they are simply a drain on your time and resources. Find the right person the first time, and you will not waste time hiring and training over and over again.
Culture is more important than you think
Everyone talks about having a good workplace culture, but those same people rarely follow through with or are able to actually create what they believe is a good culture. Culture is more important than you think, because it sets the day-to-day tone and creates a staff that relies on and trusts each other.
Creating a thriving workplace culture, one that attracts talent and clients alike, doesn’t have to revolve around free lunch every day and ping pong tables. Creating the right workplace culture can be as simple as being a company that is good to its employees and its customers. When that model is intact, and the people you’ve chosen are A players, your customers and your employees will not leave you.
Having people who believe in you — who have been burned before and are looking for a culture that fits them — is a good place to start. Remember, hiring is about talent, attitude, and culture fit. You will never have a good culture if you have employees who don’t believe in the very culture you are trying to create.
Things don’t always go as planned
Your business plan may be air tight. You may have spent months writing and planning, but that doesn’t mean your business will grow or you will execute everything exactly as planned.
Things take longer than expected.
People you thought you could count on disappoint.
You will get a “no” when you were sure the answer would be “yes”.
Things happen. What’s important is how you choose to react, adapt, and move forward.
Have an advisor
Have the maturity to realize that you don’t know everything and that there are people who know more than you. Having an advisor who can question you is really critical. As the person in charge, you need to be challenged when making important decisions. This person should be an outsider to your company but also someone you trust who has a proven track record of success.
An advisor is there to check in on you, question your decisions, and offer up advice that comes from their own experience. And that kind of advice can come from a variety of sources. Many will think instantly of consultants of various kinds, but don’t overlook the practical advice you can get from your accountant or financial team, as well as legal counsel. If you choose wisely in these areas, they can often double as business advisers, since they’ve helped many other businesses grow (if they have the right experience).
Build relationships and partnerships
Six years of going out and trying to close sales, hiring sales people, making cold calls, and sending cold emails has taught Jyot the importance of building relationships and partnerships.
And one of the most impactful business lessons he’s learned is that having multiple referral channels and a good reputation because of the relationships you’ve been building is much better than going out and getting customers directly on your own.
Never stop tweaking your sales and marketing
Figuring out sales and marketing may take 10 times longer than you actually planned, but you should never give up. Is your sales and marketing strategy ever going to be perfect? No, it’s not. You should always be fine tuning and adapting to the changes in your industry and market.
Focus on sustainable growth
People put too much emphasis on growing super fast when instead you should be focused on sustainability. It’s better to set attainable goals, grow at a steady pace, and build a company that will last throughout the years. Hockey stick growth is great, but is it worth burning out your people and losing the culture you set out to create?
Growing sustainably helps to keep the energy going and your culture strong. The journey is more important than the destination. Enjoy the journey and don’t let your people get lost, always running and trying to catch up.
We’ll say it again, because it’s so important: The journey is more important than the destination. While it’s important to keep moving forward, you’ve got to take time to enjoy what you have now. Celebrate successes — big and small — with your team. Milestones and launches are important. Take the time to acknowledge the work you’ve done. It makes the work more meaningful.
Repeatability is key
Create a company that can be sold but don’t build it for selling. You should always look for ways to be more efficient. Repeatability means looking for places where a process can be documented and repeated — or even better — automated.
Not all clients are created equal
Quality over quantity is paramount when it comes to gaining customers. Sure, revenue is important, but bad customers are not good for your business. Customers who are not aligned with your vision and values can clog up your system. They may treat employees poorly or make your company as a whole look bad. You’ve got to let those customers go. This is a hard lesson to learn but an important one. Spend your time and energy on customers who align with your values and are a fit for your brand.
Jyot closed with these final thoughts: “I’ve learned a lot over the past six years. This list is certainly not an exhaustive one, but it definitely represents some of the most impactful lessons I learned about building a successful, sustainable business. A lot of them came from instinct. Some from doing what’s right by people. Some from simply observing what was working and what wasn’t. And now, my hope is that these lessons will shorten the learning curve for other business leaders and aspiring entrepreneurs out there.”