Diamond-Cut Life

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Top Ten Tips For Entrepreneurs

September 13th, 2012 by Alison · No Comments · work

This is a reprint of my third post popular piece ever, originally posted in August 2008.  I’ve added an eleventh tip. Note: I’m posting once a week now, on Sundays. If you’d like to receive these in your email inbox rather than travel to my site each time, it takes about thirty seconds to subscribe, directly to your right.

The world needs lots of entrepreneurs and small businesses. It needs outside-the-box thinkers and doers to help us find new ways of producing, consuming and being of service to each other. I’ll bet that you, yourself, have a talent or idea you’ve fantasized about making a living at. Part of the diamond-cut life is doing work we love. When we’re practicing right livelihood, we tend to consume sensibly because we’re fulfilled, instead of frustrated and constantly trying to make ourselves feel better.

I spent 1992 to 2004 as a small business owner, designing journals and cards and selling them to natural food stores nationwide, including many Whole Foods accounts. Wildflowers and mythological figures were my best-selling designs; my medium was handmade paper crafted from recycled materials. Sometimes I felt joy and fierce vitality over being creatively self-employed, and sometimes I despaired over the financial difficulties involved. At all times, I would have benefited from the following lessons-learned that I’ve distilled from my years as an entrepreneur..

1.      Find and use mentors who are truly qualified to advise you. Who is profitably doing what you want to do for a living? (The fact they are doing it does not necessarily indicate profit.) Ask them probing questions about their business and their lessons-learned, and take their answers seriously, even if what they say is uncomfortable to hear.

2.      Devote yourself to sales and marketing, get someone else to do it – or let go of being in business. This is a hard one for many. The entrepreneur may be passionate about the content of the business (the product or service itself), and see getting people to buy it as a separate topic, or even a pesky intrusion to the passion. The reality is the opposite: sales are your make-or-break. If you can’t embrace that, you have a hobby, not a business.

3.      Don’t imagine you’re available for starting a new relationship. If you’re already in a stable marriage or other relationship, it will be tested by your emerging business, but may stay intact. If you are trying to start a new business and new relationship at the same time, they will almost surely sabotage each other. I suggest these worthy start-up activities belong at different times in a person’s life.

4.      Don’t expect family members or friends to help finance your enterprise. This is your venture, not theirs, and nobody is obligated to share in your risk. Loans are better characterized as gifts, because repayment is statistically unlikely, and failure to repay can ruin trust and goodwill. (A viable exception to this rule may be family members who join or expand each others’ existing legal or medical practices.)

5.      Be willing to be self-employed part-time. At the least, don’t expect to make a living in the first two years of your business. My friend Libby built her therapy practice little by little as she worked full-time at a public agency. A year later, she was doing both half-time, and a year after that her practice was a thriving, full-time concern and the agency job a distant memory. Unlike me and many small business owners, she never had to go into debt to be self-employed.

6.      Be willing to continually improve your product or service, or even change it altogether if needed. You probably have an idea of what customers should be buying from you. (I certainly did.) Your customer probably most wants something that’s somewhat different – and then that will soon change, right after you master doing it. And the market will change. Be light on your feet and embrace change. Businesses that survive are the ones that evolve.

7.       Spend most of your time on activities that generate income. Ask yourself: does this task, this phone call, this email, help me generate income? If it doesn’t move you closer to generating income, do instead a task that will, despite it being less fun or interesting.

8.      Be prepared for a lot of solitary work. It’s a fact: self-employed people tend to work largely by themselves. Are you a person who performs well that way? If not, how can you craft your top performance? For example, some people are energized by working in coffee-houses with wifi and stepping outside to make phone calls.

9.      Pick up the phone instead of relying on email. Email is over-used, with many emails ignored or never opened. Phone calls are generally a richer, more powerful medium for making something happen. If someone doesn’t know me, I never assume they will open an email from me. If they do know me, I still assume that my subject line must be well-crafted, specific and oriented toward them and their best interests (not necessarily me and my interests). If I really want action, I call them up.

10.   Get smart people around you. I found advisors, sometimes quite ad-hoc and informal, who cared about my success and financial health, and who had the objectivity I lacked. They gave me ongoing, external reality-checks on financial viability and best practices. The feedback and brainstorming sessions I had with them greatly improved the health of my business. They also made it more fun.

11.    Have an exit plan. It’s common, even normal, for small businesses to not succeed, or to not succeed to the degree or on the timeline that their creators need them to. Set boundaries around your business so that it cannot, for example, ruin your family life or your financial future.  Map a way out of your venture, so that you are operating from choice rather than compulsion. Note: This is the bonus tip, when you thought you’d just be getting ten tips. It’s a way of illustrating the principle, which I also recommend, of under-promising and over-delivering to your customers.

The bottom line is that the human spirit is creative, and being an entrepreneur is a creative endeavor that demands ruthless practicality at the same time. At its best, it can find solutions to the world’s problems in ways that nothing else can, and create a work-life more deeply satisfying than any other. Warm wishes to you and your ventures!



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