40 Expert Tips for Entrepreneurs and New Business Owners
Being an entrepreneur and launching a small business is tough. Sometimes, it can feel almost impossible. Luckily, it's not.
If your true passion is starting your own business — and you're determined to do so — a little advice never hurt anyone. Especially if those tips on how to start a business come from those who have done it before.
We asked successful entrepreneurs and small business owners for the best advice they had for new entrepreneurs. Here's how you can turn that million-dollar idea into a profitable business.
Persistence Pays Off
Building a successful business takes time. And sometimes, forces outside your control might make things even slower going in the beginning.
"The paths to success are still the same, but ... persistence is really going to pay off," says James Canzanella, the owner of Isolated Marketing Nights. "After all, you might not begin to see any traction as quickly as you used to."
This can apply to any business.
Do Something Original
The world is full of copycats. Sure, it worked in the past. Take Oreo, which ripped off Hydrox cookies and became a cookie king. But it won't work today, and you'll want your business to be as original as possible.
"When first starting out, I looked at other competitors and simply copied what they did as it felt safe," says Amit Gami, Business Waste Guru, a United Kingdom-based business that provides waste collection to businesses. "I wish I had stuck to my guns and simply created something I thought the world needed, independent of any external influences."
Make Sure You Like Your Business
When times are tough — and they will get tough — you want to own a business that you actually enjoy and want to keep going, not just some stale venture solely used to make money.
"I've seen many business owners burn out when dedicating themselves to industries that seem like smart choices, but which they are not passionate about," says Meg Marrs, founder of the dog care resource website K-9 of Mine. "Any business will have ups and downs, but if you are in an industry you are passionate about, you will be able to ride those highs and lows better and your dedication can set you apart from competitors."
Keep Your Eye on Your Target Audience
Building a business requires focus. This piece of advice is a well-known adage, but it's worth repeating.
"Starve your distractions and feed your focus," says Jennifer Sargeant, a digital marketing professional and founder of Digital Sargeant. "At all times, only fill your ears with positivity and with information about the industry you serve and your ideal target audience."
Pretend Someone Is Trying to Make You Fail
One way to find motivation is pretending like there's competition trying to destroy your business, even if your company isn't up and running.
"Fight for your business every minute of the day as if someone is trying to take it away from you," says Sargeant.
This strategy can also be used to imagine stress points in your business and where extra work is needed.
Write a Business Plan
One piece of advice almost all our experts gave was to draw out a business plan.
"Even if you're bootstrapping your business entirely, write a business plan for yourself, and just as you would if you were seeking outside funding," says John Bedford, founder of the food and drink website Viva Flavor.
"Assign measurable, achievable targets to each element of the business, all the way from startup to financial security. These data points will give you a useful benchmark to refer to when the inevitable doubts come knocking,"
You don't need to strictly adhere to your business plan, but it will be helpful when it comes to planning your levels of success and the path forward.
There's an "Always Sunny in Philadelphia" episode where Charlie (Charlie Day) says "yes" to any question asked, and the episode ends with him meeting some very famous people at a high-scale event.
Sure, it's fiction, but sometimes saying yes to new opportunities works.
"The best business advice I've ever received is to jump at opportunities and figure out how to do them on the fly," says Brian Robben, founder of the marketing company Robben Media. This will teach you many aspects of the business. It will grow your book of clients. And you'll be forced to find solutions, be it by yourself or hiring others with the experience, to get the job done.
"Once it's done, you'll forever have that experience going forward."
It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect
Many experts say entrepreneurs wait until their website, product or service is "perfect" before launching. It sounds like a good idea, but in reality, you need to launch and fix as you go along.
"You need to get your product or service out in the world — it will never be perfectly ready until you have some feedback from your customers," says Simon Slade, the CEO of SaleHoo, a business that connects consumers to wholesale and dropship suppliers. "You might learn something surprising as soon as you start advertising your company, and that knowledge is invaluable in the growth and progress of your business."
Don't be afraid.
"My sister and I tiptoed around the idea of a business for too long before jumping into it," says Joanna Jozwik Serra, the co-founder of Birdy Boutique, a homegrown company that sells children's clothes. "Deciding to start it was the hardest part. Sometimes, it's better to have everything 90 percent ready and to go for it, versus waiting until you have every detail worked out and lengthen the time it takes to open up."
When your business is up and running, start looking for numbers everywhere.
"Data is plentiful about almost every industry, but no data will be as useful as concrete metrics about your specific business," says Slade. "Start gathering as many different pieces of data as early as you can. It will serve you well in the long run."
And Listen to It
This data will be extremely helpful to you in the days and years to come.
"Always listen to the numbers," says Brandon C White, an entrepreneur. "The data will never, ever lie to you. When you’re running your business, it’s your baby and it can be very easy to let emotions get in the way when making decisions, and that’s where people trip up.
"Going with your gut on some decisions from time to time can work, but testing products, subject lines, emails, social media posts, and everything else, and listening and adjusting for what the data tells you will work almost every single time."
Test the Waters on Kickstarter
If you are offering a product, testing interest on a platform like Kickstarter or Fundable can show where there is interest — or lack thereof — in the markets.
"My tip for entrepreneurs in 2020 is to explore crowdfunding as a social barometer of sorts, allowing you to gauge the interest for your business idea without having to invest significant amounts of startup capital," says Daniel Juhl Mogensen, the co-founder of Kodyl.com. "Just make sure to have a solid business plan and/or a unique product idea before presenting it for public review and funding."
Listen to Feedback
It stinks when there is no interest in a product, or people think it's not any good. Regardless of your own personal feelings, you need to listen to the feedback.
"The biggest cause of startup failure is the inventor feeling they do not need feedback from testers or, if they do, these testers are all idiots because they do not see it the same way or understand," says David Carmell, an attorney and CEO of DealRockit. "Do not delude yourself into false confidence. Thick skin works."
Believe in Yourself
All of our experts said that you need to believe in yourself in order to succeed when building a business.
"It's a psychological barrier that occurs before you achieve success," says Bret Murphy Hunt of Bret Murphy Tutoring and Consulting. "In our society, if you make it you're a genius ,but if you don't — even with a good idea — you're a failure. You have to act with the confidence that you have 10 customers on a waiting list, even if you don't. This mentality will help you to stay strong in your pricing and principles without conceding."
Have a Mission Statement
Every business should have a goal and values that it stands for. A mission statement not only helps flesh this out, but it shows everyone else what your business is made of.
"Develop a mission statement or core values, the reason you’re doing what you do. Keep it simple and real, something you can immediately relate to. Make sure everyone knows it so you are on the same page in terms of delivering your product or service," says Ken Rusk, the founder and president of the waterproofing company Rusk Industries and author of "Blue Collar Cash: Love Your Work, Secure Your Future, and Find Happiness for Life."
"The mission helps build a cohesive and effective team, and everything you do should support that endgame."
Define Your Value Proposition
Figure out what people want to use your product for and what they value in it.
"What is it about their product, service and offer that compels people to say yes? Until [entrepreneurs] know this, any marketing efforts or spend in any channels will be like pouring gasoline on wet leaves," says Bryan Clayton, the CEO of GreenPal, which is like Uber for lawn care.
At first, your value proposition might not be what you think it is.
"For instance, when we first launched, we thought people would like our service because it's a cheaper way to get their grass cut. What we found through copy testing in different channels such as ad-words and Facebook is that the customer's ability to get same-day service is a much more effective and compelling subset of our value prop that drives more visitors and more conversions on our landing pages."
Don't Forget to Have Fun With Others
Being an entrepreneur means long days and long nights as you build your business. This makes it easy to forget about your social life, but you should set aside some time to keep it healthy.
"I had underestimated the sheer challenge of working in isolation, and where the success or failure of the business rested entirely on my shoulders," says Bedford. "I would have made more time and budget to maintain the social life I'd established in my previous career. You are the engine of your business, and it won't go anywhere if the machinery isn't working."
Exploit Your Strengths
If you're good at something, use that as a primary focus for your own efforts.
"Put your money and time where your expertise is," says Calloway Cook, the president of Illuminate Labs, a supplement company. "I'm an expert in SEO so I'm more focused on growing organic traffic to the site than paid ads. It would be inefficient for me to spend most of my time on social media or paid ads when those aren't my strongest skills."
Of course, it helps to learn other skills as well, and also to hire out when you've been stretched too thin.
Let Everyone in Your Network Know What You're Doing
Start talking to people about your business as soon as possible. Get the word out there and start telling everyone you know what service you have to offer.
"To build the business, you have to leverage your network," says Bobby Reed, the CEO of Capitol Tech Solutions, which provides digital marketing and software development services for businesses. "Reach out to everyone you know with an update of what you are doing.
"Most of your close network will support you. I actually found my first customer from my father's good contact. So let everyone know what you are doing, and you may land your first customer that way."
Make the Big Decisions First
When you first start building a business, it's going to be overwhelming. There will be many decisions to make and tons of avenues to explore. Spencer Barclay, the founder and CEO of Savology, a financial planning tool, says to make the biggest decisions first.
"One of the best pieces of advice that I have received is to make the broadest decisions first so that you can rely on those as an anchor for the small decisions," he says. "If you solidify your own goals and values early on, the hundreds of smaller decisions that you need to make become easier, because you can rely on and prioritize according to your established principles rather than treating each decision independently."
Build or Find a Community
Think about this: Being an entrepreneur can be lonely, but there are many other entrepreneurs out there. All of them (or at least the good ones) are going to want to network, learn from other people, and scratch that social itch.
"Look for specific ways to add value to people in your network," says Bruce Harpham, a content marketing strategist. "For example, I’ve helped people with advice on job interviews when they were looking for jobs. I’ve also reached out to business authors and entrepreneurs to ask for specific advice."
Harpham recommends spending a little money — up to $50 a month or so — on networking events like virtual conferences and community events.
Start Fostering a Good Culture
We're entering a world where company culture is hugely important to workers and talent retention. But it's not just keeping talent that makes company culture important. It's also about growing your business from within, by fostering new ideas.
"Empower everyone to 'scratch their itch,'" says Justin Eugene Evans, the CEO and founder of Anthem One, a professional lighting system. "But saying, 'You can make change here!' in a meeting once a year won’t be effective. You have to pull it out of your staff.
"You have to hold one-on-one meetings for months and say repeatedly, 'What would you change here? What’s annoying you? What gets in the way of you doing your job faster or better?'"
Evans says that this will take a while. At first, people will think they've heard this before, and it doesn't mean anything. But if you keep saying it, eventually people will start coming up with new ideas regularly "and then it becomes an avalanche."
'Ask and Listen'
The most successful people surround themselves with people who seek out answers and advice everywhere.
"Ask and listen," says Amy Pocsik, the co-founder of Women's Business League. "Ask your customers how you can serve them better. Listen. Ask your advisers what you’re not seeing. Listen. Ask trusted professionals to share their expertise. Listen."
Figure Out Why People Should Care
If you don't care about what you're building, then no one else will, either.
"Start with the fundamentals: Who are you and why should anyone care?" says Paige Arnof-Fenn, the founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls. "There's a lot of noise in every category, so if you don't have a unique story to tell and a new approach or idea that excites you, then go no further. Every great business is built on a great story so start telling yours to potential customers and see if they buy what you're selling."
Always Test on Real Customers
"Testing should always be done with real customers, not with family and friends, who may only tell you what they think you want to hear so they don't hurt your feelings," says Arnof-Fenn.
Once a real customer pays real money for your service, then you have a business.
Find a Business You Admire, and Reach Out
Other established businesses can help, too. There's no harm in reaching out to see if another company will give you some of their time.
"When we were starting [as recent college graduates], we listed out companies we admired from a marketing, production, operations standpoint and asked them for 15 minutes of their time to try to learn how we can replicate their success," says Amir Atigehehchi, the co-founder of Habit Nest, which sells habit-building journals.
Atigehehchi says that about a quarter of their inquiries led to a phone call.
Take a Day Off
No one has an endless well of energy. While it can feel like you need to be working on your business every day, all day, it really does help to take a break consistently.
"I laughed at it at the time, but to take a day off once a week is perhaps the best piece of advice I have been given," says Andrew Taylor, the director of Net Lawman. "Only upon finally taking it, did I see an uptick in my productivity and my happiness. My stress levels also went down, so it was great for my health as well."
Avoid Quick Fixes and Shortcuts
Stay focused. Ethan Hyde, the founder of More Leads More Revenue, says what worked for him was "avoiding shiny objects."
"Whenever you start a business, you'll start seeing quick fixes, shortcuts, better products for a cheaper price. Stick to your guns and hold strong," says Hyde. "If you sell fish, sell fish. Be the best fish salesmen in the world. No need to start selling birds because the mark-up is great."
Don't Go All-In Right Away
It's tempting to just quit your job and go head-on into your business, but if you have the ability, keep your day job while you start building.
"As long as you're still working, it's probably best to start your business in your spare time and then grow it as much as possible," says David Walter, the founder of Electrician Mentor. "That takes potential financial stress out of the equation since you'll still have a steady paycheck coming in. If you practice solid time management, you should be able to free up enough available time."
Adem Selita, the CEO of The Debt Relief Company says that working a full-time job and building the fundamentals of his business worked for him. "Many think you should just abandon your nine-to-five and go straight gung-ho into the new business venture, but most times this isn't the best tactic."
Start Small, Get Big
Successful businesses start out by finding the solution to a problem. And those problems can be very specific and need specific solutions.
"Ironically, thinking 'small' is what actually leads to getting big," says Sean Nguyen, the director of Internet Advisor, a website that locates available internet companies in a local area. "The smaller the niche is, the more opportunity for you to capture that space completely for all it’s worth."
Scale Digitally With a Good SEO Strategy
Everything is online now, and your storefront likely will be a page on a screen. One of the biggest challenges an entrepreneur will have is making a website that's able to be found by the consumer. Kevin Miller, the CEO of The Word Counter, says one of the best ways to do this is to invest in SEO.
"A good SEO strategy relies on high-quality content plus in-depth keyword research," he says. "If you do the leg work and use keyword research tools like SEMRush or Ahrefs, you can identify hidden opportunities and then capitalize on those opportunities by creating high-quality, keyword-informed content."
Make Feedback Easy
Feedback is vital, but customers won't go out of their way to leave it. One of the ways to get consumer feedback is to make a website that's customer-friendly and have a social media presence.
"We have a chat box on our site, reviews, and are easy to access through social media," says Amy Voloshin, the founder of Printfresh. "If a customer has feedback or an issue, it’s easy to communicate and improve a situation or gain feedback for future products or collections."
Talk With an Accountant and Structure Things Correctly
Business taxes can be confusing, or a headache. On top of figuring your entire business out on your own, it might prove beneficial to hire an accountant and plan for the future.
"One of the most important things to do on the financial side of the business is to work with an accountant that you can have a good conversation with and who is willing to explain things to you," says Amy Bradbury, the CEO of Empowered Profit. "It's important to have a trusted professional that you can work with to make sure you are structuring things in your business correctly and implementing a tax strategy — and not just having a quick conversation when you are dropping off your tax documents in April."
You'll free up some headspace this way, too.
Be Able to Adapt
The world has shrunk, and the landscape can change fast. Digital businesses are often able to adapt fast, so investing in that area is a smart idea.
"What worked for me is to invest and focus on all things digital and adapt to the evolving times," says Scot J Chrisman, the CEO of The Media House. "For example, to shoot my media footage before, we used the usual high-end, traditional cameras. Those were fine before. However, when drones came into the scene, I just knew I needed to learn how to use it and improve the quality of my work through it."
Be open to learning and growing.
"Adaptability and flexibility have helped our team to keep up with sudden changes in the market," says Mazen Aloul, the founder and CEO of WebQuest, an SEO company. "Being agile in formulating new strategies helps us adapt to evolving trends and continuously innovate new ways of working."
Focus on Retention
At times, it's extra difficult to keep customers. People may have other priorities in certain moments, or they only can think about a finite number of things. Quite frankly, they might not care about your product.
"Retention is more important than acquisition [sometimes]," says Alexa Lampasona, the PR lead of Super Connector Media. "Keeping the money, not just making your money, but keeping it, is important. So how can you help your clients make you still a priority? By adding value right now during a time where ... they need to pay for x-y-z. Ask yourself, how can you stay relevant? And to me, that's your focus, and that's how you're going to weather a storm."
Consumers have a better B.S. detector than ever before. If you want your business to survive, your business needs to be authentic.
"Remain true to who you are," says Tex Dworkin, a co-founder of Raddle, a virtual brainstorming community. "Now more than ever, people are craving authenticity, so be yourself. Providing real value to your customers is what matters, and what people will pay for."
Be true to yourself and your business.
"Consumers can smell insincerity from a mile out," says Mike McGregor, the founder of Janesi Comfort, which sells high-quality hospital robes. "If you believe in what you are doing and can convince others of your value, you have set a course for success. Then comes the grind."
Sell More Than a Product
If your business produces a physical product, you're not just selling an item. In a way, you're selling values.
"As an entrepreneur, you need to consider how that product affects the people who make it, the environmental impact from inception to consumption, and how your product is going to affect the ecology of the consumer's world," says McGregor.
When you create a product you're also creating a story. How did it get here, and why do you need it?
"After all this, it is important to spend significant time and energy on storytelling through social media and other means of outreach, often in bite-sized pieces of information and vocalization," adds McGregor. "With this, not only will people understand how their purchases affect their world, but also how the product reflects their values."
As business owners find out, it's very important to set aside savings in the case of an emergency.
"Be resourceful and always set aside savings for your business," said Martin Glenday, the president and founder of Moxie Media. "When my own New Orleans–based company was faced with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, we had to quickly figure out how to keep our business afloat while our city was destroyed. While briefly moving our operations to a new city and collecting survival resources for our staff, our emergency savings fund was absolutely crucial to reopening our doors just months after the storm."
Take Care of Yourself
The best piece of advice that you will ever receive is to make sure to take care of your mental and physical well-being.
"When first starting a business, you are everything," says Zach Hyman, the founder of Millennial Law. "You are the receptionist, the garbage man, the sales team, and everything else that you can imagine. When you take on that many roles, many of which were not contemplated when you first start, you can run yourself ragged."
It's a lot to do, says Hyman, so the advice he gives all new entrepreneurs is to take care of themselves and their family, because it was the best advice he received, although he says it was "also the hardest advice to follow, because when you are first starting a business is when there is the most pressure to succeed."
Get Your Contracts in Order
How many times have you seen an episode of "Shark Tank," where a hopeful entrepreneur talks about all the problems they had due to broken promises and past deals gone wrong? Protect yourself against that by getting all of your business dealings looked at by a lawyer.
"I have had countless clients, who are startups, approach me to help them get money from clients or vendors who use language in a poorly written document to avoid liability," says Hyman. "As a result, you should always make sure that your contracts, which is what governs your relationships with everyone you deal with, are well-thought-out and protect your interests while giving your vendors and interest holders comfort in working with you."
Nearly every expert wishes they started their business sooner. That doesn't mean jumping into a business full-time, but it does mean starting to do something rather than just thinking about it.
"If I could do anything differently, it would be to start sooner," says Heather Elise, a career coach and owner of Design Your Life. "I wish I wouldn't have waited so long to get started, and I also wish I would have hired someone to help get going sooner.
"We aren't born knowing how to do all the things you need to have in place to have a successful business."