I don't know about you, but when I was a kid, I didn't have much of an interest in becoming a business owner.
I was way too involved in everything sports and I probably invested a little more than I should have in baseball cards – dang, Jose Canseco!
My childhood was focused on the here and now.
I mean, come on, when was the last time you asked a kid what they're interested in and they replied:
“I'd like to build a business from scratch, write articles for major publications, and ponder the wonders of dollar-cost averaging and compound interest!“
In college I studied finance and afterward thought it'd probably be a good idea to put that knowledge to good use.
Eventually, I started my own financial services firm and ventured into the sea of entrepreneurial opportunities.
Over the years, I learned a lot of lessons I wish I knew when I started my first business. Some of those lessons I learned the hard way, and others I thankfully realized before they sunk my ship.
Here are some of the top lessons I learned. Read them, let them soak in, and don't learn these the hard way!
1. Don't Dive Head First into Business Ownership
You may not like your day job. You may not like your boss. You may not like your pay! But that doesn't mean you should suddenly quit your job.
On the contrary, you should test out business ideas on the side that may result in some income. There are all kinds of home-based business ideas that are worth considering.
Sometimes I'll receive emails from financial advisors who are wondering how they can start their own practice like I did. What they fail to realize – and I let them know right away – is that I didn't start suddenly. I gained experience over time working with and for others.
Can you imagine starting as a restaurant owner with no restaurant experience? Or how about as a general contractor with no construction experience? Forget about it!
Don't dive head first into business ownership. Instead, learn the craft from those who know it best and take what you learn to slowly build your own dream job. Learn how to be a great employee first . . . you can find some great insights over at the Office Depot Business Solutions Center along with all kinds of tips on topics relevant to your business of choice.
2. Don't Hit Your Head on the Overhead
Profit equals your income minus your expenses. As a business owner, you must consider your expenses. Don't let your expenses smack you on the head and knock you out.
I remember at my old brokerage firm they had all kinds of gadgets and plush furnishings: expensive pictures on the walls, a streaming live quote system, and lots of office space. It was glorious.
But was it necessary? No. Did I think that at first? Not exactly.
When I started my own business, we needed a sign for the building. My eyes lit up when I saw a beautiful LED sign with flashing lights. Fancy, fancy. But there was a catch. You guessed it, it cost 30 grand.
While it was tempting to mimic the practices of my old brokerage firm, you know what I said? “No way!”
I had no idea anything could cost that much money. It would have been good to know that when I started my business, but I managed to find a much cheaper but professional-looking sign for a little over $3,000.
3. Become the Jack of Many Trades
Let's say you want to start a business as an electrician. Do you think you'll only have to fix breaker boxes, rewire homes, and install new lighting fixtures? Uh, no.
In addition to your electrician expertise, you'll need to learn many more skills like how to balance the books, market your business to the elite, collect payments from those who are unfortunately late, and have the social skills necessary to ensure your customers turn into repeat customers.
But don't worry. You can always hire accountants, secretaries, and other professionals to help you in your business. But be careful, if you do so you'll quickly learn that you need to develop interview and hiring skills – plus your overhead will be looking a little more overwhelming.
Some of the best small business advice I can give you is to prepare yourself for continual learning. It's not enough to learn one specific trade, start your business, and then neglect your taxes because you're “not good with numbers.” Not before long, you might have men in black suits knocking on your door. Don't let that happen.
4. Automate Everything Possible
While it's important to understand all the aspects of running a business, your goal should be to automate as much of it as possible.
Find ways to cut down on the paperwork, have payments automatically deposit into your bank accounts, and create scheduled reminders to help you stay on track.
A big part of automation is simplification. Try to find the simplest way to get from point A to point B. Don't complicate things. Find ways to simplify as much of a project as possible.
5. Find Ways to Stay Productive
The Office Depot Business Solutions Center has some fantastic productivity articles that can help you streamline your business.
One of my favorites is 5 Email Habits to Steal From the World's Busiest People. I prefer to make a daily to-do list of my five most important items – and many times I get ideas of what to do next by reading through my email.
Another key to stay productive is to have a good support team. Find people who will hold you accountable to get things done. I don't know about you, but sometimes I work best under pressure – and I keep my agenda full so I don't slack off.
I wish I solidified these small business tips much earlier in my career, but now that I have them in place, I'd say I'm doing a pretty good job running my business.
Take these ideas to heart.
Always look for ways to improve yourself and your business. Keep doors open and consider new opportunities.
Think like an entrepreneur! You'll be glad you did.