11 Things Small Business Owners Wish They’d Known When They Started
by Niki Blois January 19, 2018
Last Updated: March 4, 2021
Here’s an understatement: starting a small business isn’t easy. Keeping one running is even harder. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 50% of small businesses fail in their fifth year. That’s right—only half of small businesses make it to five years.
The entrepreneurs that survive come out with battle scars and a wealth of knowledge from the lessons learned, failures weathered, and successes sustained.
Here are 11 things small business owners wish they’d known when they started.
1. Being a business owner is lonely
Starting a new business can be incredibly isolating. Otherwise well-meaning friends and family may not understand the burden you’re bearing or why you’re spending so much time on your company. They don’t understand why you work late or during the weekends, and they certainly don’t understand the complexities that you’re trying to navigate as a new business owner. On top of that, the realization that you’re the only boss can be crushing—there’s no one else to share the decision-making or planning, and that can be very lonely.
2. You need a community of support
For all the reasons outlined in number one, and a whole lot more, you need a community of support. Support is crucial when you’re starting out. Find other entrepreneurs who understand the highs and lows you’re going through. Build or join a community of people who can commiserate with you, listen to you, and get you excited about your business again. It’s not easy to go it alone—so find people who can walk with you.
3. Burnout doesn’t help anyone
Some small business owners can completely burn themselves out by ignoring their need for rest and relaxation. Don’t forget to spend time with family and friends and don’t forget to have a lazy weekend on the couch every once in a while. There will always be more work to do, so carve out time for yourself to stop and be still. Your business can’t grow—or even function—if you’re incapacitated by burnout.
4. Stress doesn’t help anyone
Take care of yourself. Starting a business is inherently stressful, so be aware of your stress levels and take steps to release stress in your life. Regular exercise, meditation, and quiet activities like knitting, doodling, or cooking can all help reduce stress. And never underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep.
5. Never stop learning
Adopt a curious mindset. Read books and apply your newfound knowledge to your business. Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions. Nine times out of ten, your “stupid question” will get you an answer you need to better guide and grow your business. Treat every meeting or encounter as an opportunity for learning. We all have different strengths and knowledge backgrounds—mining the brains of the people around you may give you insights and ideas you need. Above all, never stop learning.
6. It’s okay to ask for help
As a business owner, you may have a hero complex that prevents you from asking for help. Maybe you think others will look down on you if they find out you’re not perfect, or you feel like, as the boss, you have to figure out everything on your own. Don’t get caught up in this mindset—learn to shelve your pride and ask for help when you need it.
7. Hire people who can do stuff you can’t
In the same vein—business owners can’t do everything well. At some point, you’ll come across something that’s beyond your scope. Maybe it’s coding or analytics, or maybe you realize your managing isn’t up to scratch. You could spend hours and hours honing and building these skills—or you could learn to let go. Find someone else who’s already a master and use their talents to get the job done.
8. Rise above failure—and success
Cultivate a healthy relationship with success and failure. As a business owner, it’s so easy to equate your self-worth with how your business performs. When you have a fantastic week, you feel on top of the world. But when things get hard, you start to feel like a failure. You think about all your sacrifices—the long hours, the stress—and start to wonder if you’ve made a horrible mistake. If it goes too far, you can get trapped in self-loathing. Obviously, this is not how you want to run your business. Instead, separate yourself from the inevitable rise and fall. Learn from both success and failure and never base your own value on that of your company’s.
9. Think small
People who start their own businesses are often visionaries. They see endless possibilities and variations, and that creativity and passion can often translate into their products or services. They imagine a company that meets a hundred different needs or a service that caters to as many people as possible. But thinking big can actually hamper growth. Businesses succeed when they target their product or service to a particular niche. Instead of throwing in everything and the kitchen sink, focus on one thing and do it well. Eliminate unnecessary fluff and cut everything down to the bone. You can expand your offerings in the future, but when you’re starting out, stay small, and stay focused.
10. Invest in the hiring process
Being able to hire employees is a milestone for any small business. It means you’re growing enough to bring others onto the team. But this milestone can also be a stumbling block. The people you hire are incredibly important. A bad fit can cost you clients, dollars, reputation, and growth. So when making a hire, invest your time into making sure they’re the right person for the job. Putting in some effort at the start of the process will save you from the wasted time and stress that comes from a bad hire.
11. Build relationships
Don’t neglect relationships. You can pour unlimited time and money into making your product or service great, but if you forget to cultivate relationships, things can quickly fall apart. It’s easy to get bogged down in the details and ignore the most essential part of any business: people. Your employees, your suppliers, your network, and your customers require a positive relationship with you. Without one, you can lose the very people that make your business possible.
Starting a business may be one of the hardest projects you’ll ever undertake. And there’s no way to completely prepare for the work involved—work that impacts every aspect of your life as an owner. For so many entrepreneurs, the lessons they learn are individual and hard-won; only their experiences can teach them the truths they need to learn. As you embark on this grand experiment, be ready to learn from everything—the mistakes, the slip-ups, the wins, and all. And maybe you can pass your knowledge onto the next generation of bright-eyed entrepreneurs.
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