19 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My Business

small business advice

I just liked the picture of the blue fish…

Nineteen is a pretty random number, but what better compliment to a numbered list than such? A week or so ago, I got my smack on when I talked about theory versus teaching. One of my readers left a comment that in turn sparked today’s post – an expansion on the idea that we are all in business to make money (otherwise, it’s a hobby). From the inception of RedheadWriting and my first amateur-hour website to where I am today, there’s a rap sheet filled with “shit I wish I knew.” So today, there’s less intro and more meat because I’m short on sleep (after a client’s raging success) and I need to get to the work that puts food in the dog dishes and funds bicycles that hang from hooks on my wall. Priorities, y’know? Maybe you’ll find something in here that’s of value to you, and I fully expect that y’all will share your own tips. After all, I get my best ideas from you.

  1. Trade is crap. It’s a very fine line and there’s little margin for error. Someone always ends up getting the short end of the stick. If you’re looking for ways to build a portfolio, I think it’s better to quietly do work for pennies on the dollar and later raise your rates than give it away for something that’s unequal in value.
  2. You’re not a freelancer. You own a business. Start treating what you do like a business from day 1 because sooner or later, you’re going to wish you had.
  3. Pick a ditch to die in. Take a stand. Believe in something. Being wishy washy gets you nowhere. Grow a pair. When you stop caring about the people who will never like you, the coolest thing happens: you find the people who actually do.
  4. Your target customer is not “everyone.” I watched roughly twenty six-minute pitches from startups on the DEMO Conference live feed this week, and not one startup stood up on stage and said that “everyone” was their target customer. Take a hint.
  5. There will always be naysayers. If everyone agrees with you, you’re doing it wrong. But then again, if everyone disagrees with you, you just might be doing it wrong, too.
  6. Bank accounts are not piggy banks. Make your business revenue hard to access. You’ll piss away a lot less and have a lot more to invest in your business. (Tacos are not investments unless your awesome customer likes tacos for lunch.)
  7. Stop doing it on the cheap. There’s a way to get anything you need at a variety of prices. Stop shopping on the clearance rack. Understand that there’s a difference between a great value and cheap. One’s worth having, one’s not.
  8. You need a team. Every successful entrepreneur has a carefully selected team surrounding them. I wish I stopped thinking I could do everything myself a looooooooooong time ago. Don’t believe me? There’s never been a single person to win an award who hasn’t thanked someone. Chew on that. Start thinking of who you’ll thank when that day comes.
  9. Some people just don’t give a shit. From contractors to clients, vendors to the asshole meter maid who just ticketed your car…people will screw you, If you assume everyone is in business to do good business, you’re wrong. Start your business on planet Earth with real-world expectations and get off Space Mountain.
  10. Karma’s a bitch. No matter where you live, the business community is small. Think you can hide from someone you hosed? Think again. What comes around goes around, and it’s glaringly obvious in the professional world. Keep that in mind the next time you think people won’t notice.
  11. A business plan is a living entity. It’s not something you throw down on a Word doc and file away in a folder called “Company Docs.” You need to feed it. Ask it for feedback. In order to have your business grow, you need to be in a constant state of “what can we do today and what do we need to do to make those things happen?” The only place static belongs on your AM radio dial.
  12. Listen more than you speak. (I have nothing to say on this except that I’m still working on this.)
  13. Failure is always an option. And if you learn to fail faster, you can actually get on to the stuff that works toot-suite. Some things just really need to die.
  14. The most important people in your business are other people. They’re not your developers or bookkeeper. Sure as hell isn’t your CEO or biz dev dude. It’s The Others (in a non-LOST sense). Your advocates, customers…everyone you meet in the grocery store checkout line or those you play softball with on Thursdays. Your kids, your spouse, your friends. Don’t ever forget that, because they’re the reason you’re so damn lucky.
  15. YOU are your first customer each day. If you ignore your blog, your workout, your bike ride, your mother…you’re letting your business run you and not the other way around. Pay yourself first. You’ll get to everyone else soon enough.
  16. Skip the buzzwords. You’re a smart human being and don’t need them. Speak English (or your language of choice).
  17. You don’t want every piece of business that walks through your door. Standards are important. And yeah, sometimes we take business because our business is young and food needs to show up on the dinner table. But stick to your standards. For me, the best clients are those who understand who they are and who they want to reach. The worst ones expect me to be a savior of sorts. I can build strategies, but I can’t perform miracles.
  18. Scope creep sucks. It’s got two sides: clients who keep adding on to projects and when you keep saying yes to things. There is nothing wrong with saying no or that what a customer wants will cost additional money. You run a business, not a free clinic.
  19. Don’t be Joe’s Mortuary and Fine Sausage Emporium. You don’t do everything. You’re not good at everything. Pick your business ditch to die in when it comes to your services. No one wants to buy sausage from a mortuary. I don’t want to buy a 36-floor commercial office building from my hairdresser. Say what you do, be clear about it, and align yourself with those who can bring value to your clients without you having to do it all.

And now, it’s your turn…and I can’t wait to hear what you have to say.

128 comments
jengotti
jengotti

Rockin'! Needed to hear this: awesome reminders to stand in my power. Thanks!!!

Walshy
Walshy

AWESOME as always Erika. Just as usual, a straight up, tell it like it is NO BULLSHIT post! Love it.

netmeg
netmeg

"Don't shit where you eat."  Seriously. Ever. Don't do it. No matter what. 

clear_mirror
clear_mirror

Numbers 3 and 19 are maybe the most important ones of these. If you don't pick a ditch to die in - and then commit to that ditch with everything you've got - you never get the chance to fail at the other points, because you will have failed already. If you don't have enough conviction in your own business, how can you expect others to line up?

JamesKelsey
JamesKelsey

Brilliant!  As an artist, I'm in a very strange "business", and oftentimes business advice doesn't 'fit' what I do and create.  Much of these 19 points hit home for me!


Not to mention that 19 is a prime number.  :-)

mainardjason
mainardjason

Why would your customers buy your shit if you would n't buy your shit? Got to have the conviction! I love the blog, so I guess I dig your shit! Thanks Erika 

LaurenLund
LaurenLund

Erika! I'm new to finding you and I must say that I absolutely loved this.

"What can we do today and what do we need to do to make those things happen?" - Sometimes the simplest of questions are the most important! Thanks girl.

aleshabishop
aleshabishop

Especially love #15. Thank you I needed that.

RitaNorton
RitaNorton

Start your business on planet Earth with real-world expectations and get off Space Mountain. This really resonates with me.  Thank you for your post - my business is about a year old and and I think the best lesson I have learned is asking myself "am I running a business or is this a hobby."  I have to keep that in mind when I get easily sidetracked with a consistent snowball of distractions - namely myself, kids, the cat, and me!

Susan Mason
Susan Mason

Ericka, you are right on...and so entertaining about it! I must thank my friend Jeff Goldberg for posting a link to your blog, and providing a thoroughly entertaining introduction to you!

Tim Sparks
Tim Sparks

Dang. This is a great post. One I wish I would have read a while back haha.

Robin Donnelly
Robin Donnelly

This is hilarious! Love this post! I had a business. Loved what we did, what we stood for, how we did it and the passion and the love of the job just got sucked right out of us! When we sold, I never looked back! Loving life and will never be an entrepreneur again! I would much rather punch a clock and leave that shit there when I leave! Anyone that thinks owning your own business is "all that", is a moron.

Jen Schaus
Jen Schaus

Just reading through a few of these after the seminar on Friday. My favorite...failure is always an option! You learn best from your mistakes. Don't be afraid to make them!

RR_Carlton
RR_Carlton

I just finished reading Erika's contribution on page 28 in the June 2012 issue of Entrepreneur magazine and loved the viewpoint. So I had to go to redheadwriting.com and read more! I am so glad I did! I got off the ledge too as I read this post! I LOL as I shared this list with my fellow self-employed.  Love the "theory vs teaching" post! I've been lectured to quite a bit about the topic of giving away my stuff! Bravo! Erika!

PreventionWorks2
PreventionWorks2

Just stumbled across this blog while looking for something else---you really are a genius at SEO (Search Engine Optimization--I had to look up what SEO stood for) & for telling it like it is. Bravo, Ms. Erika Napoletano. Bravo! FYI - I found your blog when I googled "b1tch slap" because I desperately wanted/needed to BS, well, a biotch & your hilarious, irreverent & intelligent blog made me laugh, talked me off the edge & allowed me to save my precious time & energy on something a lot more worthwhile.

Gerald Busca
Gerald Busca

I like it. Ilike the tips. I like the style. I love the "toot-suite" on piont 13 so cute lady... Gérald

Taryn Lohr
Taryn Lohr

Wow this couldn't have come at a better time! I just started working from home on my business and have had my struggles. These tips were just what I needed- THANK YOU!

Alison Richards
Alison Richards

I love this post. I just re-read it for the third time. Thanks!

Dannyabalos64
Dannyabalos64

Wow Erika, that is a great list, I'm going to print that and keep it with me I love the attitude as well You rock baby! Danny

Prateek Modi
Prateek Modi

I definitely need to be more of a team playa yo! Excellent list Erika.

John Spence
John Spence

You NAILED it!!!!!!!!!!!! I will add --- be VERY careful before you take on a partner. Even the best partnership are hard to maintain in troubled time -- or when you are making a ton of money. If at all possible - keep 100% ownership. YES - you MUST have a great team -- but once a team member becomes a "partner" -- an OWNER -- things change.

Jakbidness
Jakbidness

You are a badass. But I have a feeling you know that already.

The Redhead
The Redhead

Thanks for stopping by! Appreciate it.

Dnow
Dnow

I don't have a number 20 but I just got here and this is good stuff

Sherree W.
Sherree W.

Words to live by for a new biz owner like myself. I'm printing this out and hanging it on the wall.  Awesome.

Kelly Whalen
Kelly Whalen

Adore this list. I might just print it out and have it tattooed on my forearm. I especially need the reminder to put myself first. Making plans to head to the gym tomorrow-it's vital for my sanity and I've been ignoring it.

Kemya Scott
Kemya Scott

Yeah Erika! I just shook my head "yes" at every single one! I fought my instinct and took a client because my biz is young, knowing he was going to be a handful (#17). Now he has a serious case of #18 and he stayed true to being a #9. I needed that kick in the butt, thank you! I'm printing this article and taping it to my desk right now as a reminder. And kudos to you, so glad to see your column in (my fave) Entrepreneur Mag :-) 

Marjorie Clayman
Marjorie Clayman

Hi Erika, This post is, as it happens, somewhat similar to a post I wrote not long ago about Social Media needing to grow up. Our sentiments are the same - just 2 sides of one coin. What I really like about your post, though, is that you expand beyond what you should have known about Social Media and talk about the real world, personal life of someone who owns a business. Anyone, whether they work hard or own a business, needs to make sure that they are taking care of themselves. It's like that old warning you get on a plane. When the oxygen masks come down, get yours on first, then help the kids. If you aren't breathing, you won't be able to do anything else. Excellent advice all the way around here. I hope people listen to you!

Charles McCool
Charles McCool

A couple of your items touch upon it but OVERDELIVER should be in the mantra of every small business.

Alt0182
Alt0182

"Pick a Ditch..." just works in so many ways. Add a row-boat ore to the back of the head and it's a real motivator. It can also serve as a not so gentle warning to those around you. What? Like you don't keep the trunk of your car lined with plastic?

Cathie Tufnail
Cathie Tufnail

I too like the picture of the blue fish! And the article was entertaining and useful. Bonus :-)

Kris Vockler
Kris Vockler

Holy Crap, you speaketh the truth. I must read more. :)

The Redhead
The Redhead

I think your gut plays a big role in this particular scenario. There's nothing wrong with determination, but if you're putting all of your energy into something that's..well, not going to work, it's best to call it quits and refocus on something that has a stronger foothold. I wish there were a magic equation or steadfast rule for when to throw the towel in, but I don't think there is! I'm glad you asked the question, however. Thanks for un-lurking :)

RM Social Media Management
RM Social Media Management

Liked this so much i'm gonna stop lurking and ask a question. I've been bothering everyone I know lately about # 13. Clearly knowing when to quit is a massive asset in business. But so, I keep being told, is determination and dogged persistence. If you've figured this one out along the way, a future post on how you know when to dump the persistence and let it die, would be awesome!

Pheonix
Pheonix

Perfect for my week - working on market segments I serve & the criteria that comes with each.

Kneale Mann
Kneale Mann

Thanks for the kick in the ass, I mean, butt, I mean, backside.

Steve Curtin
Steve Curtin

Erika, thank for the animated post. It's obvious that you've learned from experience... This is a good list. I would add that you should either evolve into business for yourself (i.e., nights and weekends) while keeping your 9-5 job to pay the bills, saving 3x as much as you think you'll need (most start-ups are woefully underfunded), or securing a decent line of credit BEFORE you take the plunge (while you can still demonstrate the stability of a 9-5er). Thanks for the reality check - with the usual snark... ; )

Patty
Patty

I love your blog posts Erica, first because they ALWAYS make me laugh... then they ALWAYS smack me up beside the head and make me think... and lastly because they ALWAYS make me apply something I read to either make a change even if the change is to my mindset but still a change and somehow that change always is a help to my business or to me personally but ALWAYS something I needed to hear. Thank you, I appreciate you daying what I need to hear in a way I needed to hear it. You rock Erica! Patty Farmer "The Networking CEO" Dallas, TX

Angel
Angel

Love it x 19 #priceless

HeatherO
HeatherO

Amen Sister! Great list, and I would only add "Be You and do something you love to do". Being someone else just to please others is exhausting and futile. Doing a job you hate won't serve you or others very well for very long.

Brenda Garcia
Brenda Garcia

A good reminder of "why did I get into business? Oh, yeah, that's right...". Glad to see that others have the same struggles I do. Your blunt assertiveness is refreshing and, being a naturally assertive (ok, sometimes bitchy) person, it reminds me that I'm often not assertive when I really should be!

Mitch Tublin
Mitch Tublin

Erika, You are spot on and I see so much of each of these with my clients from scope creep to pick a ditch. You hit home in every category. Great post! Mitch

Trackbacks

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