12 Entrepreneurs Share Their First-Year Lessons in Business

March 3, 2017

4:30 pm

Fresh entrepreneurs get full of optimism and pure energy, finally cutting loose of the J.O.B. grind – it all looks all too sweet. They are ready to work their days off, to tackle all the tasks in a single breath. This feeling, however, lasts mostly by the end of the first month.

The calendars are starting to get packed way too fast. Often dozens of tasks are behind schedule. And then, when a string of sleepless nights comes to collect is debt (in the form a sound mind), losing control starts to kick in. On top of that, the failures occur, and the ups start being followed by many downs. And it’s a make-or-break crossroad.

To gather thoughts and insights of people who have survived their first years successfully, we approached some great entrepreneurs and asked them to share their experiences.

Here are their insights:

1. “Focus on One Target Group.”

“With our first-year lessons, we learned not to sell Firstbird to everyone, but rather stay focused on one target group that fits our strategy and product. The roughest part was to agree with a clear vision and picture of what we want our company to become in the future. Working on targeting a particular market has helped us grow to the company size we are proud of today. To progress, we need to listen to our customers precisely and continuously.”

~Matthias Wolf Founder & COO of Firstbird.

2. “Learn to Work on Your Business, Not in It.”

“The biggest of the first-year lessons I learned is to take ups and down in stride and focus on the long term. I tried to work “on my business” and not “in my business.” Working like this kept me from taking “no’s” personally and to learn from them to enhance my services. Through selective networking, I built a good referral base and offered as many good referrals as I received.”

~Evan Thompson, CEO of Evan Thompson & Associates.

3. “The More Uncomfortable the Situation, the More Value You’ll Get.”

“The more uncomfortable the situation, the more value you’ll get out of it. Taking those leaps of meeting new people and putting yourself out there provide valuable lessons and more often than not, they can turn into a success such as a sale or partnership.”

~Nick Lucs, owner at Social Nickel.

4. “I Saw the Importance of Non-Production Departments.”

“I thought that having the best developers in the industry guarantees the company’s success. It turns out, there is a lot you have to do in addition to just providing your core services. From marketing and sales to accounting and customer care, from hiring to staff retention — this list is long. I dedicated my first year to learning the importance of the not-so-core activities.”

~Roman Korzh is a Chief Partnership Officer of Zfort Group.

5. “Grow, Focus and Let Others Help You.”

“In my first year online, I learned you always got to learn new stuff, grow, even if it’s not from your industry and even if you think that you know everything. Also, it’ important to never lose your vision or the end goal. Have a plan to achieve the goal/s, and don’t stretch everywhere — concentrate on one thing at a time. Lastly, you can’t do all by yourself; the day will come when you will need to get help and trust others. However, choose your partners and employees carefully.”

~James Weber, Founder and Chief Editor of the blog MakeMoneyInLife.com

6. “Long Hours Don’t Bring More Profit.”

“My beginner’s mistake was that I thought quantity exceeds quality. Since in the first year we have had fewer employees than we needed, they all had to do different tasks – tasks they were not specialized in. Our work week was longer than 40 hours – every other Saturday was a workday so that we could make up for all the work that was not done during the week. Only after realizing that fresh employees, exclusively specialized in their fields, are more productive, could we move forward and do our work better. This realization helped me grow my business.”

~Dejan Popović, CEO, and founder of PopArt Studio.

7. “Take a Gamble on Yourself.”

“Looking back to my first year makes me think of one important advice: take a gamble on yourself. Most business owners don’t do that. This leads to waiting WAY too long to jump into becoming an entrepreneur – I know I did!”

~John Rampton, CEO of Due.

8. “Look for Talent, Instead of Hiring When in Need.”

“I once heard “Companies are either short on money or short on people.” This certainly was the case of our bootstrapped startup during our first year. We made the mistake of hiring when there is a need, rather than looking for talent in advance of our growth. Nowadays, we build ‘talent pools’ as a continuous team effort. Everyone can import potential candidates into the talent pools for later reference. We develop a relationship with these possible hires, much like what you do with sales leads. By the time our budget is on track, we know who to invite for an interview and do not need to go through months of recruitment work. Pro-active hiring is what we’d like to call it.”

~Perry Oostdam, co-founder of Recruitee.

9. “Learn the Value of Giving.”

“The most significant lesson that I found out during my first year running a business was the importance of giving. Rather than trying to compete with other businesses, find ways to help them out. Rather than limiting the amount of support you give your customers/readers, go the extra mile. The more that I do to help others (even those that may appear to be competitors) the more I receive in money, publicity, and reputation. And it’s amazing how small most industry circles are — you don’t have to give/connect/share for very long before establishing yourself as an industry leader.”

~Rob Erich, the founder of the blog MoneyNomad.com

10. “Befriend the Influencers.”

“The biggest wins that I have benefited from in the first year of running my online business were from industry influencers. It was at a time I didn’t have much exposure, but I managed to get them to share my content. My lesson is –  spark as many conversations as you can. Become friends with influencers in your industry. If you ever want to promote anything, these are the people you’d want to be asking to share your content. And, if you are lucky and persistent enough, your new friends are likely to share it. This means you have a higher chance of success and to stand out from the crowd instead of just being another random website on the internet.”

~Elliott Davidson, the founder of the blog WPTeardown.com

11. “Don’t Try to Please Everyone.”

“In the beginning, I would take everyone’s feedback and make changes to my product right away. I tried too hard to please everyone, which is impossible. I’ve learned to get feedback, but then make the best overall decision for the business, even though not everyone will like it. You have to make your decisions, live with the results – negative or positive – and learn from them.”

~Michael Deahn, VP of Marketing at Ximble.

12. “It’s Not All About the Backlinks!”

“One of the most important first-year lessons I learned early this year is that the number of backlinks your site has does not matter that much anymore. Instead, if you want to rank high on Goole search results “topical depth” is what you should concentrate on. Aki from MarketMuse published a fantastic study with Neil Patel which showed the value of the topic depth of your website, in other words – how authoritative are you about your topic? How deep do you go into all nuances and sub-topics of your field in your blog post? The deeper you go, and the more you cover around your particular niche, the higher Google will think of you. Read the study; it’s amazing stuff!”

~Dmitry Dragilev, Founder, and CEO of JustReachOut.io and PRThatConverts.

Conclusion

You might’ve found yourself in one of the mistakes mentioned above. The first year brings out of us many different faces and reactions, all entirely human and justifiable. I know most of us are embarrassed by the things that went wrong.

The thing is, you have to get up, dust yourself off and – if you are lucky enough – share your mistakes publicly. This way, we could support each other in avoiding the gruesome beginner’s mistakes. No business owner is measured by the mistakes made, but by the lessons learned and taught.

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Neil is the founder of JobRack. He is a digital nomad and has created multiple SaaS solutions to help small and medium businesses with lead generation and funnel building. His current focus is helping businesses create better growth systems.

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