By Briana Morgaine
There’s nothing quite like having a mentor to guide you while you undergo the process of starting a business.
While we’d certainly recommend having a real-life mentor who can advise you on the ins and outs of your business specifically, we’re also advocates for turning to successful business owners en masse and mining their advice and experience. Where better to turn than the entrepreneurs at the YEC?
This time, rather than looking at things they wished they’d known before starting their businesses, we wanted to know: What tangible things do successful entrepreneurs wish they’d actually done before they launched their new businesses?
Here are the key takeaways from entrepreneurs who have been there. Take these essential steps before you start your business, and you’ll be better prepared to grow and take on challenges down the road. You might not yet have a personal mentor of your own, but by following the advice of these 10 successful entrepreneurs, you’ll be better prepared to successfully start your business.
1. Created a business organization chart that illustrates key roles
When you started your business, it was probably just you—and maybe your business partner or a key investor. You probably didn’t give much thought to who would fill important roles down the road. That’s fine and expected. But if this sounds like you, it’s time to turn your attention to mapping out what roles you’ll need to fill over the next few years (and you may want to do this even if you haven’t started your business yet).
“An organization chart is so important when beginning a business,” says Tommy Mello of A1 Garage Door Repair. “The proper way to set this up is to identify all of the people you will need in the next two years, describe the role of the job, and establish a hierarchy for the flow.” Mello acknowledges that while one person may “take four of the roles to start,” it’s important for the founder to have a clear understanding of what the roles are, and who will fill them. While you may eventually split roles up as you grow, having a plan from the start will help clarify the essential roles within your business.
2. Helped more people
“Starting a business made me realize the importance of relationships, and the best way to build a relationship is to help someone achieve something meaningful,” says Douglas Hutchings of Picasolar. As entrepreneurship can, in many ways, be relatively self-serving, Hutchings advocates that entrepreneurs maintain a focus toward helping others. This can mean making sure your business is geared toward serving a greater purpose, making sure that you do work within your local community, or even simply making sure your business solves a real pain point.
Hutchings has refocused and now ranks helping others as a high priority, but he wishes he’d spent more time focusing on this from the start. “Goodwill is like a piggy bank: You can’t take anything out if you don’t put anything in,” he says. “It’s a big focus now, but I wish I would have helped more people.”
3. Found a team of mentors
One mentor is great—but it might not be enough. Nicole Munoz of Start Ranking Now says she wishes she’d sought out multiple mentors to help her through the process of starting her business. “I had a mentor when I first started my business, but now I realize I needed a team of mentors,” she says. Having mentors isn’t just about having someone to advise you on the nuts and bolts of starting a business; Munoz also speaks to the fact that she wishes she’d sought out mentors to help enhance her skill set in areas where she was less strong.
“While it’s great to have a mentor who has been in your shoes and can help guide you through the vagaries of starting a business, you also need mentors with skills in areas you might lack,” she says. “A team of mentors will help you make better, more well-rounded business decisions than a single mentor could.”
4. Gained more diverse work experience
The more varied the jobs you’ve held and companies you’ve worked for, the more prepared you’ll potentially be when it comes to starting your own business. Why? You’ll simply have more insight into how businesses are run (both good insight and perhaps cautionary tales).
“Don’t get me wrong: You can never have enough experience or knowledge to prepare you for starting a business,” says Billy Ono of Kami Speed. “However, dabbling in different roles before starting a business not only gives you good insight into how a company works, but builds up an understanding of how it is to be on the other side of the table.” Ono also speaks to the fact that this will help when it comes to “learning how to deal with people,” as you’ll have had a larger breadth of business relationships to fall back on.
5. Thought more about cash flow
JT Allen of myFootpath LLC wasn’t the first entrepreneur to ignore cash flow when he first started his business—and he certainly won’t be the last. “When I first started my company, I was chasing investment,” says Allen. “I had beautiful PowerPoint presentations and spreadsheet forecasts. But, I didn’t have my first customers or a clear path to [positive] cash flow.”
Allen ultimately refocused his strategy and now pays more attention to cash flow, but he wishes he’d done so from the start. “When I learned that lesson—the cash is what matters in a budding business—my focus changed for the better,” he says. “We’ve been much more successful as a company ever since.”
6. Taken a vacation
When was the last time you took some time off? Taking a vacation is one thing entrepreneurs wish they’d done before starting their businesses, as the pressure of starting a business means it might be awhile before you’ll have the chance to take one! “Running a business is very demanding of your time,” says Diego Orjuela of Cables & Sensors, LLC. “It will consume you for years and it will be seldom that you can take a ‘true’ vacation.”
Orjuela also adds that even if you do get the chance for a vacation, during the early days of running your business you’ll likely still be “on” even while you’re away from the office. “Taking time off when you are running a business will require that you keep connected and thinking about work,” he explains. “Take a real vacation before you become an entrepreneur—you will need it.”
7. Made their first hire sooner rather than later
As an entrepreneur, you’ll wear many hats—but it’s advisable to bring someone on as soon as you’re able to do so. Not only will it help lighten your workload, but as an entrepreneur, managing others can be a valuable teacher. “You will be forced to be a manager and boss in the early days of the business,” says Daisy Jing of Banish. “Making your first hire will teach you how to manage, communicate, set expectations, hire, and fire.”
According to Jing, managing employees has other applicable lessons. “It will also teach you how to train someone, which is crucial in scaling your business,” she says. “You’ll learn how to delegate and ‘let go’ of certain aspects.”
Jing wishes she’d hired sooner, not only for the added help but in terms of the business lessons gained from managing employees. “If I did this as soon as possible, I know that it could’ve changed my mindset for growing the business,” she says.
8. Connected socially with other entrepreneurs
“It can get pretty lonely running a business, and even your normal group of friends isn’t going to know much about how you feel,” explains Matt Doyle of Excel Builders. “It’s important that you have a network of entrepreneurs you can turn to for advice and just some understanding.” Doyle believes that having this kind of support when he was starting his business “would have made a big difference,” and thinks it’s an important thing for new entrepreneurs to have in place.
If you don’t regularly meet other entrepreneurs, consider joining a Meetup group, or perhaps working at a co-working space. You’ll be able to build connections with other entrepreneurs, who will be able to offer advice, make connections, and serve as an understanding support system.
9. Done even more research
We can’t say it enough: Without proper idea validation, an understanding of your target market, and some serious market research, your business is going to have a very hard time being successful. Echoing this, Beth Doane of Main & Rose advocates for going above and beyond, and advises new entrepreneurs to do more research than they think is necessary. “Now I know to do more homework than I think I need to before I start a new business—I just wish I had known this sooner,” she says.
According to Doane, it’s impossible to go into a new business knowing too much. “You can never do too much research before starting a new venture,” she says. “You have to not only understand your market and your competitors, but also what changes and shifts could happen in an instant.”
10. Streamlined their supply chain and prepared for scaling the business
While unexpected growth seems like a win in anyone’s book, it can catch new business owners by surprise. “You can’t always anticipate when your business is going to be a huge success,” says Firas Kittaneh of Amerisleep. “However, there’s a huge opportunity cost when sales skyrocket and your manufacturing resources are unable to scale with your growing business.”
So, it’s advisable to have a plan in place from day one that gives you a sense of how you’ll handle an increase in business, in terms of scaling and streamlining your supply chain to accommodate growth.
“I always recommend to new business owners that they figure out a way, in advance, to simplify their production process and ensure their inventory is always stocked,” says Kittaneh.