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In the years of being the CEO of my company, I have certainly faced my fair share of ups and downs. Before my digital marketing agency was operating in a renovated penthouse with 12 employees, it was just me working out of my best friend’s mother’s living room. I have come a long way over the past six years, but it wasn’t without a lot of stress and confusion.
In the startup world, many people talk about and fear “the valley of death,” which is really just an artistic term to describe the period of time in which a company is trying to become profitable. Of course, this is a valid fear given that 80 percent of small business fail within their first 18 months. But if you are anything like me, statistics like this are not enough to kill the entrepreneurial spirit within you!
If you are a business owner and fear the potential downfalls that lie in your company’s future, keep reading. I have four great tips that are sure to help you navigate the rollercoaster that is entrepreneurship.
Seek out a mentor
In my opinion, a mentor is one of the most powerful assets a new business owner could ever have. Because they have been in the business world longer, they have made more mistakes in their careers than you. This is so valuable because from each mistake, they have learned a valuable lesson, and by having those lessons passed on to you, it is easier to avoid making the same mistakes. If for any reason you do find yourself in a similar situation as your mentor once did, they are by your side ready to offer you solutions, rather than criticism.
Oprah Winfrey said, “A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” I couldn’t agree more with that statement. Along the entrepreneurial journey, it is very easy to get down on yourself and feel that fire within you burn out. A true mentor will throw some gasoline on that fire and will never let you give up.
Regardless of what industry you operate in, a mentor is a must. If you are asking yourself, “Well, where am I suppose to find a mentor?” the first place I suggest you look is LinkedIn. With so many professionals in the platform’s vast network, it is easy to contact individuals who you feel could be a great role model or mentor for you.
Hire employees who believe in you
One thing is for sure, my company would not be where it is today without every member of my team. As your company attracts more and more clientele, you will need to start hiring employees who believe in you and your company’s mission. Since every employee represents what your company stands for and what the future of your company looks like, it is of the utmost importance to ensure that every hire is as driven and motivated as you.
Because startups typically don’t have many employees, every individual in your company carries a lot of weight. Their productivity, attitude and professionalism set the overall tone for your company. The best way to ensure they are aware of your expectations is to ingrain them within your employees from the get-go. At my company, I have five values that I expect every employee to know and follow. By doing so, I am confident that my employees are exhibiting good citizenship behavior and are helping brand the company positively.
On a personal note, I highly recommend hiring young, college graduates for your startup. Being in their 20s and coming out of college, they are eager to learn and push your company forward. Moreover, they are technologically literate and know the value of innovation in the workplace. So, the next time you are digging through resumes or LinkedIn profiles, don’t discredit the young college graduates!
Implement agile learning
Originally a term used by content creators, agile learning refers to a process of constant trial and error. Instead of making a single business plan that you follow for your first year of business, try making plans that can constantly be reinvented and improved! The benefits of using this cyclical process include reduced risk, more accurate metrics and increased employee morale.
Because you are constantly testing new strategies and processes, you are clearly checking in on specific projects or the entire business organization more consistently. This keeps you from becoming complacent and also results in the collection of more data. I believe that the more accurate your reports are and the more data points you have, the better! It allows you to predict the profitability of your company, which is a huge plus when trying to get out of the “valley of death.”
The biggest challenge when it comes to agile implementation is to overcome the fear of failure. In the process of testing out new strategies, naturally there will be ones that succeed beyond your expectations and others that fall flat. The point of the process is to find the ways that work and not worry about the failures you encountered along the way.
Be realistic, not dramatic
On the note of failure, you cannot allow yourself to let it dim your confidence. I can recall many moments in my career when I said to myself, “What did I get myself into to?” or “Am I really cut out to be a CEO?” What got me through those moments when I lacked confidence was shifting my perspective. Instead of thinking every mishap I ran into meant my company was going to fail, I sat down and drew up logical solutions to dig myself out of the hole.
This simple action is what separates the companies that fail from the ones that succeed. Trust me, I know how scary it can be as the little fish in the big pond, but you have to believe that you are capable of being the biggest fish in that pond one day. Seek help from your mentor and support from your friends and family. Your network is your worth, so leverage it in times of need.
If starting up was simple, everyone would have their own business. The best thing to do before you embark on your entrepreneurial journey is to recognize the potential downfalls and create a plan to avoid and minimize them. For me, having a mentor, great employees, an agile business model and a realistic mindset made all the difference.
I can honestly say that these four pillars of success are what led my company to be part of the 20 percent that make it well beyond the first 18 months. I’m sure that these (in tandem with your drive and dedication) will ensure that your business not only survives, but thrives.