Ask the Experts: Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting a Business
6 min. read
Updated October 25, 2023
While it’s generally good to be forward thinking and avoid dwelling on the past, most of us have made a few key, crucial mistakes that we’d reverse if we could.
The same is true for small business owners. In every startup story, there is bound to be a wrong turn here or there. With hindsight being 20/20, it’s easy for entrepreneurs to look back on their mistakes and see exactly where they went wrong.
This isn’t meant to warn you against making your own mistakes—you’re sure to make them. However, with this in mind, it’s a smart move to look at what successful entrepreneurs wish they’d thought of before starting their businesses, what they realized too late, and which wrong moves they’d avoid now that they know better.
Here are eight lessons that the entrepreneurs from the Young Entrepreneur Council wished they’d known before they started their businesses.
You can’t know everything, and you’re bound to make some mistakes—just perhaps not these ones.
1. Your environment affects your success
It can be tempting to rush through the early stages of the startup process; you might be inclined to hire the first person who comes along, or choose the first storefront location you find that checks most of your boxes.
However, think carefully about whether or not you are making choices that come together to create the type of environment you want for your new business in the long run. “Surrounding yourself with inspiring, supportive people and environment helps boost your productivity and creativity,” says Artur Kiulian of Colab. “Not many people follow this rule, and sometimes end up with a counterproductive environment, hurting every single aspect of their business.”
2. Your personal development goals go hand-in-hand with your business goals
You might be focusing on building your business and improving your offering, but are you devoting enough time to self-improvement as well?
Joe Apfelbaum of Ajax Union advocates that entrepreneurs look to themselves first, and make sure they are on track to meet their own personal development goals, in addition to business goals. “My business is a reflection of me,” says Apfelbaum.
When he first started his business, he didn’t initially make the connection between the two. “I wish I knew how important personal development was to the growth of the business,” he says. “When I got in control of my bad eating habits, my waist shrunk—and my bottom line increased.” His advice? “Hire a coach, hire a trainer, and read and write every day.”
3. It always takes longer than you think
Starting a business isn’t typically a weekend project, but rather something you’re in for the long haul—and it’s important that you take your first steps with this in mind.
“I have founded multiple companies and mentored multiple founders; one common thread is that it always take longer than you think to grow a business,” says Karan Chaudhry of Comnplus.
Chaudhry emphasizes this to highlight the investment would-be entrepreneurs must have in their idea, as it will likely take much longer than anticipated for a business to achieve success.
“It is an important realization, as one needs to be passionate and resilient to weather the storm and keep persisting when things are rough,” he says. “It’s important to do it for the right reasons and not with a goal to get rich or famous.”
4. Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll come
“After a year and a half of hard work raising my startup’s first million, I spent it all without signing one customer,” says G. Krista Morgan of P2Binvestor.
The fatal flaw in Morgan’s plan? A lack of focus on actually talking to customers and finding their target audience. “We thought our plan was simple enough: We were going to work hard and sell stuff,” says Morgan. “The lesson? Spend as much time finding your customers as you do finding your investors.”
5. If possible, build a recurring revenue model
The popularity of subscription-based services is due in large part to the fact that they use a recurring revenue model. The appeal is obvious—who wouldn’t want to set up their business so that their customers bought and paid for their product or service regularly, time and time again?
Peter Boyd of PaperStreet Web Design says he wishes he knew about recurring revenue before he started his business. “We lucked into a recurring model after a few years and that is when the business started to really expand,” he says. “The key to growth is getting a consistent stream of recurring revenue that can be relied on, even if one-time projects slow.”
Boyd also highlights the security that establishing a recurring revenue model can provide. “It allows you to budget for the future and take more risks,” he says.
Think your business won’t lend itself to a recurring revenue model? Think again—it isn’t just for subscription boxes.
6. A clash in values makes for a bad business partnership
If you’re just starting out, you might be desperate for someone to share both in the hardships and the excitement that comes with getting your business off the ground. However, echoing suggestion number one, Anthony Davani of Kreoo/The Davani Group warns against choosing your business partners rashly and urges new entrepreneurs to look closely at their own personal values before settling on a new partner.
“Having a partner that is not aligned with your values can ruin your business,” he says. “It’s OK to have different beliefs and healthy to argue over the direction, but if you do not fundamentally share the same values, then you are set up for a disaster.”
Davani argues that a shared value set should be the deciding factor when choosing a business partner. “Values are the core foundation of who we are as individuals, which will transcend over how we run our business,” he says.
7. You’re never going to “get it”
“When I started my business, I had this unrealistic idea that after a year or so, everything would click into place and running my company would become second nature to me,” says Alyssa Conrardy of Prosper Strategies. “That couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Conrardy believes that framing your journey into entrepreneurship like this is helpful, as it prepares you for potential unforeseen hardships ahead. It also allows you to think of your experience as a small business owner as an ongoing adventure, rather than a trajectory that has a fixed end point and finite set of lessons.
“I wish I knew that building a business is a marathon, not a sprint, and that figuring out how to thrive an entrepreneur is a lifelong journey, not something you suddenly ‘get,’” she says.
8. The starting process will be over before you know it—so enjoy the ride
So, you know you’re in for a marathon adventure. With that in mind, make an effort to have fun and enjoy the view, rather than keeping your head down and pushing relentlessly forward.
“When my co-founders and I started our company, we were so busy trying to make it work that we failed to enjoy the process of actually building a company,” says Alfredo Atanacio of Uassist.ME. “I wish I knew that one of the most beautiful parts of entrepreneurship is precisely when you start the business.”