If I could get into my DeLorean and travel back in time to when I first started my business, here is what I would have told myself:
Lesson 1: Narrow your target market
Don’t try to do everything for everyone. You’ll end up doing a bunch of stuff you don’t enjoy doing and you’ll get stuck on a treadmill of having to learn new stuff for every client. Focus on a core of similar clients and you won’t have to start from scratch each time.
Lesson 2: Invest early
A free blog and email address work fine at the very beginning. Those services are a great way to get started easily. But free stuff has its limits and you’ll spend a ton of time back-filling to correct problems when those services break.
Lesson 3: Invest in the right things
You don’t need all those business cards if you’re going to focus on non-local/online clients. You invested in some really valuable information and systems but it happened later than it should have. Build your knowledge-base first.
Lesson 4: Take time off
Starting and growing a business takes time and effort. But too much time and effort will burn you out. Striking a balance between work and non-work will be toughest challenge you will face. Schedule both and stick to it.
Lesson 5: Trust your instincts
You know ahead of time when a customer is about to screw you or when you should pull the trigger on an idea. Those instincts may be hard to quantify but they are correct 99% of the time. Trust them. Follow them.
Lesson 6: Prepare for success
You’ll be more successful faster than you realize. But that success will hurt: You’ll be overwhelmed with work and your end-of-year tax bill will be higher than expected. Success is great but it comes at a price if you’re not ready for it.
Lesson 7: Differentiate early
Think very carefully about your point of difference and highlight it in everything you do. Take a week off and think about your point of difference full-time. The revenue you miss from that week will be more than made up for in the months and years to come as you outpace your competition.
Lesson 8: Persist
You’ll drop some projects or ideas or services or customers because there wasn’t a lot of movement there. However, a little persistence can make a big difference. It’s hard to know which ones to stick with and which ones to drop, but try sticking a little more than dropping.
Lesson 9: Create a simple sales funnel and work it like a rented mule
Keep it simple at first. Employ one or two easy-to-do marketing and sales tactics for each stage of your sales funnel and hammer home those things every day. Every single day. You can scale up later, you can get more complicated later, but a simple, consistent sales funnel at the beginning will win.