Tim's images

Three Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting My Own Business

four_colored_squares.jpgEntrepreneurship can lead to fulfillment as well as to fortune. What better way to balance work and personal interests than by pursuing your own custom-designed career?

That’s what I did, though “design” had little to do with it. I just bumbled forward, pulled by an irresistible urge to understand the most intriguing thing I’d ever encountered: the Internet.

To help you avoid a few of my many blunders, here are three things I wish I’d known before starting my own business. Maybe these thoughts will save you a bit of time and trouble—or reveal some unexpected possibilities.

1. All Businesses Die
Businesses rarely grow as old as people do. Not one business in 100,000 even comes close to lasting 70 years, a typical human lifespan. This isn’t good or bad, just natural. Most new businesses fail, are bought out, or undergo another form of ownership transfer within the first seven years. Unsuccessful ones fold, implode, or go bankrupt. A few are still going strong after a hundred years, and a tiny handful have spanned centuries. But none last forever.

And when a business passes on, it may bring fortune to its founders (see Think Big below).

So understand that your business, like everyone else’s, will eventually go away. The sooner you accept this, the better positioned you’ll be to cope with change—and to benefit from its inevitability.

2. Marketing Trumps Quality
Say it ain’t so? Sorry, I can’t. You might make the best silver jewelry in town, but you’ll be outsold by the lesser craftperson who doggedly pursues consignments. The charismatic doctor with average ability and TV commercials attracts more patients than the gifted surgeon. Like it or not, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door” is a long-dead cliché.four_colored_squares_reversed.jpg

Some years ago I learned this the hard way when a competitor emulated our innovative new service. Our offer was superior—but the other guys hired a full-time salesman who telephoned prospects all day long. They quickly blew us out of the water.

A century and a half ago, quality meant superior materials, outstanding workmanship, and unsurpassed customer service. Today, quality is marketing. Does McDonald’s make the best hamburgers? Starbucks the best coffee? Apple the best portable music player? Sure, there are product and service niches where customers still demand top quality in the traditional sense, but they’re scarce. Most who embark on the entrepreneurial journey must face this hard truth: Marketing trumps quality.

3. Think Big
Most of us overestimate other people’s capabilities and underestimate our own. That’s a central message of The Magic of Thinking Big. And going into business for yourself is the time to project yourself into the future and think big. It demands a leap of faith: refusing to accept what is and instead imagining what can be.

Once you understand that all enterprises eventually pass away or pass on, one of the best outcomes you can envision for yourself is selling your business. Thousands of small businesses are sold in the U.S. every year, many for a million dollars or more. Know that it’s possible for a small business to create assets of interest to much larger businesses. Over a few years you may be able to build up an enterprise that a larger company would have to spend a million dollars to replicate. If so, the larger firm would get ahead by buying your enterprise for $800,000. So be bold! Think big!soul_shelter_greenhouse.jpg

There are at least 27 other things I wish I’d known before starting my own business, but this should do for today. We’d love to hear what you wish you’d known before taking the leap. Or, if you’re still poised on the brink, what your top-of-mind concerns are. Whatever your thoughts, they’re welcome in Soul Shelter’s loving arms.

You may also enjoy:

Entrepreneurship: A Primer

Recognizing the Opportunity Within

Fixing a Broken Work Model

7 Comments to Three Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting My Own Business

On Jun 7, 2008, Doris commented:

This article has helped me greatly. It gave me a new perspective towards my own 3-year old business. Thank you!

On Jun 8, 2008, Lincoln N. commented:

I agree. Marketing is crucial. Your section on marketing really reminded me of a Baltimore Technology Council article I read recently about the importance of marketing.

On Jun 9, 2008, by Tim commented:

Glad it’s been helpful, Doris. Hope you’ll share some of your own learnings with SS readers.

And thanks, Lincoln, for sharing this article. The Kaufman Foundation is a terrific resource for all entrepreneurs.

On Jul 4, 2008, Jen commented:

“A century and a half ago, quality meant superior materials, outstanding workmanship, and unsurpassed customer service. Today, quality is marketing.”

True, and in my opinion, sad. I grew up in a house full of old things and had a hard time when I moved out because I had to buy my own new things. And so much of what is popular, available, advertised, endorsed by celebrities, lauded on t.v., is just plain garbage. I wish there was a return to quality, or at least more balance. Perhaps some really talented entrepeneurs can figure this out in the coming years . . . I certainly hope so.

On Jan 29, 2009, Ryan commented:

I enjoyed your article. It sounds like something I could have written myself (including the other 27 things, e.g., employees will ALWAYS be most concerned with their own interests regardless of what a Good Boss you are.)

I find myself considering a new venture (again), and I’d very much like to approach this one with some detachment– as a business, not a child. Your article reinforced my own thoughts in that regard.

I agree with Jen. It’s sad that quality is so clearly trumped by marketing. But it is what it is, and there should be some comfort in knowing that quality still exists. It just takes a committed search and a discerning eye.

On Jan 29, 2009, by Tim commented:

We’d love to hear your other 26, Ryan. Thanks for joining in — and keep us posted on progress with your new venture!

On Oct 23, 2009, Elvis commented:

Thanks…that was a great masterpiece. You said it all…marketing is a crucial “key” element to achieving a business success. No matter how quality your product is, it will remains in the warehouse if no one knows about it.

Leave a Reply

nourish your soul

RSS graphic

Enjoy FREE inspiration with the Soul Shelter RSS feed. Or have each new article delivered FREE to your inbox.

The Prosperous Peasant

Our book

The Prosperous Peasant
(Read a chapter for free)