I've been a creative entrepreneur since 2005. My first design company was a partnership with my significant other. It was largely a freestyle experiment in running a business, conducted live over the course of five years. As a business, it was marginally successful. As a learning experience, it was my equivalent of a masters of business administration.
So, by the time I had started my second and current company, I had a pretty good blueprint of don'ts for running a small business. I had been fortunate enough to make the mistakes that have yielded five valuable lessons learned -- lessons that have truly paid off the second time around.
1. Don't rush into partnerships.
It was only after my original partner and I parted ways did I recognize that we should never have had a professional partnership in the first place. Just because someone is your best friend, long-time coworker and / or significant other hardly qualifies them as the perfect candidate for maintaining a business. I say “maintaining” because it’s far easier to get excited about the prospect starting a company than being able to handle the day-to-day reality of running it efficiently.
The best partner is typically someone whose skills and approach are the polar opposite of yours. The first ensures the you are able to cover a lot more ground without additional employees. The second may create conflict, but it'll force you both to defend your business instincts and weed out lesser ideas before you waste resources.
2. Don’t get discouraged.
Running a company isn’t a goal -- it’s a long, winding road. Enjoy the process! Unless your goal is to cash out, and you’ve got some built-in exit strategy, chances are you want a long-term entrepreneurial career. You will have ups, and you will have downs -- possibly in the same week or even day. You will gain amazing clients and lose others for reasons fair and unfair. That’s all part of having a business.
I’ve yet to encounter a single business owner who’s reached some grand, stable plateau beyond failure, disappointment and doubt. We all experience it. Instead of discouragement, focus on becoming more resilient, on learning how to handle stress productively.
3. Don’t forget why you wanted to start a business in the first place.
Whether it’s following a passion or having more control over your time to devote to family, always remember why you started down this road in the first place. It’s easy to get carried away and forget what it was you wanted from your own business. I, for example, was driven by quality-of-life factors, especially time off for my other passion -- travel. At times, temporary sacrifice may be truly necessary, but it pays to be conscious of when you’re in danger of permanently shelving the very thing you wanted most.
4. Don't try to do everything yourself.
I started my first company with $500 -- barely enough to cover the costs of incorporation. So, right away, I developed an addiction to doing everything myself. My partner was only capable, willing and able to do so much, and I found myself doing a lot of admin tasks I never anticipated. Those tasks came with learning curves, and they took up valuable time and energy -- energy that could have been directed at helping the business grow.
I didn’t make this mistake twice. With my second, far more successful attempt, I contracted my business half just a couple of months in. Although my expenses grew, now I could focus on doing better work as well as devote time to business development. Both actions helped to grow the company far quicker than my former money-saving attempts at being my own bookkeeper.
So, resist the urge to cover all the ground alone. Saving financial resources is important, but don't let your task list undermine your big goals.
5. Don't stop evolving.
Your strategy, your marketing plan, your target market -- nothing is set in stone. The world is changing more and more rapidly each day. Your industry will likely experience a shift, whether slight or monumental, at some point. As a small business, you are at a disadvantage, because your resources are a lot more limited. But you have a priceless advantage in ability to change course and adapt far quicker than a larger organization.
The best way to remain relevant is keeping your eyes open for changing tides, your mind open to new ideas and staying flexible.
And, of course, don't be too afraid of making your own mistakes!