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In recent years, it’s hard to say there’s anything left to be relied upon in business and the economy. Big corporations have crumbled. Employees with decades on the job have been left out of work and with no retirement. Yet, in spite of this, small business owners are still optimistic and confident, both in themselves and in their businesses, and if you were to ask any of them, they would each have unique lessons to share, things they know for sure about being in business.
Here are a few things that I know for sure:
- We’re more afraid of success than failure. Why? We generally know failure. We must know it to be in business for ourselves. Success, on the other hand, is uncharted territory. It changes things, and although we have the internal butterflies of hope and excitement about what’s to come, we also can’t help but feel a little uncertain and afraid of the unknown.
- We know what we need to do to succeed. We simply avoid it. Sometimes we avoid it out of fear of success or failure. Sometimes we avoid it because it seems too simple (solutions, in our minds, should be more complex). Other times, even if we hate to admit it, we avoid it out of laziness or because we’d rather be doing other things, like hanging out on social networks or surfing the web. No, we know what we need to be doing, but success comes by having the discipline and courage to actually do it.
- It’s not about the office supplies. I used to visit Office Depot probably once a week in search of that end-all, be-all solution for getting my business off the ground. It had to be there (right?) in all those reams of colorful paper and all those organizational systems. If I could just bring more order to my office, I thought, I would surely succeed. I visit the office supply store about twice a year now, after finally realizing that the solution isn’t there, and if there needs to be order, it’s probably internal and is more mental than physical.
- It is possible to bootstrap it. Just as we want that complex solution (so we avoid the simple and obvious route in search of it), we also want it to cost a fortune (more avoidance). In the past six months, I’ve conducted probably 100 interviews with entrepreneurs and small business owners, and while there were a few (very few) occasions where they suggested having enough initial financing to get a business off the ground, most entrepreneurs shared stories of starting on a shoestring and using cost-effective promotion techniques (like the media, word-of-mouth and content marketing) to build their companies.
- We must take care of ourselves. As business owners, this is usually the one we struggle with most, but taking care of ourselves is vital to the success of our companies. Balancing the demands of a business and a life can be challenging, and some would say that it’s an impossible feat, but somewhere around those demands, we have to make room for our own needs. It’s not the easiest thing to do, especially when there are deadlines and clients to please and promotional efforts to be done. At the end of the day, there are not enough hours, but kind of like an athlete maintains his or her health in order to perform at the highest level, we must do the same.
- Entrepreneurs and small business owners are a helpful bunch. I can’t imagine that a more helpful group exists out there than entrepreneurs and small business owners. Nowhere else will you see one business owner help another before he helps himself. When you first go into business for yourself, competition is the word that sticks out in your mind, but eventually, you begin to love seeing other businesses succeed, and instead of feeling envious, you feel inspired.
- Our businesses can’t be a state secret. It’s funny now to think about how little promotion I wanted to do for my business in the beginning; it was so intimidating and nerve-racking. Now, I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen. In the beginning, marketing and promotion have that ick-factor associated with them, but over time, you come to appreciate the value of your own products and services, but even when you come to appreciate it, that doesn’t mean everyone knows about it. We have to be willing to put ourselves out there and tell the world about our businesses.
I think the biggest lessons I’ve learned are not the most obvious ones; they’re not the ones I thought I needed to know, nor are they the ones that can be learned from a book. Those lessons (the ones where someone says, “Here’s how you promote your business through the media,” or “Here’s how you do social or in-person networking.”), those are the easy ones. The hardest lessons for me have been the ones I’ve had to learn on my own the hard way, through trial-and-error and candid looks in the mirror.
What business lessons do you know for sure?
Photo by Flickr user txd, licensed under CC 2.0