5 Crucial Lessons I Learned by Starting My Own Business

Joseph Meyer
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You wear a lot of hats.

First off, I spent a lot of time everyday on the site. Then I had the added benefit of being able to be a customer myself.

As an engineer, I feel that what I do is a little more technical. I’m able to do the design work myself, but to make sure I had it right, I had to learn how to talk with the contractor so I could make sure everything was correct. Doing that on the side of my regular job was tough, but it was a great learning experience.

It forced me to continue to figure out how to make things happen in that marketplace. I made a lot of mistakes, but I had the advantage that my time investment was low. I didn’t sink as much money as perhaps I would have if I had invested more time.

It forced me to think about not only the product I was delivering but also how to sell it, how to market it and match the needs of the customer. It was a great lesson for me and it taught me a lot about business.

Overhead can kill you.

In 2009, I took the leap and entered the uncertain world of self-employment. Here’s what one of my biggest mistakes was during the first 135 days of my business, and how I got out of it.

Most of my companies were in partnership with people with whom I had built the companies in the past. We usually used existing brands, and in all cases, our overhead was very low. We didn’t have to spend serious cash on the initial business.

In this new company, we wanted to represent ourselves and grow big. So we decided to challenge the status quo. Instead of putting the money to good use on advertising and marketing, we decided to go after a bigger office and set up some infrastructure.

Our biggest mistake was taking on all the financials ourselves.

We were entering an industry that had relatively low overhead – my partners had been working on the business in an apartment. We wanted to set a higher professional standard. The business was going to be bigger, we figured, and we wanted it to be a success. We thought taking on the financial resources might help get us there.

We moved out of the apartment and into a nice office in a nice building in midtown Manhattan. We installed all the necessary furniture, fixed up the space, and billed ourselves for the work.

Select your partners carefully.

Be careful who you entrust with your most precious asset: your business and your vision. The company I founded with my husband was something we built together, and it grew extremely fast. But we both had one thing going for us: I never doubted his commitment to the business. But if you’re more hands-off, you have to be careful that you don’t unwittingly hurt company morale by giving off the perception that you’re not fully behind your idea.

Work on being efficient. Start processes.

This is something that is often overlooked, but in the business world, it is a crucial element. Start using all the processes that you would within a normal day. I did not understand this at first and for quite some time I was doing a lot of extra work that could have easily been avoided.

There are too many examples to point out, but a prime example is when I started. I wanted to be a perfectionist in every aspect of my work. I thought that if I take a little longer and take a closer look at everything, I will probably do a better job. This was not the case at all. I was looking at every element, every part of the website and according to the visual perspective it looked pretty good. However, after looking at the numbers from the analytics, I saw that very few people visited those pages. In reality, I was wasting a lot of time making the wrong elements more prominent. In the end, I started looking at the numbers and I was more aware of what visitors wanted and I started to work on bettering those issues.

Make sure you have some paying customers first.

I was talking to someone about my business the other day and they asked me how I marketed my products. I was kind of surprised by the question because I hadn’t really thought of it before! The first year I was focused on saving every penny I could to build my first store.

The second year that I started my business, I was too busy creating new products and trying to figure out how to make the product (or business) profitable that I wasn’t thinking about marketing. Plus, I had a lot to learn! I knew that it would be pretty hard to market a product if I didn’t have customers and I had found out that getting direct walk-ins was almost impossible.

That’s why I decided to put together a business plan. I wasn’t sure how I was going to achieve my goal yet, but I knew that I had to have a plan to keep me on track.