Small-Business Owners: What I Wish I Could Tell My Younger Self

by Stephanie Taylor Christensen on January 16, 2012
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If you’d only known then what you know now, you would have done a few things differently, right? As the saying goes, “hindsight is 20/20″ — and perhaps your small business would have gotten off to better start if you’d had broader perspective.

To help budding entrepreneurs draw from the wisdom of experience, the Intuit Small Business Blog recently asked a few small-business owners for the advice that, if they could, they would give their younger selves. Here’s what they had to say.

Zalmi Duchman, CEO of The Fresh Diet — Although the Fresh Diet is now recognized by Forbes as one of America’s most promising companies, Duchman says that early on he wasted money, time, and effort in pursuing too many ideas. His advice: “Focus on the core product and don’t venture off into other side projects.”

2011 Don Rainey HeadshotDon Rainey, general partner at Grotech Ventures — Rainey, who has funded startups such as LivingSocial and HelloWallet, says that over the past 20 years he’s learned to troubleshoot by trusting his instincts about people, from clients to employees. “Customers [who have] the biggest issue with price also tend to be the ones with the biggest issues about payment, product support, and upgrades.” Know your worth when it comes to rates, he advises, and listen to your gut when a relationship seems doomed from the start. Tap into the expertise of your staff — accountants, HR people, and administrative personnel. These employees often have useful knowledge yet hesitate to volunteer information because they tend to undervalue themselves, he says. “Ask them questions, because they probably won’t tell you.”

Ebony Grimsley, owner and creative director of Above Promotions — Grimsley says the most valuable advice she would give her younger self is to put her terms of service in writing. “With my first paying contracted client, I learned the consequences of not including policies (regarding refunds, overtime, etc.) and key deliverables (setting client expectations) in a contract with a client. But what cost me about a thousand dollars back then has saved me thousands today.”

Mitch Gordon, co-founder of Go Overseas — Not matter how busy you are as a small-business owner, Gordon says, managing for the future is key to the long-term value of your business and brand. “Realize now that you can’t do everything. Plan for where you want the company to be in five years and put the right infrastructure in place to support it. When the company grows, you won’t have time to go back and change things.”

Megan Torrance, founder of TorranceLearning — Torrance, who worked in the corporate world for many years before becoming an entrepreneur, stresses the importance of education. “My internships in various HR and accounting departments have been invaluable to me in ways I never imagined at the time,” she says. “I might have approached my other courses in college differently had I known where I’d end up in life.” When you’re an entrepreneur, knowledge is more than power — it’s money in your pocket, she adds. It’s never too late to take a course in business writing, graphic design, management, or basic accounting to expand your skill set.

Stephanie Christensen is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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