When you’re starting out in business, there’s just so much to learn -- including all the things you don’t yet know you don’t know! We believe a great way to save time, reduce stress, make smart decisions and avoid costly mistakes is by learning from others who have been there, done that. So here are some valuable insights from entrepreneurs in our QB Community who have already experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of starting a small business -- and who are happy to share what they’ve learned.
Get excited but stay realistic
Erin Williamson, Founder of Pier Coffee, Co-founder of Engender International: “If a new entrepreneur has a mix of blind faith, enthusiasm and a little bit of doubt all at the same time they will succeed. The drive and excitement to do something regardless of its potential to fail gets everything started. I have enthusiasm and faith in spades, but I don’t have enough of the naysayer. If I started all over again as an entrepreneur, I would figure out how to build some naysayer into the process from the get go.” - @jessicaerin
Nikki Pendleton Bell, Founder of Domestic Divas, LLC: “Focus on one thing at a time, and perfect that one thing before going on to the next endeavor. It can be a double-edged sword when too many opportunities present themselves at one time and you try to have a hand in all of them.” - @TheDomesticDiva
Know your customer
Danielle Vincent, Founder of Outlaw Soaps: “Make sure you build a business that reflects who you really are. Authenticity helps you make real connections with customers. And maybe most importantly, the quicker you can identify, correct and move on from a problem, the better. Starting your own business leaves you very vulnerable. A negative comment or feedback can break you if you don’t have a thick skin. I used to get really worked up over a one-star review or a nasty letter from a customer. Now I just hit delete and move on.” - @OutlawSoaps
Carly Patterson, Owner of CarlyMegan Clothing: “You will have lots of ups and downs, so try not to get discouraged. Just keep working and stay focused. Find your ideal customer and accept that not everyone will love what you offer. Always remember that building a business is a marathon, not a sprint. Be patient with yourself and your business - it takes time to build something great.”
Value what you offer
Erica Taylor Haskins, Co-founder of TINSEL Experiential Design: “1) Identify your biggest areas of strength to focus on, then hire people to take care of everything else. 2) If you are entering an already saturated market, identify what makes your product or service different. Make that your brand. Talk about it early and often. 3) Be your own biggest cheerleader. We find that women in particular are often shy about sharing the news about the businesses they are growing. For whatever reason, they feel guilty about tooting their own horn. But if you don't, who will? 4) Enter the market at the right price-point. As people often do, we naively underpriced ourselves in the beginning, making the excuse that we were still learning our trade. But then as we got better and better, we found ourselves fighting an uphill battle against ourselves to raise our prices because our audience had already established where they thought we sat in the market (as a 'bargain' option instead of a luxury service). 5) Be religious about negotiating in your favor. Understand your value and advocate for it. If you aren't making money, you don't have a business. You have a time-consuming hobby." - @TINSEL
Cheri Drake, Owner of Sisters Staging: “I’ve learned the hard way how important it is to have a signed contract and to get paid upfront. I work with many different real estate agents, and not everyone knows what they’re doing. I’ve rented furniture and then discovered the agent can’t pay me! Now I take my Square with me everywhere. I always ask for payment upfront.” - @StagingCheri
Believe in yourself
SJ Barakony, Founder of Service Before Self Leadership: “I like this quote: 'Be a student, be humble or be teachable. Do not equate education and credentials.' Remember, you can be very well-educated without a degree or diploma."- @SBSL-Founder-SJ
Monique Greenwood, Owner of Akwaaba Inns: “Use your fear as your fuel and ultimately have faith. Over-prepare and reach out to those who can help in your journey. If you've identified a product or service that the consumer wants (not what you think they should have), you're well on your way.” - @AkwaabaInns
Hire great people
Michelle Kagarmanov, Mystic Hills Hideaway RV Resort: “Part of having a successful business is figuring out how to make enough revenue to hire other people, because no matter now motivated or dedicated you are, you can’t expect to work all the time. If you get burned out and lose perspective -- even if your business is doing well -- you’re not going to succeed. Finding good-hearted, dedicated, full time employees who have our best-interest in mind has been so important.”
Megan Corazza, Fishing Boat Captain: “Be a good boss. Keeping great people on your team is key to having a successful business. Don't treat them like a tool that can be replaced. My people are essential for me to run this fishing operation.”
QB Community members, what is your best tip for an entrepreneur just starting out?
@SBSL-Founder-SJ you have great insights, so it's wonderful to share them again with other members. You are adding great value to the community by engaging here with your thoughts as a small business owner - that's what QB Community is all about! So, please keep it up! Thanks for being a QBC member.
Wondering what tips other new or active members in our Community would offer to new entrepreneurs?
Nice topic @SarahGonzales! Absolutely track your income and expenses for the business. I recommend a very inexpensive software, QuickBooks Self-employed, it will help you with calculating the Estimated taxes. I wish that this existed when I started out.
Entrepreneurship is hard work. I remember when I decided to branch out on my own to start my own bookkeeping business. Back in those days, I searched my newspaper for part-time bookkkeeping positions. Then I would go to the employers on my after hours and weekends when I wasn’t working in what I called “my big girl job”. Business took off an and soon I needed to leave that full-time job and make the part-time one the only one.
And the business started to build and build. A few things to consider:
That is just a few items to consider. It is scary leaving a regular paycheck and taking the leap. But it is so worth it! You control your hours, your schedule. You drive the business. You will wear all hats, marketer, secretary, bookkeeper, etc.
And remember, we spend something like 80% of our life in our job, shouldn’t we do something we enjoy?
These are such great tips, @lynda! I'm particularly interested in the question of "Can I afford it?" For me the answer depends on your "backup plan" (safety net in the form of savings). How many months would you need to be able to float yourself - based on your expected monthly budget - before making the leap? Is there a best practice here or does it mostly depend on your personal circumstances and comfort level with a certain amount of risk?
I would say have 6 mos. of money to live off of minimally if you are just going to quit your day job and dive right in. For most of us, doing the part-time gig is a great way to start. You build your clientele until you can no longer cut it on nights and weekends. And it is scary quitting the job for sure. Be sure you have a contingency plan if something goes awry. If a client doesn't pay you.
I would also add to the list of things an entrepreneur should do is get a mentor. Someone you admire that does what you do. Great resource.
The future of buying and selling is borderless, seamless, voice-driven, personalized, powered by AI, machine learning, and automation. There is no omnichannel, there is no ecommerce—it’s all just “commerce.” Consumers expect to find the best-rated items, at the best price, always in stock, shipped to them immediately from anywhere in the world, delivered on time, and easily returnable, all from any interface—laptop, tablet, mobile phone, or virtual assistant.
What does this mean for small and medium-sized businesses? On the one hand, it’s easier than ever now to start an ecommerce business with so many platforms and tech solutions; but if you can do it, so can everyone else; the competition will only get tougher. If you have figured out your business strategy, you’ve likely discovered some operational challenges they may be standing in the way of scaling. By processing millions of orders for thousands of ecommerce companies, we’ve learned the most common blocks to scaling are:
Multiple disconnected systems
Lack of insight and control
Fortunately, there is one simple solution with a few variation that will solve all of these problems—technology. Using technology that is now available to all sellers, it’s possible to
Integrate your entire tech stack.
Automate your operational workflows and processes.
Analyze the financial health of your business.
Today’s ecommerce tech landscape is complex—literally hundreds of vendors offer various solutions. How do you decide which apps to get and which companies to trust?
On the one hand, you have ecommerce platforms like Shopify, Magento, WooCommerce, or BigCommerce which power your online store. With their technology, it’s easier than ever to start an online business. But these platforms offer single-channel selling and, by nature of being big, they are slow to innovate. Then you have marketplaces like Amazon and eBay that expose sellers to millions of buyers and offer their own warehousing, fulfillment, and shipping solutions. The problem is – they are expensive as sellers get hit by many hidden fees that eat into your margins.
Then you have single-purpose tools just for shipping or inventory management or fulfillment; they don’t integrate well into the technology you already have; and many of those apps are expensive.
The bottom line? When your business is growing rapidly, your resulting tech stack gets pretty complex and you need to choose the right tech partner that will serve your growing needs, and will help you integrate all the different systems and apps.
The benefits of integrating:
Have one software as your centralized point of control where you can see data from all sales channels, in a standardized format.
Easily view the details without changing platforms.
Save time on data reconciliation.
Save money and some headache by consolidating redundant apps.
What to look for in an ecommerce integration tool:
Choose a partner who helps you integrate all the different systems and apps so that you don’t spend too much time reconciling your data.
Find a tool that integrates with the world’s best ecommerce players.
Look for an app that acts as the centralized point of control in which the processing of orders takes place between your ecommerce channels, inventory, and order fulfillment systems, shipping solutions, payments, and accounting software, like QuickBooks.
Explore ways to minimize your clicks for each order. In other words, see how you can use fewer apps and maximize the apps you keep.
Examine your workflows by creating an order processing flowchart. Map out a diagram showing how one order flows through a single channel to see where the potential bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and risks. Now, if you sell your goods on multiple channels this picture gets increasingly more complex and prone to errors and inefficiencies.
Automating order processing, accounting, shipping, and inventory may seem like an obvious solution, you’d be surprised how many sellers resist making any changes to their workflow and their old style of working to the detriment of the business. Many sellers spend hours jumping between systems and keeping their customers in the dark while their team fumbles through each order.
The benefits of automation:
Fully reconcile your accounts.
Manage all your orders from one software.
Easily search, sort, filter, import, export multichannel orders.
Enter phone orders by automatically pulling QuickBooks inventory.
Instantly create purchase orders for out of stock items.
Always know where your money is and that your data is timely and accurate.
What to look for in an ecommerce automation platform:
A platform that can address the biggest automation areas—orders, accounting, inventory, and shipping.
Software that allows the whole team to collaborate using a single set of data with no manual entry.
A tool that emphasizes the importance of syncing multiple channels and tracking essential pieces of data.
A scheduling automator, allowing you to set tasks nightly, hourly, or every five minutes if you like.
An application that operates in the cloud or on multiple computers throughout your organization.
Software that allows you to add notes and communicate between multiple users who have set levels of permission.
To combat the paralysis that comes with opaque financials, use data analytics to reveal actionable insights. The keyword here is “actionable.” If you collect all data in the world, you’d still need to make sense of it and know what to do next. This is especially important for ecommerce sellers, who are really on their own to come up with strategy that allows them to grow without breaking the whole system.
The benefits of ecommerce data analytics:
View profit and loss reports and identify trends and risks.
Analyze sales performance by channel, inventory, or customer.
Know your most profitable products and focus on optimizing their sales.
Evaluate sales by geography and maximize marketing in the areas that produce the best margins.
Sync and track inventory to forecast reorders and avoid over-selling.
Look for in an ecommerce data analytics tool that tells you:
Why there is a spike or dip in sales.
How and how often can you replicate that spike and avoid the dip.
Which products yield better margins than others.
Who are my top customers and how do I keep them happy?
In short, the secrets to scaling your ecommerce business and actually turning a profit lie in fully integrating your tech stack, automation orders, inventory, shipping, and accounting, and analyzing your data across all channels to know what strategic steps to take next. Tackle just one of these and it’ll be easier to run your business; implement all three, and you’re guaranteed to sleep like a baby and make a bundle.
I hope just concentrating on these basic points businesses will be benefited largely.
Hey @newguy - welcome to QB Community
I agree, this article is one of my faves as well. What piece of advice stands out to you as most applicable to your current situation? Would love to hear more about your new business!
Identify your biggest areas of strength to focus on, then hire people to take care of everything else - There is something in it)
Yup! Awesome post. I'm not at a stage where I can hire employees but some great insights on it. I'll definitely keep these in mind once I get to that level. Two thumbs up for this post!