It’s hard to believe that I just passed eight years as an entrepreneur. As we’ve grown at Content Marketing Institute, I’ve leaned on many critical resources, and I keep them pinned to my office wall—such as Mark Fletcher’s 15 Startup Commandments, Dharmesh Shah’s Startup Triplets and Fast Company’s 10 Common Mistakes Startups Make.
Although it’s hard to clearly identify what success factors have been the most critical during our journey on “the road less traveled,” here are the ones that I believe have made the most impact on me, our company, our amazing employees and—most of all—our valued customers.
1. Be the Leading Informational Provider for Your Industry
Content marketing works. We have tremendous flexibility in our business model simply because we deliver valuable and compelling industry information to our customers and prospects. Our daily updates, our weekly e-newsletters, our quarterly magazine and our annual research all help to position us as the go-to resource for content marketing information. Without all this, I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to grow our business, not to mention the sheer cost of sales.
2. Invest in the Right People
Although our people are some of the leading experts in the entire industry, we hire first based on attitude and flexibility. People with great attitudes who are fun to work with can learn and do just about anything.
3. Give Employees Permission to Fail
We tell all our employees the following: “Do what you have to do to be successful. Don’t wait for permission. Ask for forgiveness later.” Whether this is a solid policy or not, it allows our employees to take risks and become leaders.
4. If You Partner, Plan the Exit Strategy First
5. … Or Just Don’t Partner
In my experience, most partnerships simply don’t work and can hamper the creativity of the organization. Just be careful.
6. Risk Everything, Every Day
One of our advantages is that we are willing to try anything if we believe in what it can provide for our customers, or if we believe that we can gain a competitive advantage. We reach decisions quickly and change these decisions slowly if and when they are changed (hat tip to Napoleon Hill).
7. Success Is Impossible Without Failure
I saw this statement in a tattoo on former Kansas basketball player Thomas Robinson’s arm, and I couldn’t agree more. There were moments when I didn’t believe the business was going to make it. Looking back, it was those moments that have defined our organization. I’m no longer afraid of failure, but keenly aware of what new opportunities arise because of it.
8. Don’t Fall in Love With Your Product or Service
This almost cost us the entire business. Although my first startup, Junta42, was working and profitable, we weren’t growing the business at a rate that was acceptable. But Junta42 was my baby, and although I knew it needed to evolve, it took everything I had to pivot the business in a new direction. Discarding the product we began the business with was the best business decision—and the hardest one—I ever made.
9. Get a Good Attorney and Accountant
Never do any of this yourself.
10. Rely on Your Instincts
If the numbers are right, but your gut feels differently, go with your gut—every time. This little piece of advice has served me well.
11. Don’t Listen to Your Friends
The majority of my friends thought I was crazy for leaving a high-paying executive job to start a business. Again, go with your gut.
13. Write a Book
How can you be the leading expert in your industry without a book? Honestly, I’m not sure. Write the book for your industry, and it will become the greatest business card you’ll ever have. It will also lead to amazing speaking opportunities that you would never get without the book in hand.
13. At First, Try Everything … Then Focus
When you are a micro-sized business, you can afford to try a little bit of everything. That’s perfectly okay. But once you get to a point where the business model is fleshing itself out, then you need laser focus.
14. Give Content Gifts to Industry Leaders
It is your responsibility to know the influencers in your industry that can help make or break your business. Once you identify those people, you need to be sharing their content on a consistent basis, whether that’s through Facebook, Twitter or building lists to post on your blog. The more unsolicited gifts of content you can give, the more others will return the favor, helping to build your business into the future.
15. Have Fun!
If you wake up in the morning and you aren’t excited about going to work, something is wrong with your business. The last eight years have been an amazing experience that can only happen to someone who has launched a business. I find myself in the unique place of not wanting for anything in life.
For more help on finding startup success, see QuickBooks’ step-by-step guide to starting a business.