April marks the 2-year anniversary for Trailblaze Growth Advisors. In that time, I have learned a great deal about what it means to be an entrepreneur and what it takes to succeed when I am directly responsible for my ultimate success or failure.
Being an entrepreneur is the most difficult but rewarding experience I have ever embarked upon. Looking back, I am so glad that I decided to make the difficult leap, and I hope that the fundamental truths I learned along the way can help other aspiring entrepreneurs on their journey.
According to a study by the Kauffman Foundation, the number of new businesses started by entrepreneurs is starting to increase to levels not seen since before the 2008 Great Recession, and furthermore is trending toward the massive numbers (in excess of 85%) seen during the boom times of the 1990s. In addition, the Wall Street Journal has reported that about 54 million Americans – or about one-third of the workforce – are now freelancers or contractors, and that number is expected to increase over the next few years.
Clearly, the trend is moving toward Americans charting their own path through entrepreneurialism, and my hope is that the lessons learned by previous and current generations of entrepreneurs – myself included – can be used to the benefit of the new generation.
With that said, the following are five fundamental truths I have learned over the past years as the founder of Trailblaze Growth Advisors.
Prepare for the leap
There is no question that making the transition from a full-time salaried employee to an entrepreneur with no income guarantee is scary. If you are fortunate enough to still have a “regular” job, make the most of this time by preparing for the leap to full-time entrepreneurialism.
Take this time to aggressively network with your target market. Make as many connections as you can, and try to establish yourself well before actually giving up the regular paycheck. If at all possible, try to start your entrepreneurial venture as a part-time project while keeping your job, so that you can make the transition as smooth as possible.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
One truth that I actually found to be a bit surprising at first is how willing people are to help. The concept of paying it forward is alive and well, particularly among fellow entrepreneurs.
You should learn as much as you can from experts in your field and anyone else that has experience and expertise that could benefit you and your business. The key, of course, is to ask for their help. Don’t be afraid to ask, and remember to return the favor when you are in a position to help an aspiring entrepreneur sometime in the future.
Always remember that you are the face of your company
As the founder of your company, you are the brand – particularly during the early stages. In addition, you are the Chief Sales Person at your company. Every major deal will ultimately involve you, even if you have hired a sales team. For people who are natural introverts (like myself), this can be a challenging truth, but ignoring it, or pretending that it isn’t the truth, is simply counterproductive.
You need to always be ready to give an elevator speech and a sales pitch. If you are an introvert, that just means you need to put more effort into practicing.
Don’t sacrifice your being
This is perhaps the hardest lesson to actually execute. When you are starting a business, you are going to be working nights, weekends, and holidays. In order to differentiate yourself from your better-established competition, you are going to have to work far harder than them. However, it is absolutely imperative that you also reserve time for you. Stay active and exercise, meditate (if you don’t meditate, you need to learn—it is an absolutely essential practice for an entrepreneur’s mental health), make time to spend with family and friends, and do your best to maintain a hobby you genuinely enjoy.
The importance of making time for yourself cannot be overstated. If necessary, write it down into your schedule as an appointment to yourself!
Balance being flexible and knowing when to say no
When I was first starting out, I wanted to accommodate every client that came my way. Conceptually this makes sense, since the need to generate revenue for the business is paramount in the early stages. However, the reality is that not every client and customer is going to be worth the time it would take to provide them with the level of customer service you want to provide. Not all customers are profitable, so learning how and when to say “no” is an essential part of being a successful entrepreneur.
Hopefully you can learn something from the fundamental truths I learned during my first two years of Trailblaze Growth Advisors. It has been a great ride, and I am proud to say that Trailblaze Growth Advisors was named a “rising star” of VentureScape’s Office Hours Class of 2015 by John Backus. Feel free to reach out to me any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.