I have started several businesses since 1999. One was very successful, two were moderately successful and one was a fiasco. Each provided learning experiences on what it takes to operate efficiently and profitably.
So before I started my fifth company (Go For Launch), I asked myself one hard question:
Knowing what I know from my past successes and failures, what should I do differently this time?
The following is a list of some of my top priorities. It’s not exhaustive, but definitely enough to keep me busy! (Note: I will periodically update this as my favorite tools change).
WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY IF I STARTED MY BUSINESS OVER TODAY
1. Start a product-based business, not a service business. This has been a tough lesson for me. It’s outside my comfort zone. My whole career has been spent in agencies or companies (ones in which I have worked for someone else or on my own). But essentially my role has involved serving clients, charging them money (or getting a paycheck) for performing specific work in return. This has meant trading hours for dollars. It’s an OK way to make a living; however, there are only so many hours in the day. To make more money, you either have to work longer, charge more, get more clients or hire more people. All the above are challenging propositions, especially the part about working more hours and hiring people (especially tough if you work for someone else). There’s a law of diminishing returns, and time doesn’t scale well.
2. Capture emails from day one. I worked for many years without taking the time to build a list of customers and prospects and email them on a regular basis. Big mistake! I have learned that despite a gazillion marketing vehicles, email is still the best way to reach people as well as convert sales online. With Go For Launch, building a strong list is my #1 priority. I am using several excellent tools to capture emails: LeadPages to build landing pages (like this one) and ConvertKit to manage, track and send email campaigns.
3. Go virtual. With several of my businesses, I replicated business models from my past, which included the trappings of office space. That is typically not cheap and adds expenses like furniture, insurance and maintenance. Most small businesses can avoid having an office, particularly in the early stages by working from home or perhaps using a low-cost co-working space. If you need resources, you can also hire contractors, virtual assistants and free-lancers.
4. Focus on website security. I have used and continue to use WordPress as my website platform of choice. It’s a fantastic system, but it’s prone to attacks from hackers. I have learned my lesson after having previous sites violated. It’s a sick feeling and can be difficult to remedy. It’s worth paying a little extra for a dedicated solution to protect your site and fix it in case of attack. This is one of the main reasons I chose WPEngine to host Go For Launch. I also recommend Sucuri.
5. Track cash flow more closely. Cash is king for a small business. I will be doing a better job of watching cash flow. Pulse is a great app for doing this more easily. Even more important is the mindset and knowledge of how to stay on top of my business financials. Fortunately, my friend David Worrell has written a definitive book on the subject, The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Financial Statements. This is the #1 book I wished I had when I started my first business in 1999.
6. Get a bookkeeper. I did this already! I’ve learned this is one of the first hires any small business should make. Find someone you can trust, so you can focus on your business. If you can’t find someone locally, consider a resource like BookKeeping Express.
7. Do a better job with record keeping. As a small business owner, it’s important to keep detailed records of financial transactions. I love using Expensify now to keep track of all my expenses and receipts.
8. Hire a full-time VA. I have not yet hired a virtual assistant (VA). But I’m eager to do so, especially after reading Chris Ducker’s book Virtual Freedom. Chris runs one of the world’s most successful placement agencies for virtual assistants. Another great resource for finding virtual assistants is Replace Myself by John Jonas.
9. Set up a project management system. When I started my first business in 1999, there were no online project management systems to speak of. By the early 2000s, companies like Basecamp came along and revolutionized how small businesses can manage their workloads efficiently. I remain a fan of Basecamp, though I am now using Trello (free) and also Slack for internal project management and communication.
10. Start a podcast sooner. When I did my first podcast in 2009 (for Web Business Freedom, RIP), I spent months agonizing over equipment. I finally did launch a show and enjoyed it immensely. Fast forward several years, and podcasting has gained in popularity—thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones and resources like the iTunes store, Stitcher and iHeartRadio. Yet it’s still harder to produce a quality podcast vs. maintaining a blog…which means there is a huge opportunity for those who are willing to commit the time and resources. After having made some mistakes in the past, this time I have joined John Lee Dumas’ excellent Podcasters Paradise, the world’s largest podcasting community. I am mining it for tips before I debut my new show!
11. Pay closer attention to web analytics. I have been neglectful in the past about setting up and tracking online goals. I have Google Analytics in place and will be putting more of a focus on measuring the results of my online marketing efforts.
12. Use video marketing. This is perhaps my weakest spot personally. I really want to do a better job this time around with using video on a regular basis. I’m excited to have a new Wistia account that will be awesome—as soon as I get around to using it!
What about you? What would you do differently if you had to start your business over? Leave a comment below.
Post Sponsor: Podcaster’s Paradise
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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Also published on Medium.