If you could hop into a time machine, what would you tell your younger business self? What are the biggest lessons learnt since you started entrepreneurship? This is one of our favorite questions here at CBNation.
Here’s what CEOs would tell their younger business selves.
#1-Focus on answering one question
I started my travel agency when I was 25 and coming out of an extremely challenging personal time. My focus and strategy at the time was simply to put one foot in front of the other, knowing that I was working toward a modern, transparent, and relationship-based approach that our industry needed, but not knowing how to truly step into my shoes as a leader. Five years later, as I have built out a successful travel business with advisors and clients located across the country, I find myself rising up to the occasion of navigating our current world crisis by answering this one question: what do you want to be known for? This has given me perspective and clarity on what projects to take on, where to focus my energy and attention, and how to find fulfillment daily. During a season that has been particularly hard on the travel industry, I want to be known as a lighthouse of a leader. By that I mean: providing a beacon of hope that led the way to serve our clients, help our industry peers, and stood firm during the darkest of nights.
Thanks to Lindsey Epperly, Epperly Travel!
#2-Take more risks
I wish while in my 20s I had taken far more risks in business and reinvested all my profits to further grow my businesses. While being a cautious saver can be a good quality to have later in life, when you are young and starting off in business, you literally have nothing to lose. You should absolutely take advantage of this while you can. So take more risks, the worst that can happen is you fail. Learn from your failures and start again, you have plenty of time to get it right.
Thanks to Jamie Anderson
#3- Two pieces of advice
The number one piece of advice I would offer is always to invest in yourself before asking others to invest in you or your venture. It changes how you approach your business and ultimately how you approach potential investment partners. The second piece of advice I would offer up is always to listen first. Coming from the Management Consulting world, I rarely learn anything new when I am talking. Active listening coupled with decisive execution is the key to any successful venture. In fact, the words silent and listen have the same letters, but we should never confuse which is more important. That said, there is no substitute for experience.
Thanks to Dennis Cail, Zirtue: Lend & Borrow Money!
#4- Avoid jumping at every available opportunity
It’s better to stay in one place for a while to develop a solid network as opposed to jumping at every available opportunity. Contacts made through online communication can be useful but there’s a stronger bond formed when you work with someone in real life for several years. I was working remotely long before the term was commonly used and can speak with certainty that it has some major downsides in business and networking.
Thanks to Brian Dechesare, Mergers & Inquisitions!
#5- Don’t be in a rush to make an impact
I used to think that if I was just serving coffee to my senior coworkers or collating documents that I wasn’t doing anything meaningful in life. Looking back though I was 20 years old and my only goal should’ve been to foster positive relationships with those around me and to learn as much as I can. Today I’m a C-level executive and run my own businesses, but life is a marathon it’s not a race, and that includes my business life. When you’re young you have plenty of runway. Use all of it, pick other people’s brains and take some chances because nobody’s counting on you to change the world at 20 years old. Enjoy the tasks in front of you and don’t try to bite off more than you can chew.
Thanks to Jack Choros, IronMonk Solutions!
#6-Start writing now
When I was younger, I never realized how powerful blog posts and content could be, and how much having a lot of great contentt can help a business grow. I now see if I had been writing consistently from the time I was younger, I could have started and grown a business much earlier that was much stronger. The time to start writing and creating content is yesterday, and since yesterday is already past, the second best time is now.
Thanks to Stacy Caprio, Her.CEO!
#7- Harness the power of networking
I always look back and wish I had known to dive deeper into the industry and harness the power of networking. I know it sounds cliche but when I started my first digital marketing agency, I had never worked in one, I only knew how they ran but some things I read and I didn’t grasp the capital that would have been needed. As soon as I started to attend a few conferences and start building relationships with people in my industry is when I started to learn from their mistakes instead of always learning from my own.
Thanks to Andrew Maff
#8-Don’t cut corners on sales and marketing
Looking back at 24 years of managing my own company, there are plenty of things I could’ve done differently. One thing that really jumps out is the amount I invested in sales and marketing early on. Getting a small business off the ground is hard in the best of circumstances, but when you try to cut corners on sales and marketing expenses, you really reduce your odds. We could’ve grown a lot faster had we hired a couple of talented salespeople at the beginning. When we expanded our sales team and hired a marketing agency, our qualified leads multiplied and business grew rapidly. Obviously being frugal is essential as a startup, but don’t cut corners on sales and marketing — you run the risk of sinking your ship before even getting the opportunity to float.
Thanks to Sid Soil, DOCUdavit Solutions!
#9- Triple down on your strengths
Countless times in my business experience I’ve taken for granted what’s working, and focused my attention elsewhere. As the most egregious example, I had a thriving direct to consumer education business, which grew year after year consistently and organically. We funneled those profits into an enterprise education business which lost money just as consistently. Only when we shut down the failing enterprise business to focus on the consumer business did we see unprecedented growth in that business. We had never anticipated we can supercharge its growth by focusing even further on what’s working. It was a multimillion-dollar lesson learned the hard way.
Thanks to Neal Taparia, Solitaired!
#10- Start a bit earlier
I would tell my younger self to start a bit earlier on my entrepreneurial quest. I spent a lot of time gaining experience in the industry and developing solutions for others. I had the expertise for starting shufti Pro long before its launch. As an entrepreneur, it is important for you to experience the ups and downs before you reach a stable position.
Thanks to Shahid Hanif, Shufti Pro!
#11- Be persistent
If I could go back in time, I would tell my younger business self that the most important key trait of a successful entrepreneur and business owner is steady persistence. It’s getting up and going to work every day and doing those things one needs to do in order to advance your business. As an extension of that, it’s good decision-making and delegating the right tasks to the right people, so that your time is freed up to concentrate on the most important things in your business. It’s just getting up, plowing through, and tackling those tasks that need to be tackled, getting them off your desk to get through the day and advance whatever it is you’re trying to build.
Thanks to Charles Reiling, CoastalOne!
#12- A number of nuggets
I have said this before and I will say it again, I have yet to meet a small business owner who has had a smooth road. All of it is hard, but you keep pushing because your life wouldn’t make sense without it. Most importantly you have to trust your instinct. Know and have confidence that you are bringing your own unique, ability and style into a market place that has yet to be tapped. Carve out your own path. No matter what you do, there will always be a tremendous amount of struggle along the way. Don’t waste your time on someone else’s dream. Focus your time and energy on your own.
Thanks to Emmy Ellison, DeMaroc!
#13- Set up and grow business systems
I would tell my younger self to worry more about setting up business systems and growing them then about the day to day processing of cases. I would tell my younger self to implement ruthlessly, measure the results of everything and to share the results widely within the firm. Staff members gain comfort in knowing that you, as the boss, have a grasp on all areas of the business, that cash flow is working and knowing why their job is important in the overall firm performance. Continually measuring and improving interconnected systems and continually improving staff through education and “leveling up” when vacancies occur will create momentum and push the firm to greater success.
Thanks to Lin McCraw, McCraw Law Group!
#14-Success is a journey
If I could tell my younger self one thing it would be the axiom that success is the journey, not the destination. As a young entrepreneur, I focused solely on getting to the finish line, making that first six figures, seven figures etc. When you get there it is often a hollow feeling because you realize that those monetary goals are fleeting. The truth that you come to learn is that loving the grind of the process and achieving outstanding results in business is in the journey. The true defining moments of your business life are in that journey, embrace it.
Thanks to Ted Kaplun, Esq., KaplunMarx Attorneys at Law!
#15- Be authentic about your journey
The best piece of advice I can offer as an entrepreneur and CEO of two successful companies is to pick a project that aligns with who you are and what you’re passionate about. That way, promoting your business feels natural and it’s easy for you to tell your story every chance you get. Today’s consumers want to know who they are buying from, and why. If you’re not comfortable being the face of your business, you may want to ask yourself if you’re selling the right product or service. I’ve found that the more vulnerable and authentic I am about sharing my journey in my current role as the founder of Fred and Far and creator of the Self Love Pinky Ring, the more engaged my audience is and the more likely they are to buy my product and share it. They know how personal and important this company is to me – and in turn do whatever they can to embody my mission and embrace me and my business. So by being my own brand ambassador, my customers follow my lead and become organic brand ambassadors as well.
Thanks to Melody Godfred, Fred and Far!
#16- Consider tough advice
Really honestly consider the tough advice people give you, especially when you don’t want to hear it. It’s not fun for them either; they’re just trying to do you a favor. The more exasperated or emotional you are about the feedback, the more likely it’s a sign the person is hitting close to home.
Thanks to Allen Koh, Cardinal Education!
#17-Be less cheap
Less cheap with money, time and resources. At the start of my business, I was so focused on keeping costs low so that I could make money sooner, I was really stingy with money. For example, I used a cheap, poorly supported system because I thought it was unnecessary to spend the extra money. By the time I woke up and realized that I was spending way more time managing customers due to the poor user experience on the platform, I had probably lost several hundred dollars worth of my time, way more than what the cost was to upgrade to a better booking system. For the same reason, I never hired external resources and always firmly believed I could hack things together myself, which resulted in me spending unnecessary time doing operational things instead of focusing on growing my business. All in all, I have grown at a slower pace due to the stinginess in my earlier years. My advice – be less cheap!
Thanks to Audrey Ooi, Tasty Tours!
#18-Look outside your space
Stay up to date on where technology and business trends are headed and look outside of your industry to see how cutting-edge companies are changing and evolving their strategies. If you only look at your direct competitors, you might miss huge opportunities.
Thanks to Jason Davis, Inspire360!
#19-Focus on one thing
I would tell my younger self to focus on doing one thing well. At CoinCorner, we operate in the Bitcoin industry which has a non-stop feed of innovation and unfortunately this comes with distractions. Every day there is something new in the news and we see competitors jumping on the next hot thing daily – what feels like a month in Bitcoin is usually only a few days! Due to this, in the early days of CoinCorner we used to be easily distracted, chasing what we saw as the hot new thing. However, the reason we are where we are today is because of our simple and easy process for buying or selling Bitcoin. This has been our core product since day one and continues to be our core focus. All of the crazy ideas we have tried in the process have dropped to the side, so my advice to other entrepreneurs is not to spread yourself and your resources too thinly.
Thanks to Danny Scott, CoinCorner!
#20-Use your time wisely
We all have 24 hours a day to live. Use your time to grow yourself so you can help others. Save and invest as early as you can and learn something new every day. Don’t be afraid to fail because you will learn from it. Start smaller but dream big! Your business should use you to help others who are in need. Let your business a sacrifice and charity but never forget the foundation and objectives to let it grow.
Thanks to Chad Hill, Hill & Ponton Law!
#21-Make offers for your services
If I could go back in time, I would tell my younger business self to stop being afraid to make an offer for your services. I had to make the mental shift from feeling like I was selling my services to a true feeling that I am offering a solution to a potential client’s problem. I had to learn that not offering my service or solutions was a disservice. This mental shift made a significant financial difference in my business. This truly boosted my confidence as an entrepreneur. Once I embraced this mind set, I have not looked back. I have also learned how not to take no personally, which has also helped increase my confidence and bottom line.
Thanks to Dr.Tana M.Session
I would tell my younger self that it’s okay to slow down sometimes. I was incredibly eager to make my business come to life. I had a vision, I had an understanding of the financial legislations and regulations. Unfortunately, I hastily took out dozens of small business loans. Eventually I paid them all off and my business became profitable. However, if I had took more time out to network with industry investors or search for applicable grants, the beginning of Goalry might have been less stressful for me. You shouldn’t be lazy, but sometimes being patient pays off.
Thanks to Ethan Taub, Goalry!
#23- Hire great employees
If I could go back to when I first started my business, I would have told myself to focus on hiring great employees, and the success of the business will fall into place. When I was younger, I was more focused on improving the business by saving money and new processes. Now that I have been in business for over 50 years, I have learned that employees should be every businesses’ top-priority, and you can’t put a number on a great employee.
Thanks to Ryan Anderson, Bead the Change!
#24- Create a vision for how you want to be
I wish I’d known about the power of reputation and the many levers available to influence how we are perceived and how we define success. Understanding that impression, perception and emotions drive the opportunities we’re afforded in life and business would have helped me feel more confident and intentional about the jobs I took, the risks I said “yes” to, and the choices I walked away from in growing my career. My younger self felt compelled to show up, behave and live the way others defined as indicators of “success,” and I could have been so much more powerful and impactful had I created my own vision for how I wanted to be in this world. When I speak to younger audiences today, I share the message that you actually have much more control over the way your career unfolds than you believe. And it starts with defining success for yourself.
Thanks to Lida Citroën, LIDA360, LLC!
#25- Start with the exit first
I would tell my younger self: start with the exit first, then work your way back. When you start a business, you’re in it for the long haul. Know your destination, the exit, and work your way back. What’s your vehicle? What route will you take to get there? What will give you the most value for your time? I got into my prior businesses by happenstance. I built them, turned them around, worked my way through them, you name it. But I didn’t look at the end goal, the exit. Start with the exit first.
Thanks to Lil Roberts, Xendoo!
#26- Two things
If I could go back and see the young me, I would tell him two things. First, work hard because hard work does pay off, it’s only a matter of when. The second thing I would tell myself is to never charge for my work with hourly wages or day rates. Younger me should learn to charge based on value and not based on the time I spend working. Don’t sell your time, sell the value that you give to others. Not only will you be able to earn more, you will also come off as more professional.
Thanks to Adam Hempenstall, Better Proposals!
#27- Focus on slow business growth
If I could hop into a time machine and travel back a few years, I’d tell my younger business self to focus on slow business growth and to try not to overestimate things.It happens often where a business will double their team and resources when things are on the up, only to realise a little further down the line that double wasn’t quite what they needed. We did something similar with FireCask a couple of years back – although this didn’t affect us negatively, we soon realised how beneficial it is to take a step back, assess capacity and to spend time and effort on upskilling and rewarding the existing team, before deciding whether or not new hires are needed.
Thanks to Alex Moss, FireCask!
#28- Don’t build your business alone
My greatest business accomplishments have come about by building relationships with other people. Do things like going to conferences, reaching out to people who are ahead of you in business and asking for advice, getting involved in Facebook groups and attending local meetups. Business is all about relationships and you’ll go much farther faster by building those relationships.
Thanks to Ryan Reger