As you can probably tell from the title, today’s post is focused on entrepreneurship. I have had TAOpivot since February 2012 and only started going full-speed with the business last June. Today, at the pre-conference talk at Inc. Leadership Forum, Norm Brodsky was telling the crowd about how “starting one’s own business is not easy.” Immediately, I heard my parents telling me the same thing throughout my young life.
So, before I gain more insight into how to be a better business owner and overall leader at the Leadership Forum, here are some lessons learned from this past year:
- Listen to the customer – No really; LISTEN. I have read this piece of advice many times from different sources, but I had to experience the lesson firsthand. I had originally priced all my services at a large premium because I did not want to appear “cheap”. However, the way my original pricing structure was organized, I wanted clients to pay the total service fee upfront with no guarantee of success rendering services. After getting rejected many times by different prospects over the price being “too much”, I changed the structure (and the prices) at the beginning of this year to include a nonrefundable deposit of a reasonable amount. That change has helped bring in many more clients than my original process last year.
- I do not have to do everything alone – Before TAOpivot came to being, I was already working with my idea coach, ideavist. During most of last year, I continued my work with him because I felt I needed help. There were a few periods of time this past year where I did not have help via ideavist nor intern. I was alone, and I thought I could do it all by myself. Nope. Luckily these days, I have more entrepreneurial friends so we can bounce ideas and advice off one another. Having others around for support and company assistance (interns) has helped me out a lot. I want to wear all the hats of the company, but I know I cannot.
- Know my weaknesses well & delegate – As mentioned above, I want to wear all the hats at TAOpivot, but I know I cannot. There are areas I have recognized as genuine weaknesses: even though I studied marketing in undergrad, I know I am rusty with different deliverables and seeing the big picture objectively. Also, the fact that I interact with foreign nationals as part of my business is another weakness I have found–sure, I communicate with all my prospects and clients in English. But I understand that my way of marketing to them is not so effective without someone from that same culture. Hence the reason why I have taken on interns from the majority client base’s culture (in this case, China).
- Be wise with my time – The entrepreneur’s forever task on the to-do list. There have been periods this past year where I would inundate my schedule with a lot of meetings. Granted, these meetings were set with good intentions: learn about possible partnerships and basically connect with more businesspeople in the community. However–having so many meetings in a short amount of time is so draining…and sometimes, the meetings would have been best done via email or shorter periods. I have learned that I must be more selfish about my time: set how long the meeting will last, have an agenda mapped out, and talk about just that. Lately, I have been shying away from meetings in general due to my ‘overdose’ early last month. Slowly easing back in…
- Agendas are important – I naturally like to stay organized, but somehow the part about meeting agendas had slipped through the cracks this past year. This relates to my time management issue above: I go to a meeting without a somewhat clear vision of what I want out of it and then end up babbling with colleagues over insignificant things. Last week, I had a meeting with my intern to check up on how things were going on his end and what we needed to do next. I drew up a small list of topics we were to talk about; the meeting went so much more smoothly (and faster!) with my preparation.
- Stay focused and on my OWN path – I admit, I love going to tech events and meeting tech entrepreneurs in Denver/around the country. There’s this electricity that builds up at tech gatherings that I just want to be a part of. However, over and over, I am reminded that TAOpivot is NOT a tech company. Nor will it ever be (at least, it won’t ever have a primary tech focus as far as I can see). Only a few days ago, I was mumbling about the lack of funding TAOpivot had. A colleague of mine put me in my place: “Your business is better off being a SMB (small- to medium-sized business). You want to be 100% in control, right?” That put my thoughts into perspective: why should I keep striving to be what I know TAOpivot cannot be? Play upon the strengths I know for TAOpivot; stop worrying about the tech industry and “not fitting in” with the crowd. Stay unique and focused.
There are many other lessons I have learned, but those can be for another day. For now, I hope these lessons I have learned will help you with your venture as well.