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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Starting Up: Surviving Your First Year as an Entrepreneur

The first year of my startup was, without a doubt, the most educational period of my life. There is so much you can’t possibly know about running a business until you’re actually doing it. The mistakes, trials, and successes of that first year left me with a plethora of lessons.
As someone who started a company on my own, I was solely responsible for everything. That meant I had to manage administrative elements, marketing plans, sales, accounts payable, receivables, payroll, business models, you name it. Each and every aspect of my business depended on me like a small child.

Lesson Learned

When it comes down to what I know now that I wish I’d known that first year, accounts payable and receivables (as they relate to cash flow) stand out as an area that I could have handled better.
Every time I made a mistake, I thought my business would go under, so when I screwed up with poor handling of receivables and payables, I thought it spelled certain doom. The problem was that I was paying people far too quickly in relation to when money was coming in.  One day in particular, when I went to send out a bunch of checks, I realized the business bank account didn’t have even close to the amount I needed. That was a terrible day, and a horribly painful lesson. I survived that situation, but what a wakeup call that was.

Three Words of Advice

If you’re serious about starting your own business, then the very first thing you should do is stop reading this article for a few minutes and make a list of  some people you know who have been through the startup process, or people you think would be good at guiding you through it. If you surround yourself with the right people, you can make it through almost anything.
The second piece of advice is to mentally steel yourself for what’s to come. This is hard to do because you can’t knowexactly what’s in store, but prepare yourself for a rollercoaster of emotions. Much of what I thought I knew was wrong, so expect to be bewildered. Every day can end up being the best and worst of your life. One hour, you land a huge client and you’re on top of the world. An hour later, something falls apart and a client is furious, and you feel like a failure. So just go into it understanding that you’re about to experience something unlike anything you’ve done before. If you’re able to control your emotions from pulling you too high or too low, then you’re already ahead of the game.
Thirdly, embrace the fact that you will mess up – a lot. You’ll probably screw up more than you have in your entire life. You may not be used to doing things wrong. Failure might never have been an option for you before. This will change by the end of your first year, so it’s best to just accept this will be the case and use the mishaps as learning experiences. I know firsthand that every mistake makes you that much smarter; you’ll be thankful for them in the long run.

Those Special Supporters

Like I mentioned before, having a good support system is the single most important thing when you step into the startup world. Two people in particular were integral to helping me through that first year.
The first is Alex Friedman, founder of Ruckus Marketing. Alex is one of my best friends and had followed a path very similar to the one I hoped to be headed down. I found myself walking into Alex’s office on numerous occasions to get his advice on one thing or another. Alex excelled at knocking some sense into me when the situation called for it. He’s a straightforward guy and didn’t mince words when it came to things I could improve, which is just what I needed.
My father was the second key component in my support system. Each time (and there were more than I’d like to admit) I was sure my business was failing, I would rush off to my parents’ house in a very nervous state to talk things over with my dad. First, he would calm me down, which was key. Then we talked until the wee hours of the morning, figuring out exactly what I was doing wrong, and what I should do to correct the situation and prevent it from happening again. My father was truly a lifesaver that first year.


My superb support system, coupled with knowing that I was learning from all my mistakes, kept me grounded during my first year as an entrepreneur. Sometimes I feel like I have a PhD in “biffing it,” thanks to all my errors. But I managed to keep the mistakes small in the grand scheme of things, and little by little, I got better at running my company.
I came to realize that as horrible as the mistakes felt, there was always a new day ahead to correct them and improve. My errors didn’t equal Armageddon; they didn’t even mean the end of my business. They were just another step forward on the educational and rocky road of being a business owner. If you’re heading down the same road, buckle up!

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