I’ve learned a lot in my twelve years in business. Practically 90 percent of that time was spent starting and closing one startup or another. I had to fail for 10 straight years to be prepared to scale a six-figure freelance business.
Entrepreneurship looked bleak to me and failure unavoidable. But I didn’t pull the plug on myself. I learned resiliency in business through multiple failures, and I matured quickly. Each failure offered lessons I wouldn’t have been able to learn in any school.
Here’s what I learned along the way.
1. Start documenting—don’t create.
Creating instead of documenting has killed a lot of businesses that had awesome ideas. I got this term from Gary Vee. He says the “create” approach means working on your project until you’re certain it’s completely polished and looks like the top products in the market, and your strategies and sales tools are all top-notch before you ever think of launching.
This requires solid funding to pull off, it’s a huge risk, and will take a lot of time for most rookie entrepreneurs. The danger here is that perfectionism can derail the entire project before it ever gets off the ground.
I recommend that businesses ”document” instead of focusing on creating. In this instance, to document means simply to make a product that sincerely solves a dire need, and launch it after few iterations so that it reaches the target audience as fast as possible.
This strategy means shipping quickly and making improvements as you grow. You can actually ship an MVP (minimum viable product), perfect it, and settle other issues as they come up. This actually aligns closely with the Lean Planning approach, which allows your business to be more agile and make adjustments as you test your idea in the market.
Two of my startups failed because I was so busy “creating” or perfecting the products. Business perfectionism killed my execution and that slowed my business down. One example of the risk of this sort of perfectionism is when I had an issue with the way the product looked, the delays killed the idea.
Focus the majority of your time on the 80 percent of business components that bring in the most money. I had been ignorantly focusing on the 20 percent of the business that wasn’t directly related to revenue. I thought that focus was critical, but in hindsight, I was effectively just doing things that would kill my business.
I had two core realizations from this experience:
First, I was letting my temperaments rule my business. As a part sanguine and part melancholic, I was addicted to perfecting things before I launched. I had to grow myself out this phase and force myself to let go.
Second, I soon found out that clients didn’t care about the packaging the way I had thought they did. Customers simply wanted a working product that solved their problem.
Potential customers want value, and they will go any length to get it. I’ve discovered that many times, nothing is really wrong with our product. The core stumbling block is the lack of execution or not executing fast enough to the right audience. Second-guessing breeds fear, and fear incapacitates you.
My freelance business looked ugly. I didn’t have the best of website themes and my design skills were terrible—I thought these issues would repel clients. I was wrong. I simply needed to ignore the perfection impulse and focus on the business engines that were really important.
When I say business engines, I mean components that keep a machine working. Think of your business as a machine made of diverse components that help it function effectively.
So instead of focusing on the designs and themes (the aesthetic), I should have focused on the sales engines (ways to improve my sales funnels). I should have spent more time on the feedback engines—or tracking what was working and what wasn’t for actual customers. And optimizing my outbound marketing email strategy also would have served my business better.
2. Each failure or setback is important.
Now, I’m not suggesting that failing is good. I’m simply saying that each setback has a way of teaching you why some strategy won’t work and why others might. Setbacks have a way of showing you what your lapses are, and what you can do about them.
Than main reasons that four of my startups failed were due to wrong market analysis. At first, I wasn’t your typical research-your-market-very-well kind of guy.
I was naïve like every rookie entrepreneur and kept entering competitive niches that were too tight to make money. I knew how to craft products to look good. I had lots of ideas flowing through my mind about potential niches, but l wasn’t getting much traction because the competition was too fierce. That was a failure poking right back at me. Failures and setbacks made me feel bad. Those bad feelings forced me to sit up.
So, I started cultivating a strategy to systematically check for mistakes and quickly work out solutions, because when it took too long to implement changes or address miscalculations, I ran the risk of it ballooning into a larger failure or issue.
For me, the key to reducing setbacks in my freelance business was to study my business metrics, do a robust market analysis, and close the loopholes as they emerged. The faster I did that, the more high paying clients I secured.
For rookie entrepreneurs, focus on learning how to mend business cracks as quickly as you find them, and you’ll minimize the impact of unexpected challenges.
But for this to work, you need to develop the habit of tracking all your numbers. Know every business metric for your company—start with Google Analytics. This will help you discover issues before they become bigger and more problematic.
3. It’s essential to have a strategy for getting customers.
This is the most important reason we’re in business—to get customers who will pay for our services. What helped me to succeed in my freelance business was my strategic approach to customer acquisition.
Business must be calculable—and it’s same with customer acquisition.
I started to focus on one central question: How can I position myself to get more customers for my business? The more I asked that question, the more I was forced to do deep research to get answers. Those answers prompted me to take action and set up better funnels.
To succeed, a business must have funnels. How did I build mine?
I simply focused on two core aspects of my business: the client acquisition funnel and the repeat customer acquisition funnel.
The first funnel that I set up was for client acquisition. Clients are humans so that ultimately makes them emotional beings that make buying decisions based on their emotions.
You can easily set this up by simply figuring out where your clients are and how to grab them. My clients are very much active on LinkedIn, so I automated the process of reaching out to potential leads by delegating people on my team to do it systematically, so I didn’t have to personally focus so much on this aspect of my business.
I set up the second outreach funnel to make sure I retained my clients, so I wouldn’t just lose them after one or two jobs.
The first funnel kept clients coming in, the second focused on established clients and kept them ordering.
4. Entrepreneurship is a waiting game.
You need to hold on when things aren’t working out the way you want them to.
I started seeing real income from a business after closing seven startups in eight years. Tenacity is the key to success in the entrepreneurial journey.
To tell the truth, when I started, I wasn’t in the best financial position to run a business. Coupled with the recession in my country, it took a lot of emotional fights and doing odd jobs to keep myself standing. And I had to learn different skills to make money in the long period before I was making money from my main business.
I knew that if I could hold on and keep doing what I was doing, success was inevitable. So hold on. Don’t get depressed if stuff doesn’t work out the way you envisioned at first.
Just don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Keep learning new skills that can benefit your startup, and try to leverage them to get side jobs too.
For me, giving up wasn’t an option. That resolve kept me strong till I finally had everything in place to grow a viable, successful business. If you’re not seeing anything yet, hold on, with resiliency you will hit gold. In the meantime, make sure you have a good handle on your personal strengths and weaknesses, and do everything you can to address them.
Get a mentor. I regret not getting one in my early days. There were many mistakes I could have avoided if I had someone with more experience and perspective to talk through my ideas with. Just don’t give up.
Kc Agu is a startup consultant, a success coach, public speaker, and a prolific writer.