Last year, Ruby Receptionists asked me to be a contributor to their publication, Lessons Learned: Advice & Insights From Entrepreneurs, For Entrepreneurs. I was excited to join the discussion to share my own lessons from the school of hard knocks and offer pearls of wisdom on pricing and operations. Business owners big and small opened up about the lessons they learned from their own mistakes and how those events shaped their current business philosophies and success stories. Here are my excerpts from the book, including insights from other contributors.
From Humble Beginnings To Spotlight Success
In Chapter One, we were asked to reflect on our humble beginnings and answer the following question: What Advice Would You Give Someone Starting Today?
"Don’t Sell Yourself Short - It’s important to really know your costs inside and out before you ever set your pricing or open your physical or virtual doors. Most of us get so excited to hang out our shingles we forget to accurately calculate our cost of goods sold, overhead, or how much time it will take us and our staff to service clients or produce products and still take something home in the end!"
In terms of lessons learned, other small business owners felt it was important to never stop learning. Whether that meant hiring a business coach, taking classes, or conducting frequent experiments, everyone agreed it’s important to continually educate oneself. Not just to learn tools that optimize efficiency, but to cultivate an understanding about customers and convert negative feedback into better strategies.
Jill Nelson, founder of Ruby Receptionists, began her company with the goal of providing clients with “virtual receptionists.” She knew what she had to sell, but it took years to realize what her company’s real mission was. “Those early customers were so pivotal, not just for helping us get off the ground, but for showing us what our true value proposition was. I had thought that we were simply helping businesses “off load” their phone duties, but what we learned from our customers was that our natural, friendly, phone demeanor and desire to help was winning business and creating happy, loyal clients.”
I couldn’t agree more. I’ve talked before about finding your niche. There are no shortage of event planners in Los Angeles. When I was starting The Party Goddess!, I wasn’t particularly discerning about the clients I took. It was only after I hosted a few luxury events for A-list entertainers that I realized celebrity events was where I had value.
Cultivating The Customer Experience
In Chapter Two, all of us agreed, one of the biggest lessons learned was dealing with customers. We were asked to focus on growth and answer the following question: What Is Your Number One Customer Service Tip?
If you’re a regular blog follower of mine, you know I’m always harping on speed! So, I was perfectly pleased to hear another entrepreneur echo my sentiments!
Here’s what Nick Grey of Museum Hack had to say… “Answer faster! Nobody that contacts you is thinking, 'I hope this company emails me back two days from now.' They are looking for an answer today, this minute. We work flexible hours and have customer service members in different time zones. That way, we can field questions even when they come in early morning or late at night. It’s always daytime somewhere.”
Exploring Tricks of The Trade
In Chapter Three, we discussed tools and software that helps run our businesses efficiently. They asked us to answer the following question: What Is Your Favorite Tool Or Application, And Why?
“I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Evernote. We use it for everything, and it syncs with all of our devices. As soon as I take an event inquiry, I tee up a “note” in my Event Planning Notebook and start recording all of the details. As the event takes shape, Evernote makes it super easy to include photos of the event site and drawings. It also has the ability to share the notes among team members, so everything is all in one place.“
Overcoming First-Year Challenges
In Chapter Four, we were asked: What Do You Wish You Had Known In The Beginning?
“Leave the past behind. The biggest challenge I faced in year one was confidence. My head was so full of all of the mistakes I had made in the past. And I was still beating myself up. The lessons were valuable, but at some point, you need to turn off the tape and say “Enough!” You’ve got to do the best you can in terms of coming up with a real differential advantage. You also need solid pricing and business models.”
The Big Picture Is What Really Matters
“In the beginning, I was so caught up with things that didn’t matter but were fun to focus on. Like tweaking my first promotional mailer and making sure my website was perfect (translation: expensive). In retrospect, I should’ve started with a more basic website, blog, and a list of services. Then I could have developed it more as I went along. I should’ve focused more on my differential advantage and pricing model and less on the perfect Pantone shade of yellow.”
When it comes to running a business, here's one of my favorite quotes by Brian Tracy. “Effective performance is preceded by painstaking preparation.” Ain’t that the truth! Luckily, there are many resources available to business owners starting out, including blogs like this and books such as But Are You Making Any Money? The more lessons learned from others, the fewer mistakes you'll make on your own. With them, you’ll be better able to develop a winning strategy and a faster path to success.
For more business tips and career advice, check out these other awesome articles or contact me if you’re launching your own business and want support from someone who’s been there, and done that!