Our company made the Inc. 5000 list again!
You can read more in depth here on where we ranked, but for the third year in a row, this has me thinking a lot about where we started ten years ago.
Being a startup is challenging, and there were lots of moments when my partners and I questioned our choices in the early days. That being said, there were several decisions we made that were smart and ended up being great in the long run.
If I had to go back in time and share the right choices with my past self or was directly speaking to another startup, here are the five most important I would say you need to do when you’re starting a business.
#1 Focus on revenue
The old adage ‘good sales fix everything’ has validity.
Starting and growing a business starts with sales. If you can’t sell to pay the bills, nothing else matters. You could have the best product or service ever created, but if nobody knows about it, or you can’t clearly communicate why someone should buy what you’re selling, you’re done.
And if you can’t execute on driving revenue, you’re probably better off not investing your time in the first place.
You should even consider pre-selling your product or solution. What this means is, before you start offering a new solution, you should be having conversations to gauge if people are interested and willing to buy your product or service.
We do this with feature requests, or new integrations, when it comes to our SaaS solution, ConnectBooster.
Pre-selling allows you the luxury of making sure you are not wasting your time. People will tell you what they want, you just need to listen to them. Find the pain and the value of the pain that is being solved, then make sure your cost is less than the pain. Selling gets a lot easier when you can deliver more value than what you charge.
#2 Invest in infrastructure
Right off the bat, I can say this one is a challenge, especially when you have almost no money.
Buying equipment and software to help you run your business is important, but something a lot of startup companies skip.
In the short term, yes, it makes sense to go for the cheap option. Why pay for accounting software or a CRM when you can use spreadsheets? Why buy a nicer computer when you can buy an older one? It’s a tempting option when you’re struggling to make a profit and keep your business open.
But not investing in the processes and software you need can come back and bite you in the long run. We struggled with this a lot in the beginning, considering we had lost all of the revenue for a period of several months, money was tight. Spending money on things like accounting software or nicer computers just wasn’t a priority.
But that changed over time. As we began to earn more money, we could have just added it to our own pockets, but we didn’t do that. We realized we needed to reinvest what little money we had for growing the business further down the line.
I’ve had to adapt from doing everything and saving money everywhere we could. Buying the cheap stuff, spending the extra time to do something instead of hiring someone, etc. And as we continue to grow, valuing the time, paying for the software, the tools, that allows us to scale and grow.
When you’re starting out it’s tough, because you don’t have a lot of money or resources, so you try to do everything yourself. The problem is if you don’t start working towards off-loading that, you’re going to be stuck in a rut because you’ll never have time.
We often argue that sometimes for a company our size, we’ve spent way more money on infrastructure, software, CRM, accounting, website, than businesses that were even ten times bigger than us.
I don’t know if that was right or wrong, but it’s what we did. We always wanted to grow, we wanted to be a large company, and we always had a big vision. And we couldn’t have reached that vision unless we were adequately investing in our infrastructure while we’re still growing.
#3 Be a decisive decision maker
Don’t be afraid to make decisions, even if you make a mistake.
Making a few mistakes is bound to happen, and it’s a part of running a business. You should expect it to happen.
I owe a lot of credit to our success to the fact that we made decisive decisions and sometimes they were wrong. It’s the reality, you will sometimes make mistakes, and that’s okay.
You can’t expect to grow if you never learn from your bad decisions.
Owning a business isn’t something you find out how to do in any classroom. There are times word of mouth can’t even prepare you for some of the situations you’re going to encounter. There will be situations when you’re going to have to make a choice because you can’t avoid it.
Learning to evaluate information quickly and make a decisive decision is one of the essential skills you need to develop as a young startup. Nothing can kill a business more if they can’t make any decision or move forward on any project.
How many times you hear someone say, “Well, let me think about it overnight.” To which I ask, think about what? A lot of times it’s just a yes or no question if you’ve already weighed all the pros and cons, what is going to change overnight?
Now true, sometimes if you or the person you’re deciding with is angry or in an emotional state, you may need to cool off for a day or two, and come back in a better emotional place. But by and large, most decisions you’ll make will not become any clearer the longer you wait to make a choice.
A lot of the business decisions can be made from numbers, facts, and opportunity. Analyze all the facts, go through what you know, make a decision, and go with it.
If you end up finding out later that it wasn’t the right decision, it’s not game over. Just adjust and move forward.
Don’t beat yourself up that you didn’t make the right decision. Learn from it, go on. Too many people are afraid of making mistakes. We’ve made lots of mistakes. I like to think that we’ve just made all the mistakes a lot faster than everyone else.
You’re never going to be successful if you’re afraid of taking a risk. You have to dive in and make a choice eventually.
Don’t let the fear of failure keep you from making a decision.
#4 Decide where you want to be in the next ten years
If you don’t know where you want to be in ten years, you’ll never reach it.
Do you know what you’re fighting for? What’s your 10-year goal? Your big dream? If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?
Sit down and lay out some measurable goals. Do you want to be making 5 million in 10 years? Well, what do you need to get there in 5 years? Then you break it down to a three-year plan. Then you break it down to a one-year. Then you break it down to quarterly goals to meet.
If I want to sign a thousand new customers in a year, that means I need to average 250 a quarter. Okay. So, that’s how many a month? 62 sales a month? Now you have a goal!
Then evaluate if what you’re trying to do is realistic, or do you need to change your expectations, or change or strategy. Just make sure you have thought this through so you are not setting yourself up for failure from the beginning.
It’s all about creating small goals that will lead you to your bigger goals. It’s learning. Those are the things we’re doing here with Programs like Brightgauge, Trello, and our CRM. All these programs help us track each department leads, demos, and close sales every month.
You just have to get those little tangible goals. It’s almost like filling in the blank. Once you figure out some of those big ones, you can just pare it down to the details.
#5 Work with people who love what you do
The people you work with can make or break you, especially when you are first starting out.
Getting through the daily grind and struggles is miserable enough. Having people you work with who drag you down does not make it any better, in fact, it makes it worse.
Now imagine doing the daily grind that comes with the business, now picture you can do it with your best friends and people you love to be around.
How excited are you to do it? Part of us grinding through and all the difficulties of business, we were able to get through and have a good attitude because I was doing it with my friends.
Even when it’s hard or difficult, because lots of the things are, being able to laugh about it helps. We learned to laugh about a lot of the stuff that we did and we got through it by not taking ourselves too seriously, and learning to laugh with our team.
Having the right environment and company culture can make even the worst parts of running a business enjoyable. The right people in the right place can make any challenge seem possible, and bind you to your business.
If I didn’t care about the people we employ or my partners, it would be so easy to look for a way out. Sell the company, retire on a huge profit, and just leave. But I won’t do that because I love our team.
I love seeing people every work day (and outside of work) and want to see how far we can go.
I wouldn’t be able to experience any of the current joy I do from my company if we hadn’t picked the right people to work with from the beginning.
Don’t underestimate how people can affect your business.