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14 Small Business Tips From Those Who Have Lived It

Mary Clare Novak
Mary Clare Novak  |  June 13, 2019

Do you ever look back on a mistake you made when you were young and think, “Wow, I wish I knew then what I know now.”

This especially goes for aspiring small business owners. There are countless potential mistakes to make in the business world. Some teach valuable lessons that inspire personal and professional growth, while others are made at the cost of your business.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as time travel and we cannot warn our past selves to take certain actions or avoid particular situations. Luckily, you aren’t the only person who has had the goal of starting one of the most profitable small businesses in the modern economy.

Related content: The Most Profitable Small Businesses →

12 tips from small business owners

We asked twelve small business owners the best piece of advice they received that they later applied when starting their small business.

1. Just do it


“There will always be reasons why not to start your company: you need more experience before you launch, you need a better idea or product, you need a better business plan, you need a more financially stable situation. There is no way you can solve all these problems before you start. Just get started and do it. The question becomes less if you should start your company, but more why not start your company. For me, I feel every day like I am building a plane while flying it. If you surround yourself with smart people you won’t be flying that plane alone.”

- Hervé Billiet, CEO of Ipsun Solar

2. Do your research

“My business plan professor advised me to do tons of industry research when writing a business plan. Many people breeze over this part of the business plan, especially when they think they know the industry (whether as a customer or a business insider). By doing research, I was able to see a huge market opportunity no one else was capitalizing on.”

- Danielle Ferrari, Owner and Founder of Valhalla Resale

RELATED: Don't forget to get creative and even a little scrappy! Check out these 25 free local advertising ideas for small businesses from our friends at Womply.

3. Build an economic moat

“The best advice I received when starting a business was from a close friend and mentor. He told me to build an economic moat. It means to always have something special that the competition doesn't have. It will protect your profits long term. There will always be bigger businesses that can outspend you. The key is to have something that money cannot buy.”

- Jonathan Holloway, Co-Founder of NoExam

small business tips

4. Focus on what makes money

“Focus on what makes you money. It's simple, but rarely do business owners focus on the one thing that makes them money and keeps their business alive. They work on processes and templates and on and on. Then they fail to put the majority of their efforts (80+%) into the money maker. Could be spending their time on marketing, or new client development - whatever it is, focus on it. Just focus.”

- Uriah Dortch, Owner of The Inspiring Investment

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5. Don’t fix the journey

“It's important to have a target of what you want to achieve but don't fix your journey of how to get there. Everyone remembers a target but few care about how it's achieved.

Bottom Line: If you hit a wall on route to your targets, don't go through the wall. Change your path and go around it.”

- Joe Flanagan, Operating Officer at Suddora

6. Take it one day at a time

“Do one thing every single day that will help your business grow.

Sometimes it's difficult to stay focused or motivated when in the grind of trying to get a business off the ground, but if you can at least execute one tangible thing every single day, those things will add up and you will find long term success.”

-Chris Stasiuk, Founder of Signature Video Group

small business advice

7. Ask for help when you need it

“No person is an island. You can't achieve success without the help of others so don't be afraid to drop the ego, ask for help, and allow people to help you. This advice allowed me to break free of wanting to do everything on my own and bring in partners to help build the company. Prior to that, I was building the company on my own - once I allowed myself to accept help, our growth rate increased dramatically and I no longer have to eat lunch by myself.”

- Chris Shellenbarger, Founder of CloudRepo

8. Don’t compare yourself

“You are on your own personal journey and have your own personal goals with your business. Do not compare yourself to others. You know in your heart and gut what your vision is and what you want to achieve. Go get it.”

-Jessica Rhoades, Owner of Create IT Web Designs

9. Never stop learning

“The best advice I have ever received in starting my business is to always keep learning. The only constant in life and business is change. Whether it’s the people, products, services, the marketplace, software, etc., everything is in a constant state of motion. Businesses that adapt to a fast-changing environment can grow and thrive, while businesses that are slow to adapt and learn are left behind.

I apply this advice to my life and business daily. The more that I learn from different fields of study, the better I’m able to tackle problems from a creative new perspective.”

- Sarkis Hakopdjanian from The Business Clinic

advice from small business owners

10. You are never finished

“ ‘The road to success is always under construction.’

It has become my main mantra. As I am a perfectionist and a master in procrastination, I use this quote plus the following affirmation to get out of the perfectionism paralysis. You are a work in progress, which means you are never “finished.” You always have the chance to improve yourself and become something and someone better than who you already are. Be comfortable with making mistakes and accepting yourself for who you are.”

- Erica van Engel, Founder of Belief in Business

11. Don’t be afraid of failure

“As a young entrepreneur, the best piece of advice I've ever received is to not to be afraid of failing. Failure should be embraced. Without failing how can you learn or succeed? If you're too afraid to fail, and fail hard, you won't take the risk.”

- Christopher Dangler, Owner of The Kentucky Double

12. Enjoy it

“The number one piece of advice which I still recall every single day is: enjoy it! Simple as that. If you wake up in the morning dreading the meetings, deadlines, late nights, employees, or even the payables, you're doing it wrong. Nobody ever made something great out of dread - your business needs to thrill you, challenge you, and engage you. If you're passionate, you're already two steps ahead of the competition.”

- Alexandra Marin, Co-Founder of CodeCrew

tips from small business owners

13. Be curious

"Dedicate yourself to ongoing curiosity when it comes to your target audience, customers, and clients. Learn about them, conduct experiments, put yourself in their shoes, utilize user testing when applicable, ask questions, and gather measurable feedback. I recommend the Net Promoter Score for measuring customer experience satisfaction. 

Direct insights and data from real people (other than your mom) will help you continually evolve, improve, and ultimately build a business that meets genuine market needs."

- Brittany Bach, Holistic Creative

14. Stay hungry 

"Determination. The famous book called "Think and Grow Rich", which many of you might know, taught me that lesson. This law is so powerful because feeling indecisive most often results in missing out progress, time and opportunities. When you feel determined, it's the opposite. Will you potentially make wrong decisions? Most certainly. However, you can learn from mistakes and improve. Determination means moving forward and that's super valuable for probably any businesses."

- Axel Kuehnle, Zeitgeist Solutions

Venture on

Starting a small business with a bang is a daunting task. There are countless ways your business can fail, but there are also plenty of ways it can succeed. But don’t take it from me. Take it from those who have done it themselves and lived to tell the tale. If you think you have what it takes to embody the tips listed above, it might be time to move forward with that small business idea.

Curious about what happens after your business takes off? Check out our resource on business size that breaks down what you need to upgrade to the next level. 

Mary Clare Novak
Author

Mary Clare Novak

Mary Clare Novak is a Content Marketing Associate at G2 in Chicago. A recent graduate, she is happy to be back working in her favorite city. In her free time, you can find her doing a crossword puzzle, listening to cover bands, or eating fish tacos. (she/her/hers)