We have had the pleasure of speaking with over 100 business owners about their experience starting and running a business. Not to our surprise, we found many commonalities — challenges they face, rewards they reap, other entrepreneurs they admire, etc.
One of the most interesting times business owners face these common experiences is in their first year in business, when the learning curve is steep and there are many ups and downs. We asked 100 business owners what their smartest moves were in their first year of business. Continue on to find out what they said, check out our blog for more about what business owners have to say, and stay tuned next week for the most common business owner mistakes!
Most Common “Smartest Moves” Made by Business Owners in their First Year
1. I listened to and built relationships with my customers.
12% of business owners surveyed.
“I know where I’m going and I know what I want to do, but I’m flexible enough to shift that based on the feedback I get from my customers and my market. I know there are lines I won’t cross and things I will not do because it’s not who I am or something I’m interested in pursuing. But at the same time, I’m not foolish enough to think that I have all the answers and that my customers can’t tell me something about the direction my business should be going.”
- Suzanne of Atelier Six, Biz Owner #35
“I always put customer service first. All items in my shop are personal and customized. I want customers to have a great journey throughout the purchasing process so that they know we understand the importance of this keepsake in their life.”
- Brittany of B.Stamped, Biz Owner #100
“I listened to my customers. I went into the business with a very clear-cut idea of what I was going to do, what the business was going to look like, and how my life was going to go. Today, it doesn’t resemble that – not even close.”
"Sitting there and being very accessible and approachable with this cute sign, people started to come up to me and ask me all sorts of questions. We’d have a conversation and start to develop a relationship. And because the same people come back each week to the farmer’s market, I’d see them over again. And then they’d come over a month later and say, “I’ve been thinking about what we were talking about,” and we’d continue the conversation. All I had to do was sit there and people would walk by and remember me. And then the next year, people were like, “Hey, remember when we were talking about that thing? Let’s take it further.” So, conversations became projects."
- Willard of Footprint Architecture, Biz Owner #44
2. I put together a great team.
7% of business owners surveyed.
“Even though we are really a mom and pop shop, I learned early on to find the people who are niche experts with special skill sets. I learned that my job as the business owner is to figure out exactly what we need and then to find somebody who can do that. That’s the reason we’ve been so successful.”
- John of Mayan Rental, Biz Owner #99
“We put a great team together. Our core group of guys are great with great experience in respective fields. We make an awesome team. We have to be nimble, and keep changing ourselves as the market changes. Everybody is really good with that. They are all flexible and committed. So the smartest thing we did was to bring together a great group of partners up front.”
- John of PicCollage, Biz Owner #75
3. I took the leap of faith!
7% of business owners surveyed.
“The smartest thing I did was to make the leap and left my really well-paying job. You know many, many years ago somebody gave me that very famous quote by the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, ‘Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.’ I had the quote on my wall in my house for more than 10 years, and I followed it. It was the smartest thing I did to make the leap of faith with the spirit of ‘I can do it.’”
"Smartest thing I ever did was to just start my business. There were so many obstacles in front of me when I wanted to start it. For one thing, it’s hard to do this job when you are female. I am only one of two women owned limo services that run out of LAX. The vast majority of drivers are male. It’s a really, really competitive business. You have Uber, and taxis, and larger companies with better cars and more cars. I just told myself to put my foot in the door and start the business. It was the smartest thing I ever did. I have an advantage because our clients are very loyal and so we have a bond that the other people don’t."
- Patricia of M&G Limousine Service
4. I chose a good location.
4% of business owners surveyed.
“The smartest thing I’ve ever done was hire really good people… The other really smart thing I did was to find a perfect location in a city that supports small business. We are near the freeways, and we are in a very active residential area. We couldn’t have found a better location.”
- Jose of Load N’ Go, Biz Owner #15
5. I hired a designer to create my brand.
3% of business owners surveyed.
“Even when I thought of [my business] as a hobby, I still took a very high degree of pride of ownership. If my name was going to be on it, I wanted it to look good. I invested in hosting my own website, I spent money on a high-end premium team and I hired a graphic designer to help me with some of the design elements on my website. I think too many people are putting their names on websites on the Internet that look sloppy, have advertising on them and have a header that they just kind of slapped together in PicMonkey. I think you need to invest in making it happen, or else don’t bother. Be honest with yourself: If you’re not willing to invest the time and energy to do it right, maybe you should just wait until you are.”
- Alexis of Troublesome Tots, Biz Owner #38