5 Lessons Learned the Hard Way for Startup Success

by Jennifer Good | October 20th, 2012 4:51 AM | No Comments

Lessons Learned the Hard WayI’m a firm believer that the past is a heavy contributor to who or what you are today. Your belief system, your way of doing day-to-day things, and even your ability to process through decisions and determine what’s best for you or your company comes from your past experiences. With that in mind, it has become clear (at least to me) that the best place to start my story is to give you a clear look at my past and how it has shaped who and what I am today. I have learned a lot, and I have been fortunate enough to be in situations and positions that have granted me incredible insight and knowledge into an industry that is molding and transforming many current and future businesses and entrepreneurs. Yes, folks, we’re talking about the Internet.

My first foray into the idea of creating a business via the Internet was through the self-taught approach of beginning web design in 1996. As a young, single mother, I needed an avenue of income that would allow me time to raise my child the way I wanted (at home) and give me sufficient income to live the life I always wanted (the good life – of course!). As luck would have it, I met and married my husband through this dream and we formed the business officially as a team. We were armed with plenty of zeal and positive thinking. We definitely hit large ups and downs as we plodded through building our business. Within a year, however, two things became very clear.

The first was that we were in the wrong business for me at the time. To help set ourselves apart as experts in the web design and marketing industry, we decided the best approach was to create a “sample” site to show that we “got it.” Lots of businesses offer services to help you, but how many can say they’ve actually used their own service and understand things from your perspective. We felt that if we could make something successful for ourselves, it would help us help others to do it too – and it worked, too well.

This is where the second epiphany came in. I could do more good on a larger scale working on our pet project full-time than I could in our current business model. Before we had this realization, my time was constantly being torn between working on a pet project that I loved and helping people create their visions of success online (something I loved dependent upon the client – but that’s more zen for another post!). This constant battle of trying to give 100% to each aspect of the business was counterproductive to the main motivation for becoming self-employed. My family time was dwindling and overall we weren’t happy with the direction things were going. I wanted to keep our business something we could still do at home, so based on our options and goals for the future, we gave up the web design and focused fully on my pet project, Lovingyou.com.

Referring to this business as a pet project is a bit of an understatement, which brings me to the first lesson I want to share:

Be prepared for success.

As professionals, we all undertake a variety of projects, clients and prospects because we expect to do well with them. However, often we don’t actually put any steps or procedures in to ensure smooth sailing when we do achieve our targets. It’s almost like we’ve surprised even ourselves when we actually accomplish our goal. This is especially true for start ups. Lovingyou.com went live “officially” in October 1997 and by Valentine’s Day in 1998, we had grown so huge so quickly that we crashed our entire hosting company’s servers by 11am. They refused to host us after that and gave us the sage parting wisdom that a site about love and relationships will never bring a profit and we should quit while we were still ahead. Enter lesson #2:

Don’t let anyone else’s opinion about your goals become your own.

It surprises me how often people seem attracted to other people’s “well meaning” advice. If you believe in yourself and your product or vision, don’t let anyone stop you. Even if you fail or don’t meet your expectations, you’ve still learned something that will help you in future ventures. Don’t fall into the trap that other people have to understand where you’re going. Often, as an entrepreneur, you’re going to be the only one that “gets it.” That’s okay. That’s what being an entrepreneur is about. Stepping out and creating a new way of doing or looking at things. Just keep true to yourself and your values and you’ll do well. In fact, that’s just what we did.

After we were shut down, we had to do some hard thinking about the direction of the site. We were faced with an unseemly large hosting bill to keep going and were forced to consider how we were going to make money off of this venture. This “shut down” was actually when our realizations about our future came into fruition. It was certainly a risk, as the site was purely an act of love and I was worried that if it became our major source of income I wouldn’t feel passionate about it anymore. I didn’t want to risk it becoming a chore. This is how I learned lesson three:

When you’re doing something you love, it doesn’t feel like work.

It sounds so cliche, however from my own experience, I’ve definitely found it to be true. When you love what you do, everything you do becomes a natural extension of your work. I could go anywhere and glean advice, ideas and inspiration for articles or new content or features to add. It actually became more liberating and even more rewarding as we gained more and more traffic and income.

However, even when you’re passionate about something, projects can grow so out of control that you just can’t do it alone. This is when I discovered the next lesson:

Ask for help when you really need it and be open to at least trying the ideas presented.

In our beginning days, I solicited help from family members and anyone else who was willing to contribute. Not everyone’s ideas were great, and we certainly made a few mistakes along the way. However, we grew stronger as unit and it helped us communicate even better later down the road. We also made sure to use third-party subcontractors for things we couldn’t do ourselves and even helped our bottom-line by engaging in various partnerships with said subcontractors. Business is about building relationships. Not just with customers, but with your employees, family, friends and co-workers. You can do a lot by yourself, and trust me I did, but you can do even more with the help of those who understand your vision and have something valuable to contribute to it. This task is much easier when you follow lesson #5:

Know and be able to communicate where you want to end up.

Our first goals were insanely lofty. We wanted to be a top 100 site. We never made it, but it didn’t make it an unworthy goal. We did hit in the top 500 once and we were consistently in the top 1000 for quite some time. Lovingyou.com was featured in numerous publications, radio shows and TV programs all over the world. In addition, Lovingyou.com was the number one visited site in its genre. Those achievements may not have been our original goal, but they were impressive just the same. I have a book with the following quote on the cover sitting on my desk as a daily reminder of this philosophy – “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” It never hurts to dream big and plan for that success. I never complained about just missing our end goals, and you’ll more than likely find that you won’t either. It’s the bigger dream that helps us focus and channel our energy to get up and do what we need to do to get things done each day.

Now, in true spirit of teaching, it’s time to look inward. What are your goals? Where do you want to be with your own company? Do you love what you’re doing? Are there ways you could improve things? Share your thoughts and let’s figure it out together!

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