The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council. Founded by Scott Gerber, the Y.E.C. is a nonprofit organization that provides young entrepreneurs with access to tools, mentorship, community and educational resources that support each stage of their business’s development and growth. The organization promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to youth unemployment and underemployment.
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What business advice would you give to yourself 5 years ago if you could travel back in time?
No. 1: Never forget your customers.
Your customers are the most important people for your business, and you really do have to put them first and foremost for everything else to work right. They're the first critics when things start going wrong.
No. 2: Focus... Focus... Focus.
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All of my business failures (of which there have been many) have come from building businesses that try to solve too many problems at the same time. When I focus a business on solving one problem and becoming the number-one solution for that one problem, that's where I've seen success. So my advice to myself would be to always stay hyper-focused on building businesses that solve only one problem.
No. 3: Treat yourself as an asset.
Lots of people invest by putting their money into savings accounts, bonds, stocks and the like, but they may totally ignore their most important asset: themselves. Build up your levels of knowledge, wisdom and skills and you'll never encounter a problem you can't solve, or desire you can't fulfill. Hands down, it's the best investment you can make.
No. 4: What are you waiting for?
You don't have to wait until you're big, successful or well-known to create exactly what you want in your business - these ideas are constructs that you may never reach! Instead, stretch yourself to build your dream business NOW! Too many people wait for "someday", go with your biggest, most outrageous idea and start bringing it into reality.
No. 5: URGENT: Get a mentor!
Dear Josh of 2005, Stop what you're doing right now and get a mentor. They will save you time, money, heartbreak and headache. Stop being immature. Stop thinking you can do this all by yourself. Stop thinking you need to climb the mountain alone. Find someone more successful than you. Buy them lunch once a month. Ask them how you can improve. Then do what they say.
No. 6: Birds of a feather flock together.
Get connected. Reach out to those 30 Under 30 folks you are seeing Entrepreneur magazine and start to build your network and learn from those who have traveled the path you wish to take. They can save you from the mental blocks that get in the way of starting your business.
No. 7: Keep your five-year plan flexible.
I never would have guessed how much my business has changed in the past five years. And I would have missed opportunities if I had not kept my plan flexible. It is great to be on a track and have goals, but keep reminding yourself along the way to look for new opportunities to shift as technology and the business environment changes.
No. 8: Fail faster.
Don't spend so much time agonizing over decisions. Make them, commit to them, and move on. If you fail, so what? Pick yourself up and keep going. The faster you're willing to try and fail, the faster you'll be successful. There's no shortcut to your destiny so put your seat belt on and take the ride!
No. 9: Work smarter, not harder.
It's trite, but it's true. Before launching your business, do your homework. See what the market will bear. Identify what makes you different. Know your own value. And don't accept anything less. Knowing what you're worth, and saying no to low-paying clients, will make those early, low- or no-profit days end a lot sooner.
No. 10: Start an email list.
The most powerful thing you can build is an email list. Even if you have no idea what direction you're going yet, offer people some tool or some piece of insightful content that's compelling and valuable in exchange for their email address. Tell them your story, and when you start rolling out services, or develop new products, you'll have a community of people who will be interested to buy from you.