Starting a business is a huge learning curve. Huge. If you’ve started a business, you’ll know what I mean. If you’re about to start one, get your climbing gear, because it can get pretty steep.
If you start a company to sell athletic apparel, then there’s a good chance you know about sports, or clothing, or both. Which is great, but bear in mind that as a business owner, you hold the ultimate responsibility for everything else as well. There’s a lot more to running an athletic apparel company than just the athletic apparel. You’ll also be responsible for sales, marketing, finances, taxes, bookkeeping, payroll, operations, negotiations, keeping suppliers happy, keeping customers happy, merchandising… the list goes on. And yes, you can hire people to take care of some of these things, of course. You don’t have to do it all yourself. But then you are responsible for recruitment, HR, employee retention, people management. And you can’t shake the responsibility of being the source of policy, procedure, process, and company direction. Your staff won’t function properly without those.
As you begin to navigate these new waters, you start to realise that you spent far less time dealing with your area of expertise (athletic apparel), and far more time doing things you don’t know how to do yet.
The bad news is that when your job is suddenly full of things outside your expertise, and things you haven’t done before, you will make mistakes. That learning curve looms large, and honestly, there’s no way around it.
The good news is that while that learning curve may be fraught with mistakes and failures, in the long term, that learning curve can actually be good for your business. You have a choice. You can keep making the same mistakes, or you can turn that learning curve into your launch ramp for great success. Here’s how…
1) Use this simple question
Every time something doesn’t go to plan, or you make a big fat error, it can be tempting to spend time worrying, or beating yourself up, or blaming someone. Instead, divert your energy into asking, “What Can I Learn?”
This is a powerful question. Instead of focusing on what went wrong, this changes the focus into something far more positive. Heres’ why:
- It forces you to take responsibility yourself, instead of blaming other people or outside circumstances.
- Anything you can learn about yourself, your process, your product, or whatever, is a positive thing.
- It makes you look at how to prevent the same thing happening again.
Let me give you an example. My second business was a bridal retail store. One of the first orders I took, I messed up (quite a lot) when I was working out the order total, and I ended up undercharging the customer by almost 50%. Oops. That’s a fairly large error when the order is in the hundreds of dollars, and you’re a small start up business with large overheads to pay. I was upset with myself, obviously. But as soon as I asked myself, “What Can I Learn?” I took the focus away from my mistake, and started working out how to make sure it never happened again! I learned that I rushed through the paperwork because I didn’t want to keep the customer waiting. I learned not to trust my mental math. I learned that double-checking everything is important. I realised I had to take my time with the order, check it thoroughly, and use a calculator! I never made the same mistake again… and better than that, I developed a process for ALL my staff that helped them to avoid the same mistake as well. In seven years of trading, we never made that same mistake again.
2) Understand your own preferences and expertise
In the early stages of a business, you are likely to fulfil many, or all, of the roles that company needs. You might be everything from the CEO to the Janitor. But a common mistake for many business owners is to continue doing tasks they really are not good at, for far longer than they should. This has more than one disadvantage:
- If you are doing something you aren’t good at, the quality of the work will suffer. You will be more likely to make mistakes, and the more mistakes you make repeatedly, the more your business will suffer.
- You will be more miserable! Starting your own business is supposed to be about freedom, independence, and doing something you love, right? So if you spend all your time feeling trapped in an office doing the books when what you really love is selling to customers, you’re likely to feel unhappy with your lot.
- You waste time. If you’re doing a job that you’re not really very good at, you’ll probably spend longer on it than an expert would. Remember that your time is probably the most precious resource you have, so you want to spend it as effectively as possible.
As you go through the early stages of your business, make careful mental notes of which tasks you love, and which you dislike or are less good at. These are the ones you will want to think about delegating when you can hire staff, or outsourcing as soon as you can. Make sure that your own expertise can ultimately be used as effectively as possible.
3) Learn from others!
It has been said that you have to learn from other people’s mistakes, because life is too short to make them all yourself.
In business, making all the mistakes yourself can be a bad thing – if you make too many over too long a period of time, you can end up in trouble before you even get near to the end of your learning curve.
If you want to maximise your effectiveness (and therefore your profitability) as early as possible, it can pay to get guidance from outside. The benefits of others’ experiences, whether they come in the form of a mentor, or a coach, or networking groups of more seasoned business people, can shorten your learning curve. I was talking to a local business owner recently, who has owned and run his auto service business for over 40 years. He talked about his learning curve, and how long it took him to figure things out himself. He was one of the lucky ones – he got there in the end, but told me how much he wished he’d had the benefit of guidance to help him through the early years.
Ultimately, failures, however painful they are at the time, are a good thing in the long run if you can take responsibility for them, and learn something from them. So embrace your errors, don’t give up, and keep believing in your potential to succeed.
Now is your turn. Tell us about your Learning Curve.
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