How to manage to survive your first year in business (making $150k+) and all the problems that came with it…

Firstly, I’m a 28-year-old business owner – I have been working independently since I dropped out of high school to work for my father in his company. After the GFC, the company took a heavy hit and had to close down which caused a lot of heartache in our family. Lessons were learned and bridges were burnt. Since then, I have gone and studied at university and completed a number of consulting and contracting work for various companies (small and large) – before jumping into the deep end again and starting my own business(es).

Currently, I am running 2 separate online businesses in an industry where there is a high level of demand for our products and services, as the industry is pretty much considered backward when it comes to technology. A few of the things I will point out, will no doubt, have been said on here a thousand times. I feel the more you hear it from other people, the more it will reinforce such lessons, so hearing them again from me won’t hurt 🙂

I’m just going to briefly touch on the basics in this post without going too much in depth, and will most likely follow up on other posts. Please note, these are formed from my own personal opinions, and you may disagree with some of them.

Make sure you have enough capital (…and a source for more when you run out)

This one is pretty obvious but I’m going to say it anyway. Don’t underestimate the start-up costs for your business. Make sure that it can run sufficiently until you can start generating revenue. Every business is different and there is no one right answer to what amount this should be. If you don’t think you have enough cash in the bank to keep the business running, make sure you have a contingency plan for when that happens! Look ahead of time and plan your spend wisely.

If you don’t think you can afford to, or that there may be problems down the track, save yourself the drama down the track and don’t start. You should have enough confidence in your product if you’re willing to take this kind of financial risk.

It’s not (always) about the money.

If you’re building up a business just for the quick cash, the followers or fame, it’s most likely going to fail…

Having come from a network of businesses (and seeing them come and go), I can always tell the kind of people who are in it for the minute and try to swim in the success of being a business owner well before they have even gotten their business on its feet. I have seen a fair share of these kinds of ventures fail, simply because their heart wasn’t in the right place and decisions were made in the owner’s best interest, rather than that of the business.

The most important things you should care about during the initial phase of starting up is gaining momentum and kicking goals. Rather than drawing a fat salary from your initial revenue, reinvest that into actually growing your business. I paid myself just enough to get by in the first few months of starting up and I could say that if I didn’t then we probably wouldn’t still be standing.

Be cautious when hiring your first employees

I made the mistake of hiring the wrong person when our businesses commenced. I had worked alongside him at another company and thought he would be a great fit for what we were doing (based on experience). It turned out that he was wrongly suited and started showing an entitled attitude towards us once he had gotten into his comfort zone. This person was disobeying instructions, failing to meet deadlines, constantly taking personal calls and just generally being a poor employee.

After his probation period had ended, I told him that we had noted all of his behaviours and it was not what we were looking for in developing our company’s culture and that his services were no longer needed. He told me to go fuck myself and that our business is nothing without him, and that he hopes we fail. I let the door hit him on his way out.

Thankfully, not everybody is like this guy. It’s very difficult to avoid these personalities, as there are little signs you can tell when screening candidates. Also, I always hear that diminishing the employee/employer boundaries is a good way to keep staff productive, but I don’t think that works in all scenarios. Always ensure you enforce company policy when it’s being breached and never be afraid to put on your Mr. Manager hat.

If you’re successful, shitty people will try to follow

Business is a jungle and there definitely are some snakes out there. When I say snakes, I’m referring to the kind of people who will try and do whatever they can to try and make a quick buck, which including screwing you over. I have dealt with people straight up copying my business concept to the point where they had copy-pasted content from my website! I have also had people call up and lie directly to me, with the obvious intent to try and steal my contact list for their own personal gain. I made sure that whatever they were trying to build never saw the light of day.

If you’re going to be running a business, the only advice I can give when it comes to these things is to leave your heart at the door. Don’t spend your valuable time building something up, and have someone come along and try and fuck you over. Defend your business like it’s your newborn child. These things will happen, and they can come in any form (such as ‘business networking opportunities’). Always stay on your toes, but keep a positive outlook because not everyone is deceitful.

You are not your own boss, your customers are.

This one is straightforward and common knowledge. If your customers say your service or product is a piece of shit… Listen and find out why they think that! Don’t be defensive. There was obvious some form of miscommunication that has happened at some point in the transaction. Whether you oversold your product, or you gave a pretty poor service – you have failed to meet their expectations which have left a bad taste in their mouth. The last thing you want is the negative word of mouth spreading about your business from your customers.

So far I have had one pretty bad experience with a customer. Although this customer was obviously a difficult person, to begin with, I can say that at one point there was a breakdown in communication and we had not met his expectations. I discovered where things went wrong and focused on improving that aspect in our business. I also went out of my way to personally apologise and ensure that it was a mishap that would not happen again as the problem been fully addressed.

You may not agree or see eye-to-eye with your some of your customers, but at the end of the day, they are the ones who are spinning the financial wheel in your business. Also, as long as you’re in business, you will be kissing someone’s ass to get the job done. This isn’t something that only happens in corporate.

Make sure you have some sort of social/communication skills…

Having adequate communication skills will get you really far in business. Communication is a two-way street and is not just about being a great speaker, but also being a good listener. Being able to listen to someone and address their problems, not only makes you a great an awesome business person, but also a great person to work with/for.

The ability to communicate and connect with others will also get you far in terms of marketing your product. Reaching your target audience will be far more effective if you listen to them and if you can address their specific needs/pain points.

What if you’re an introvert and don’t like talking to people? That’s fine. There are plenty of successful companies run by introverts, but that doesn’t mean you can get away with avoiding conversations forever. Go out and get used to talking to people you have never met before by going to meetups with people who share your hobbies or interests. I considered myself a bit shy, to begin with, but now I can say I built up enough confidence in myself, and my product, so that I can walk in anywhere and speak to anybody about my product.

Final words

When reading and learning how to start up a business, I think there are a lot of things that are left out, or, are misconceived simply because everybody’s story is different. You can replicate the same decisions made by a business you admire but that does not mean you will end up successful.

Q and A

About defending your business from copycats, any tactics? I’m going through this now and don’t know how to protect the business

A/I was actually lucky that I found this copycat the way I did.

He signed up for my online service (and created fake projects) using a fake business name, but the idiot used his personal email address which I was able to do a reverse lookup on to discover his personal Facebook profile, which then led to his website.

I spoke to a few of my legal advisers who offered to send a cease and desist on his website but recommended that I contact him first – which I did. I sent a lengthy email to him pretty much requesting to take all of the plagiarised content ASAP, which he did. He also called me up to personally apologise, with his tail in between his legs.

always enjoy reading good advice. I’ve always wanted to start my own business, but seems too hard with a family and all.

A/I wouldn’t let having a family getting in your way of starting a business.

If you can manage to squeeze in an hour or two a day into creating something you are passionate about, you may find that, over some time, you have created something viable that can one day take over your full-time job… That is actually how many businesses are formed!

What if I have a stutter issue and it’s harder for me to communicate with people.

A/Business is about results. Not to downplay the importance of being able to effectively communicate, cause it does absolutely matter, but at the end of the day, your results can and should speak for themselves.

I worked with a designer a while back who had some medical problems and a difficult time getting words out as a result. Nobody gave a damn, because he was an exceptional designer (the guy popped out amazing 3D renders and layouts in 1/3 of the time anyone else in the building could) and when he did speak up during meetings, his ideas were always on point.

If you’re in an environment where people aren’t listening to you, simply because you have some difficulty communicating, you’re plainly among assholes. I’d suggest you just avoid those types of people and organizations well before I’d suggest viewing that as a negative characteristic of yourself or losing confidence over it.