So, 2018’s the year you’re going to make it big. The year that you go for it. The year you start up that startup.
You know that it’s going to be a lot of work already — there’s no point in us telling you that. There’s a whole raft of serial entrepreneurs who will jump at the opportunity to tell you just how hard they’ve grafted. It’s all a bit #humblebrag, really.
And whether you’re starting up a neighbourhood coffee shop, or an app that delivers burritos at the tap of a button, you don’t need us to tell you how to do your job.
But no matter what your startup does, there are some pieces of advice that always hold true.
Here’s thirty pieces of advice that you’ll need to keep in mind, no matter what your business is and no matter what stage you’re at.
1. Focus on the long-term
The rush to get started can be all-encompassing, whether you’re trying to squeeze money out of VCs or find the perfect place to pitch your taco truck, whether you’re trying to cut a sweet deal with coffee bean suppliers or wading through your local council’s rules and regulations.
It’s important to remember that all this is transient.
Your startup isn’t just a to-do list for today and tomorrow; it’s something that you’ve got to grow and nurture through the months and the years — until you can’t really justify calling it a start-up any more.
2. Make sure everyone’s on the same page
When you’re starting a business, no matter what it is, you’re going to hear a lot of voices. A cacophony of voices, in fact, all trying to shout over each other. They all want to feel like they’re getting heard. Everyone from the guys at the council to the guys washing the dishes want to have their say.
So it’s vital that they’re all on your agenda. You’ll get nowhere if the people you’re working with aren’t on board with your plans. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t listen to them, but that they are working for you — not the other way round.
3. Listen to your customers
“The customer is always right.” It’s a hoary old cliché, but there’s more than a grain of truth to it. The customer might be dead wrong, but their money never is. Not listening to customer feedback is a surefire way to put the punters off, and lose out.
Customer feedback is always valuable, but never more so than when you’re setting up shop. It’s important to take it into account when coming up with new directions for your business and new iterations of your business model.
4. Measure everything
Big data might be a bit of a buzzword, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore metrics. When you’re starting up, you need to grab every opportunity to measure and quantify. Every data point is a learning point, and every learning point is an opportunity to improve your business.
Don’t miss out.
5. Don’t believe your own marketing
Marketing is a powerful thing. Of course you’re going to say that you’re the best. You’re probably not, though. And even if you are, there’s still room to improve.
Don’t believe your own marketing. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.
You won’t learn anything that way, and every moment that you sit around thinking you’re the best and not thinking how to improve means that you slip behind.
6. Ignore the critics
Some people are always going to gripe. Don’t listen to them. It just gets you down, and wastes your time.
Instead, you want to work out who it’s really worth listening to, and who offers you advice because they want you to succeed. And listen to them like your life depends on it.
7. Eat your lunch
And sure, Soylent markets its meal replacement to people too busy doing Business-with-a-capital-’B’ to eat.
But that sounds pretty grim, doesn’t it? Founding a business is going to keep you busy — that’s a given. But equally, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make time for yourself during the day. Whether that’s taking a proper lunch break, or making sure that you get home on time, take care of yourself.
Burning out won’t benefit anyone.
8. Act like you know what you’re doing
Fake it ‘till you make it. Everyone else is.
Nobody really knows what they’re doing when they get started — if they did, they wouldn’t just be beginners. There’s a paradox for you. And pretty much the only choice you have is to act like you’re much more knowledgeable than you are.
But at some point, you’ll stop acting knowledgeable and start being knowledgeable. You’ve faked it ‘till you’ve made it.
9. Get comfortable with not knowing
Following on from the point above this one, you’ll need to get happy with not knowing — not knowing how things are going to turn out, not knowing what’s round the corner. You’re never going to be able to control all variables, and you’re never going to know everything about everything. Get used to it, get comfortable with it.
10. It’s not all about you
Your business is your baby, and it’s tempting to act like it’s yours and yours alone — that your employees and your backers are just interlopers. Don’t.
Starting a business is a team effort, and it’s important to keep that in mind. The focus shouldn’t be on you alone, and it shouldn’t really be on your business as an end in itself: it should be on making sure that your customers are satisfied every step of the way.
11. Keep your team happy
Happy employees make happy customers. It’s as simple as that. You don’t need to look far to find evidence of an employee perks arms-race, but you don’t need beer on tap or a climbing wall in your office — just focus on the basics and the rest will follow.
12. Do your admin
Whenever you set up a business, there’s bound to be admin. Think taxes, think health and safety. It’s all a drag, but it’s there for a reason. This stuff is necessary, and a fair chunk of it is required by law. And doing stuff right first time — like setting up a payroll system that works for you, or keeping your accounts in order — makes running your business a whole lot easier in the future. So there’s no reason not to.
13. Make something people want
This one sounds obvious, but beyond the pretty glib facade is a truth — make sure that you’re making products for your customer and not for yourself. That might mean going easy on the scotch bonnets in your chilli sauce, or it might mean compromising on your impeccable barista principles and adulterating your perfect espresso with lots and lots of milk. Your customers will thank you for it, though.
14. Empower your team
Your business might be your brainchild, your baby, but that doesn’t mean that others shouldn’t have their say. Chances are they’ve got bright ideas for your startup, and if you’re not listening, you could well be missing out. Plus, a team that feels like they’re being listened and feels like they have more of a stake in your business is a team that is more likely to go the extra mile when the going gets tough.
15. Don’t forget to make money
Well, duh. All businesses need to make money — or do they? It’s normal for some businesses to make a loss in the short-term as they recoup start-up costs, and start-ups are notorious for relying on venture capital funding. But making a loss isn’t sustainable for very long, and if you’re going down the VC route, every penny you raise in funding means that you have less control of your business.
16. Don’t wait to be ready
You’re not going to open just yet because your sandwich-maker hasn’t arrived, so you can’t serve toasties, so you can’t do lunch, so you can’t possibly open. You’re not going to set up just yet because that perfect pitch for your food truck isn’t available. You’re going to take one more year working in that office to save money, so you can’t possibly set up a business.
There’s a myriad of reasons not to set up shop — there always will be. And this means that there will never really be a perfect time to start your own business. You can spend a lifetime waiting for the winds to blow just right, or you can just go for it.
17. Just because it’s shiny doesn’t mean it’s a silver bullet
It’s tempting to think that buying a bigger food truck or a more powerful espresso machine or investing in the latest computers will allow your startup to blow past the competition. And while this might be true to a degree — investing in better kit can be a real boon — you need to be sure that what you’re buying is really going to boost your bottom line. Money is always tight when you’re setting up a business, so make sure you’re spending it wisely.
18. Don’t worry about competitors
Wait, what? Surely you need to be cut-throat and mercilessly shadow your competition?
Well, not really. Trying to match your competitors’ every move means that you’re less able to innovate and to give customers something unique. And it’s just a hassle. Just make sure that you’re doing what you do best.
19. Keep trying
Everyone has bad days, bad weeks, bad months — and your startup will be no different. There will no doubt be moments when you want to throw in the towel, but it’s important not to be disheartened, and not to give up. Easy to say, less easy to do.
20. Make sure there’s money in the bank
A business running on its overdraft is like a car running on fumes — it might get you where you want to go in the short term, but it’ll quickly start to sputter and break down. Making sure that you’ve got a healthy amount of money that you can draw on if there’s a dip in sales one month, or something breaks down means that your business will be far more resilient, and stay healthier.
21. Get the little things right
Every startup has a big idea driving it, sure. Your big idea is the motor that drives your business, it’s what you sell to investors and customers. But equally, every startup is the accumulation of tiny tasks and details — every espresso shot you pull, every burrito you roll, every customer you serve. The devil may be in the details but get these minutiae right and you’ll be on your way to success.
22. There’s no shortcut to success
Following on from that last point, you can’t take shortcuts — even if you think nobody will know if you’ve cut corners somewhere, you could come unstuck further down the road. So take the time to do things right first time.
23. Learn from your mistakes
That said, if you do run into difficulties, try to take something from the experience. Nothing is a complete waste — there’s always something to learn from even the bleakest of scenarios. So stay positive and remember that there is alway a next time, and always another opportunity.
24. Ignore the noise
Whenever you start a business, there will always be people trying to tell you what to do, and how to do it. From well-meaning family and friends, to randomers on Twitter, to investors who want to have their say. But you don’t have to listen to them. Sometimes — not always, but sometimes — you need to blot out noise and focus on your own agenda.
25. Be prepared to do everything and anything
Chances are you’ll have to get your hands dirty. One of the great things about running your own startup is that you get to be involved in every aspect of your company — but that means you can’t bail out on bits you don’t want to do, or think you can’t do. You might even surprise yourself with what you’re able to get done.
26. It’s your company and it’s your decision
Chances are, the reason you started your own business was to be the one making all the choices that matter. So, no matter how loud your investors are clamouring, remember, you’re the person with the final say.
27. Your greatest asset is your people
No matter how shiny your website is, no matter how great your marketing is, or how polished your product is, you won’t get very far without a top-notch team behind you. Even though it’s your business, and you have the final say, you need to nurture your team and make sure that your people are working for you.
28. Start marketing before you start
It’s never too early to start marketing your business. If you start marketing at the same time that you open your doors, you’re missing out on the opportunity to build pre-opening buzz. Starting a marketing push as early as possible is key to building up valuable momentum, so be sure to get the word out as soon as possible.
29. Don’t stop learning
Starting your own business can be a huge stretch — no matter what you’ve done beforehand, there is always a lot to get to grips with, and something more to get your head round. But diving into the deep end gives you an unparalleled opportunity to learn how to swim.
30. Ignore most of the advice you’re given
Don’t spend all your time reading articles about how to run your business, or how luminaries of yesteryear did it. In the words of a popular sportswear brand, Just Do It.