My first job after graduating from UCLA was working for a company that was listed in Forbes as one of America’s Most Promising Companies of 2014 and Inc. Magazine’s 2013 Inc. 500|5000 List of “America’s Fastest Growing Private Companies.” The company’s entrepreneurial spirit was infectious. At age 25 I left the company, and moved to the up-and-coming city of Pittsburgh, PA to build and develop an online cultural resource and publication for Pittsburgh, my first business. After two-and-a-half years an opportunity arose to sell my share of the business to a strategic partner, giving me the ability to start my next project back in my home state of California. Not long after arriving in California, I launched my second business, an online marketing firm.
I know it sounds cliche, but the internet can provide businesses a plethora of opportunities to develop global reach and impressive growth, often with small investments. However, maximizing those opportunities takes business skill and savvy. Business is business, and the ease of starting a business does not mean it is easy to grow a successful business.
Here are a few tips that I have learned along the way as a young entrepreneur:
Whether you are working with an assistant, a business partner or a client, make use of written agreements. While contracts may seem overly formal, a well written contract protects you and whomever you do business with. Its almost always easier to agree on clear terms ahead of time rather than to attempt to figure it out after the fact if something goes wrong.
We all know that time and money can change people – but if you find you can’t agree on a fair contract with somebody at the beginning, then you definitely should think twice about doing business with them on a long term basis.
Contracts also provide an opportunity to get organized and clearly define your goals and expectations for your business relationships. Discussing the obligations and responsibilities of both parties and coming to a mutual understanding builds a strong foundation for growth and success.
Create a Business Plan
I think this is something that a lot of businesses overlook, especially small businesses. Having a comprehensive business plan is an ideal tool, allowing your business to set measurable goals, initiate focus and provide direction when you hit a fork in the road.
When working on your business plan, keep in mind that as your business grows, your business plan must be dynamic enough to grow with it. As your business evolves, you will encounter unexpected challenges (and successes), and you will learn a lot from trial and error. The business plan is a living document that can be strengthened and enhanced alongside your business.
Set Measurable Goals
Running a business is a lot of work and it’s easy to get distracted by the countless tasks and ideas that come with starting a business. By setting clear, measurable goals, you have a better idea of what you can and can’t accomplish and where to focus your efforts.
For example, I have established specific growth and readership targets for my lifestyle blog. I’ve committed to meeting my goals, so that means my energy is dedicated to the content production and growth that is aligned with my targets. Until I meet those targets, some of my more exciting pet projects will be waiting on the back burner.
Nearly every successful person has a mentor, whether they run a business or not. Throughout our lives we will find people with more experience who respect and advocate on our behalf. These advocates will inspire you and help shape your future and your career. When you do find a mentor, never be afraid to ask questions or to admit you don’t know something.
When talking about mentors, I do want to address Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s point in Lean In about the wrong way to find a mentor. Sheryl cautions young people against asking someone to take on the responsibility of being your mentor before you have an established personal relationship with them. This is because a good mentor-mentee relationship is a two-way street – to find a mentor, you must be worthy of a mentor- namely, you must show interest, passion and dedication to learning from them, evidence that building a relationship with you will be a rewarding investment of time and effort for both you and them. I’ve found that a good first step and introduction is to thoughtfully ask them to weigh in on a dilemma you’re facing.
Don’t be Afraid to Make Mistakes
You will learn quickly that starting a business is a journey. It’s likely things will not go exactly as planned, you may not always make the best decisions, or you may miscalculate risks. As long as you are learning from these experiences, you will undoubtedly become a better business person.