I filed for my first limited liability company at age 23, still 2 years from graduating college. The company I had been working for ended up shutting down as a result of the recession and my school schedule prevented me from getting a “real” job. The decision to create my own source of employment didn’t come easy, but I had few other options. So, with a leap of faith, Jackrabbit Janitorial LLC was born, and by the time I accepted my diploma, I had created a full-time job for myself, eliminating the typical post-grad job hunt.
The last 6 years have taught me many valuable lessons in life and business. I now have a handful of businesses in different industries and a clear path for future growth and success. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned as a young entrepreneur.
1. Money is only the first obstacle. Capital may be the first hurdle you encounter, but it won’t be the last. Treat funding like any other obstacle, as surmountable and you’ll find that generating startup capital is easier than you thought.
2. Treat your age as an asset. I’ve participated in many meetings where I was the youngest person in the room. Youth gives us an advantage — a new perspective, and a new way of doing business. As young entrepreneurs, our first job is to market ourselves and the fresh viewpoints we offer.
3. Customer Service is everything. Growing a business comes from keeping clients satisfied and gaining new ones. It can be difficult to juggle the needs of a startup while delivering high-quality service, but service is paramount. Keep a laser-like focus on service, and the rest will fall into place.
4. Business isn’t personal. Handling conflicts professionally is a sign of a strong entrepreneur. It’s important to respect the boundaries of personal and professional, even when working with friends or people you know. In the event of a conflict, work on improving the business, and do what it takes to succeed.
5. Listen. Soak up as much advice as you can. The one thing young entrepreneurs don’t have is age. Recognize what you don’t know and who you might be able to learn it from while keeping your ears open at all times. Seek out advice, and be open-minded in trying others’ suggestions.
6. “The Market” is a big place. Competitors aren’t the enemy. In fact, they can be a great way to learn what’s working and what not to do in the development of your new venture. There is plenty of work for everyone, so keep focus on improving your product or service to compete for your rightful spot in the marketplace.
7. Customers aren’t always right. Be careful not to tailor your products or services too closely for any one customer. Your business is your vision, so shape your offerings based on your values and what you find enjoyable about being an entrepreneur. Customers will appreciate you for it.
8. Management takes guts. Being an effective manager takes life experience you may not have yet. Being fair, firm and consistent takes a lot of the guesswork out of developing policies within your company. Stick up for your vision, and don’t be afraid to change things, even if they’ve been a certain way for an extended period of time.
9. Act big. Entrepreneurs usually work from co-working spaces and home offices, so it’s easy to be casual with yourself and your employees. Planning, communicating and behaving like a big company will ensure your small company will get there one day.
10. Keep your momentum. Once you’ve proven your business model and some level of profitability, keep doing what your doing. Fast growth and shiny marketing plans can be tempting, but steady, stable growth is the key to long-term success.
Things won’t always go as you plan, but above all, trust yourself. Filter the advice of others, and do what feels best for you. A passionate belief in what you’re doing will take you farther than even the most precise business plan.