Behind every successful business is a founder that made mistakes, put in long hours, and overcame numerous obstacles. While these are the growing pains of a business, that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare for some of your possible setbacks.
Discover the 10 things I wish I knew before launching an engineering startup to make your own experience smoother.
1. The Business Always Comes First
Many people get into business to pursue a passion, such as designing clothing or creating electronics. While that may determine the industry, it’s important to understand that you will be spending most of your time with day-to-day operations. Marketing, administrative work, and business strategy come long before the fun part of pursuing your passion.
2. Keep the Customer in Focus
Is a business about making money? Sure, you need to make a profit, but that’s not what your business is about. At its core, a business is about serving a customer need. You need to create a product or service that addresses a problem a customer has, or you won’t get very far.
Make sure your product is about value for the customer. What void exists on the market? What problem hasn’t been solved, or hasn’t been solved well? What are your competitors doing right and wrong? Can you do it better?
As an example, many manufacturers create printed circuit boards, but they’re not equal. We created a 2-layer circuit board that offers better conductivity and heat resistance, which solves a problem for customers and has an edge over competitors.
3. It’s All on You
If your experience has been in large companies with a lot of employees, managers, and teams, you always have somewhere to turn if you have a problem. There’s a sense of community and support in big businesses.
With a startup, it’s all on you. Even if you have a few team members or a partner, the decisions, responsibility, and stress fall on your shoulders. You reap the rewards, but you’re also carrying the burden.
4. You May Fail
Most startups fail. It’s an unfortunate fact, but something that you should realize going into it. It’s not a guarantee, but the deck is stacked against you. The best way to prepare is by keeping your job as long as possible. If you run into problems with your business, you have something to fall back on for income.
5. Cash Flow Management is Vital
It may take time before you make a profit, so you must manage your cash flow to ensure you have the money you need to keep your business up and running. If you spend more than you’re bringing in, you could end up taking on a lot of debt or shutting down.
Even if you have a great period with a lot of revenue, keep spending money like you’re in the lean early periods. You’ll be thankful for your budget if the business gets slow again.
6. Engage with Your Customers
In the early stages, it’s easy to get caught up in the marketing strategy, product development, UX design, or other aspects of your business. Customers matter, however, and upfront investment pays off in future loyalty.
Consumers buy from people, not companies. Schedule time to engage with customers on blogs, social media, or review sites. Use this time as an opportunity to humanize your brand and show off what makes you different.
7. Keep Your Day Job
While it may be tempting to quit your job and pour all your effort into your startup, that could leave you vulnerable in the future. You don’t want to have to worry about how you’re paying your bills if business gets slow. Keep your full-time job or switch to part-time to make sure you have reliable income, and put money away for emergencies.
8. Outsource Work
If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you want to take on all the day-to-day tasks yourself. You’re not an expert in everything, and on top of that, taking on the jobs of five or 10 people only leads to burnout.
From writing to accounting to graphic design, you can outsource a lot of work to free your day and give you time to focus on what only you can do – run your business.
9. Keep an Eye on the Competition
The competition has a profound influence on your business. Every decision your competitors make indirectly affects your business, so it’s vital to pay attention to what they’re doing.
Look at what your competitors do well and what they could improve. Social media is a great place to start. You can check out reviews and comments to see what customers are saying. The more you learn, the more you can use those insights to improve your own product.
10. Remember to Make Time for Fun
Launching a startup isn’t for the faint of heart, but it can’t be all work all the time. Make sure you stop and relax sometimes. Set aside time to go out with friends or enjoy dinner with family, enjoy a hobby, or just sit back and relax. The business won’t fail because you take a night off.
Mistakes are part of a startup launch. You’ll always have obstacles and challenges to overcome, but how you handle them and adapt make you the entrepreneur you are.
Author Bio: Justin Ou
Justin Ou is one of four Co-founders and Marketing Manager of Gerber Labs, an Orange County based engineering startup that is currently rolling out a platform that makes custom printed circuit boards (PCB’s) accessible to electrical engineering students, hobbyists and small businesses.