Wouldn’t it be great if you could avoid making a bunch of mistakes in your online business?
You know, just kind of bypass the stuff which could seriously screw up your momentum and potentially wreck your business’s future success?
Fortunately, you can.
You certainly aren’t the first person to have entrepreneurial dreams. Others who’ve gone before you have made their own flubs time and time again.
And you can learn from them.
A few months ago, I sent an email to my subscribers asking them what topics they wanted to learn more about in a new round of freebie resources. Many of them told me they wanted to know entrepreneurs’ top regrets when starting their online businesses.
Well… ask and you shall receive.
For this post, I asked 24 different entrepreneurs what was the one thing (or two) they’d wished they’d known before starting their online businesses. They all were kind enough to provide insightful, wise, and sometimes even unexpected answers about their top regrets.
So you better appreciate what you’re reading here. ‘Cause these online business superheroes know their shit.
Without further ado, check out what these bloggers, retailers, designers, coaches, and all-around epic people wish they’d known before starting an online business (and stick around for an extra downloadable list of entrepreneurs’ regrets at the end of the post):
Web Designer and Brand Consultant
It’s a lot more work than I had imagined. I had these images of my head of working in my PJs, sleeping in, hanging out with my kids and working way less when I started. While I can have those things, I have learned I absolutely have to have a regular schedule with a lot of focused time on my business and many times I work weekends and nights to meet deadlines and keep income consistent. Keeping that income consistent is hard work and leads right into my #2…
I thought the perks would way outweigh the stress. Right now, since I am a service-based business, if I don’t work, I don’t make money. (I am working on diversifying, but that will take extra time/resources to market once my products are ready.) My husband has been in school for 4 years and I am the primary earner in my household, supporting my 2 kids, my stepson, my husband, and me. Knowing that whether we eat every day is almost solely on my shoulders has been a stress that took me a good 2.5 years to fully come to terms with and feel like “I can do this” and even beyond that felling like “I can do this without killing myself.”
While I am hyper-aware that I am making a choice to live this way, I have many days when I mentally beat myself up for not just taking a job and doing work the “easy way.” I think to do your own thing you’re constantly growing and changing, which is awesome, but can wear you down — especially if you don’t have the best boundaries with your clients and you’re not taking good enough care of your yourself by eating well, exercising, and allowing yourself to rest.
Rachel originally became obsessed with design and branding when she was asked to draw an upside-down dinosaur in 3rd grade. She can be found designing and branding away at rcvane.com.
Video Game Career and Life Coach
I wish I’d know the importance of building a small, test offering to gauge interest, rather than going ahead and building a full-on product and then hoping it works. The technique that I think works very well is the “sell it then build it” approach. If you get lots of interest, make sales, etc, then go ahead and quickly make the product. If people are mostly so-so then scrap it and find something else.
The steps in this technique are to first ask what people what they want (to augment your own ideas), then to make an outline of what you’d offer, then to put it out there to see who is interested. You need to present something more detailed than just a topic… but the important thing is you don’t actually have to have your luxury resort built before selling taking bookings for rooms. Sell it, then make it.
Rick has helped over 1000 video game lovers create indie games or land jobs within the industry; his own indie company, Inspirado Games, was acquired by Electronic Arts, which is pretty darn epic. Learn more about Rick’s coaching at gamecareercoach.com.
CEO of Insurgent Publishing
|Nothing great is ever built in a vacuum. Find great people to work with and you’re halfway there already.|
Tom served in the U.S. Army and got paid to jump out of helicopters. After that adventure, he started Insurgent Publishing and now kicks ass helping market and publish incredible non-fiction books.
Freelance Writer and Founder of Be A Freelance Blogger
OK, the biggest one is I wish I’d known how important it is to learn as much as possible about your customers and really empathise with them. I thought I was putting out all the right stuff when I first started, but I could’ve leapfrogged a year or two of underwhelming results if I’d had a better understanding of what my customers actually wanted to achieve, what they needed from me, and what they were afraid of losing if they made a bad decision.
Of course, when I was a complete beginner I thought “anyone who’ll pay me” was a perfectly reasonable market to aim for, and those underwhelming results seemed like the most impressive thing I’d ever achieved at the time! So, there’s a bonus thing to know: how to benchmark yourself against peers and competitors. Otherwise you have no idea if you’re getting great results or just coasting at a tiny fraction of your potential.
Sophie is a freelance writer, blogger, and content consultant who loves geeky stuff and used to be a photographic model (yes, the nude kind). She runs Be a Freelance Blogger, where she helps freelance bloggers make bank.
Author, Podcaster, and Founder of Firepole Marketing
|The number one thing I wish I’d known before starting an online business is just how important it is to create opportunities to connect with people offline; whether that means talking on the phone, or ideally even meeting in person at conferences and events, the human contact is magic to creating the relationships that really support you in growing, and I wish I had figured that out sooner.|
Danny started Firepole Marketing after accruing over $250,000 in personal debt, and grew it to a seven-figure company by guest posting so frequently he was dubbed the “Freddie Krueger” of blogging. He’s also a very proud new dad.
Founder of Smart Business Revolution
|One thing I wish I knew was the importance of building strong relationships with other bloggers, podcasters, and online entrepreneurs. At first, I neglected these relationships. Once I really focused on nurturing those relationships, it made a huge difference in my growth.|
John is a former Clinton White House writer who now helps entrepreneurs with legal matters as an attorney and adviser. He geeks out about relationships and how they boost your business over at Smart Business Revolution.
Actress and Founder of Her Universe
When I first started Her Universe, I wish I would’ve known all of the details about trademark and registration. We’ve wasted a lot of money not understanding this part of the business.
However, trademarking your own IP is extremely important. Make sure you seek the council of someone who truly understands how to trademark your company the right way.
An avid Disney fan, Ashley is the voice of Ahsoka Tano in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. She set out to do something about the lack of attractive, flattering sci-fi apparel for women by founding the clothing brand Her Universe.
Founder of Fizzle.co
|I wish I had known how important it is to talk to potential customers, in real life, in order to build something people will buy. I spent way too much time working on things nobody wanted.|
Corbett is a well-known entrepreneur, lifestyle business builder, and one of the three co-founders of Fizzle.co. He and his wife get to spend several months out of each year in Mexico, where he puts up with the questionable bandwidth for a fantastic view and better standard of living.
Videographer and Founder of DIY Video Guy
|Don’t focus on all the numbers at first. And by at first I mean for at least a year. Don’t obsessively check Google Analytics, number of email subscribers, sales made, and more. Just make cool things and share them. Show up every day.|
Caleb helped co-found Fizzle.co before moving on to run his own video studio Caleb Wojcik Films and teach creative entrepreneurs how to make some wicked-cool videos at DIY Video Guy. He recently tweeted that his dog Pippa takes more vitamins than he does.
Value Proposition and Marketing Message Expert
I wish I would’ve known how marketing really works. Not the “latest gadgets and loopholes” stuff. But how marketing really generates sales consistently.
We’re bombarded with stuff about the latest tools, tactics, and stuff. Fancier and fancier products come out all the time. And most of it doesn’t seem to work.
That’s because none of that stuff works in a vacuum. Individual tactics don’t automatically work together or generate any sales at all.
But even more importantly, you can use all the right tactics, tools, and strategies and not make any sales if you don’t have an effective, targeted marketing message.
I mean, for example, people don’t click an ad in Facebook because someone used Facebook Ads really well. They click the ad because you communicated the right ideas (=message) in the ad.
It’s the message that matters the most. Using the “right” tactics and using them “right” can only help you further. But it’s never enough on its own.
As long as you don’t have an effective message, all your marketing will create mediocre results at best.
Peter covers all things value propositions and marketing messages at PeterSandeen.com. He’s a big fan of sailing; he may also play video games like Call of Duty and League of Legends in his spare time.
LAURA LEIGH CLARKE
Founder of Wire Yourself for Wealth and ProsperityQM
I wish I’d understood from the beginning that success online is a process. I might have paced myself more.
With any kind of business, there is always a process of acclimatising. Rarely is it the case that you just do step 1, 2, 3 and have a thriving business. There are nuances to everything we do, and being able to recognise and then interpret these nuances comes only from experience. So often programmes out there make claims that you JUST have to do this one thing, or follow this one sequence… but that’s only half the story.
I’m so grateful for the coaches I’ve had along the way, and for recognising early on that the only way to learn is to dive in and implement the strategy rather than try and learn about it for years. This must have saved me lots of time, but knowing what I know now, I’d certainly have spent less time messing about!
Laura is the founder of ProsperityQM, a business mentor, recovering quantum physicist, geek, and a die-hard Doctor Who fan. She has a free toolkit you can grab which helps you clear your money blocks and limiting beliefs so you can create a quantum shift and see prosperity. ‘Cause science and stuff.
Founder of Effortless Workflow and A Bar Above
1 – Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate
When [my husband and I] started our business, we had the conventional mindset of “keep everything a secret so nobody else builds your thing first.” Now I know this is just plain crazy! (I also now know how HARD it is to build a “thing” so I’m much less concerned about competition.) Collaborating with other folks both inside our niche and nearby has been a great way to expand our audience, our network and our community. I wish I had known this much earlier on and welcomed these relationships instead of being afraid of them “stealing our idea.”
2 – Make small things and ask (your audience) lots of questions
Similar to the above, we started our business because we already knew what we wanted to build. And we built it. And very few people came. It was heartbreaking. Now I know that it takes a certain humility to be a business owner who is willing to ask what to make, instead of blindly building something without validation. We have built feedback loops into our business in lots of places now and the information we learn is both fascinating and extremely helpful. When you think about making any product, make a tiny version first. Try to sell it. Then ask lots of questions. That’s what I wish we’d done!
Julia is the brains behind A Bar Above, a mixology training and education site. Plus, she’s recently started Effortless Workflow to help businesses hire their first virtual assistants, so she really knows what she’s doing with this online business thing.
Author and Freelance Video Game Journalist
I wish I’d known about the power and ease of self-publishing much sooner in my career. As a word-nerd, freelance writer, and fiercely independent serial entrepreneur, I’ve always wanted to build a thriving self-publishing business, but I gave up shortly after I first started a decade ago because the self-publishing space was a very different animal back then.
Now, with the rise of Kindle and Amazon’s KDP program, it’s so much easier to get your work out into the world and build an audience. I wish I had discovered that shift sooner and gotten in on the ground floor. Self-publishing has been a big piece of my online business over the past few recent years, and it’s a key pillar of my business going forward.
Nathan made a name for himself as a freelance video game journalist, writing for publications like IGN, Polygon, and GameSpot. Now he helps others do what he does and writes books (which can be found out indieauthorsuccess.com)… all while running his own indie game studio, too.
Freelance Writer and Business Coach
That I would be successful – it just takes time and help from others further along the path. I’m really glad that I decided to start, continued to pursue it, and allowed myself to be open-minded to other opportunities along the way.
That is, I started out as just a freelance writer and now I’ve got a diversified business that includes writing, being a virtual assistant, marketing a course I wrote, and coaching others.
Gina started freelance writing in April 2014; within half a year she was earning $4000 a month. She’s a financial geek and Minnesota gal who loves spending time with her family and blogging about her freelance success at HorkeyHandbook.com.
Founder of Boost Blog Traffic
I’m happy I didn’t know more because if I knew it would be this difficult and complicated I probably wouldn’t have started.
So to answer the question, there isn’t anything I wish I’d known. In fact, some ignorance is required to do anything substantial because if you knew what it would really take it’d scare the hell out of you.
Jon is the founder of Boost Blog Traffic, and a former editor at that well-known copywriting site Copyblogger. He likes to be called “His Royal Highness,” just in case you ever need to contact him.
Copywriter, Marketer, and Founder of Enchanting Marketing
|I wish I’d known you don’t need an entrepreneurial gene to start your own business. Starting my own business was an emergency measure for me—not a lifelong dream. I was fed up with working for a boss. If I’d known that I could do this, I would have enjoyed the freedom of running my own show sooner.|
Henneke runs Enchanting Marketing to try to get rid of the infestation of gobbledygook copy in modern businesses. She’s a Dutch native living in England, and she gets her kicks from cycling and biking around town.
Owner of Jordandené
I really wish I would have known about how many small business groups and communities there online before I started my business. I essentially navigated this new world on my own for the first three and a half years, and it was not awesome. I had no resources to answer any of my questions except google, and I bored my poor friends and family to death with all of my business problems and ideas.
There’s an entire world of small business communities out there (like this one!). There are Facebook groups, google+ pages, and online courses to help you build relationships and answer all of your questions. The friendships I’ve made and help I’ve received from my little online crew has been the best thing that has ever happened to my business.
Jordan founded her geeky clothing line Jordandené instead of becoming a teacher (which seems like a good decision). She’s a citizen of Brooklyn and a huge fan of extravagant theme parties.
Video Creator, Musician, and Podcaster
When I first got started in online business, I was following some pretty ancient SEO tactics. Instead of trying to write, film, record, and draw great content that any visitor to my site would enjoy, I focused on writing a ton of BS words just to rank in the search engines. I was traffic hacking for the first few years of my online business. It wasn’t until I burned out and thought, “Who the hell is going to read this garbage?” that I decided to put myself in my visitor’s shoes.
The site I have built my business on is a swimming pool and hot tub education sited called SwimUniversity.com. I asked, “If I owned a pool and wanted to know how to get rid of cloudy water, what would I like to see?” The answer was video. So I started with really low-tech videos and soon I started to climb in the search engines. I was writing better and more in-depth content, creating funny and entertaining how-to videos and using my graphic design skills to create infographics to help boost traffic.
These are the same tactics I use today and wish I would have known years ago. I know you might be tired of hearing “Content is King.” I know I was, when all I wanted to do was rank and get traffic. But the truth is, you don’t really understand the power of content until it’s bringing you millions of visitors every year and earning you six-figures. It works!
Matt calls himself an “entertaining entrepreneur,” which seems legit considering he makes epic content for several different online ventures besides Swim University (like the Driven podcast and the personal finance blog Listen, Money Matters). He likes to make videos about boring topics more exciting by turning them into rap songs.
Organizing Consultant and Apple Tutor
One thing I’d ask if I was starting my organizing and Apple coaching business today (I didn’t ask directly enough at the time hence it’s a regret) is to get a clear an answer as possible on what a possible annual salary is from the businesses that inspires you and/or a few years ahead of your business.
I was a year or so into my business when I realized that a lot of business owners in my field did it part time and as a household’s second income. Finding a mentor is of course essential to starting business so when you find one don’t be afraid to ask dollar and cents questions right up front.
Deron really hates digital or physical clutter, so he started Bos Organization to combat the problem. If he’s not teaching organization or Apple product information, he’s probably watching Indiana Jones films.
Founder of The Unlost
|As Jonathan Mead once said, “Love the path more than the goal and everything gets easier.” YES. When this happens, you’ve won, regardless of the outcome. This is what I wish I’d known when I first started an online business, and it’s a lesson I am continually relearning.|
Therese dishes out career, love, and general life advice at The Unlost. She traveled the world after quitting her day job in 2012, has given a TEDx Youth talk, and loves lattes and yoga (not necessarily at the same time).
Actress, Host, UX Designer, and Founder of The Geekie Awards
That fear and self-sabotage are the only things that can and will ruin you… if you let them. More importantly, you have a choice not to let them! We make the choice every day to do what we love and deal with the stress over lack of money, lack of resources, and lack of time, but when we doubt ourselves on top of all of that, that fear becomes the single most destructive force in our life and our business.
Entrepreneurs need to have a tremendous amount of hope and confidence in themselves to survive the process of building, so find ways to honor yourself because you are the foundation of all that you do, and you need to believe in you or no one else will.
Kristen has done a little bit of everything, from UX design, to brand consulting, to producing web series. She’s big into cosplay, and decided the world needed to recognize all things geek by founding The Geekie Awards.
Owner of Eclectic Goods
|The main thing that I wish I had known before starting an online business is how much hard work, time, and sacrifice it would require to be successful. Without a doubt, I work harder now running Eclectic Goods than at any other job I had before and also find running my own online business more rewarding.|
Nicole, along with her husband Jack, runs Eclectic Goods, where they hand-paint custom Converse and Airwalk shoes in designs from everything from Walking Dead, Doctor Who, Power Rangers, and more. She calls her work “fan art for your feet,” and loves connecting with people on Twitter.
WARREN AND BETSY TALBOT
Founders of Married with Luggage
|The one thing we wish we had known before starting our online business was to never be afraid to try something unconventional. We’ve learned over time to follow our gut, even when there was no one else doing it. Sometimes we failed, but we learned from those experiences. The key we learned was not to fear the unknown and run into it screaming at the top of our lungs.|
Warren and Betsy help prove marriage can be exciting and bad-ass (even in your 40s) over at MarriedwithLuggage.com. They often travel the world together, if they’re not already living part-time at their house in Spain.
Marketing Consultant, Writer, and Founder of Rich20Something
|My biggest regret was not learning how to syndicate my material earlier.It’s much easier to write one really good piece and get it placed in multiple place then to write 100 pieces and hope one “hits.”|
Daniel spends his days giving marketing advice and writing copy for 6- and 7-figure businesses, as well as teaching other how to start their own freelance careers at Rich20Something. He was a natural bodybuilder for a time when he was younger, and he’s positive he can eat more tacos than you.
So whose advice do you think will be most useful to you as you start your online business? Or, if you’ve already started it, what do you wish you’d known beforehand? Share your insights in the comments below!
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