Business Principle #10: Celebrate the small things.

This is the final post in a ten part series on foundational principles of being an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurship is forever forward looking—to the next phase of growth, toward that dream on the horizon. 

But when you fixate on the future, it’s easy to become stuck in a state of anticipation. You will never feel like you’ve arrived. Dreams remain far off—or are replaced with new, more ambitious ones. 

The “hustle culture” of entrepreneurship tells us we must always want more, strive for the next thing, and keep pushing. Anything short of the hustle is complacency. 

No wonder so many entrepreneurs burn out. 

What if, instead of always focusing on what’s next, we stopped to celebrate what’s already been accomplished?

Celebrate the wins.

As you build your business, take time to reflect on what’s gone well—no matter how small. Did you have a meaningful conversation with a customer? Celebrate! Did you finally hit “post” on Instagram? Celebrate! Did you file your business license? Celebrate!

When you celebrate the small wins, your mindset shifts. Instead of feeling restless, you’ll see that every small thing you do brings you closer to that big dream. You’ll see the progress you are making, one step at a time. 

Pause to appreciate your accomplishments. 

Celebrate the learnings.

Similarly, take the time to reflect on what’s gone wrong—and how you can learn from it. 

When things don’t go according to plan, it’s easy to get discouraged. But in entrepreneurship, there’s a reason why you’re encouraged to “fail fast.” Failure isn’t necessarily bad; it’s an opportunity to learn. With the right mindset, setbacks become the launchpad for your next phase. You learn, change course, and make your business even better than before. 

Celebrate what you’ve learned and what will be different because of it. 

Celebrate the journey.

As any seasoned entrepreneur will tell you, owning your own business is not easy. You’ll encounter many challenges and sleepless nights. You may fail (and learn!). But, in the end, it’s worth it. It’s yours. You made it happen. 

Celebrate yourself and the journey you are on—that you actually did it. You took the scary step into business ownership, you made sacrifices, you took the risk. Venturing down this path is brave and worthy of recognition. 

Business Principle #9: Plan for success.

This is part nine of ten in a series on foundational principles of being an entrepreneur.

Whether you’re just getting started or you are well into your business, you’re probably already feeling it. It’s always there. It wears on you. 

The pressure of the to-do list. 

No matter how much you accomplish, more is waiting to be done. Since your business starts with you, you may feel like it’s up to you to do everything. And sometimes—especially at the start—it is.

For many entrepreneurs, the large volume of work leads to a start-and-stop approach. Instead of following a project or task through to completion, they only partly finish before jumping to something more pressing. Many things get started, but few finished, compounding the overwhelming feeling of the to-do list. 

Without a boss (you are the boss!), staying accountable for completing your work can be tough. 

If this describes you, there’s good news! A few simple tactics can help you manage your workload and plan for success. 

Get It Out of Your Head

The first step is to get all the information out of your head and onto a place where you can see it. Grab a sheet of paper, dictate a note on your phone, or open up a Google doc. The mechanism is less important than the activity of making the list. 

When you’re done, leave it for a bit. Go on a walk. Make dinner. Sleep on it. As other things come to you, add them to the list. Part of that overwhelming feeling is keeping everything in your head and worrying you’ve forgotten something. 

Set Priorities

If your list is long, writing it down may initially add to your stress. But being able to see everything in one place can help you categorize and prioritize. 

The truth is, you can’t do everything. At least not at the same time. You have to figure out what is most important. 

Look at your list. What are the one or two most important things that, if left unfinished, keep your business from moving forward? 

For example, suppose you want to open a coffee roastery. Items on your long list might include: coming up with a business name, securing a space to roast in, leasing the equipment, sourcing beans, and creating packaging. 

All of these items are important. But some are dependent on others. If you don’t have space to roast in, where are you going to put the roasting equipment (and the beans)? If you don’t have a name, how can you create packaging? What are you going to put in the packaging if you don’t have space to roast in or beans sourced? 

By looking at everything at once, you can figure out what should come first—and what can be done more efficiently if you wait. 

A helpful method is to think about what you need to do in the next 30 days. Which things need to be done this month? Which things are others dependent on? What should be done 60 days from now? 90 days?

Going back to the coffee roastery example, focusing on the business name and finding space are foundational for the rest of the items. Using the first 30 days to complete these two projects will make the other items go much more smoothly. 

Don’t Tackle Too Much

Perhaps you looked at the example list above and thought more could be done in the first 30 days. 

A common mistake entrepreneurs make is trying to do too many things at once. The more items you tackle at the same time, the less focused you’ll be. You only have so much time and energy. Identifying what is most critical, strategic, or important to do at the moment—and focusing on that—will get you further faster.

Think in terms of milestones. A milestone is a significant development or marker on a journey. It typically marks a turning point or an accomplishment. Once you pass it, you don’t circle back again.

What milestones must you reach to move your venture forward? Focus on the big items, not the details. And only one or two at a time. 

Break It Down into Manageable Tasks

You’ll know it’s a milestone because it can’t be completed in one sprint; you have to finish smaller projects to be able to reach it. These smaller to-dos are your tasks

For example, if the milestone for the coffee roastery is securing a space to roast in, tasks might include: doing research on what roasteries need, defining the specifications of the space (what it needs to have, where it needs to be), getting recommendations for a commercial realtor, interviewing realtors, touring potential spaces, etc. All of these items are tasks that help you accomplish the bigger milestone. 


Once you have your tasks, get SMART about them. Make sure each task is Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timely. 

When a task is SMART, it’s easy to know whether or not you’ve completed it. For example, the task “tour potential spaces” can be made SMART by adding some details: “tour 3 potential spaces that fit the specifications by September 12.” 

Plan for Success

Identifying what needs to be done is one thing. You’ll maximize the chance of staying on track if you also identify when you will do it. Due dates are important, but actually blocking time on your schedule to do the tasks will get you further and help you stay on track. 

Lots of great tools can help with this (including this one that we created), or a simple method is to timeblock. All you need to do is block out time to work on each task on your calendar or whatever you use to plan your days.

When it’s time to work on a task, turn off your phone, email, or anything that distracts you and focus on getting it done. Prioritize it as you would a client meeting, a doctor appointment, or anything else you wouldn’t skip. 

If something important comes up, make sure that block gets rescheduled for another date and time. 

The to-do lists will not get shorter with time. Entrepreneurs by nature are always trying to build and improve. But with the right strategies and enough practice, you’ll find the right rhythm and discover what works for you.

Business Principle #8: Get the funds you need.

This is part eight of ten in a series on foundational principles of being an entrepreneur.

Finding the funds to start or grow your business can be a challenge. While some businesses can naturally grow slowly through sales, others need significant cash up front before they can open their doors. Most fall somewhere in between. When you need cash, it can be tempting to give up on your business altogether. 

The good news is that there are many sources of funding (also known as capital) available for small businesses. The trick is to figure out which will work best for your personal situation. 

Start by considering the following questions. 

How’s your credit score?

One of the most common sources of funding for businesses is bank loans or lines of credit. A bank determines how much money a business can borrow and gets paid back over time with interest. But many entrepreneurs don’t realize that banks won’t lend to businesses that lack a financial track record. If you’re just getting started, this means your business itself can’t borrow money. 

But you, the entrepreneur, can. 

This is where your credit score becomes important. Based on your past history of borrowing money, a credit score lets a financial institution know whether or not you’re safe to lend to. The higher your score, the better. 

If your credit score is too low (or nonexistent), getting a bank loan may not be an option for your business—at least until the business has a long enough track record to vouch for itself. 

Are you willing to give up ownership?

If you’ve ever watched Shark Tank, you may be familiar with the entrepreneur’s dilemma: how much ownership to give up in exchange for an investment in the business. An equity investment can provide a big injection of cash, but it comes at a price. You have to give away part of what you’re building and entrust it to someone else. 

A good investor typically brings more than money—experience, industry knowledge, and connections. These assets might be worth exchanging some ownership for; with an investor’s  help, you may achieve greater growth than if you were to do it alone. 

However, when you bring on an investor, you will likely give up some flexibility, as well as control. You’ll need to justify your actions and negotiate with your investors on all major decisions. Depending on how much ownership you give away, you could even be outnumbered and overruled. 

Do you have something that you can presell?

If you have something you can presell (sell before you make it), crowdfunding might be an option for you. Crowdfunding provides a way for people to pre-purchase your product through pledges, giving you the funds needed to make it. Because crowdfunding relies on people paying up front, it can also help you quickly determine the level of actual interest in your product. The added bonus is that it provides great marketing opportunities while allowing you to maintain complete ownership and control of your business.

However, crowdfunding requires a significant initial investment of time and money to launch. Poor campaigns can even hurt a business, alienating potential customers. Also, if you fall short of your goal, you may get nothing. Even if you meet your goal, delivering your rewards and paying for your campaign may use most of the raised funds. If anything goes wrong in production, you might have some angry customers on your hands. 

How will you use the funds?

Be clear on how the money you’re getting will help your business make enough money to pay it back—especially if you are seeking a loan or investors. 

When running the numbers for the business, one of the primary gaps most entrepreneurs see at the start is the money needed to pay themselves a salary. But using borrowed or invested money for payroll is risky. When the money’s gone, it’s gone. 

On the other hand, using the money to purchase the equipment needed to make your product not only helps build your business, but it also has resale value. If something goes wrong, the equipment could be sold to help repay lenders. 

Be strategic about where you invest borrowed dollars. When you arrive at answers to these questions, you’ll be well on your way to the right funding solutions for your venture. If none of these seem to work for your situation, don’t despair! You can always start small and grow smartly, one sale at a time. There’s always a way forward.

Business Principle #7: Understand your costs.

This is part seven of ten in a series on foundational principles of being an entrepreneur.

Many people—who would otherwise make great entrepreneurs—shy away from business because they’re scared of numbers. 

When you have a business, being “bad at math” is more than a school-age nuisance; numbers now carry great weight. They tell you if your business works–if you actually have a business. 

But, we’ll let you in on a secret. When you’re starting out in business, the numbers are actually quite simple, and there are only five you need to master at the start. We’ll break it down for you. 

Startup vs. Ongoing Costs

While a business ultimately needs to make money, businesses also cost money. You need to invest in equipment, a website, inventory, legal fees, utilities, bookkeeping, software, salaries, etc. 

Everything that costs your business money falls into one of two categories: startup costs and ongoing costs. 

Startup costs are the things you’ll need before you can open your doors or serve your first customer. For example, the filing fees for your legal entity, the buildout of your website, and the price of equipment (a mixer, a mower, a computer) are all startup costs. You have to make these investments before your business can start serving customers and you likely won’t have to keep paying for it each month. 

The first number you need to know is the amount of money you need to cover your startup costs

The next two numbers you should know fall into the other category of costs—ongoing costs. These are costs you’ll have to pay every single month. For example, salaries, software subscriptions, utilities, and raw materials are all part of your ongoing costs. You need to pay them over and over again, even after your business opens. 

Fixed vs. Variable Costs

The next two numbers you need to know are two kinds of ongoing costs: your fixed costs and your variable costs

A lot of people—understandably—get confused about what these numbers are due to their names. “Fixed” doesn’t mean the number itself is the same each month, nor does “variable” mean that the amount fluctuates. 

A fixed cost is something that must be paid whether or not you sell anything. For example, if you have a retail store and not a single customer walks through the door, you still have to pay your rent, utilities (which might vary month to month), and someone to oversee the space. Those are fixed costs. You have to pay them no matter what. 

A variable cost is tied to what you are selling or producing. For example, a cup of coffee has costs associated with it. There’s the cost of coffee beans, the cup, the labor to brew it, the cream and sugar, the payment processing. Each time you sell a cup of coffee, you incur these costs to produce it. The number varies because the amount you pay depends on how many items you sell. If you sell 10 cups of coffee, your variable costs are much lower than if you sell 100. 

The Magic Number: Break-Even

If you have these first three numbers (startup, fixed, and variable costs), you have a starting point for figuring out whether your business can make money. But to determine that, you need to know the fourth important number: your gross profit (how much money you’ll make from each item after you cover the cost of producing that item). 

Gross profit = Price – Variable Costs

For example, if the price of a cup of coffee is $2.50 and it costs you $1.50 to make it, your gross profit is $1.00. 

With this number, you’re ready to find the fifth important number: your break-even point. The break-even point is the magic number because it tells you how many items you need to sell each month to cover your costs for that month. Any additional items you sell beyond that number is money you get to keep or invest back into the business some other way. 

Break-Even Point = Fixed Costs ÷ Gross Profit

For example, if the fixed costs for your coffee shop were $500 a month in rent and utilities, you’d need to sell 500 cups of coffee each month to cover your costs. 

What you can learn from the numbers

Five simple numbers give you the foundation needed to really know if your business will work: startup costs, fixed costs, variable costs, gross profit, and break-even point. 

Startup costs tell you how much you’ll need to invest to get things up and running. You may need to pay that money up front and have a plan of where to get it. 

Together, the other four numbers help you understand whether or not you actually have a business—not just an expensive hobby. To be a business, your venture has to make money

Most likely, your first calculation may give you a break-even point that seems impossible (500 cups of coffee a month!). Don’t despair. Experiment with the numbers: raise prices or cut your costs to come up with something more realistic. The numbers can help you make choices and figure out what is actually essential for your business. 

Even when you have a realistic break-even point, you might not reach that level of sales at the beginning. You can use the number to figure out how much time it will take to become fully operational—and even profitable—and what sort of gap you’ll need to cover until you get there.

The numbers help you plan. They help you prepare. They help you decide. They help you succeed. 

Understand your numbers and you’ll be on the right path. 

Business Principle #6: Invest in legal and accounting advice.

This is part six of ten in a series on foundational principles of being an entrerpreneur.

As a small business owner, money is always tight—particularly at the beginning. Starting a business requires cash for things like business formation, inventory, and marketing. The list goes on and on. 

If you’re short on cash, you make up for it with sweat. 

The simple solution to the many demands on your wallet is to do it yourself. For many of your business needs, this can be productive—in others, very risky, particularly when it comes to legal and accounting. 

Legal and accounting issues have the potential to scare off those who are contemplating entrepreneurship. Questions arise such as: what if I get it wrong? How much is it going to cost? Is following my dream really worth all the red tape? 

The good news is that you don’t have to do it yourself; lawyers and accountants are there to handle the red tape for you. 

Even still, many entrepreneurs worry about the cost of seeking expert help; it’s easy to question whether the investment is worth it.

But small investments up front will set your business up for success. Get your legal structures and accounting systems in place—correctly—from the beginning. Failure to do so can kill your business before it even starts. 


Initial decisions have long term effects. 

While choosing a legal structure or how to set up your books might seem like  minor concerns, the decisions you make now will impact your business for years to come. They’ll determine what sort of partners you can have or sources of money you can tap. They will dictate how profit is determined, what you owe in taxes, and how you will be paid. 

These decisions will ultimately affect your bottom line. When money is scarce, you need every dollar available. If you set up your business structures correctly, you’ll keep more money in your business. Over time, those dollars add up.

Experts are experts for a reason. 

One of the great things about the digital age is how readily information is available. Google “What legal structure should I choose?” and hundreds of articles will appear. With so many resources, it’s natural to be tempted to figure it out yourself..

But legal and accounting are highly complex areas. Lawyers and accountants complete years of schooling in their fields and must pass difficult exams in order to practice. Their job is to understand the nuances of the law and how they will impact your business. Getting their expert advice—specific to your business and situation—will position your business to thrive. 

Granted, not all professionals are equal. When choosing a lawyer or accountant, make sure you do your research and ask other business owners about their experience. If another entrepreneur raves about their lawyer or accountant, that’s a great place to start. 

Focus your energy elsewhere. 

Even with everything stated here, you may still be tempted to save the money and do it yourself. 

Pause for a minute. Do you really want to? 

Yes, you can do it. You can spend time and energy doing the research. Filling out the forms. Configuring the systems. Making filings. Calculating estimated taxes. Evaluating reports. Wondering if you did it right. 

Let’s be honest. Trying to figure out these complicated systems is stressful. Self-teaching takes significant time—time that will ultimately cost you more money than you would pay upfront for expert help. Time you could be investing elsewhere in your business, on things only you can do. 

You are not starting your business because you want to learn legal or accounting (unless that is your business!). You want to wake up every day doing something you love. Focus your energy on that and leave the other stuff to the experts. 

Because when you get that government letter stating that you missed something, you’re going to call a lawyer or accountant to fix it. And it will cost more than avoiding the mistake in the first place. 

Business Principle #5: Know your value.

This is part five of ten in a series on foundational principles of being an entrepreneur.

Value is about much more than a price tag; ultimately, value is the reason why someone should buy your product. Fully understanding your value impacts every aspect of your business—from your marketing to how you deliver your product or service. 

So, how do you truly know the value you provide to your customers? 

Understand the problem your customer faces. 

Chances are your customers are coming to you because something in their life isn’t working or some desire is not being met. Your customer has a problem that they can’t easily solve on their own. 

The first step to knowing your value is understanding this problem. Many entrepreneurs miss the mark by failing to see the world through their customer’s eyes. Do the extra work to discover your customer’s pain points to fully grasp the conditions creating this need.

For example, let’s say your customer is a busy mom who needs a jolt of caffeine to get going in the morning. Although she could make coffee at home, she’d prefer a morning latte to start her day. Running into a coffee shop would be nice, but it requires getting the baby out of the car seat. It’s too much hassle, so she goes without.

Your customer’s problem is costing them something. Find out what it is. When you see the world from their perspective, you have a starting point for knowing your value.

Identify how you solve the problem

Once you deeply understand your customer’s problem, you are ready to demonstrate how your business solves it. On one level, it’s straightforward: you solve the problem through the product or service you’re offering. A cup of coffee, a class, an article of clothing, an hour consult. Your solution provides the customer with something tangible or experiential to address the problem.

But you need to go deeper. Think about the benefits—the intangibles—your product or service provides. What are you saving your customer from? Unnecessary frustration, wasted time, uncertainty? Or, what are you adding to their life to improve it? More joy, comfort, free-time?

By providing the busy mom a drive-through coffee option, you save her the hassle of running into a shop along with the comfort of a good latte. She doesn’t have to forego the small luxuries anymore. That comfort, the hassle-free experience, is worth something to her.

Your value becomes clearer as you understand why your offering matters to your customer. 

Know your advantage. 

In fact, take it even further. What does your customer lose out on if they solve their problem another way? What sets your business apart? 

Your value is unique to your business. If your customer can get the same exact product or service  elsewhere, then why should they come to you? You need to identify how you’re different. The customer needs to know how you’re different. Some advantages are easy to see; for example, you’ve built something truly innovative, and there is nothing else like it. Others might be more subtle—personal attention, greater efficiency, unusual expertise. 

Coffee chains like Starbucks often have drive-thru options. But if your place offers small-batch, locally roasted beans and well-trained baristas, you have something special. 

Apply what you learn.

At its essence, your value is the sum of the above components: if you truly understand your customer’s problem and are offering a solution that addresses the problem better than anything else, the benefit you provide brings value to your customer. 

Once you understand your value, it informs every part of your business. You’ll get your customer to know, like, and trust you by appealing to this value. You’ll ensure that delivery of your product or service maximizes your value. 

Moreover, you’ll be ready to set a price that communicates your value well. The benefit you’re providing saves the customer something—usually time, energy, or money. When you know what your offering is worth to them, you can choose a price that reflects that value. 

Many entrepreneurs get this backward and base their price on their costs. While costs should inform your price (you need to make more than you’re spending!), they shouldn’t be the primary consideration.  

The busy mom might be willing to pay a little more for the convenience and quality of the coffee you’re providing. Keeping in mind what she can afford, charge what it’s worth to her. 

Knowing your value is everything for a business. Be sure you know yours.

Business Principle #4: Build relationships through marketing.

This is part four of ten in a series on foundational principles of being an entrepreneur.

Marketing. For such a little word, it conjures big ideas. Ads, email, websites, social media—whether you’re just getting started or been at it a while, the prospect of marketing your business can seem daunting. 

Great marketing is all around us. Feeling like you have to do it all can be intimidating, especially when professionals set the bar so high. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and not sure how to move forward, shift your perspective. 

Marketing is simply building a relationship with your customer.

Stop worrying about which specific tactics you should use and focus instead on the relationship with the person on the other end. When you make this shift, marketing feels more human. More personal. You’re looking to connect with your customer over the things you both care about. You know how to do that. 

As we’ve already discussed, you first need to make sure you understand your customer well. But for the relationship to develop, it’s not enough for you to know about them. They have to know you in return and choose to engage with you.  

Building customer relationships through marketing tends to resemble how most relationships are formed—a process of getting the other person to know, like, and trust you.

Know > Be Visible

The first step in the relationship starts in a pretty obvious place. Your customer has to know that you exist; you have to be visible to them. While there are many ways for a potential customer to encounter your product or service, use the research you’ve done to be somewhere they’re likely to be. 

Do they scroll through Instagram? Post there. Spend Saturdays at the farmers market? Hand out fliers and take preorders. Hang out in a local coffee shop? Ask to leave some information next to the register (and start hanging around there yourself!). 

The goal is to make sure prospective customers are aware of your business and come across it often. Although love at first sight might happen, sometimes it takes a few encounters.  

Like > Appeal to Common Interests

Think about the relationships in your life. Which ones come the easiest? Probably the ones with people with whom you have something major in common, right? First dates tend to go much more smoothly (and lead to a second!) when you have similar interests, values, or passions. 

A customer will move from merely knowing your business to liking it when you appeal to your similarities—particularly the values you have in common. Are they passionate about saving the planet? Show them how sustainability is what you’re all about. Are they family first? Highlight your kid-friendliness. 

Being authentic is far more important than being polished. They’ll like you for who you are.

Trust > Deliver

Customers might buy once because they like your product or service. They’ll stick around if you cultivate their trust. 

The dictionary definition of trust is when you have confidence in something or someone. Customers will trust you if they know they can rely on your business to be consistent and follow through on your promises. They know you’ll deliver time and time again. 

When trust is built with a customer, you won’t have to keep winning them over. They’ll be champions for your business and win others for you. 

Business Principle #3: Start small.

This is part three of ten in a series on foundational principles of being an entrepreneur.

If you’re like most, you’ve probably got a big dream for your business (remember, that’s why the business starts with you). Big dreams are amazing. They push us to create businesses that our customers love, that meet needs, that provide our communities with character and quirk. 

But that vision you have in your head of what your business can become might also be daunting. It takes time to build. It takes resources. Also, what if you pour everything you have into it and it doesn’t work out? 

In our last article, we talked about the idea of customer discovery (asking your customer what they want instead of telling them what they need). Customer discovery is a great way to refine your business and help it succeed. Yet, there is another lean startup concept that can help even more.

Often referred to as a “minimum viable product” or “MVP,” we refer to it as starting small. The basic idea is this: get a basic version of your product or service in front of your customer—now. As quickly and cheaply as possible. What can you do today (invite friends over for cupcakes), next week (see if anyone wants to order a dozen), next month (pop-up sale) to get started? 

We love this approach because it helps you in incredible ways. 

Overcome paralysis.

When you’re building that big vision, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the things you need to do. Product development. Pricing. Inventory. Marketing. Sales. You want to get all the details right, and it’s easy to get stuck. 

One major benefit of starting small is that you don’t have to do it all. You can start with one initial, limited thing without having everything else figured out. Make a test version of one product. Share it with some friends. It’s really that simple. 

Sometimes these small steps are all you need to do to get things moving on your business. The rest will follow. 

Get better feedback.

Have you had this experience? You’re working with someone on a project and you make a plan for what you’re going to create, how it will work, and what it will look like. The other person does their part, and when you see the first pass, it’s not what you envisioned. Even though it’s technically what you agreed upon, seeing it is very different than talking about it in the abstract. 

While asking good questions of your customers is a must, handing them something real to react to will get you even better feedback. In experiencing a version of your product or service (even if it’s not perfect or complete!), they’ll be more likely to specify what they would want or how they would improve it. 

Fail fast (and get it right more quickly).

What, failure?! Yes, failure. Starting small helps you uncover problems with your business quickly. The truth is, very few businesses get it right the first time. If you start small, you won’t invest too much into something that doesn’t work. Instead, you’ll see a much faster feedback loop that will enable you to make your business better in less time.  

Because you’re taking small steps and learning from each one, you can change courses quickly and build a business that will succeed. If you invest too much time or money into your business up front, the failure you experience could be catastrophic. 

Dream big. But start small and grow smartly. You’ll be much more likely to build a viable business if you do.

Business Principle #2: Discover what your customer really wants.

This is part two of ten in a series on foundational principles of being an entrepreneur.

While your business starts with you, it doesn’t exist without another crucial person–your customer. Someone has to buy what you’re offering for it to actually be a business.

Many entrepreneurs believe that in order to get customers, you have to always be selling; you have to convince them to buy. While this might have been the old way (build it, then convince people to buy it), new approaches are getting better results. 

One method you might have heard of is often referred to as the “lean startup.” One of the core tenets of this approach is called “customer discovery.” Simply put, customer discovery involves asking your customer what they want instead of telling them what they need. It’s about testing your ideas to see what you’ve gotten right and what needs to change. 

Here’s the key. If you truly listen to what your customers (or potential customers) really want and build exactly that, you shouldn’t need to do much convincing. You’re making what they wished for a reality. 

So how do you discover what they want? 

Ask about the problem. 

Businesses exist to solve problems for customers. Something in your customer’s life isn’t working as well as it could or some desire isn’t being met. You can learn a lot by focusing your attention on the problem itself instead of how you plan to solve it. 

For example, let’s say the business you’re planning on starting is a restaurant. Let’s speculate that your customer’s problem is that they are dissatisfied with current options for eating out. They want more variety. You can learn a lot from them by asking something as simple as “How do you feel about your current options for eating out?” 

Probe into their current patterns. 

Another way to discover what they want is to ask about what they are currently doing. If they are truly experiencing a problem, they’ll be doing something about it. Even if it isn’t ideal.

Going back to the restaurant example, you could ask questions like “Where do you like to eat out? Why there?” to find out what influences their decisions. Understanding why they do what they do will provide you with valuable insights for your business. 

Get them to dream. 

The magic really happens when you get them to dream about what could be. Create the space for them to share their deepest desires and wishes. If there were no limits, what would they envision? 

Asking a question like “What eating options do you wish were available locally?” opens the door for you to get some great ideas about the direction to take your restaurant. The dreams they have might spark and stoke your own. 

Your ideas are where the business starts. In order for it to thrive, you must engage your customer to find out what they want and need. When your ideas evolve your ideas based on their input, you’ll be well on your way to building a business that sells itself. 

Business Principle #1: It starts with you.

This is part one of ten in a series on foundational principles of being an entrepreneur.

When you start a business, you’ll be told the first thing you need to do is focus on your customer. And while we wholeheartedly agree on the importance of the customer (see principle #2, coming soon!), a business begins closer to home. 

It starts with you—the entrepreneur. 

Without you, the business doesn’t exist. Your ideas, your dreams, your strengths, your shortcomings are all going to influence your business. While others may contribute, both the opportunity and the burden rest squarely on your shoulders. 

As such, you need to think about what you want from your business. A few simple questions can help you dig deeper.

What’s motivating you? 

Most entrepreneurs start businesses for deeply personal reasons. Perhaps the world failed them in some way and they want to save others from that experience. Or they want greater flexibility in their schedule than a traditional nine-to-five. Or they want to pursue a personal passion, make their own decisions…the reasons are endless. 

Something is driving you to make this business happen. What is it? How did the idea come about? Why this business? Why now?

Diving into your motivation will help you better understand where you’ve been and where you want to go. 

What does success look like? 

While motive is foundational to the beginning of your story, it’s also important to have clarity on how you want that story to “end.” As an entrepreneur, you’re working toward something—some vision you have about how you want your life to be. About your purpose on this planet. About how you want to leave your mark. When you think about your own path, where do you want it to lead?

Like motivation, success tends to be deeply personal. Each person’s vision for what they want out of life (and business) is different. 

While to some entrepreneurs, success is growing their business to a billion-dollar-company, to others it may be staying small and flexible as a solo operation. What does success look like for you?

What’s your support system? 

Let’s just face it. Being an entrepreneur has a lot of upsides, but it can also be challenging. While it can afford a lot of freedom, it also entails much responsibility. 

The story of entrepreneur burnout is a common one. But if your vision of success includes being healthy and happy, then taking steps to build a support system is vital. 

What will you do to carve out time for yourself? How will you protect that time and prioritize it? Whether committing to one vacation week per year or setting aside 15 minutes a day for mediation, making time for yourself is a must. Stepping away can help you recharge, refresh, and reengage your business better. 

Who can help you? Who will hold you accountable? Who will listen when you’ve had a hard day? Who will help you strategize the best way to solve that problem? Doing it alone can be daunting. Figure out who can help and how. 

While your business starts with you, it shouldn’t end with you. 

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