I’m excited to announce that I’ve survived my first year in business. I have had so many ups and downs, too many to count. I wanted to share with anyone who might be planning on starting a company some of my key takeaways from the first year.

What to Expect Your First Year – chaos and lots of it.

There is nothing easy about being in business for yourself. In fact, it’s one of the most challenging accomplishments I have ever achieved. Why do it then, you might ask? Even though it was hard, it has been an amazing time. I can say that you truly feel alive when taking on something like this. You have to have faith, take calculated risk, and learn from mistakes (you will make a lot.) Fear will torment you at times. You’ll be on an emotional rollercoaster. You will potentially lose friends. I could go on forever with this list, because like I said before, it’s an amazing experience to start a business.

Lesson One: Loneliness

Running a startup can be lonely at times as most people don’t understand what you are doing or why you are doing it. Sometimes they just aren’t supportive and positive. Lesson? You must seek out individuals who will provide you the support you need and then surround yourself with them, constantly.

Lesson Two: Cash Flow, Cash Flow, Cash Flow

I can’t stress this one enough. You might be able to invoice out $10,000, but if it isn’t coming back in a timely manner it can wreck your business. Learn this lesson early and quickly, in fact do everything you can to master it. One way I did this was changing from project only to Managed IT Services. This allowed me to know monthly how much money was coming in.

Lesson Three: Get Over the Word “Sales”

I know some of you didn’t start your business because you want to be a salesman, you just want to do what you love…well, get over that train of thought. No matter whether you have the best product in the world, no one will buy it if they don’t know anything about it. That’s just reality. The other issue is that sales is time-consuming, and when it isn’t what you really love to do, man, does it seem to take forever. I have found that it will always take at least 3 visits to close the deal.

Lesson Four: Sell Your Product AND Sell Yourself — Never Undervalue Your Expertise

Undervaluing myself was the worst thing I ever did. In your mind, you think “if someone is getting a deal, then I will be able to grow quickly and have a great base of customers.” Wrong. What will happen is you will only get customers looking for cheap labor, and you will struggle when adjusting your pricing.

My suggestion is set up contracts for 3-months and have them auto-renew. This allows you to make adjustments if needed, allowing the customer the flexibility to make adjustments, as well. Don’t get stuck with a cheap 3-year contract with a customer who doesn’t understand that they are underpaying you. Your time and service is more valuable than you think.

Lesson Five: Networking is Your Best Friend

What is networking? It’s face-to-face, relational, two-way communication. At least, that’s my definition.

Someone once told me people buy from those they know, like, and trust. The only way to build that type of relationship is time, and believe me that it can take a lot of your time.

I spend so much time at my local coffee shop that people joke about it. A lot of individuals probably thought I was just bored and didn’t have enough clients to keep me busy, which was not true. I just understood one basic fact: if people see me every day, eventually, it would lead to communication, which then potentially leads to customers.

You have to go about it differently than just showing up and drinking coffee. You have to be liked and trusted. People should want to come talk to you. Be the highlight of their day and be what they miss when you’re not there. This approach isn’t for everyone; it just works for me currently. Find the way you can network and do it well.

Lesson Six: If It was Easy, Everyone Would Do It

Now let’s be real for a second, how tough is it, really? Every day you have to wake up and face a new challenge. How will I pay my mortgage, fund my kid’s school supplies, provide food? You get the picture.

The first year is tough, and I honestly think I may have aged 10 years during this process. I’ve had to take several losses because I made the wrong decision, but I just suck it up because it’s part of the journey.

Sometimes you’re just facing your own fears…did I make the right decision in starting, am I as good as I think I am, should I quit? It’s how I imagine running a marathon. Your mind begins to tell you this is too much for you to handle, or just quit already, or why are you still running while no one is watching?

Overcoming this challenging time will build character and will help build the foundation that the business requires to succeed. Hang in there, it is worth it!

Lesson Seven: Don’t Throw in The Towel

Now most importantly-- don’t give up! If I can do this, I know you can as well. The reward for your hard work is just around the corner. Be passionate, hold integrity in the highest regard, and just be awesome!