Finding your way as an entrepreneur in a maze of advice
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Finding your way as an entrepreneur in a maze of advice

Every starting entrepreneur, whether you're opening a restaurant, starting a content company or opening your own physio practice, will have to deal with people who know it all better than you. These people have your best interest at heart and already know from their own experience what can go wrong or what you should do about it. Sometimes they can be very interesting conversations but unfortunately they can also be very tiring. Recognizable?

I often talk to entrepreneurs who immediately shout "Yes, I know that! What a difficult conversation they can be. From my own experience I know that this is not always helpful. Especially if the advice is given by a kind of alpha type and is not satisfied with a polite "thanks for the tip, I will indeed look at it. Still, I want to warn you. This advice is much more useful than you initially realize. It's just that it's often of little use to you at the moment.

Also, as you become more successful, the advice that really helps you becomes fewer and fewer in number. I think this is because people are afraid that you will know it all better anyway. If you think this of yourself as well, then I warn you immediately; You don't know anything yet! And the more you learn the more you will realize that this is indeed the reality. But with which people/advice should you pay attention and with which people/advice should you indeed leave it behind?

In this blog I write about only three phases. I do this because I noticed that in terms of advice, there are only three phases. Start-up (1-8 employees), small team (8-25 employees) and large team (25+ employees). In the last phase, you notice that most people start giving less unsolicited advice. However, the difference between 25 employees and 300 employees is in practice big, but in terms of getting advice it is small. For that reason, I dare to go with these three phases instead of the usual five phases of entrepreneurship (Pioneer phase, organisation phase, management phase, delegation phase and standardisation phase).

The start-up entrepreneur/start-up phase (1 to 8 employees).

As a starter, it's an easy answer at first. All advice should be welcome. The only ones that don't matter as separate advices are advices you've heard before and are therefore already saved by you. Mind you, even in this case it's good to keep track of how many times an advice comes by. Especially if it comes as a reaction from a customer. These are extremely valuable and when a comment comes by more often you know it is important for your business. After all, these are the people who are paying for your service or product. Is it about non-customers (everyone you talk about your company but who is not a buyer of your product or service) then it is first important to trace the origin.

Friends and relatives

This is the most dangerous group. They have your best interests at heart and often know you better than you know yourself. All advice can therefore be both a positive for you and/or your company and a pitfall. It is your job to be very sharp on this. The reason this advice can be good and bad comes from the enormous urge the people who love you have to help you. This makes them all want to share when they know something. It just doesn't necessarily mean that what they share will be useful to the market or the kind of business you are in or the one you want to build.

Therefore, with this group, always pay attention to the background of the person giving the advice. If this has something to do with your company or market, listen carefully. If this is not the case, then pay attention to the opening and/or closing sentence of the advice given. Is this a sentence like "When I last saw a .... (insert a similar service or product as yours) I really liked it/ didn't like it..... (insert advice). This means that the advice giver is a customer of the competitor and therefore has interesting market and customer knowledge.

Suppliers and business partners

This is a challenging group. Often there is an enormous wealth of experience here. If you're not doing anything radically innovative, you'd better listen carefully. However, if you are radically innovative, these can be the challenging parties. You are an uncertain customer for these parties (risky because you are different, not necessarily because you are) plus you often bring a new way of working with you which stems from your innovative business. Don't underestimate how many companies don't like that at all.

For many entrepreneurs this is often difficult to understand but try not to judge too harshly. It is not everybody's cup of tea to accept (big) changes quickly. Take a little more time with these parties to build a relationship. These are often the parties with whom you can build very nice and valuable collaborations because they are more used to longer and more loyal collaborations. Always make sure that you keep benchmarking. Staying loyal to a supplier provides a lot of help and knowledge sharing but is often not good for the prices you pay.

But I digress. Back to advice. Suppliers and business partners can be invaluable, even when you are working on a radically innovative concept. The best advice in that case is usually not what they say but what they do NOT say. If you hear "We never do that in this market" or "That's a challenge and we'd rather not do that" then know that you are probably on the right track. When something is so new that nobody does it or something is so complicated because you take a lot of effort away from your customer and thus drastically simplify the process, that you are at least innovating. Do you know this innovation then also profitable in an existing market or even a completely new market to develop then you have a successful business.

Example:

Before Larry Page and Sergey Brin invented the modern search engine, finding a website was either a matter of luck by entering website names at random, or through the use of hand-built sites like startpagina.nl and Yahoo.

From the launch of Google, it was clear that the world would never be the same again. Meanwhile Alphabet (parent company Google) is one of the world's largest companies with a turnover of more than 136 billion dollars (converted to approximately 121 billion euros). And all that because these gentlemen developed a system that simplified and made finding websites more complete and therefore replaced the entire search market in a matter of years. At the same time they created a completely new market with Google Adwords which made it possible to advertise on search terms. Since Google itself already represented a whole market for which this product was developed exclusively, a monopoly arose within this search market. With all the advantages Alphabet has to offer.

Employees

If you already have employees then read on under the heading "The entrepreneur with a small team (8 to 25 employees)

The entrepreneur with a small team (8 to 25 employees).

This is the phase when you have a working and selling product or perform a service that is in demand. You are turning over turnover and you are building up your team. In this phase, growing as an organization is almost your entire focus. For most companies in this phase, growth in revenue seems to come almost naturally. Some faster than others but most entrepreneurs know how many percent the company grows per year and have been doing business for some time. In this phase of entrepreneurship, the lines are still very short in the organization and you often have a very close team which besides working hard also has a lot of fun is an absolute must.

Most companies in this phase look like they came straight out of a TV series about start-ups. Real stereo type companies (with some exceptions). A very fun and formative phase. Important to realize is that this is also the phase in which your company culture is determined. This is perhaps the most important phase of the entire company's existence, after the start-up itself. Especially since real cultural changes can only be made in emergency situations. If there is no (financial) necessity you will see that almost every initiative that is taken to change the culture in a company completely fails or needs an extremely long time to change.

A strong culture is great for a business. But if you doubt its impact, just look at companies that are acquired by other organisations where the culture click is far from perfect. In these situations, you often see massive layoffs or even the complete bleeding of the company that was acquired. An acquisition is a kind of marriage. When you do not fit together it is better not to do it.

In this phase you are very focused on your team. They need to be built up and helped to find the right way. Or if you hire really good people they will show you the way! And this is also where you should be as far as advice is concerned, your team. This group of first believers who dare to start with you are in fact the first ambassadors of your company and are very involved. In this phase you should mainly be busy with the business processes. Your product is already there and selling. Feedback from the customer and suppliers are important but the focus should be on the status quo of the company. The importance of focus is not to be underestimated. However, it is such a large and important part of entrepreneurship that I will dedicate a whole blog to it.

It is precisely the core of your work in this phase, professionalization and process optimization, that makes the first team members and later the professional team members invaluable. You do not build the company alone. You do it together. And you know a lot as an entrepreneur, but the team members often know more. Listen to them. Use that knowledge. Besides the fact that the results are much better, you will notice that you can also move and develop much faster. Just because you don't have to think of everything yourself. It is also a foretaste of the next phase where delegating becomes crucial for the survival of the company.

The entrepreneur with a large team (25+ employees).

This is the phase where entrepreneurship starts to shift to management. You start delegating more and more. When you reach this point, you often already know better from whom in your personal environment you should and should not assume too much. Who can still give you very good advice in this phase are experienced employees.

Often the company has already existed for some time. Many of your employees are therefore building up experience in a radically innovative concept. However, the team in this phase is often (unintentionally or intentionally) closer to your product than you are. Whether this is because you've set up a customer service team or because you have product owners. You might even have hired a COO who is basically your baby sitter in the day to day operations (COO are also called the CEO's baby sitter. I am regularly reminded of this by my business partner and RJP's COO, Tijs).

Another and apparent contradiction is that in this phase new employees and outsiders such as suppliers can have valuable ideas and advice. From the outside it all seems to be so nicely arranged. But in fact every phase of a business is challenging and comes with its own set of problems. That's why sometimes you want to hear from someone who may not have a clue what they think of a situation, problem or challenge. Sometimes they come up with ideas that at first glance you want to shoot down but later turn out to be very valuable indeed. The art of this advice lies in its simplicity. These advices are not given as advice but often asked as questions. So I continue to enjoy questions like why do I fill out this form every day? Can't I do that better in a different way?

In every phase it is good to look for people who are (in one part) more developed than yourself. These people can teach you a lot. They have often encountered the pitfalls and overcome many of the obstacles to come. These people often know how to put things into perspective and are therefore potential mentors. Do you have such a person in your environment or can you be introduced? Then take your chance. Ask these people if they would be willing to become your mentor for a period of time.

Such a period does not last for years, but when you meet or call each other every few weeks for a few months to a year, you have someone you can hold your problems up to the light. They can guide you before things go wrong. Do you want to know more about mentoring or do you want to find a mentor outside your immediate circle? Then take a look at https://www.nlgroeit.nl/.

One last tip 😉 ¶

Lastly, I'd like to point out that in all phases of business building, it's absolutely best to do a lot of reading. Read about the entrepreneurs you admire or look up to. It's also good to read about companies that have experienced a rough start (spoiler alert: those are almost all companies that become successful). Read about companies that have gone bankrupt. What you will discover there is that although the newspapers write about one or a few reasons why things went wrong the reality is often a much more nuanced situation. Sometimes there is an accumulation of small, often seemingly insignificant problems over many years that eventually leads to bankruptcy.

Reading is therefore one of your greatest tools for self-development out there. You're not dependent on anyone and can go at your own pace. And if reading isn't quite for you, consider apps like Storytell. They allow you to listen to books, so you no longer have an excuse to improve your own life.

Have fun doing it!

Sam

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