Dear Sparkly-eyed Entrepreneur: 7 Lessons

Failure is not failure when you learn from it. Here are 7 lessons I wish I had taken on board as a sparkly-eyed entrepreneur… before learned them the hard way.

There are a number of things that I wish I had done, or had paid attention to, or had in some way listened to, when I was last moving into an entrepreneurial frame of mind. And now, given I’m almost a year into my second (third?) go of things – and doing everything really differently – I have a great appreciation for them.

But I see around me some of the same things going on with other entrepreneurial types.

And, just lately, there have been discussions about failure that irritate me because some people see the startup community as ‘celebrating’ failure. They’re not celebrating jack shit; they’re chanting fail fast, fail often because failing fast means working hard to validate, and if your idea isn’t going to take off, getting out of it before it burns you. Fail often, because the more you hit the wall painted with graffiti saying, that’s not gonna fucking work, the faster you find the thing that does work.

The startup community is coming under greater and more persistent fire from mainstream press because of some of its philosophies – and the fail fast, fail often mantra is merely one of them. The stories are peppered with people who were stars, who could’ve made it big, who went to the press and cried that failure hurts.

Fucking oath failure hurts. Failing to achieve things burns like nothing else.

Failing makes you stay in bed, get depressed, eat too much cheese, tell your friends and family to take a flying leap, and to reconsider your entire path in life. Failing sucks.

That’s why you have to fail early: Before the failure feels like the loss of life and limb.

So, dear sparkly-eyed entrepreneur, this is what I wish I had listened to, learned, and taken notice of last time I failed. You could argue that I did learn the lessons: Afterwards. My current effort is completely different from my last one – meaning that my last effort was an experiment, not a failure.

If you persist in doing the same thing over and over again, you deserve your failure because you haven’t learned from it. These are the seven main lessons I learned from my last failure. There are more – there are always more – but these are the key ones. May they help you as much as they helped me.

Lesson 1: Make sure your business model is solid on its own

It doesn’t matter what your business is. It doesn’t matter whether you are a tech startup that wants to scale fast. It doesn’t matter whether you own a flower shop. It doesn’t matter if you are a middle-man for machined parts. Whatever you do, make the fuck sure it makes money.

You have to make money under your own steam.

If you are in a startup and you are starry-eyed about getting investment and growing your business, and you are relying on that source of money as the method of making money, get the fuck out of your business right now. You don’t deserve investment. You are not interested in building a successful company. And you’re not interested in making your business model work for you without the kindness of strangers.

If your business model doesn’t work, disrupt it. Brainstorm alternative methods. Research what works and why. Think of ways that might work that have never been applied in your industry, or for your product, or in your field. Maybe you’ll find something new and make big bucks.

Lesson 2: Get systems in place early

A good business has systems in place. You have standard operating procedures for everything. You write them down, you review them, you follow them. Systematising your business does some wonderful things for you.

The first is that it enables you to see exactly what you’re doing. Then to see where you’re wasting effort or time. One you can see that, you can change the SOP, refine it. Then you can be more effective with less effort or less time.

The upshot of that is that it makes your business attractive to investors, too. If you were taken out of your business it should still be able to function.

Lesson 3: Be creative and have a life

There is no glory in working 100+ hours per week. Or in working past midnight. Or on weekends. Or cutting out all your creative time, all your friends, all your family, all your home time, to chase your dream.

All that’s going to happen is that you will get too close to it, will stop having ideas, will stop sleeping, will eat badly, will gain weight, and will feel dissatisfied.

You need to stop. You’re not living the dream if all you’re doing is working. Being busy is a disease, busyness is ridiculous, and all work and no play makes you a fucking bore.

And without creativity, and “away time”, your ideas will stop. When that happens, you may as well be dead.

So, if you are proud of always working overtime, of being busy constantly, get the fuck out of my way. You are unwell and need help – and I need to be inspired, not tired.

Lesson 4: Learn to sell

Selling, having a sales funnel, having acquisition plans, and knowing your capacity, is so important. Why? See Lesson One.

Even if you don’t think it’s going to help you, go and do a good sales course, even if it’s half a day. Learn about why a CRM is important, learn how to set up a sales funnel, learn how to manage it and refine it.

Realise that selling is an incredibly vital skill, and that it’s a numbers game. Depersonalise it, set yourself targets, and then go out and smash them. Question your methodologies constantly and go find new ways of doing things.

If you’re not willing to do that, you won’t be successful, so just save yourself the pain and get a job.

Lesson 5: Real life interaction beats digital interaction every single time

Business, sales, networks, are people-oriented. If you’re an introvert, get ready to make yourself really fucking uncomfortable. You have to get dressed, get out in public, meet people, have lots of coffee (or tea), spend lots of time, share ideas, and fucking bond with others.

Build relationships. Networks are relationships. Referrals come only from relationships. So get out amongst it.

Digital is comfortable, and easy, and nice, but it is only as good as the in-person relations you’re willing to engage in to support it. Your digital network is only as solid as the amount of coffee you’ve consumed to shore it up.

Lesson 6: Get a routine (or: focus, focus, focus)

Build good routines. Doing the same things every day is anathema to rebels like me. But seriously, if you have a routine, you are better at focusing on one thing at a time without freaking out that you’re missing things. It also does magical things like help you sleep easily, eat better, have a stocked kitchen, and keep on top of everything from email to finances.

Routine is not your enemy: It’s the key to a relaxed and happy life.

On from this is that being able to single-task is one of the best skills you will ever learn. It’s harder now than it has ever been. Mindfulness and focus are essential skills. Doing one thing at a time is amazing for your productivity and progress. Multitasking is for chumps.

Lesson 7: Write it down

The final lesson is write it down. If you have a good CRM and project management workflow, it’s easy. If you haven’t, build one. (See Lesson 2). Make sure everything is documented and kept: All your clients, all your leads, all your projects, all your deliverables, all your tasks. Make it part of the fabric of your life. Make it cloud-based so you can travel or regain flexibility without missing a beat.

But seriously, when you write it down, you stop thinking about it. When you stop thinking about it, you can read books and watch movies without constantly ticking over what you need to do for whom, and when, and why. When you stop doing that, you stop worrying, and you relax.

Just because you’re an entrepreneur, it doesn’t mean you can no longer relax. You have more need for relaxation than you ever did before.

What lessons did failure teach you?

Tell me in a comment. I love hearing how other people move on. 🙂



5 thoughts on “Dear Sparkly-eyed Entrepreneur: 7 Lessons

  1. Great write up Leticia. Love the systems. Want systems so much right now. CRM and systems. Amazing things.

    My big lesson has been – find ways to make yourself accountable. You think you’re working hard, it feels like it because you’re having lots of coffee and connecting with others, but you need to find ways to measure your performance and have other real people hold you to your goals.

    Write moar!

    1. Glad you like it!! And ok, I will 😉

      I should share with you my accountability system. That’s really goddamn hard to put in place. Mine is working pretty well for me right now and it’s a combination of a time tracker (time + billable time) that actually works for me, Rescue Time scores, and weekly tracking against specific targets for sales, ideas, connections, leads, accounts, productivity ratings, etc etc. I was rather inspired when I set it up but dammit it works. 🙂

      When I got two strong endorsements for Podio in a week, I went hammer and tongs and got an account and set it up and got it right. And now I love it – I can bcc my CRM on emails and it’ll add emails as comments to projects and everything. Freaking amazing.

      We should chat!!

      1. Yeah, I’ve heard great things about that one too. I was on Capsule. But I just discovered Base and it’s rocking my world. 2-way sync with everything, including GMail, so don’t need to do the bcc thing, they’re already in there!

        But setting up auto-tasks as people move through pipeline is brilliant and the app is killer too. So much gold.

        CRM chat!

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