“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them yourself.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt

In the world of “experts” don’t forget that business advice should be relevant to your situation—considered in terms of the stage of your business’ development.

Pay attention to entrepreneurs who are slightly ahead of you in their business experience, because they have just lived through the pain and felt the gain.

I spoke with two Futurpreneur Canada entrepreneurs, Ionela Cristea of Nadia Chocolates, and Lee Dares of Lee’s Ghee, what they would have changed when they started their business.

Ionela, who creates and sells chocolate sculptures, commented that she would have started off with fewer products, standardized her offering, increased her minimum order and mastered the shipping process before she started shipping.

When you launch a start-up there is a temptation to add multiple sources of business revenue or to expand. You are further ahead if you simplify and master what you are doing now, before you consider adding new services or items to your business offering, but this does not mean that you should have a narrow view and not consider the implications of future costs.

Lee Dares, who creates and sells organic ghee, shared that she would have done more research on the costs of scaling up her business. In her initial business plan, she wasn’t looking far enough ahead, and was planning on staying relatively small and “local”. Now that she is ready to expand into new markets, she is realizing that she needs more funding than she initially thought.

The second question I asked Lee and Ionela was what they wouldn’t change when they look back to starting their own businesses.

“I took a grassroots approach in the first year of my business to build customers from scratch. I participated in weekly farmers’ markets and the chance to meet my customers really helped to build customer loyalty and strengthened the brand,” Lee explains. “Many of my customers repeatedly buy my products as opposed to another brand as they know me and what I stand for. I think that this really helped in the beginning stage.”

This, not only has the added advantage of building a customer base, but provides feedback to fine tune the delivery of Lee’s core product. Nothing, absolutely nothing, beats testing, talking and selling to the customer before making the full leap to running a business or expanding your offering.

Ionela had a similar approach but with a different market. She focused her energy targeting high-end retail outlets—highlighting her unique product and establishing a strong presence in the eyes of the customer.

It’s very easy to get lured in trying to sell too many different markets when launching. In fact, success happens in the opposite direction—picking one key market and digging deep to learn how to sell really well in that market before moving on. I have a simple mantra: Niche. Niche. Niche.

Entrepreneurs are prone to receiving conflicting business advice from various sources. As Ionela and Lee have commented, deciding what to do is never straightforward. However, staying focused on your initial core activity and trying to make it the best it can be is a good starting point.

They say hindsight is 20/20—you only learn if you experience it first and then in retrospect analyze the lesson. But what if you spent some quality time listening to the people that are slightly ahead of you along the entrepreneurial path? Your sense of direction won’t be perfect but the trail you build will be easier to walk on.

Written By: Dominik Loncar, Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Futurpreneur Canada 

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