[Personal]: 7 Priceless Lessons I’ve Learned from Starting a Business

I’ve started a Vacation Rental Business and I’ve been running it for 5 years.

Throughout my journey, I have learned many things that no business school or online course can ever teach me.

By no means am I an expert, but these are 7 stuff that I realize looking back.

You’re too Comfortable to Start, Unless…

At school, we are graded in exams to condition us to not make mistakes. The better the student you are, the least mistakes you make. School is prepping us to become the best employees.

Make sense right? You don’t want to live in a society where the Doctor makes a mistake prescribing you medicine or a high rise apartment that collapses because the engineer miscalculated the number of columns needed to support its own weight.

So we are pre-conditioned to think of everything before executing to minimize risks. In a way it’s good, but you’ll never take the plunge to start your own thing because you think too much. Unless you have a strong external push to force you to start.

All brains, not enough cock and balls

Which is why there’s a big market for seminars teaching people how to become entrepreneurs for people who are not happy with their high paying jobs.

They have the money to attend these courses for them to learn all they want, but in reality, 95% of them will never think they are ready to pull the trigger (I was one of them).

So what do they do? They’d rational if they join yet another class, they’ll be ready, and another, and another. It never ends and they’re still stuck in their comfy cubicle.

My personal tipping point was after getting laid off for the 2nd time which forced me to start my own business (and this blog).

You don’t have to go through this traumatic experience to start your own business, but a proper plan, starting things on the side while you still have money with a defined deadline will most definitely help.

You Can’t Do it Alone

For 5 years, I did most of my business alone. From setup to running, to recruiting staff, check-ins, and daily operations.

It’s an extremely lonely and exhausting journey. If anything would’ve happened to me during those days (like falling really sick for several days or weeks), my business would be toast.

There’s also a certain limit you can reach just by yourself.

So my point is, you can’t be a recluse (guilty) and you need to tell everybody about what you’re doing.

But remember, there’s a fine line of telling people what you’re doing and shoving your products and services to their faces.

Find other people doing the same thing as you and befriend them, change your mindset to view them from a competitor, to your friend in business.

You need to be pro-active and join communities of people in your field. The best is to find physical meetups at social events of common interest. There’s a lot of meet up groups at www.meetup.com (no affiliates), check them out!

But if that’s not your thing, joining online forums and Facebook groups is a great start. See what people are talking about in your industry, see what problems are being faced by your business friends.

As for Airbnb, there is 1 Airbnb host Facebook group that I join and they all alert one another over problematic guests. It’s very easy to bond with people if you have something in common to bitch about 😉.

Best yet, at some point if you can find a business mentor. Someone that you look up to that is running at least 1 successful business similar to yours.

A business friend of mine has several mentors and it seems to be doing him very well. He always has someone to ask for when he hits a speedbump in growing his business.

Finding a business mentor is something that I am slowly working on.

Competition Is Always Fierce

All business worth pursuing will have competitors. I would be very worried to be a pioneer in a business with no competitors. So embrace competition as part of a healthy environment.

But when times get really tough, it’s not uncommon for the entrepreneur to think of closing their business to do something else that seems more promising.

The grass is always greener on the other side. No matter what business you do or plan to do, competition is fierce no matter where you go. That’s why, if you want to start a business, I recommend you master the concept of Ikigai first.

Ikigai: Finding your purpose in life. In this business concept, you need to find the intersection of the following things:

  • Something you like to do
  • Something that you are good at
  • Something that people need
  • Something that people are willing to pay you money for

The whole point of the Ikigai is that you got to do something that you like that pays money. Because you’ll inevitably be going to hit a rough patch.

At which point, the passion that you have can help you to push through the hard times.

The only way forward is to accept this and adapt to the ever-changing world and hone in on your marketing and sales skills.

Surprisingly Most Customers are a Delight

Running your own business is pretty sweet, you don’t technically have a boss. But you still have to take orders from your clients as they are the ones who are paying you.

I’ve heard a lot of horror stories from a friend who got bullied by his client. Especially when it comes to payment.

Trust me, whatever business you have, you’ll end up dealing with some bad apples for sure.

Most of the problematic clients are the ones lingering at the lowest end of the asking price spectrum.

If you want to avoid dealing with problematic clients, you need to position yourself away from the lower price end of the spectrum.

I have positioned my Airbnb prices away from the lowest value and it seems to be working for me.

Over the course of 5 years running this business, I have hosted accumulatively 3500+ people from all over the world. Out of all these people, I remember vividly 3 problematic clients in particular (this will be another post 😜).

This brings my problematic client percentage at only 0.09% of my entire clientele. Pretty good!

That friend of mine said he had to face problematic guests almost every day! I know I wouldn’t be able to handle that kind of environment.

Always Count Your Money

I get it, most people who start their own business, we don’t have an accounting degree. But to be honest, you don’t need one. The only math I use for my accounting is plus, minus, and average.

That being said, you need to always be on top of your finances. I know too many small business owners who make good sales each month but don’t keep track of their finances at all.

They see that there’s some money in the bank, and they think that everything is fine. When I ask them about what is their net profit? They have no idea. I think this is alarming.

As a business owner, you should know where and how your money is coming in from at all times.

You might see a lot of money (revenue) but choose to ignore the fact that your expenses are almost as high, leaving the entrepreneur with close to nothing.

This could be the realization if you’re running a business or a hobby. I wrote a whole article about this here.

Value Your Time, Know Your Place

Starting out as a solopreneur, you’ll end up doing everything especially at the early stage of the business. Any organization will have at least the following divisions:

  • Sales & Marketing
  • Operations
  • Administration
  • Finances

Most small business owners will typically end up managing the operational side of the business as that is typically how they started and are comfortable with.

But the most important thing I noticed in hindsight is that as the entrepreneur, I shouldn’t be too involved with the operation side of the business, because I was blinded from being too inside of my business.

As soon as you can delegate, you should shift almost all of your attention to the most important department, Sales & Marketing.

The Most Important Skill for an Entrepreneur

As a Vacation Rental host, I listed my properties on all major Online Travel Agencies (OTA)s like Airbnb, Agoda, Booking.com, Expedia, and Traveloka.

These OTAs did all of my marketing and sales for me in exchange for a commission for each sale. The only thing I contributed to them are:

  • I took convincing photos of my property
  • I wrote a decent property description copy
  • Run promotions from time to time to slash prices to attract more customers.

That’s about it in my experience in Sales & Marketing. Without these OTA’s, I wouldn’t know a thing about sales & marketing.

This is dangerous. I only realized this when I had the idea to start another business. I had the money, I had the experience to run a business. But I’m missing 1 vital element:

I have no idea how to find my own prospects and convert them into clients.

If you’re an entrepreneur, as soon as you can afford to delegate the operations of your business, your role as an entrepreneur need to focus almost all of your focus on your own sales & marketing.

In this day and age, the ability to market yourself effectively in a crowded digital world is critical. Most businesses today are still struggling with this.

I recommend some books (no affiliations) like ‘The 1-Page Marketing Plan‘ & ‘Sell Like Crazy‘.

The gist of both of these books is that you need to be a prolific digital marketer.

This could mean many things, but having a simple website and plenty of helpful blog content is one of the best ways of inbound marketing nowadays.

Wrapping it All Up

  • You won’t start because you’re too comfortable
  • You need business friends
  • Competition is always fierce
  • Most customers are a delight
  • Always count your money
  • Value your time, know your place
  • The most important skill for an entrepreneur is Marketing & Sales.

Here’s an article on how I started my Airbnb business, and here are the problems that you can expect.

Helmi Hasan

Hi, I'm Helmi Hasan, the founder, and writer for the personal finance blog, Balkoni Hijau. Read more in the 'About Me' page or follow me on Twitter.

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