Business Retention

Surviving the First Five Years

This year, we turned five! Like it was yesterday, we remember that feeling we had when we unveiled our website and began enrollment for our first cohort of entrepreneurs. Having now supported more than 400 individuals in exploring, starting, growing, and keeping their businesses in their communities, we’ve cultivated our wisdom on what it takes for a business to thrive. This week, we’re reflecting on some practices that have helped us make it through the first five years.

Commit to Yourself

It takes a lot of time and hard work to build a sustainable business. You may see few rewards of owning a business as you’re dealing with the rollercoaster of emotions that come from the day-to-day operations. Some days it can be tempting to throw in the towel. But, it’s important to commit yourself to a long enough time period to test the idea and have solid indicators that it will or won’t work out as a business venture. It’s ideal to commit to seeing it through for five years as the first few years of business, with so many twists and turns to establish the business in the market, are the roughest.

Always Have a Plan

Entrepreneurs tend to write business plans in the early stages of their businesses and then never revisit the plan after they start operating the business. But without a plan, it’s easy to get lost on the way to achieving your vision. With a small business, you can quickly update your plans on an annual or quarterly basis with some simple strategic planning techniques. Always having a plan helps you reflect on your progress, reconnect with your purpose, set priorities, and ensure you are taking on the right opportunities to grow your business.

Know Your Numbers

One of the top reasons businesses fail is poor financial management. It’s not enough to put a good product or service out there, you need to know if your business is making enough money to be financially sustainable and provide for you and your team. It helps to put in place the infrastructure to track your business’ finances in the first year while activity is low and you have more time to set up a system. As your business grows, make sure someone on your team is regularly keeping up with the finances, and that you are reviewing your monthly financial statements and using them to make operational decisions.

Make Informed Decisions

In the first five years, the decisions you make in your business are pivotal in establishing a growth trajectory that aligns with its mission and values. It can be challenging to make the right decisions when you are so emotionally invested in the business. As such, it’s important to develop a sound process for making informed decisions. While there are a variety of frameworks that can be used for engaging stakeholders and evaluating decisions, it comes down to taking some time to gather the facts, analyze the impact, and seek advice from your team members and advisors before making a major decision.

Let Go of Ego

Starting and growing a business is very personal. The business becomes an integral part of you – one that you are constantly putting out there and receiving feedback on. Sometimes that feedback is difficult to take. It might show areas where you need to improve your operations. Or sometimes, it’s the customer projecting their own personal baggage on your business and weighing you down. Whatever the reason, it’s important to let go of ego and take that feedback as an opportunity to learn and grow out of your comfort zone.

Embrace a Growth Mindset

There are a lot of unknowns in the first five years of business. I don’t know if this is going to work out. I don’t know whether I can meet these numbers. I don’t know whether I can take on employees and continue to pay them. I don’t know whether I can take on financing and pay it back.And so on. It takes a growth mindset to navigate the unknown territory. Instead of focusing on what you don’t know, actively look for and engage in opportunities that will help you expand business practices, gain new skills, explore ideas, create community, and get the resources you need to grow your business.

Nurture Your Community

It takes a village to raise a business. The relationships you have with family, friends, team members, advisors, customers, and partners are critical to the success of your business. They serve as a support network, helping you to feel less isolated and to weather the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur. Your local business community provides a network for sharing ideas, best practices, and resources, as well as getting feedback and advice on your business opportunities and challenges. And of course, your community is vital to building brand awareness and generating income for your business.