When I started BOSU Fitness I had no experience in business, I didn’t write a business plan, and more than a few people thought I was nuts. But I had a great product concept, unyielding passion and a clear sense of purpose that helped make up for my inexperience, and ultimately led to my success.
Below are 10 things I wish I knew when I started my business instead of having to learn along the way — by making and overcoming mistakes.
1. Don’t be afraid.
Fear can make you indecisive. It takes courage to open a business, and you will make mistakes, guaranteed. Sometimes I would labor over making a decision that could have been handled more efficiently, and I died a thousand deaths in the early years worrying about things as they unfolded. When you feel it, stop and examine where the fear coming from. If you can get to the root of what’s causing it, you can overcome it more easily. You can learn to channel fear and transform it into fuel and motivation.
2. Pace yourself.
Life and business are more like marathons than sprints. I didn’t know how to pace myself in the beginning, and I ran my business like I was running a sprint. I sacrificed my own health by working long stretches without breaks, and would choose to do things differently if I were to do it again. You do have to work hard and often long hours when you're starting a business. But you also have to take care of yourself and find a sustainable balance. The bottom line is that moving at 100 miles per hour all the time will burn you out and cause you to be less effective.
3. Plan the work, work the plan.
I was so excited to get things going in the beginning that I didn’t spend as much time outlining and filling in the details of my plan as I do now. Planning is critical if you want to be successful. Actually writing out your plan is a discipline that will help clarify and organize your thinking. Today I construct detailed plans, work according to those plans and make adjustments as necessary based upon the success of failure of those plans. You'll get further faster when you begin with a detailed plan.
4. Another problem is always around the corner.
Solving problems is what being in business is all about. Accept the fact that bad news will hit you when you least expect it. In the beginning I wasn’t as psychologically prepared for this fact as I am now. You have to learn to take problems in stride and keep a cool head when they arise to solve them efficiently.
5. Boil it down to dollars.
One of the advantages (and disadvantages) many fitness professionals have is that they truly love their work. The advantage of this is increased motivation, a positive attitude and a genuine sense of fulfillment. The disadvantage of loving your work so much is sometimes it creates a willingness to accept less compensation than you rightfully deserve. I had to learn how to put an appropriate value on my time and services. I see a lot of fitness professionals making this same mistake. Ultimately business has to be measured in dollars, or you probably won’t be in business too long.
6. Listen more.
One thing so many successful people have in common is an ability to listen to other people to gain as much information as possible. In my excitement to share my product with people, I often spoke more than I listened and now I make a conscious choice to listen more. You'll be able to formulate better ideas when you understand situations more fully and listening will do this for you.
7. Target a specific market.
The dilemma I had launching BOSU is that the product really is for everyone. Without even knowing it, I targeted a very specific customer — the US Ski Team — to make my first sale. After that I targeted all of the championship teams in the four major US television sports: football, baseball, basketball and hockey. These sales set the whole thing in motion and enabled me to target fitness professionals and eventually reach the larger consumer market. Be very specific about who you're trying to reach with your business so you can focus you efforts and be successful.
8. Sales are the lifeblood of your business.
My favorite things to do in my business are: inventing new products and programs, training athletes and promoting my products. I don’t enjoy “selling” and have had to learn to feel comfortable asking for money and closing a deal. Everything you want to do with your business requires sales to keep you in business. Ultimately nothing else moves forward without sales so make sales a priority.
9. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.
Many fitness professionals, including myself, start out as independent operators who perform most of the tasks required for the business. I had a hard time delegating a lot of things to other people at first, which meant I couldn’t devote as much time to the things I'm best at. Fortunately I had a business partner who was better than I was at opening doors and getting me in front of new customers. I also hired a very good patent attorney whose expertise I could count on, because intellectual property is the crux of my business. I’ve heard so many successful people say they hire people who are better than themselves and delegate responsibilities to them so they can perform the leadership role of a CEO.
10. Speak your mind and don’t be shy.
Business is business, which means you don’t want to make decisions based upon friendships or family ties. I’ve seen more than a few young entrepreneurs make this mistake, and in some cases it led to the demise of the business. It can be hard delivering bad news to people — I know I hate to do it. But if you want to succeed you have to understand that business is business and it is best to separate other aspects of your life when it comes to who you hire and how you interact with colleagues and clients. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want; you may ruffle feathers, but you can always work through those problems if you're coming from a good place.