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Five things I wish I knew before starting a business in my 20s

Despite disillusioning data, business attracts expectations of fame and fortune. The advent of social media has made it even easier to feed this narrative. 

What initially attracted me to becoming an entrepreneur was a desire to build something, and my passion for psychology and marketing suggested a fitting journey in business. I’ve now happily been in the industry for almost 10 years, but I have learned my fair share of hard lessons along the way. 

After each setback, I was offered advice to reduce the blow. Like a lot of entrepreneurs forging their own path, I didn’t feel like the advice was always relevant to me. Mostly, I was wrong. 

From these experiences, I have compiled a list of five things I wish I knew before beginning my start-up journey. 

One – Listen to everything

Listen, but don’t follow blindly. Take in everything from everywhere. Listen to the market and competitors, listen to your customers, your suppliers and advisors. Listen to it all!

Do not seek what you want to hear from these conversations. Challenge your understanding of your business and the environment it exists in. Take in advice and understand how to apply these learnings to your work.

Two – Be careful with culture

In the beginning, I was looking for the best people I could get at a price I could afford, and the talent we attracted was those who were comfortable with smaller numbers. There were exceptions, but overall it led us to a regular conundrum of needing greatness but only being able to afford sufficiency.

As a single owner-operator, culture was not my number one priority. It was about getting the job done. Now, with a business that’s growing and coming together to achieve amazing things, I wish I knew how important culture was to attracting, retaining and growing our client base and talent pool. Being able to compare the other side of the coin has given me clarity on the true value of culture.

Additionally, the business will grow to a point where it needs more than your eye over everything. Hiring people who can execute for you is not enough. Business owners can guide the ship towards its destination, but they need a trusted crew who can think for them as well as level up the business.

Three Know yourself and continue to check in

I’m a very different person from who I was at 20.  That doesn’t mean it’s not possible to know yourself then and know yourself today.

Knowing yourself is key when it comes to understanding the impact your decisions will have on the world around you. Mentors and coaches along the way have provided the opportunity to reflect on who I am, what makes me tick and what my strengths and weaknesses are. 

Since working with a business coach and the investors of my company, I’ve really started to tap into this in the last five years. I believe the hard work has started to pay off and the business’s success closely correlates.

Four Be willing to change your mind

I have always had a natural affinity to change my mind with new information. However, stubbornness and perseverance can be confused and an unwillingness to change can put you at a disadvantage. 

As an entrepreneur, you must be clear, focused and determined to achieve a vision. However, it’s important to know that what you dream up at the start might not be the exact route you need to take. You need to be prepared to adjust your thinking and willing to admit when something isn’t right.  

Five -Cash flow is everything

At the end of the day, entrepreneurial ideology will always be stifled by cash flow. Ignoring it or not understanding it can leave you in hot water. You need to know your numbers and more than just what sits in the bank.  

Early on, our vision nudged our cash flow into dangerous territory. Luckily, perseverance and willingness to make the tough choices has put us in a much better position today and offered a smarter outlook on cash flow. 

Wise up on the numbers early. Don’t let unrelenting spirit and belief in the vision deny you from facing the realities and preparing your business to live long into the future. Adaptability is just as much a display of character as resilience and sticking course when times are tough.

Read more: What Aussie startups can learn from those in Silicon Valley

Read more: Female lead startups tapping the U.S. market

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Josh White

Josh White

Josh White is the Founder and CEO of Neon Treehouse, a bright and imaginative boutique digital advertising agency. Neon Treehouse provides brave, curious, and digitally committed brands with custom-built strategies and campaigns to elevate their online presence. With offices in both Adelaide and Melbourne, the team delivers work for clients across Australia and around the world. People are at the heart of the Neon Treehouse brand and Josh is committed to ensuring they remain at the forefront as the business grows.

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