Walk Before You Run: 3 Lessons Learned From a Repeat Business Owner

By: Shirley Tan

There’s a great saying that you must walk before you can run. As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve seen this piece of wisdom especially come to life when creating a new business completely from scratch. Sure, it’s an exciting process and it can be tempting to dive into the pieces of the business that excite you. However, I’ve learned firsthand — and sometimes, not easily — that it’s vital for your company’s long-term success to take some time early on to do things carefully.

What should you prioritize? Here are three tips for new entrepreneurs on what they should be thinking about:

1. Make business systems and processes a priority from day one.

One of the most important things you can do is establish systems and processes early and often. These will help you create order, organize critical information, and make basic business functions easier. And as your business scales, these business processes will make onboarding new hires and managing transitions seamless.

A key part of your business processes should be weaving in a strong documentation system. For example, when I’m preparing to launch a new product, I create a written workflow to document the current status, next steps and how things should be done. I found getting tactical is especially crucial if you’re planning to outsource some of these tasks. Business processes, like documenting key steps and milestones, are important to ensure that everyone across the organization understands expectations and what needs to be done to achieve success from the beginning.

2. Know when to outsource.

I don’t have to tell you that the job description for an entrepreneur includes many hats under one title. Sometime as a small business owner I may be managing benefits in the morning and then working on email marketing efforts in the evening. The breadth of these responsibilities can be overwhelming.

Over time, I’ve realized that even though I’m leading the business, I don’t have to do every single thing for the business — and neither does any entrepreneur. To be effective, entrepreneurs should know their strengths and weaknesses. This also includes knowing when it’s more efficient to call in help vs. trying to do something themselves.

For example, I know writing isn’t necessarily my strong suit, so when I need to prepare content for marketing materials, I’ll often contract with a writer who can put my ideas and thoughts into words better than I can. Not only does this improve the quality of these materials, but it also saves me quite a bit of time to focus on other needs for my business.

3. Become a master of prioritizing to avoid becoming overwhelmed.

When launching a business and looking at a business plan, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks that you need to do. I’ve found that in order to stay focused and meet deadlines, it’s vital to understand which items on your to-do list are important and not, and which are urgent and non-urgent. I’ve found that there’s a juggling act — and art — to prioritizing.

To get started, I take a look at everything on my plate and clearly determine what items need to be done, and by who and when. From there, I start by taking action on the items that I know will require collaboration from others. I always want to get ahead on these projects so that people aren’t waiting on me. I don’t want to slow down the process.

Once I have my pipeline organized and made progress on the more collaborative projects, I move to working on the items assigned solely to me and list these out with their dependencies, including deadlines and required pieces to accomplish the task. From here, it’s important to understand your personal working style to set yourself up for success. Some people like to chip away at bigger projects first, but I feel like starting with the easiest items first helps to motivate me. A quick win is just that, a win! And quick wins build my momentum, as I get a lot of satisfaction checking items off my to-do list.

Keeping your to-do list updated and accurate with deadlines and needs is important to maintaining your success for the long run. If you know early what needs your focus and prioritization, and what will be assigned to others and when, it’s much more manageable to have success moving your business forward. Furthermore, you’ll be better able to tackle the unforeseen things that will — inevitably — arise.

Getting a new business off the ground is no easy task, and I know how tricky it can be to be pulled in so many directions. However, I’ve also seen multiple examples that when you’re able to invest time into staying organized, asking for help when it’s needed, and prioritizing, you’ll be able to lay the framework needed to achieve long-term results (and make it scalable) in a manageable way.

Shirley Tan is the developer partnership manager of Yahoo! Small Business, a platform that empowers business owners to launch and scale their ideas online. From creating a website to promoting a brand, its products help entrepreneurs succeed.

Tan is a repeat small business owner, most recently inventing and founding Posture Keeper, a patent pending lumbar supporting and posture correcting invention which successfully crowdsourced funding through Kickstarter and is currently selling on Amazon and other e-commerce outlets.

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