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The School of Hard Knocks: 4 Important Business Lessons Most Entrepreneurs Learn Too Late

Quitting my job without a plan… that was the biggest mistake I made when I started my first business.

It was back in 2010 and I was a documentary filmmaker and director of a non-profit organization. On the outside, everything looked great. My work was meaningful and it felt like I was making a difference in the world…

But secretly, I was frustrated.

I loved my work but I was fed-up with my job. I’d been working almost nonstop for 9 years straight, and I was close to hitting burnout.

Plus, I was constantly worried about money. I barely managed to cover the rent and all my living expenses with my ridiculously small paycheck.

So, I did what most people do — I ditched my job and started my own business.

A few months into it, I knew I’d made a huge mistake. I was struggling, hard. I’d burned through my savings and I was starting to feel desperate (not a good look when you’re trying to attract clients).

As they say, “In hindsight, everything is 20/20.”

Looking back, I know exactly why I hit rock bottom so quickly…

You need 2 key elements to start and sustain a successful business:

  1. Your core expertise — this is your talent, gift or skill.
  2. Your entrepreneurial expertise — this is your business know-how, the insights, knowledge and strategies you need to run a business.

I had plenty of the first element but almost none of the second.

I’d spent the first 33 years of my life learning to be a professional creative — a writer, a photographer, and a filmmaker. I had NOT spent 33 years learning how to be an entrepreneur.

I’ve learned a lot about running a business since then — Live Your Message is now a mid-7-figure company — but I wish I’d been more prepared when I first started.

It would have saved me a TON of time, money and tears.

Here’s my personal list of key lessons learned from the School of Hard Knocks… the ideas and insights I wish someone had shared with me when I was a rookie-preneur.

Lesson #1: Don’t Quit Your Day Job, Yet

Follow your heart/passion/bliss and the money will come.

This is terrible advice.

Your passion alone won’t attract ideal clients.

Your passion alone won’t build products people want to buy.

And most of all, your passion alone won’t pay the rent.

My advice? Keep your job and start your business on the side.

This way, you’ll have steady income coming in to pay the bills and invest back into your side hustle to make it grow.

You’ll get to gradually build your business and turn it into a reliable income source before you walk away from your 9 to 5.

No desperation. No panic. No unpaid bills.

It’s the smartest path to a successful, sustainable business.

Lesson #2: Don’t Fall in Love

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen entrepreneurs fall in love with their product or program and then feel like they’ve been hit by a truck when no one buys.

The truth is, your business needs to be at the intersection of what you want to sell and what your audience wants to buy. If you make your business all about what your passions and what YOU love, you’re going to miss the market need.

So, if you don’t want to hear “crickets” when you launch your offers, follow this rule: Allow yourself to fall in love with your stuff only if you already know your audience feels the same way.

If not, set your feelings aside and do your research.

Ask targeted questions in Facebook groups so you know what your audience wants and needs from you. Create surveys and share with your email list. Invite ideas and feedback from past clients.

You should also learn how to build the right product at the right time for your business (check out my monster post/free mini training on this topic — Cha-Ching! The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Right Product at the Right Time to Open the Income and Impact Floodgates).

Lesson #3: Don’t Ask Mom

If you want solid business advice, ask a successful entrepreneur or a business expert.

I know this seems obvious but I need to say it because way too many entrepreneurs ask their sister, their neighbor or even their hair stylist for business advice with disastrous results.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying you have to hire a high-end business coach right out of the gate.

You can find great ideas and strategies in affordable business books, programs, and even free blog posts and online webinars, when you’re just starting out and then think about working with a coach or expert when you can afford it.

The right business advice can help you breeze past time-consuming costly mistakes and pitfalls so it’s worth putting in the time and effort to track down great free resources or low-cost business building programs.

And unless she’s an incredibly successful entrepreneur herself…

Never ask mom for advice.

Lesson #4: Don’t Set Massive Goals

I’ve seen entrepreneurs aim for $10k or even $20k months before they even sign on their first client.

They believe having a big goal will drive them forward but it usually has the opposite effect — massive goals can feel so out of reach that you “mentally” check out even before you begin.

A more effective option is to build momentum toward major goals.

Whether you’re a seasoned entrepreneur or brand new, you need 3 types of goals:

  1. Minimum — a goal that feels attainable and gives you the feedback you need to know you’re on the right track
  2. Target — a goal that will excite you and push you forward, yet still feels like it’s in your reach (with some hustle)
  3. Stretch — this your crazy, audacious goal… the one that goes beyond your wildest dreams… you may not get there right away, but you can eventually get there.

Brian Tracy famously said: “There are no unrealistic goals; there are only unrealistic deadlines.”

So if you’re launching your first $97 product, a minimum profit goal might be $500 a target goal might be $1000 and a stretch goal might be anything from $5,000 to $10,000 or even more.

Don’t forget!

“Trial and error is the most expensive investment you can make in your business.” – Brian Whetten

These 4 key lessons can take you out of the path of “trial and error” and help you avoid costly mistakes as you grow your business.

And if you’d like even more juicy tips, techniques and strategies like these, I invite you to check out this free webinar where you’ll learn the 7 things you must have to identify your most profitable & fulfilling dream business.

You’ll discover how to cultivate your True North Business. Not just “A business you CAN build,” but “THE business you’re HERE TO BUILD…”

Check it out here!

Over to you…

Which one of these 4 “School of Hard Knocks” lessons do you plan implement in your business right now and why?

Share your thoughts and a-has in the comments below.

Love it? Hate it? Let me know...

  1. Jahon Avatar

    Very informative tips Marisa.Thank you for sharing. With the plethora of information suggesting you quit your job and start a business, one has to really be careful to avoid the pitfalls of running a business. Being financially disciplined is imperative as well.

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Absolutely, that’s why I’m sharing this message. I don’t want people to feel the same stress and anxiety I did in those early stages…

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