Small Business Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Small Business Lessons Learned the Hard WaySmall Business Lessons Learned the Hard Way

I have written several articles about Small Business lessons learned and listed tips. But this startup story focuses on how I got it wrong.

I started a software as a service company without any technical background other than the ability to create monster spreadsheets and use Microsoft office. I had a Mac that I never used, an unpopulated LinkedIn account, and Facebook account that I used on a limited basis. Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and even SEO (search engine optimization) were simply mysteries to me.

I also thought that I could create our software applications and not only would customers flock to use these products, there would be no need to interact with anyone. And finally the notion that everyone would understand why he or she needed our software was arguably my biggest mistake.

Talk to customers

Luckily, I did understand the need to develop our tools by interviewing and testing with customers. Each of our applications had an alpha test and then private and public beta. By rough estimate, we talked to over 250 users including numerous attorneys.

But my misstep was two-fold as it relates to interaction with customers post removing beta from our site. First, without a multi-year track record, we simply did not automatically have the trust of customers. And second, although we had traction by putting videos and demos on the site, we still did not achieve our target conversion rate and we had people writing in to our site asking to talk to us because they were unsure where to start.

From day one, we send out follow up surveys and we thought that was the extent of customer interaction. Wrong!

For now every support email comes directly to me so I can see what the user is struggling with, and happily since a July 2013 website re-launch, the volume of those emails have lessened. And not only did we talk to customers, we listened and will continue to listen to our users, affiliates or partners.

Ask for help and delegate

I thought with a couple of partners we could build this company and I would not need much help. However I clearly underestimated the effort required to create and sell software online.

You cannot do it yourself. Really you cannot. No matter how determined or passionate you might be. You may think you can and when you find yourself with 15 projects started and 190 emails unread plus your dry-cleaning has been in your car for 3 weeks and you keep adding to it every week, ask for help.

Once you find those magic people that want to enter your crazy startup world, do a proper onboarding process and then get out of their way. Delegate not just the project or task but all the responsibility and mean it. Our company would be nowhere near where we are at without our team that is a bakers dozen now!

Educate yourself and others

I was not technical when I started. Since, I have read, watched videos, and taken many classes, including TechSpeak for Entrepreneurs.  For many non-technical entrepreneurs, this is a daunting area but truly you bear the responsibility of becoming technically literate. I did not learn that lesson until I had wasted thousands and lost over a year.

I should have done the work to understand how to translate my ideas into code plus understanding the process and language. Even created a set of flowcharts or logic, all before finding the right developer,

Only select developers that are willing to explain their approach and how they view their role at the company. The right fit for our team is someone who sees themselves as vital member but not above or superior to the rest of our team. Although some will say this is heresy, a single developer is not the most important team member, even at a software company.

Collaborate not compete

We are a bit unique in that we are entrepreneurs and our company helps entrepreneurs.  We also offer an alternative to that traditional in-person first visit to an attorney so that could be viewed as competition.

But we choose to flip that around to collaboration. Our software replaces routine questions, freeing up attorney time to do higher value work. We focus on the creation of more demand for higher value attorney and consultant services. Ultimately it is not a zero sum game so collaboration is king.

Measure measure measure

Yes, social media matters and I do now know twitter and the rest but I have delegated that (see above!). I come from an accounting and business background so key performance indicators are critical.   My lesson is that you need to measure things that matter.

Our high school-aged intern was examining our small business information dashboard and commented that it was great to have tripled Facebook likes but how does that translate into website visits and paying customers? Astute comment and fundamental to understanding the what and why of metrics and key performance indicators.

Measure what drives your revenue. Simple but as founders we get excited about things, often shiny, that do not directly lead to sales and in turn revenue.

Finally I read a blog by Seth Godin where he talked about being formidable and I will replace my goal to be a determined CEO with leading formidably. Onward!

Mary is a CA, CPA & JD but her favorite title? Founder of A startup on a mission to identify & protect Intellectual Property.

In 2010, while enduring law school, Mary founded, a site that provides inventors, creators, and small businesses with the tools to identify and protect their intellectual property (IP).  Mary also consults and mentors start-ups in the areas of planning, business models, and IP identification.

Follow Mary on social media here:

@traklight for FB

Traklight for google+

And maryjuetten for Linkedin

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