2014 Recap – 5 entrepreneurial lessons I learned the hard way

2014 for me is what I’d like to call a “catalyst” year. Those who know me know that I like putting myself in tough situations on purpose, just to see how I can handle them. That’s my own little way of evolving – by throwing myself into the deep. Last year I took the biggest plunge ever, by turning my back on a financially secured life of an employee and founding my own company.  I will never forget the unique combination of anxiety & fear, but also hope & curiosity, which fuelled my motivation for change. Now, a year later, stability is still a word I cannot freely use in my daily life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way, and here’s why.

Teddy TonevaThere’s the old debate on whether entrepreneurs are born with a set of skills or if this is something that can be learned. If my humble experience is any indication, I would say all entrepreneurs I met last year had one key trait in common – bravery. They were brave enough to dream big and to pursue those dreams with everything they got. I became part of a community of individuals where I could exchange ideas, discuss problems and grow our businesses together. And I’d like to think that I’ve slowly started adapting the mindset of these lunatics, experimenting with different fields and business concepts and seeing through those, which I’ve been able to grow into actionable plans. So what’s the conclusion? The skills you need to be a good entrepreneur are skills learned in the right setting with the right environment, as long as you’re crazy enough to give it a shot.

But it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. 2014 was full of challenges, both personal and professional, and I am so grateful to have come out of it stronger and with a clearer vision for the year to come. Here are 5 lessons about entrepreneurship from my own experience, which I learned the hard way (not that I would have it any other way!).

  1. Actions are always louder than words – It’s easy to get caught into the “think tank” mode, constantly exchanging ideas with fellow entrepreneurs. But ideas are just that – ideas. A good business partner is the one that acts on them in a systematic order and has a clear plan of the steps that need to be taken to get things done. If you have a great idea but cannot imagine the whole process from A to Z, then perhaps you should put it back in the think tank for now and focus your energy on more viable projects.
  1. Choose your battles – If you’re striving to be a flexible entrepreneur with good contacts and the right partners, chances are you will attract many new friends who want to do business with you, because of your background/ profile/ field, etc. One of the hardest things I had to learn in 2014 is to say “no”. Prioritizing is key. Have a clear idea of the pipeline of projects for the year. Which project will take the most of your energy or resources, which will yield the most return on investment and when? What added value will this project bring in the long run? Those are all questions you should try to answer for yourself before you take on more work. You will soon start recognising the good opportunities from the ones you should politely say no to.
  1. Long VS short term goals – this one is tricky. How do you balance your projects in such a way to not lose focus of the short-term deliverables, but also to keep thinking about the bigger picture? My solution is – learn to think in phases. Each project I divide into primary efforts / execution/ results & growth. This way I don’t lose track of where I am and where I need to go in 3, 6 or 10 months. Set best case and worst case scenario goals for each phase and monitor how well you are performing in each. Chances are, by mid-phase 2 you will know which project to drop and which to focus more energy on.

Choosing the right partners

  1. I’m lost without the right team – When I started my first business a year ago, I did it all on my own, which was frustrating, to say the least. Along the way many people wanted to work together on various ideas and through a trial-and-error approach I was able to find the right mindset for my company, making it easier to find new partners, when you have a clear idea of the profiles you are looking for. Don’t underestimate the process of funnelling business partners/ employees. I don’t find the right people for a job, I find the right mindset and create the job around it.
  1. Self-analysis is key – We tend to overanalyse projects and businesses, thinking about ways to better the product, the marketing efforts or the scale model. However, we often forget to do the same about ourselves as entrepreneurs. I like applying the same criteria when working on a project to my own self. The person I was a year ago and the person I am today can’t be further apart, but I choose to analyse each change. When and how did it occur and am I a better person for it? Thinking about my skills as a separate business has really helped me drill on what I need to improve or change to keep growing.

All that being said, I am very grateful for the amazing people I met in 2014, the cluster partnerships I founded with the great companies I work with and the variety of projects I have the chance to be involved in. 2015 is the year of scale and the goal is to take my core business to the next level, by doubling the internal team and the accounts we work on. I believe that if the right foundation was laid last year, this year should be twice as challenging and twice as rewording as a result. I am excited about the opportunity to keep learning every day and I cannot wait to see what this year brings on the table!

 

xo,

 

Teddy T