Lessons from One Year as an Entrepreneur

This past Saturday, Agricultural Food Systems, a company three friends and I started after graduating from John Brown University, celebrated its one year anniversary of incorporation!

What a year it’s been! It all started with a strategic management class at JBU which led to us entering our business plan in the 2011 Donald W. Reynolds Arkansas Governor’s Cup. After some very positive feedback there, we decided to start the business and were officially incorporated on May 19, 2011. Since then we have been busy getting the final production model of the TenderID, a technology that accurately and consistently predicts tenderness in raw beef carcasses on the production line, ready to for the market and should be ready for launch very soon (for more on AFS and the TenderID, visit the AFS website).

Needless to say, I’ve learned a lot about business and entrepreneurship in the past year. Jumping straight from college into being a small business owner has been quite the adventure with lots of teachable moments. Here are three of the most important lessons I’ve learned so far: 

Think Strategically

When it comes to starting a company, there is a lot of strategic planning that must first take place on both a company level and a personal level. My friends and I spent several months researching and writing a detailed business plan that gave us a foundation to start building our business on and a general picture of where it was going. The strategic plan acts as a glue for the 3 keys to entrepreneurial success: product, people, and passion (for more on the “3 keys,” click here). Strategic planning gives a company parameters for decision making (“Is this decision in line with our mission/vision?”), setting benchmarks (“What must be done next in order for us to move forward?”), and personnel decisions (“Who can help us accomplish this task most efficiently?”). To be effective a strategic plan must be flexibly rigid: as the company progresses, it must be able to adjust to changes in the business environment while staying true to the core vision.

Another important aspect of thinking strategically is the personal aspect. When your company is first founded, it is very probable that you won’t be making money immediately. Find a way to get a personal income stream that will help you get by until your first sale: do some freelance work or take a flexible part-time job. If you don’t think about your own personal finances and time as you prepare to start a business, you aren’t thinking strategically.

Keep Moving Forward

Did you know that if sharks don’t keep moving forward they will drown? Most sharks, can’t breathe if they are not swimming, and they can’t sleep for very long, if at all, or they will sink.  I’m glad this isn’t true for us as humans, but there is a valuable takeaway for entrepreneurs from sharks.

As an entrepreneur, there will be lots of ups and downs in the life of your company (especially if it’s in its infancy). One day you’ll get a call from another company interested in testing and possibly purchasing your product and the next you’ll find out a potential investment opportunity fell through. Like the sharks, an entrepreneur has to keep moving forward for the business to survive. Often this involves long nights, early mornings, success tempered with reality, and unexpected surprises. As Steve Jobs is famous for saying in his 2005 commencement address at Stanford, “Stay hungry, stay foolish.”

Stay Humble

Probably the most important thing I’ve learned is the value of humility. This includes knowing when to admit that I’m wrong, being realistic about my weaknesses, and asking for and listening to advice. One of the greatest blessings so far in the first year of AFS is the number of people who have been willing to offer their expertise, time, resources, and encouragement to my partners and I. A lot of these connections have come about from us reaching out to them. As an entrepreneur, you know your business much more intimately than anyone else and what steps need to be taken to move it forward, but without being humble enough to bring others alongside your team, your business won’t go very far.

Do you have any tips for entrepreneurs? Share them below in the Comments section.

-Lawson
Learn It. Love It. Live It.

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About Lawson Hembree
Lawson is an entrepreneur, ministry leader, and outdoors enthusiast who also enjoys blogging about business, ideas, and theology. Want to continue the discussion or write a guest post? Let's Connect!

8 Responses to Lessons from One Year as an Entrepreneur

  1. Congrats Lawson on one year.

    I agree with all you said, especially the humble part. Obviously people can be successful no matter how big of jerks they are, but being a humble leader is definitely the best way to build something that lasts and something that makes a difference.

    As for tips I’ve learned in my past 6 months of the entrepreneurship journey, I think some of the biggest lessons have been 1) always be learning and growing 2) build relationships with customers but more so any other businesses you can touch, especially those in your same market and 3) Always try to give more than your customer expects, even if it means working your butt off. Aside from maybe hiring Jesse Lane, your best marketing is always from turning customers into raving fans.

    Although I’ve gotta say, I’m not sure I’m cut out for the entrepreneurship life, if it had been only up to me, i probably would have given up, but the harder it got, the more I had to lean on God and he always came through, so I hope not to sound trite, but I can truly only point any and allof my success to God.

    Jeremy

    • Thanks for your tips Jeremy, especially the one about learning and growing. Do you have any books/disciplines that you recommend?

      Speaking of Jesse Lane, he and I were talking about relying on God at lunch the other day as well. In a time of fast-paced change (esp. as an entrepreneur), He is always constant as our Almighty Sustainer. As long as we abide in Him (as grafted-in branches), He is faithful. Take it to the bank.

      Congrats on moving into your new office; definitely a big step in your entrepreneurial journey. Best of luck as you continue pressing on!

      • Some recent favorites include

        Delivering Happiness (wowing your customer), It’s Your Ship (leadership), Yes! (psychology of marketing/persuasion)

        I’ve also listed some of my favorites books here if you are interested in more.

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