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14 Lessons Entrepreneurs Learned Early On That Still Stick With Them Today

Learning from an earlier job or previous position is vital to your future success.

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It’s a widely held belief that experience is the world’s best teacher. Life lessons, both in and out of business, usually stem from having a variety of experiences. However, as people in various stages of life, we can’t expect to have all the experiences we need to figure out what to do in every particular situation we come across. That’s why learning from the experiences of others can be such a vital skill for an entrepreneur.

If you end up in a situation where you’re not sure how to proceed, you might want to ask other, more experienced people in the industry for their insights. To help new entrepreneurs, these 14 experts from Young Entrepreneur Council have offered to discuss the lessons they learned from their earlier positions and why they were crucial to their success.

1. Put Your Customers First

Companies that put their customers first win. I started out working a retail job for one of the biggest brands in the world, Coca-Cola. There, it was all about the customer experience. We had to take care of their needs and make them happy. At another job at a fashion brand, the customers always came first. Looking at these two companies and other organizations that put their customers first—they win. 

Samuel Thimothy, OneIMS

2. Work Smarter, Not Harder

I learned to work smarter, not harder. If you utilize your mind you can always improve efficiencies in the way things are done, which in turn helps you leverage your time and increase your overall output. Think outside the box if you have to—you never know where that might lead.

Brad Burns, Wayne Contracting

3. Project Confidence

Confidence is king. Early in my career I suffered from an acute case of imposter syndrome. As a consultant, I couldn’t quite understand why I was qualified to be making recommendations for clients. I questioned myself and didn’t project confidence. Over time, with experience, I learned to see myself as an expert. Now I tell others to “fake it til you make it” and project confidence from the start.

Madeleine Niebauer, vChief

4. Take Initiative

My first job was working in the takeout area at a local restaurant. I was 15 years old and the owner, a well-respected businessman, took me aside and told me that I should “take initiative.” When I got home I had to ask my parents what initiative meant. At the time I was insulted. I was working the takeout counter! What Lou gave me was life advice. I’ve never forgotten that day.

Brian Greenberg, True Blue Life Insurance

5. Direct Your Energy

I worked for a company doing work I thought I’d love, but it wasn’t as I had hoped. I constantly saw opportunity and spent spare time with executives and collaborating with other teams to create efficiencies and innovation. One day I met with my manager and he talked to me about directing my eager energy to achieve goals. I held onto that lesson to focus and persevere when I started my company.

Ryan Meghdies, Tastic Marketing Inc.

6. Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up

I think the most important lesson I learned from an earlier job is the value of speaking up. We were in a position where the leadership was unsure what move they should make next. I decided to voice my opinion, and they loved the idea. This taught me that anyone can speak up and have a good idea, so always listen to what your team has to say.

John Turner, SeedProd LLC

7. Focus on Data

Focus on data. I’ve been on many teams where decisions were based on narrative and politics. The most eloquent voice in the room got their way. This often happened at the expense of people who knew better, but were quiet, didn’t want to pick a fight or weren’t convincing enough, even when right. Narrative bias is a powerful thing. Data cuts through all of that. 

Alex Furman, Invitae

8. Trust Your Gut

One of my earlier jobs taught me about intuition and how to listen to it early on. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but I had to learn how to listen to my gut and trust it. If I had a bad feeling about an opportunity, I’d ignore it, and this would cause more trouble than it was worth.

Stephanie Wells, Formidable Forms

9. Pay Attention to Detail

My early education and career are far removed from what I do as an entrepreneur. I went from being an electrical engineer to building a globally-renowned digital marketing business. The common thread is attention to detail. As an engineer, I learned there’s no margin for error. The strategies most responsible for my success rely on extensive testing and the elimination of supposition and uncertainty.

Matt Diggity, Diggity Marketing

10. Always Try to Overdeliver

I learned the value of overdelivering. In one of my earlier jobs, I saw that the company did a great job initially getting the clients but not in keeping them. I wanted to make it my mission not to follow that same business model because it’s not sustainable. Recently, I read the book Never Lose A Customer Again by Joey Coleman and the methods in that book have stuck with me.

Diego Orjuela, Cables & Sensors

11. Persevere

Perseverance is the key to success. Whether you are starting your own business or working for someone else, initially a majority of the time you’ll be investing in trial and error, failing and learning. You may not get such results as you planned out initially, but you’ll reach a point where all the countless hours spent learning will pay back and you’ll begin to notice exponential results.

Kelly Richardson, Infobrandz

12. Focus on Creating Value

My blog took off when I created a resource base helping people build their own websites on WordPress. At the time, there were no free resources and online courses were overpriced. The lesson I learned was that it was all about creating value for customers. What can you do to help them? What problems are they facing? When you can answer these questions, you have a recipe for success.

Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner

13. Don’t Waste Resources

My first job was working as a line cook at a restaurant. It was an invaluable experience. Not only did I learn how to cook, but I also learned not to waste resources, how to work as a team and that time is precious. These lessons have made me stronger, smarter and a more compassionate person in all of my business.

Shu Saito, All Filters

14. Get Your Hands Dirty

One of the most important lessons I learned at a previous job is the value of helping employees when you’re in a management position. I’ve encountered many “passive” managers who are not willing to get their hands dirty, and their business suffers. Now, I like to get down in the trenches and help our team with day-to-day tasks, which helped establish me as a leader, instead of just another boss.- Chris Christoff, MonsterInsights

These answers are provided by Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most successful young entrepreneurs. YEC members represent nearly every industry, generate billions of dollars in revenue each year and have created tens of thousands of jobs. Learn more at yec.co.

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