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Reflections On Our First Year in Business – Top 10 Lessons Learned

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Having recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of HIPLegal, it seemed like a good time to reflect on the past year and share our top 10 lessons learned from our first startup experience:

  1. Choose your team wisely: having co-founders you trust and who complement you reduces the workload, develops a broader range of solutions to problems, decreases the learning curve, and makes starting a business fun.  You will spend a lot of time talking about difficult subjects with your co-founders … a great relationship smooths these conversations.
  2. Do the cost-benefit analysis: spend money on the things that physically or emotionally improve your environment and your business.  Set a reasonable budget for small things, so you don’t need track the number of copies that you make, drinks each person consumes, business meeting lunches bought, etc.  Don’t break the bank right out of the gate, but once you have some consistent cash flow, figure out what you can pay someone else to do (bookkeeping, payroll, HR, marketing, assembling furniture) that frees you up to focus on the business of your business.
  3. Don’t skimp on the basics: if your brand or image are important to your success, hire marketing professionals to help you design your website and marketing materials to look professional.
  4. Good advice is key: finding proactive vendors and service providers (bank professionals, insurance agents, accountants, attorneys, etc.) is critical to positioning your business well for the future and reducing your workload.  You want your subject matter experts to tell you what you need to be thinking about / have examples from other clients, in addition to answering your questions.  Get referrals and war stories from your network so you don’t have to learn as you go.  [Our favorites: MiMA, Inc., for marketing; Vicki Viso (Triplett Financial) for life insurance; Brett Taylor (Colliers) for real estate.]
  5. Find office space you love: even if it means leasing in a less expensive city, finding space that you enjoy walking into every day increases your happiness on the job.  When you have people around you that you enjoy working with and a space that you love to work in, you inject joy into your daily work.
  6. Define what you want your culture to be and build it: you have a blank slate to create your perfect work environment.  Spend some time defining what that is and setting up the processes to make it succeed long term.  It is much easier to develop a culture with a small group of like-minded people than when your company gets bigger.
  7. Keep an eye on Craigslist: we managed to furnish our office with gently-used furniture at a fraction of what it would have cost to buy new, by getting in early on a furniture sale posted on Craigslist.
  8. Ask for help: whether looking for new ideas, an introduction to a potential client, or a sympathetic ear, don’t be afraid to ask friends, clients, and former colleagues.  It is amazing what your network can do when you put out an Ask (and, of course, be ready with an offer).
  9. Pivot when circumstances change: Evaluate whether your business model, employees, marketing strategy are working. When something isn’t working, go back to the assumptions and evaluations that you made and re-evaluate.  If you need to make a change, do so quickly.
  10. Don’t sweat the small stuff: Determine what level of detail you need in your business.  You don’t need to track every penny, and you don’t need to know every detail. You can dive infinitely deep on any subject.  Focus on the issues that are essential to your business.