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UMKC Innovation Center
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Lessons Learned from KC Small Businesses

Groundhog Do-Over: What Do You Wish You Had Done Differently?

Punxsutawney Phil calls for more winter. We call do-over!

Six more weeks of winter.

That’s the news from Punxsutawney Phil, that furry doomsayer of the season who just a couple of hours ago saw his shadow and hit the snooze on spring.

Which got us hankering for a friendlier spin on this annual tipping date between winter and spring: the do-over. (Remember Bill Murray in Groundhog Day?)

Every year, ambitious entrepreneurs venture from their comfort zones to open their own businesses for the first time. And every year, they make some mistakes along the way. Some see their shadows and are scared away from entrepreneurship. Others forge ahead to brave the blustery winters of the startup years to find their spring.

So we decided to take our Groundhog Day to seasoned entrepreneurs and ask them, “What do you wish you had done differently when you opened your business?" and “What do you do absolutely right?”

Here’s what they had to say.

What do you wish you had done differently when you opened your business?

Ask for help. Focus on financials. Outsource and hire beyond your expertise. Those just a few lessons learned through hindsight.

Jeff Morgan, Morgan Miller Plumbing
Ask for help. You are so prideful when first starting a business, that asking for help may look like defeat, but it is far from that! If you want more nuggets on that go to my Linkedin Posts as one of them is titled: Help...”

Oscar Campos, Greenovate Construction
“I wish we would have outsourced things that we knew we didn't know or we weren't good at from the very beginning. We have lost so much precious time on tasks and activities that we aren't very good at or don't have the necessary knowledge to execute fast.  Kansas City has so much talent! There are so many bright individuals that have brought so much to the table and have exponentially accelerated our growth.”

Mike Totta, Totta Hardwoods
“I would put much more emphasis on strategic planning if I was starting my business again. It’s very difficult in the early years to get away from the urgent and demanding things, and focus on the things that aren’t screaming at you, but are desperately important for success. What I feel I got right was doing something every day to get better. Progress is always good, even if it’s not perfectly executed.”

Carol Espinosa, Freedom Companies
“Because Freedom had access to a wide variety of product lines when we started, it was easy to become too general in our marketing message. However, trying to be all things to all customers was diluting our value proposition and had to be changed to a narrower, focused approach. This change helped our customers better understand how we can help their businesses.”

Katelyn Wyss, Red Nova Labs
“We tend to take the shortest path to market:  ready, aim, fire. In hindsight it would have saved some time and money if we spent more on legal and employees that fit a longer term vision. It is always easy to look back, but chances are, we would do the same thing again given the same circumstances.”

What do you do absolutely right?

Hire the right people. Network, and learn everything you can. Starting a business on the right foot often means adjusting your expectations and staying open to advice from those who have already traveled the path.

Oscar Campos, Greenovate Construction
“Our attitude. We came in knowing that this would be a hard path and we were up for the challenge and excited about it. I learned this lesson from my first start up where I didn't know what to expect and how tough the road would be. Having clear expectations of the process helps you keep your mind clear and lets you focus on what's important in your business.”

Leonard Washington, America On the Go Plumbing
Networking with people with more business experience and becoming associated with the Blue Hills incubator.”

Zachary Shelton, Inspire Landscape Management
“One of the best things that I ever did for myself that completely changed my view of what my business could be, was to do an internship at one of the top 100 landscaping companies in the U.S. I learned so much about the business side of the green industry in six months than I did in all my years in school. And the best thing that I gained from that internship is a ongoing mentoring relationship with the president of that company.”

Jeff Morgan, Morgan Miller Plumbing
Polishing our brand. Cleanest fleet on the street, inside and out. This move was very intentional, strategy was behind it. That definitely got us noticed. [And then we worked on] Appealing to our customers by simply being who we are. No pretensions, falseness. Plenty of transparency and backing up our words with our actions. No one is perfect. Social media was another thing we did right. We had no clue that puppies and unicorns would get us noticed as plumbers, so I guess you could say luck. But it works, and done right, it works VERY well for your business.”

Katelyn Wyss, Red Nova Labs
“I've always said it’s about perseverance and luck. The thing we've done best is hire great people. We aren't perfect, but we are better than anybody else in the industry when it comes to hiring people that care about their customers and coworkers.”

Mike Totta, Totta Hardwoods
“What I feel I got right was doing something every day to get better. Progress is always good, even if it’s not perfectly executed.”

Where can you find help?

 Whether you’re starting, growing or just cleaning a few things up that dropped off your list (financials, anyone?), KCSourceLink is ready to connect you with the right resource for your challenge. Choose your entrepreneurial type below for tips and events relevant to you—or give us a call. 

What would you do differently if you had a do-over?

Flickr Photo by Alessandro M

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