Three things I wish I’d known when I started my business

Originally published by Naomi Simson as part of the LinkedIn Influencer Program

I think back more than a decade to the moment when I thought it was a good idea to start an online business. There are some things I really wish I had known as I set out. Although one mentor said to me years ago, “the greater the loss the bigger the lesson,” there comes a point when if the business lessons get too expensive, it’s all over!

1) It’s never just the good idea
This is the very first moment when you think it is ‘a good idea to run your own show’; you have read of these entrepreneurial heroes who create amazing ‘overnight’ success stories – and you think, “I could do that”. All you need now is that idea – which will make the business simply slip into place and you are on your road to Nirvana. Ah, what a lovely dream. Sorry to bring you down to earth: businesses are one per cent idea and 99 per cent execution. You do still need that bright, shining idea though – because without it you only have hard work.

2) Don’t ask, “Will it work?” Ask, “Do I want it to?”
I’m approached regularly by people wanting to share a new business idea with me. They ask earnestly, “Will it work?” My response to all these queries is always the same: “Why do you want to do it?” Working out “why” you want to start a business (let alone keep running it for a good portion of your adult life) is essential to sustaining you, and ultimately, the success of the enterprise.

3) It’s not about the money
If you are driven solely by financial success in business, think again. Great businesses solve a problem; they make life ‘easier’ – they do things that have not been done before. They make a difference to other human beings. You could argue that great businesses make the world a better place.

All of the great start-ups that you can think of solve a problem. Facebook was about keeping college students connected. Google was about making the world’s information accessible. And think of the number of problems Apple has solved.

So the first step on creating a viable business is to work out what problem you are solving, simply asking ‘what is your purpose?’ It is far easier to create an enterprise when you are really clear about its purpose.

I just happened along our purpose after listening to the impact RedBalloon was having on customers. We believe everyone deserves to have fun, feel good and be happy. We are passionate about giving people more good times. RedBalloon was not the first business idea I had – but as I look back now I realise that of all the ideas I had, it was the one that inspired me, that I was passionate about, that I could see myself making a difference with.

If I was to pose a question for you to think about it would be ‘Why do you do what you do, and who will give a damn?’ ‘Are you building a better mousetrap or are you changing the game of rodent management?’

Being a great business is all about “the why?”
You need to rally your people behind a cause, a goal, a mission or a number – whatever it is for you. Everything you do, every day needs to play a role in achieving this “why”. Articulate a reason, and then share it with others. Know your definition of success. For me, it’s knowing how many people have had a RedBalloon experience and how we are creating happiness, not only among our customers but also our employees.

Are you absolutely clear as an entrepreneur and business owner why you are doing what you do?

Imagine creating a business about happiness – that’s what Naomi Simson did when she set up online experience retailer RedBalloon in 2001. Since then has sold 1.8 million experiences and Naomi has been recognised with the 2008 National Telstra Business Women’s Awards for Innovation and the 2011 Ernst and Young Industry Entrepreneur of the Year Award. She shares her insights at – in Australia’s top 15 Best Business Blogs – and is a LinkedIn Influencer, dispensing knowledge with an audience of 200 million members..

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