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The VICE Guide to Life

Small Business Owners Told Us What They Wish They'd Known Before They Started

It's a ton of work, but ultimately worth it.
Frodo begins his journey
Screengrab from 'Lord of the Rings'

There were over 30 million small businesses operating in America, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy. That’s a lot of hopes and dreams playing out in the marketplace.

We talked to ten small business owners about what they wish they knew before they started. Here’s what they said. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Get Used to Rejection

Diallo Brothers

Mohammed "Mo" Diallo and Ibrahima "Rahim" Diallo.

It's harder, much harder, than you think going in in terms of the psychological aspect of it. Keeping your cool when all facts facing you would direct a totally rational person to throw in the towel. Faced with these situations, just keep surviving!


The reality of what it's like to be a minority founder are brutal to face as an entrepreneur. Being two black guys, the goalpost gets moved every time we deliver on a requirement that a potential investor wants to see before committing capital. We've experienced this so much over the last three years, we've made a game out of predicting what they'll say to us after a meeting. We've seen it with female entrepreneurs we know as well. Until the investors start to look like the entrepreneurs in that regard, very little will change. - Mohammed "Mo" Diallo and Ibrahima "Rahim" Diallo, brothers and co-founders of Ginjan Bros, Inc.

Make a Business Plan, Understand How to Manage Growth

Dana Donofree

Dana Donofree

There are two things I wish I knew before starting my business. First, make a business plan. Had I made my business plan early on, I would have learned that there was indeed room to develop AnaOno into a growing business, and that there would be potential beyond just a 'side business.' I would have made decisions differently from the get-go, rather than just jumping in head first and winging it.

The second is that growing the business would be harder than starting the business. As your company grows at two to three times the rate year over year, there are different pressures: more pressure on cash flow, personnel, and operational needs start to grow [too], and that matures the business faster than the boot strapping, scrappy plays you make during the start-up phase. Having a good team and healthy finances become crucial to your success as well as the accelerating growth of the corporation. - Dana Donofree, Founder & CEO of AnaOno


Know the Risks

Jared Carrizales

Jared Carrizales

I wish I knew more about finances, management, and so much more. But most of all, I wish I knew how thin the line between overextension and calculated risks would be. One of our best moves as a company came from the decision to narrow our focus and double down on a specific service we offer. This two-year, multi-phase changeover resulted in a loss of personnel, as well as a significant loss of clientele. Those were all difficult decisions to make, but now we're much more profitable and streamlined in our campaigns. Our calculated risk paid off, but it was still a risk that could have gone the other way. - Jared Carrizales , founder of Heroic Search

Realize Your Worth and Find Helpers

Jessica Lawlor

Jessica Lawlor

I wish I could tell my past self that no matter how difficult things got, I'd always figure it out. In the early days of starting a business, you often say yes to whatever work you can get and accept less money than you know you deserve. Looking back, I wish I'd recognized my worth up front. It would have saved me a lot of heartache and helped me avoid tricky client situations. Also, recognizing that I needed help and bringing on a team member has been the single smartest decision I've made as a business owner. - Jessica Lawlor, Founder and CEO at Jessica Lawlor & Company (JL&Co)

Make Sacrifices

Ebun Olaloye Live Breathe Futbol

Ebun Olaloye

Starting a business often requires a great deal of personal sacrifice. I also wish I’d known that there are loads of people who are willing to help out, you just have to be willing to ask for a helping hand. Building a business is something I believe everyone should try their hand in even just once in their life. You get to learn a lot about yourself and how things work in the world. - Ebun Olaloye, founder and creative director of Live Breathe Futbol


Work, Work, Work

Julianna Lose Bon Bon Baby Apparel

Julianna Lose

I feel like this will sound cliche, but what I really wish I had known was just how much work it was going to be. I think everyone has this idea when they start a business that it will be awesome working for yourself and it'll be a breeze (which sometimes it is!), but overall it's so much work. From time management, to paperwork, to finding reliable help; it keeps you shockingly busy. And maybe the most important thing before you start a business –– find a great accountant! - Julianna Lose, owner of BonBonBaby Apparel

Lend an Ear

Alex Hillman Indy Hall

Alex Hillman

Shut up and listen. Marketing isn't about how loud you can shout about your thing, it's about listening to your customers and earning their trust. One hundred percent of my business success is connected to my relentless focus on listening to people, understanding their problems, and then helping people solve problems. - Alex Hillman, Co-founder, Indy Hall

Strive for Work/Life Balance

Ada and Cheri Wilner Knead Bagels

We wish we had known how helpful it is to take time for ourselves and our family. It literally seems impossible sometimes, but it ultimately lessens the stress all around and allows for new ideas at Knead and at home. We do our best to leave work at work, and leave home at home. We have come to understand the importance of having good people that we can trust, otherwise it's easy to feel like our business owns us instead of us owning our business. - Cheri and Adam Wilner, owners of Knead Bagels

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