By Jodie Shaw

Here’s a fun fact about running a business: You won’t get everything right the first time. Fortunately, you can avoid a lot of the common pitfalls by reading up on the experiences of your fellow entrepreneurs. Nothing is more informative than collecting the firsthand experiences of veteran business owners who have been there and done that.

Since not everyone has the luxury of working with a business coach, The Alternative Board conducted a survey of hundreds of entrepreneurs to gather their best advice for up-and-coming business owners. The study focused on the areas business owners wish they invested more in – whether in terms of time, money or resources

Here are the top three areas entrepreneurs wish they devoted more of themselves to with tips for getting them right the first time around.

1. Spend More Time on Strategic Planning

They also agreed that the top three most important skills business owners need for success are strategic thinking, time management and communication – which can all be perfected through a written plan.

Your strategic plan begins with a written 100-word summary of your personal vision – this does not need to be shared with anyone else. Whether you got into business to be your own boss (like 43% of the entrepreneurs surveyed) or to make more money (like 12%), your business needs to be working towards that mission. Looking to work less than 40 hours a week? Include it in your personal vision. Looking to make money while you travel the world? Don’t leave it out! It’s a lot easier to reach your destination when you know what it is.

The strategic plan you share with your executive team will include your company vision (also a 100-word statement), as well as a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis. Include a section with steps for setting your goals into motion (e.g. weekly reviews, accountability practices, KPIs) and be sure to review your plan regularly to see what’s working, what’s not and where the plan needs to be modified.

2. Spend More Money on Marketing, Advertising and PR

Underinvesting in marketing seems to be a common mistake among business owners. The Alternative Board’s June 2016 Small Business Pulse Survey found that:

  • 17% of business owners have no social media presence.
  • The majority of small businesses (67%) put their social media efforts in the hands of beginner-intermediate users.
  • 64% of small business owners monitor their social accounts one time a week or less, and 22% only check it a few times a year (yikes!).

“Marketing budgets aren’t super sexy,” says the team at Small Business Marketing Tools, “but they are DIRECTLY CORRELATED to your business growth.”

According to Vital Design’s CMO Survey:

  • Businesses that grew 1-15% each year spent an average of 16.5% of revenue on marketing
  • Businesses that grew 16-30% spent 22%
  • Businesses that grew 31-100+% spent 50.2%

Nervous about the ROI of your increased marketing spending? Boosting your marketing budget should go hand-in-hand with your strategic planning. Look at what tactics worked in the past and increase spending there. Monitor progress regularly, so you can tweak as necessary. If nothing else, simply increase your spending by bringing in a marketing expert or team. That’s a great way to increase your marketing spending, without losing the precious time entrepreneurs wish they were spending on planning.

3. Find a Coach or Mentor Sooner

The majority of entrepreneurs (24%) said a coach and mentor would have made the biggest difference in their success if they were to turn back the clock. In an article for Entrepreneur, Chris Haddon and Jason Balin write:

A coach can help you write and break down your goals and get into the right mindset. A coach can also push you to think outside the box and take your aspirations to the next level — on a daily, weekly, monthly and even yearly schedule. Knowing both where you want to be in ten years and what you have to do today are key to reaching success.”

Looking back, 86% of entrepreneurs agree they would start their business again, they would just invest their time and money differently, with increased focus on strategic planning and marketing. While you can’t jump into the future to know what you should be doing right now, you can follow the advice of other entrepreneurs who have been in your shoes. Learn from their mistakes and try to use their experience to build on your own.