Why customers are more important than products – and other lessons from "been-there-done-that" businesses

US consultancy TAB asked entrepreneurs what they would do differently if they had the chance to start their business again. This is what they said.

Entrepreneurs given the chance to do it again say they would focus less on their product and more on strategic planning, sales and marketing, and getting the right guidance.

A new survey, “If only I knew then what I know now”, conducted by US-based business advisory company The Alternative Board (TAB), polled several hundred SME business owners about what they would do differently if they could start again.

Only 2% said a better product would have made a difference to the success of their company. Instead factors like “investing more money in the early stage of building the business” and spending more time on strategic planning were seen as critical.

TAB chief executive Jason Zickerman says more than a third of respondents said they would increase spending on marketing and brand development, and a similar number would have set up a lead development system earlier.

“80% of our business owner respondents discovered that client development is significantly more important than product or service development,” Zickerman says. Meanwhile, 20% would have invested more in hiring and training staff.

The advice from seasoned business owners for newly minted entrepreneurs is “find your customers, surround yourself with smart people and make use of your team”, Zickerman says.

 Asked what they should have done more often, the top response, from 38% of business owners, was “delegate to other”.

Meanwhile, getting “better coaches and mentors” was chosen as a critical element for 24% of entrepreneurs.