Lessons from my first decade in entrepreneurship

As important as it is to remain focused, entrepreneurs should not forget to enjoy the journey

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Last week, when I was cleaning out my closet, I came across a news clipping that featured my photograph from the Arab Woman Award 2011 ceremony, when I won in the young fashion designer category.

At the time, it had only been a year since I ventured into entrepreneurship, and my business was gaining momentum. My clothing line was sold on my e-commerce website in the UAE as well as in several other countries across the region. I broke even within less than a year after launching my fashion business.

However, so much has changed since I started my entrepreneurship journey in 2010. In fact, a lot has changed in this year alone. While being an entrepreneur in the past decade has taken me to some of the highest points of my life, it has dragged me through some challenging moments where I have questioned my purpose and my leadership skills.

As I looked at the photo of me smiling and carrying the trophy in my hand, I reflected on everything the past decade has taught me. What has becoming an entrepreneur at a young age taught me? What advice would I give people starting out this decade? Would I change anything if I have to do it all over again?

Here are my key takeaways:

Success takes time

Though my fashion business broke even fairly quickly, it’s not always the case. For example, another business I started took a longer time in comparison. Keeping in mind that things may take longer than expected even if you had planned everything right, will help ease your mind and keep you focused.

You will not have all the answers and it’s okay to ask for help

I loved to learn, and I possess a diverse set of skills from design to web programming, but there is still so much that I do not know and understand. Though that bothered me at the beginning of my journey – it made me feel as I thought I failed somehow – but I realised that it is fine to not be able to do everything.

Focus on what you do best and let others handle what they are best at. Initially, I was shy of asking for help. I did not want to appear weak and I avoided asking for guidance for a while until it started affecting my work. Even the best entrepreneurs around the world have a team or people they confide in and consult. This is where it is important to keep in mind to be humble and allow others to help. Two heads think better than one, and will help save you time instead of dwelling on a problem and wasting your time.

Make time to learn

It is important to ask people for help and advice, but that does not mean that you should stop learning. Learning is a never-ending process. The more you learn, the wider your perspective is, and the faster you can come up with solutions.

People introduce you to opportunities 

My mother always advised me to expand my network. She told me that meeting people leads to friendships and also to opportunities you may not know existed before. She also told me that achieving your goals would be faster when you have others helping you throughout.

An entrepreneur told me once that she makes it a point to meet a new person every single day. So, attend networking events, business-related events, social events, whether offline or online. That is where I met some of my now close friends and was introduced to great business opportunities.

When things get rough, remember why you started 

A lot has changed for me over the past decade. There were times when I felt like I lost control over everything, and there were times when I questioned why I was doing what I was doing, when I could have a stable, normal job. Always remember your purpose. Why did you start this business? Place that in front of every thought, make it your computer's background, or tap it to your bathroom mirror.

As important as it is to remain focused, do not forget to enjoy the ride. Seek help when needed and learn as you go. As challenging as it had been, I would not trade this journey for anything else.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi.