All new websites start with low pagerank and low rankings. You are right. Forget entirely about pagerank and dont even look at it. Do watch your rankings for your keywords.
The best way to improve your rankings is to make sure your content is rich and is updated regularly, and GET LINKS - through reciprocation if necessary. Despite what some people may tell you here, there is absolutely zero evidence that getting links through reciprocation (also called link exchange) will not help you. It does help if you do it right and the only way to do it right is to only link with HIGH QUALITY websites in very low volume over a long period of time. If you will follow those simple rules you can get a new website to rank in the top 20 for its keywords within 3-4 months. And you dont need alot of links you only need a few dozen a month just make sure they are highly relevant to your own website. High relevancy is the key avoid links with sites not related to your own.