The lessons our first 4 years in business taught us
After being in business for almost four years, one thing I can say with assurance is: we’re not in Kansas anymore! Owning a business is much different than I thought it would be, both in good ways and challenging ways. There have been difficulties, triumphs, mistakes, and growing opportunities along the way. But I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world! Through my business experiences over these last years, I’d like to share a few thoughts on being an entrepreneur:
Opportunities: Intuition is a wonderful thing. When used regularly and listened to, you’ll hear it more frequently. When intuition tells you to move, move. Sometimes, opportunities can only be captured if identified, thoroughly fleshed out, strategized and determined to be the right fit at the right time. Other times though, you just jump. Only you (and your intuition) will know when to jump and when to carefully consider.
Authenticity: You have to be real to be believable and trustworthy. Authentic doesn’t mean unprofessional, it just means you let your brand and your business reflect the values and expertise that make you who you are as a person.
Business Planning: I believe that a business plan is crucial to a start-up business – IF you are looking for investors or banks to participate in funding. I also believe that startups will learn so much about their business (and themselves) in the first 1-2 years, that the plan doesn’t need to be elaborate in order to be valuable. Identifying your mission, vision, goals, etc will set a foundation. Setting a planning session each year is instrumental in letting you review what you’ve learned, what has and hasn’t worked, know exactly where you’ve been, how and where you’re growing, and ultimately will help you stay on track for future success.
Legal: Protecting yourself and your business is important. Unless your business idea has captured the attention of venture capitalists or you have a nest egg you’re using to start-up, you’re probably just making ends meet during the first couple years. Knowing what legal advice and documents you need will help you prioritize these valuable investments so you don’t break the bank. Find a reliable and high integrity business attorney, get some initial questions answered, then feel free to take your needs in projects.
Choosing Clients: It’s ok to be choosy. Give yourself permission to be your best self. Many startups believe they NEED to work with anyone who will hire them, just to pay the bills. I’d like to pose a different perspective: when you choose to work with a client who isn’t a good fit for you, you may be risking efficiency, integrity of values, and more. Ask strategic questions in order to determine whether a client is a good fit. And if they’re not, direct them to the business who is.
Networking: Whether you’re a social butterfly or a want-to-be wall-flower, networking is plain and simple one of the best ways to grow your business. You never know who you’ll meet or where that connection will lead. Even if you only think of it as a chance to practice your elevator pitch, meet some great referral sources, or grow your client base, it also exposes your business. As business owners, we don’t have to attend every networking event, so choose wisely. Your time is valuable.
Developing New Products/Services: Listen to your current clients and your target. What are they looking for? What do they need? Maybe your business is driven by a particular product or service. Maybe you are in an industry that is constantly changes. Either way, it’s important to stay in tune with your competition and your customers.
Employees: It is ALWAYS worth your time and money to hire slowly! Before bringing on a new employee, be sure they will not only fill your open position, they will excel in that job! I’ve found skill, personality, and strengths tests to be very insightful. Understanding how they work within a team, how they make decisions, if they are organized, on time, trust-worthy, responsible, etc. can mean the difference between managing an employee and leading a team that grows your business!
Communication: Be accurate. Be kind. Be honest. Be consistent. Pay attention to name spelling, spelling in general, punctuation and timing. Period.
Record Management: Your records aren’t only a resource for you, they are collateral (business assets).
Taxes: Don’t pretend you can mess with the IRS. Ask reliable associates for references to Accountants, CPA’s, and Bookkeepers and save yourself some trouble – and time. If you are not good at this work, find someone who is and spare yourself the frustration. Your time is best spent on your specialty. Ultimately, pay your dues, on time, and you won’t be stressing come April 15th!
Time Management: There is no such thing as multi-tasking. Do one thing at a time and you’ll do it well, and more efficiently. Use your calendar to schedule appointments, events and important reminders, but use it for planning too. On the flip side, be sure to give yourself time to enjoy life, family, friends, and activities. Schedule to-do’s in advance, and give yourself permission to keep your calendar.
Impact on Personal Life: For the first 3 years I burned the candle at both ends. Late, LATE nights and early, EARLY mornings ideating, creating, and processing. Thank goodness for an understanding and supportive husband! But, I was passionate about building my brand, processes, services and products. And I realized, there is a balance that is so important to keeping a balanced life.
Best One-Liner Advice: Be flexible. Life is about learning. What makes business different?