Happy Birthday to us! 8 years already? Feels like just yesterday we were registering as an LLC. It’s been quite a ride. I’ve learned so much as a creative business owner, especially one who is passionate about community, adventure, and challenging the status quo. Here are 8 lessons I’ve learned on my journey so far:
1. MOUNTAINS ARE MOLEHILLS
Everything that looked like a mountain going into my business has actually been a molehill looking back. From having to chase down a payment from a client (real talk folks, it happens), to taking on projects that weren’t a good fit for us, to making bad judgement calls, to trying to avoid conflict when there’s no way to avoid it. All of those scenarios looked like crazy mountains I was afraid to climb and did not know how to get to the top. Honestly, just the idea of starting a business 8 years ago was a mountain. But now looking back, I see a bumpy landscape of peaks and valleys against an ever changing sky, and it all looks beautiful from here. Bring on the next mountain.
2. FIND THE RIGHT FIT
Not everyone is going to be a good fit to work with you (and that goes for them working as a part of your team, or working with you as a client). And that’s okay. Trust your intuition and have confidence in yourself to be able to recognize and identify red flags when you see them. Sometimes it’s just as simple as having a feeling that something is not quite right. You are not for everyone, and everyone is not for you. Working with the right people can ensure a rewarding and enjoyable experience. Working with the wrong people almost always causes more stress and heartache than it’s worth. It’s okay to say “this might not be a good fit for us” and to stand behind it.
3. YOUR BUSINESS MIGHT CHANGE
Nothing in this world stays the same. I’ve learned this when revisiting different places in my life (where I’ve lived before, schools I’ve attended). I have changes, and the places have changed too. They are only the same when lodged in my memories. Why do you expect your business to not change along the way? As you grow and gain experience, you will learn how to do things more efficiently, that some systems work better than others, and that you may need to refine your product or service offerings to meet the needs of your target audience. Be open to change and good problems to have. Be open to finding the right way to do things and then take the time to do them.
4. FIND YOUR TRIBE
Your friends that you go to happy hour with may not understand some of the challenges and victories you’re involved in with your business. You’re worried about whether or not a proposal will be accepted or if a big order will go through, and that’s nowhere close to what they’re worried about this week. This is totally normal. You may need to find your tribe. This doesn’t mean you lose your cool friends that you socialize with. This means that you find other savvy business owners or people paving their own way, and you add them to your rooster of good people to connect with. Nothing beats getting a cocktail and then being able to say “I’m worried about this proposal I’m working on….” and “how’s your latest marketing project going?” People who can dive in with you on your level, where the conversation is mutually beneficial, are good people to have in your corner.
5. PLAN YOUR FUTURE
My first year in business I made an income equal to my full time salary. And I was like “SWEET! This is awesome!” But let me tell you, I worked twice as hard to make that money than I ever did working for someone else. And I wore many hats in the business too (project manager, marketer, bookkeeper, etc). If you haven’t sat down and figured out what retirement might look like for you, what your financial goals are, and what direction you’re heading in, stop everything and do it now. Seriously, just get a sheet of paper and start writing what 5 and 10 years from now should look like. Otherwise, you are on a one way train to nowhere and you’ll likely burn out along the way. Get ahead on your future by actually mapping out your future. Know why you’re working: yes it is to help people through whatever product or service you offer, but it’s also for you to have a decent living and maybe a nice retirement and/or college funds for the kids.
6. SET BOUNDARIES
There’s a theory that business owners are always working. For my first couple years in business, this was very true. And then I learned that I needed to set some boundaries so I could actually live the life I was working so hard to create. So, now I use the Boomerang app to have my inbox on pause and I have emails flowing through at set times throughout the day. This alleviates my usual desire to respond to everything in lightning fast style. I schedule blocks of time where I’m uninterrupted by phone calls so I can stay in my creative flow longer. And I turn the computer off by a certain time at the end of the day, and turn it back on at a certain time too. It’s so easy to lose track of time when you’re doing work that you love, and that’s exactly why you need to set some perimeters in place so you don’t burn out. Nobody can do this for you, they are happy to email you late into the night, call you while you’re out to dinner, and so forth and so on. So figure out your boundaries and then stick to them.
7. COMMUNICATION IS KEY
We spend a lot of time worrying about things in our head, but not enough time expressing ourselves verbally to the folks we need to talk to. Technology has helped us to connect in so many ways, but sometimes in the same number of ways we are disconnected. Have you ever had an email or a text message be misinterpreted? Two communication lessons I’ve learned: (1) When dealing with any kind of conflict, whether it be with a team member or a client/customer, pick up the phone and call. Have the conversation in real time. (2) When a client or customer is asking a question or checking in on something, even if you’re still working on it, just acknowledge that you received the request. Acknowledgement, even if it’s a work in progress, is always better than silence.
8. CELEBRATE VICTORIES
For our company anniversary over the years, we’ve done a handful of really great things to celebrate. We’ve hosted celebratory events at cool restaurants and lounges in the city, exclusive dinners, and even had a cooking night with a chef and a demo kitchen. But, we’ve also done smaller things like just gathering with a few friends and team members together for a celebratory cocktail. It doesn’t matter how big or small your business is, declare your milestones and when you reach them, celebrate. Treat it as you would a birthday or a friend getting her PhD. We need these victories to remind us of just how far we’ve come.