Oh wow. I’ve learned a LOT this year! When I look back at the blog I wrote about my first year in business I want to wince a little bit. In my first year I had a lot of luck, things happened really fast and we grew superfast. We got nominated for 7 awards in our first year – it was awesome!
This year by comparison has been like growing up. We got let down by a few people, we weren’t prepared enough and I personally learnt some very painful lessons. So, in case you’re interested, a business owner yourself, or just enjoy a bit of schadenfreude, here they are:
1. You can’t legislate for people OR you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
There’s been some real people surprises this year. I’ve always placed a massive emphasis on my relationships – to me the old adage of ‘people buy people’ is never not true. But over the last year, even where I thought I’d got great relationships, some people have let me down. They’ve not been honest, they’ve not supported me when they could have, and they’ve stepped away when they could have stepped up. But I’m not bitter. Honestly. Well, not much, anyway. Because on one hand it’s taught me not to take anyone for granted which in itself is a valuable lesson. But also because some people have been there for me in ways I just didn’t expect. Some people have stepped up almost from no-where, or from unexpected places. I’ve even gotten a hug or two from people I really didn’t think were touchy-feely. And one senior exec I don’t even know very well went out of his way to resolve a really sticky situation for me. That’s showing your quality. So the moral of this lesson? All I can do is be myself, be honest and authentic and hope other people behave the same way. But this time, have a plan B in case they don’t!
2. Don’t let your time get wasted OR – don’t get distracted by shiny shiny!
This year I worked on the biggest account opportunity I’ve ever had. For about 4 months I planned, had conference calls, meetings and even actually did a little bit of work. The opportunity was mahoosive! And it was for an organisation I was really keen to work with, too. But I let myself get totally distracted by it. For that whole period it was my biggest focus. I let efforts with other clients slide a bit, I didn’t concentrate on my sales pipeline, and I didn’t pay attention to lesson 1. So when, after four months of super hard work, the opportunity evaporated, I was, metaphorically, buggered. My rosy sales forecast now looked rather dingy and my sales pipeline looked more like a thread. I had totally been seduced by shiny shiny. That was one of the toughest lessons ever, because as an entrepreneur, you’re hard wired to spot opportunities and get excited by them. Next time, I’ll make sure that while I’ll put time in, I won’t neglect the other things that are equally important.
3. Plan, plan, plan, oh…and then measure
If you don’t know where you’re aiming for, then how will you get there? It’s a really good point. If you just amble around in business letting circumstances dictate your efforts, then you won’t have the necessary focus and the business will stagnate. I get that. I had a plan. Perhaps where I was a bit naive though, especially in year 1, when the plan seemed to just happen, was that I still needed to do things to make it happen. If I want 3 new clients, then there’s an equation about how many proposals I need to do, so how many meetings I need to have to get to a proposal, so how many people I need to contact to have those meetings with. Brendon Burchard’s Motivation Manifesto is good for this…for keeping focused on the choices you have to make every single day to make each day a success and step along the path towards your goal.
4. Remember what’s important and why you’re doing it.
Over the last year I’ve seen close friends and family go through real pain. One of my best friends has been battling breast cancer and after a year has just had her second mastectomy. Another friend, recently married has developed a brain tumour. My Nanna died and as well as dealing with my own grief, for the first time I had to tell my children that they lost someone they love, too. Heartbreaking stuff.
So earlier this year when we hit a bump business wise and for the first time ever came face-to-face with problems familiar to anyone running their own business, one thing that did help me maintain a semblance of balance was the realisation that actually, no one was going to die at work. Yes, there were difficulties to deal with and yes, I had a whole bunch of sleepless nights, and yes, it really hits home that as a business owner, your staff are your responsibility. Your mistakes or poor judgment have detrimental effects on the business and on other people. But it won’t kill them. People are resilient. If you’re open and truthful, they understand and (usually) hang on in there. I’m running a business because I want to do better for myself, my family, my colleagues and my clients. I know I can do better. I want people who are part of my business to succeed, because then my business will succeed. I want my kids to have opportunities I didn’t. And I want us to do brilliant work for our clients that makes them look good, too. If my clients get promoted because we did a great job for them then hopefully they will take us with them!
5. Work on the business, not just in it OR Take advice. And listen to it.
In my first year of business, I was doing the day-to-day stuff. I was running the projects, meeting the clients, getting the work done. As the team has grown I’ve had to step a step back and I’ve really struggled to let go. Some of the lessons above though have made me realise I can’t do it all on my own. So I’ve built a team around me that I can trust, each with their own areas of expertise, that can support me, our clients and each other.
I’ve had to make my toughest ever decisions as a business owner this year. I’ve agonised over those decisions, lost sleep, even cried (big girls do cry, apparently). But I guess pick your analogy – ‘When the going get’s tough, the tough get going’ or ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ (thanks Billy Ocean and Kelly Clarkson for those words of wisdom). I am very definitely a better business owner for having gone through those tough decisions. For owning the outcomes and for having to see things through. What really helped me get through this, apart from the support of my family and friends, was having a small group of advisors who really understood what I was going through and helped me find the way. Our Growth Accelerator coach, Stuart Warwick has been working with the business since it was just 6 months old. His calm, measured approach was both reassuring, inspiring and his advice was great and from the heart. Our new Non-Exec Director, Peter Young was also a key figure for me in this period. Peter knows the B2B agency space like almost no-one else. He’s the chair of the judging panel for the B2B Awards. His views on what makes a successful agency, and his advice with our recent rebrand (coming very soon!) have been invaluable. Lastly, but not least, being a business owner can be a lonely place to be. When you’re in a peer group, you’re surrounded not only by people who’ve been there and done it, but by people who are still doing it. If you’re struggling with a business issue, you’re not alone. Eyes roll, heads nod and sheepish grins abound. Your peers understand like almost no-one else can. I joined the Transmentum peer group, run by my good friend Adam Harris. It’s not just time away from the business that is helpful, it’s the advice, sounding boards, focus on your issues and time to learn new things that really elevates this group among many others. I would certainly recommend it to anyone.
So, that’s it for this year at least! It certainly hasn’t been a walk in the park, but it has been a journey that’s taught me a lot. As a result of the lessons learned we’ve made changes in the business, strengthened our team, adding in better process and expert help. We’re about to re-brand to update our messaging to reflect these changes and have a solid, detailed and robust plan in place for this year, and the next 2 years. Our pipeline is healthier, we’ve got the team to help deliver it and we’re raring to go for some great success this in year 3!
I’d love to hear any of your thoughts and comments. If you’ve got any pearls of wisdom to share, books to recommend, or just want to make a comment, then please drop me a line or add a comment.
Thanks, Gemma 🙂