I've often been told by several relatives that from a very young age I used to say that I wanted to run my own business. Now I do, and as the end of the year comes, a time that always instils increased and broader reflection than normal, I was looking back at all that I have learned since starting out this chapter of my journey.
Firstly, owning your own business can be heavily glorified, in fact, many of my family members assumed that I was living the life of luxury, taking trips, working from anywhere, with money flowing in from the very second I said I was running my own business. It is not their fault, they just didn't know that the reality, especially at the start, can be very different. In fact, during the first couple of months, my cousin sent me a text to say congrats that "I made it", I sent back a picture of a ramen noodle packet, a bed I had no time to make, and my tired looking face. The truth is, it is hard work and not an easy journey, but I wouldn't change it for a thing. The learnings I have gained, the experiences I have been exposed to, the skills I have grown, and watching something you created and believe in mature and expand is worth every little extra grey hair I seem to now have. Here are just some of my learnings in case they are handy for anyone already in the initial stages, or thinking about starting their own business.
First some of the Business Learnings...
1. It is imperative to know enough about each facet of your business. This includes legal, financial, sales...the whole lot. You don't have to be an expert, but knowing just enough to understand what is good for you and the business is wise...no matter how boring it is. Much time is spent signing contracts and negotiating deals so understanding the lingo, what various terms mean, and what to look out for is incredibly useful. Also, understand the full costs associated, this includes the "costs" that you didn't worry about before - sick pay, retirement etc. After all, no one looks after your own interests as well as you will.
2. There is no need to go crazy with the spending. Many people focus on spending money on items that really may not be needed - be it crazy office space or filling various roles before they may actually be required. We took the approach of being very cautious with spending. There are so many services you can get today without huge long-contract investment which can help until it is the right time for greater investment. This includes legal, accounting, office space in co-working locations, or skills - there are several ways to access what you need in ways that give you flexibility to increase and decrease should you need to. Just remember to do your research, as the quality can really range.
3. When hiring, be it employees or interns, look for the traits that will enable success. In what we do, I look for curiosity, a passion for understanding humans and technology, an ability to connect the dots and visualize patterns, and other such attributes. The rest, such as methodologies or tools, we can train for.
4. It is incredibly useful to build a solid reputation as an individual in the domain. As the owner, you are a huge part of your company's brand. Brand and reputation management as an individual is important for your business. Customers should believe in you and your knowledge.
5. It is essential to keep learning and pivot as you need. Over the first year we got more and more focused. We learned each time we worked with customers and continuously improved what we do, aligning our strategy better and better. It is key to be experimental as well as strategic, and, to execute on the tactical needs. Sometimes you have one idea but find that the path you end up on leads somewhere else. Or you may just need a refocus of your originally thinking as you flesh out any assumptions you may have made.
6. One thing is for sure: you must deliver true value. Always deliver high quality. Exceed expectations. This is enabled by several factors: setting the right expectations, getting your costing matched to value, consistent delivery of clear value etc. Being known for clear quality, and being great to work with works wonders. Once a client said to us, "working with you is like having real partners that understand our business, and are actually leaving us in a better place." It was one of the best compliments we could have gotten.
7. You cannot do everything yourself. It is handy to have a business partner. This is a special relationship and is not to be taken lightly. Picking someone for whom you have a great level of respect and trust in, and who also has complementary skill sets is a good start. You will see each other at your worst, and your best - they are the ones who can understand what you are going through and who will share the burdens and the successes with you.
8. Be attentive. I have learned that it is highly irritating when people keep telling me how "busy they are", how they are "always working, through their vacations etc." yet they couldn't find 30 seconds to email back a response that others are waiting on. Being attentive to the important things is imperative to show your partners and customers that you care. There are so many great mechanisms for handling overload while still maintaining a good level of attentiveness and care for the important communications - you just need to find what works for you. For me, I have some email time in the morning and again in the evening, then I check at times throughout the day, but when I am working on something specific that needs my attention I won't look. I go through the emails that may have come in and if it will take less than 5 minutes to respond then I do, but if it needs much more thought, I'll star it. I then clear out the stars during email time later. I apply logic; if it is a question from a potential or current client, a decision I need to make, or if someone may be affected by my delay, I get to it so that they are not left hanging.
And, the Personal Learnings...
9. It is a journey; I dedicate time to continuous learning. Every day I set aside time to read, learn, and stay up to date in my industry and domain.
10. I learned that it was incredibly important to look after yourself - physically, mentally and emotionally. Time to yourself is important - even with family commitments on top. I try to spend some time each day on each. I have had stressful jobs before, but nothing compares to the feelings and emotions you go through on your own business journey.
11. It is not just you in it. Everyone is in it together, your family, your friends, and your partner. They deal with you when you are stressed, annoyed, happy, or frustrated. They pick up the slack when you are focused on that deliverable or closing that deal. Your support structure is everything. They are a huge part of your success; remember to appreciate them.
12. Know it's OK to have a moment. Goodness knows I had a few. Moments where I thought, it would be so much easier to just get a job, get a pay check, and to do things that someone else has organized... but these moments are fleeting. As quick as those thoughts enter my head, they're gone.
13. It's OK to get feedback, ask for help, or not know what to do. I have a group of excellent mentors that all give me fantastic advice, connect me to the right people, and constantly teach me things, then I decide what feels right for me. Building those relationships takes time and effort, but it's worth it. I also love to help others when I can. You don't help others to get something back, but it does seem like good universal karma exists when you do so with a willing heart and no expectations.
14. Be truly energized by what you do. The amount of clients that say the passion is what comes across when we talk to them is incredible. I live and breath Experience Design, I love it. Being passionate can be inspirational and can make others feel positively about the subject at hand. Passion is contagious. While not everything you will need to do is the most exciting, or even things you like to do, having the passion, will help make the journey fun, exciting, and get you through the long hours, stressful nights, and frustrating moments.
I always say to the people that I mentor "wanting without doing is just wishing" so go and actively do something that brings you closer to achieving your dreams today! For me, I look forward to all the learnings and experiences still yet to come.