7 Things I’ve Learned in 7 Years

8/24/2012.

Wow. I can’t believe that this little marketing agency just turned seven years old. It was a dream of mine to start my own company one day, but to actually do it – to take the leap and jump…still boggles my mind to this day. So in this blog post, I’m going to break down seven things I’ve learned in the seven years of being self-employed. 

 

1- IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO START WITHOUT A SUPPORTIVE TRIBE BEHIND YOU.

I couldn’t have done this without the support of my wife Jessica. Without her, none of this could have ever been possible. My business partner, Pat Routa, obviously played a big part in this company, but without the help and support of my wife, it would have never taken flight. 

She pushed me through the hardest times. We made huge sacrifices in our lives to accommodate this dream. We have scraped and clawed our way through seven years of owning a business. Keep in mind we also got married seven years ago too. 

Your business can only survive if you have a strong support team around you. Whether it’s your spouse, life partner, parents, friends or your favorite dog, it doesn’t matter. You need somebody you can talk to, somebody to console in and somebody that can “slap you in the face” and set you back on course when times are tough. 

 

2 – You Will Never Stop Learning

It doesn’t matter if you were a good student in school or not – some really lousy students become very successful business owners. When you own your own business or become an “entrepreneur” you will never stop learning.

You will learn about new tools. You will learn new ways to do things. You will learn to deal with new things at every phase of running your business. If you aren’t a self-motivated person, you may want to explore the idea of having a business partner that is. This is one of the aspects that allows Duo to work well: the partnership that Pat and I have. One lifts the other up when one falls behind.

Right now, Pat and I are going through a program that cost us over $10,000 to be a part of. The new concepts that we have learned have already completely changed our business. I don’t say this to talk about the amount of money we spent – it just means that even at seven years of being in business we are still investing in our own education to push this agency forward.

 

3 – Know Your Self-Worth and Stick to Your Guns

Nobody wins in a race to the bottom. When you undercharge you are only hurting yourself. As an agency, we used to charge $55/hr. We wanted to be the cheapest because that’s what we thought we had to do to compete when we were brand new. Here’s something we’ve learned since we stopped undercharging…

We can do better work. 

I don’t mean “I can only do work when I get paid lots of $$$.” I mean when I know I’m not restricted to X number of hours because the client has a very limited budget, I can truly explore and find new ways to deliver exceptional results for my clients.

This is the very reason we have officially adopted the company policy that we will no longer be taking on “ad-hoc” development services. If we didn’t build your website we will not work on it. The reason being? Keep an eye for an upcoming blog post that breaks this all down!

 

4 – Your Willpower and Mental Capabilities Are Key 

This is one of the reasons I believed that I could “make the leap” and run my own business. I’m the type of person that if I set my mind to something, I know I can accomplish it. I don’t let blows – whether large or small – change my outlook on things. 

As a small business owner, I’ve been dealt more than a few tough hits in my career. There have been entire years it’s felt like I stood in the ring against UFC Heavyweight Champion, and Cleveland native, Stipe Miocic and took hit after hit.

Instead of getting knocked out, we changed. We changed processes, we changed the way we delivered to our clients, we changed our attitudes toward every bit of our business. We took a good long look at ourselves and the way we were doing things and made really hard changes. Hell, we went without paychecks for months sometimes. 

Be prepared and understand what you need to do to keep your head in a good mental space. This is something I’ve always thought is a long-haul, not a short-term, “let me try this out” type of career choice.

 

5 – There Are More Important Things Than Work

I will admit, this is one I still struggle with, but this summer it really showed through for me. My wife and I took our kids to Disney World and I went radio silent on my connected devices. My business partner knew that if something bad really happened to contact my wife, otherwise he was to leave me alone. There were days I didn’t even take my phone with me, I used my digital camera to capture memories and just lived in the moments in front of me. It was incredible.

Be sure to understand what is truly important to your life and make your best effort to keep those things high on your priority list. If you’ve been going through a particularly busy time running your own company, buy your spouse a small gift that shows your appreciation for them. My wife loves flowers, so that tends to be my go-to when I know things have been crazy.

 

6 – Grow Your Team & Empower Them

You cannot do this alone. I repeat you cannot do this alone. As soon as you launch your company you should be working as hard as possible to bring on another employee. It’s hard to do this. It’s hard to trust people to serve your customers or clients. It’s hard to allow them to take things off of your plate. After all, you are a small business owner – you like to do things your way.

How are you supposed to grow if you are trying to do it alone? A really good way to see this in data is to look at your year to year profit/loss sheet. Have you plateaued in revenue? Chances are you’ve pushed your business as far as possible in this current version of it. It’s either time to raise your rates or grow your team to take on more volume.

Once you do decide to grow your team, work to build trust with them. Give them small tasks to start and see how they do. DON’T HOVER OVER THEM. We are all adults here – unless you run a business where you happen to have teenagers working for you. But we are mostly adults here. Once they work through a few smaller tasks and you provide constructive criticism, grow their role. Give them more responsibilities. Keep pushing until you know for a fact that they have a good, healthy workload. If your employees or team members are overworked, it’s time to look at expanding again.

Growing your team is hard and it takes a lot of mental toughness to let go of tasks, but if you are still in the trenches digging ditches, who’s building the future of your business? 

 

7 – Document Your Processes

This one makes me feel like a real dummy to say, but it’s one of the biggest ways we’ve changed our business. Think about the core services you offer. I bet if you really looked at them, you perform similar tasks inside that service offering.

Break the processes down into steps and document them as much as possible. 

Remember how hard it was to trust other people to do the work you do? It just got a lot easier because you are creating a documented process for them to follow. 

 

In Conclusion

Running a small business is quite the journey no matter what industry you are in. It gives you the flexibility that other people don’t have, but at the same time, it gives you a burden that other people don’t have. Once you start bringing on a team and expanding, you realize that you are in charge of the livelihood of others. This may sound like novice thinking, but it’s not. It’s important because it allows you to frame your mind around WHY you are doing this. 

Why did you take the leap? If you’re reading this and you’re self-employed I would love to hear why you decided to start your own business. What was it that finally pushed you over the edge? Head over to Facebook or LinkedIn and leave a comment about when and why you jumped into this crazy beautiful thing called self-employment. I’d love to hear from you.