In two days, on July 10th, I celebrate my eighth year in business. Yippee!
I’ve come a long way, baby, and wanted to share with you eight (of many!) lessons I’ve learned on the journey. Some taught to me by others, some discovered the hard way.
- Employ the 96-minute rule. I learned this from friend and fantastic productivity consultant, Wendy Ellin, President of Momentum. I was already sufficiently organized with my papers and files, but Wendy opened my eyes about how I organized my time each day. The 96-minute rule is based on the famous 80/20 rule. Essentially, if you get 80% of your success from 20% of your activity… why not focus on that critical 20% first thing each day? Twenty percent of an eight-hour day is 96 minutes. So, spend the first 96 minutes of your day on your highest-payoff activity. When I do this, I always get a positive result. Always. For me, that high-payoff activity is usually following up with warm leads, executing a marketing campaign, creating products or service offerings, doing some creative brainstorming to grow my business or solve a problem. It’s usually the “important but not urgent” items on my to-do list. It never involves checking email or Facebook, reading ezines or poking around on the Internet. Those activities are important, too, but I reserve other timeslots for those tasks. Give the 96-minute rule a try – you will be amazed at the result!
- Clarify and magnify your business vision. What is the greater mission that you are using your business to achieve? You may have the goal of making money (me too!), but if that is the only driving force, it gets a little tedious and imprisoning. Money is great, but a sustainable business is built on something more meaningful – money should become a result, not a focus. When money is your focus, you lose your bearings more easily and get sidetracked by every potential money-making venture that comes along. Think of your business as a living, breathing entity that you are in relationship with. When a new opportunity crops up, ask your business – not your current emotions – what the best decision is. Of course your personal satisfaction is important. But if you start with “What’s best for the business?” you will often end up melding your business’ needs with your own personal excitement and energy for the new idea. That’s ideal!
- Don’t cheap out. When you invest in equipment, education, experts and other resources that are key to running your business, don’t automatically pick the lowest-cost option. Do your research and then purchase wisely at the best price you can get. Buy equipment that will serve about twice your current need, so you can grow into it and then outgrow it later. Because I coach over the phone, I needed a super reliable headset. I must have blown through five $40 headsets in the first two years before finally investing $250 in a top-quality one that has now lasted me six years – and gives me 100% confidence that it will work well every call. I’ve wasted more money on cheap stuff, “free” training, bargain assistants… and had to learn the hard way to just bite the bullet and pay for top quality in the first place. This doesn’t mean being stupid with your budget – it just means thinking bigger picture with your purchases.
- Let your business identity emerge naturally. By “business identity,” I mean your external branded image – your business name, logo, website URL. Some get it in a flash of lightening. Others take years. Most are in the middle. It’s okay, just let it reveal itself to you. In the meantime, focus on building the business and moving forward. Don’t let the “what to name your business” decision slow you down. If you haven’t come up with an inspired idea yet, just give it any old name and get on with it. You can evolve with the inspired brand later. I have changed my business identity twice in eight years and it has not hurt me – it actually created new opportunities for me (although I’m in love with my current BrilliantVisions identity and not planning to change for a long time!) Key note about branding: Your business name & logo are only a mere sliver of what we call “branding.” The process you consistently use, the messages you broadcast, the promises you make, the way you treat your clients… those are much bigger elements of branding.
- Make relationships take TOP priority. Especially if — when — you screw up! You might think I’m talking about client relationships. Well, of course these are very important to nurture. But I see a lot of entrepreneurs treating their customers as “kings,” but casting vendors and potential joint venture partners as second-class citizens. Treat your vendors with the same regard you treat your best clients and you will get amazing service. And don’t hold back from building great, authentic relationships with your competitors – shocking, I know! You never know when a competitor becomes your best ally. It’s happened for me – instead of allowing one competitor make me feel threatened, I built a relationship that turned into a collaboration, a force to be reckoned with!
- Never stop seed sowing. Mind what’s in front of you now, but keep expanding your vision and planting seeds for later. Relationships, ideas, and opportunities that are new and tenuous right now could be the most fruitful later. Don’t sacrifice the future for the present. Also, those entrepreneurs who had robust marketing programs in full swing during the good times have mostly fared well during the economic downturn because they had already filled up their pipelines. Create a marketing program and system that will keep working for you even when you become covered up in client work.
- Take care of yourself. Feed and nurture your spiritual, physical, emotional and mental selves on a routine (daily) basis. If you are the driver of your business – doesn’t it make good sense to keep your “engine” fully tuned up and have plenty of fuel in the tank? While we are on this topic, cultivate your relationships with family and friends. Entrepreneurs are notorious for putting these important relationships to the side when work takes over. Don’t let that happen.
- Plan, Plan, Plan. In some of my corporate jobs, I held project manager roles that taught me important planning concepts. And as a business owner, I have learned to become downright compulsive about planning. Starting with the big picture – my vision for my life and my business – and working back to the “how-tos” and smaller details, I am at my best when each endeavor is fully planned out. My natural inclination is to be more spontaneous, but I’ve learned that creating reliable systems gives me space to wing it at times. It’s a nice mix for my personality. You have to find your own mix, but I recommend that you err on the side of more planning, less winging. Then you can always shift the balance after you begin to gain momentum.
I’m thrilled to be celebrating the eighth anniversary of my business — it’s a major milestone for me! What lessons have you learned in your business? Please share!