What no one tells you about running your own business…
Running your own business is a wonderful, stressful, life-affirming and challenging thing.
If you need a friend, get a dog.
It’s filled with tremendous highs and lows. Along the way you’ll make amazing lifelong friends and grow a small army of genuine supporters. I’ve been blessed with both of those in abundance. The friendships I’ve made through business have changed my life for the better much more than the business has.
“If you need a friend, get a dog”. I’m joking.. But you will lose people. And there’s a real sadness in that… but it’s part of the life of being in business. People come and people go, on good and on bad terms. There are disagreements and sometimes the stakes, or the feelings, run high and things aren’t dealt with as well as they should be. With the benefit of experience, and hindsight, I’d like to go back and rectify some of those things that I could have handled better. But it’s no longer possible. Don’t burn bridges unnecessarily. Having said that… sometimes the right thing to do is to set fire to the bridge and grind the embers into dust.
There is no set path to follow to success: We all have to find our own way. You can try to emulate others but ultimately you’re steering your own ship… and you’ll stand or fall by the decisions you make. That’s a tough place to be at times. You’ll need resilience, energy and strength of character. Working with a business coach can be a source of much needed support and perspective, especially when the world grows a little darker – as it will from time to time. Do your best to weed out the bad ones and lean on the good ones. You can never have too much good advice.
Don’t be a “d..k”: Arrogant Alphas striding the corridors, the CEO Slacker, the Divisive Director, the Landmine Leader… You’re there to support your team and your business. You’re there to serve and to lead. If you find yourself playing politics, thinking you’re better than your staff, or raising your voice – then please have a strong word with yourself before it’s too late. Remember the “you will lose people” stuff from above? This kind of behavior could lead you to lose everyone. As an employer, you’re in a position of responsibility not power. Value, train and empower your staff. Their careers are (jointly) in your care. Training, development and caring are the order of the day. These are people, not resources. As a customer you’re in a partnership with your suppliers and great suppliers are hard to find. Cherish them, just as you would hope to be valued by your own customers.
One simple rule.
We have a simple but effective office rule here: “Don’t be a d..k” and it applies to everyone.
Avoid the Vampires: The occasional Negative Norman or Depressing Dorothy can infiltrate any environment. Running a business requires considerable positive energy, even in the face of significant challenges. Office Vampires will drain you of your time and passion with a problem for every solution, with a gruff word where a kind one is needed and an attitude problem where humility and openness are required. Get rid of them as soon as possible.
Advisors and critics will self-present in abundance and are often indistinguishable from one another. Strangers will pass uninvited negative comment and judge you.
Roosevelt nailed it.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming… his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
In short; “Ignore and move forward. Don’t engage, don’t look back.”
It’s all your fault. It will always be your fault: Employees will come and go. Often they will leave unappreciative of the time, opportunity, support and patience that you gave them. It’s upsetting at times, but it’s human nature: Success has many Fathers and failure is an orphan. If it doesn’t work out, not many employees will accept responsibility for their own contribution to their failure. The good ones will grow, develop and challenge you. Along with your customers they are your most valuable asset. Stick with each other. If you want a great business, hire great people, empower them, train them, trust them.
Try to find balance (as it’s easily lost) – this is more about better boundary management than better time management. People will (intentionally or not) poorly spend your time for you. Try not to find yourself in unproductive and time-consuming meetings. Set boundaries and learn to say no.
The customer isn’t always right. Is that controversial? Customers are the most important aspect of any business… but all customers are fundamentally based on relationships with people and you can’t please everyone. Some customers unfortunately get off on ego, power trips, blame-storming and so on. It can be toxic. We need our customers, and we appreciate every opportunity they give us, but sometimes you also need to cut the toxic ones loose. Build your customer base around those who share your principles and values, if you can. Regardless of that, whatever you do in your business try and do it with this question in mind: “How will this benefit my customers?“.
You’re not going to be good at half the things that need doing. In fact, you’ll be pretty bad at many of them. Stick to what you’re good at and hire or outsource the rest. Appoint a bookkeeper, a PR agent and so on – and get on delivering what you know best. It’s easy to get lost being busy. Focus on being productive.
Growth is a great business problem to have and brings it’s own particular rewards and challenges. After 10 years in business, we’re picking up awards regularly now, the team is growing but also reaching a level of competence and experience we’ve not experienced before. It’s a problem. It’s a great problem to have but it needs solutions. Fail to grow correctly and you’ll soon have a worse set of problems! New customer acquisitions and business growth make us thankful for investing in our infrastructure ahead of the growth curve. Hiring better, and more capable, staff gives us an opportunity to invite new ideas and improve critical problem solving.
It’s a tough and competitive, roller coaster of a life but… It’s great to be in business.
Long may it continue for us all. If you’re in business or going into business then I genuinely wish you the very best of success!
I’m sure I’ve missed loads of things out. We’re all learning. What would you include… what did no one tell you when you started out?