Some people don’t set out to be entrepreneurs. But from a young age, I was obsessed with coming up with new ideas for businesses, from charging for wagon rides to dreaming of creating a neighborhood babysitting syndicate. I just knew I wanted to build a business.
The day I quit my career in a fast-growing PR agency, I didn’t entirely know what the plan was beyond replacing my salary. That was 10 years ago and over that time my business as a communications professional has gone from freelancer to running a small agency, and I’ve started several successful side businesses along the way.
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I’ve learned more about myself and business than I ever could have imagined.
Here are my top five lessons from my first 10 years in business:
1. Establish firm boundaries
The first few years in business is a test of anyone’s mettle, which is why you need to get really clear on what is and isn’t acceptable to you. Boundaries can be a hard one when you’re in startup mode and hungry to make your business work, but if you don’t have clear boundaries, you’re going to find yourself in situations you’d rather not be in.
From discounting your price to get a deal to taking a call during family dinner, breaching your boundaries will quickly teach you what you really want. Often, I didn’t realize how strongly I felt about a particular boundary until it was threatened. Get clear now on your boundaries, so you can hold firm and not end up feeling exploited or resentful.
2. Surprise and delight
This idea is nothing new, but when you make it a pleasure for people to do business with you, people will keep coming back to you. We want to do business with people we like and trust, so if you can make the process of working with you enjoyable and simple, you’ll quickly be able to stand out.
In my case, I run a service-based business, so big priorities are clear onboarding and offboarding for clients, with ongoing communication while they work with my team. A key part of that is being able to anticipate things every step of the way so clients feel secure and taken care of.
3. Don’t go it alone
Running a business is hard, especially in growth mode. You need to cultivate a trusted network of advisors, mentors and peers you can rely on every step of the way. It’s tempting to decide that you’re too busy to stop and seek counsel from these types of connections, but nothing could be further from the truth. Time spent working with “outsiders” on your business always pays off.
The key to making the most of these relationships is curating the right mix of people for your age and stage of business. I’ve relied on peers, business coaches and mastermind groups to help me over the years, and the times I didn’t, it shows in my overall results.
4. Park your ideas for later
Entrepreneurs tend to be prolific idea generators, which is amazing in some situations but can regularly send us off chasing shiny objects.
If you’ve ever abandoned your plans in pursuit of a new idea only weeks later find yourself wondering what the heck you’re doing, you’re not alone.
The smaller your business, the more prone to these types of flights of fancy you are. Two years ago, my operations director put me on an “idea hiatus” which lasted six months. All of my big ideas were parked until we were able to focus on everything we already had going on.
The result was greater focus, increased profits and less stress for me as I wasn’t creating unnecessary work for myself. Plus, we were able to review all of the previous ideas and put the best ones into action as part of our 2015 strategic plan.
5. Digital detox
Running a business is intense, especially when we’re always connected. While you may take weekends or holidays off, how often do you disconnect completely?
It’s so easy to answer emails and see what’s happening that we never fully disengage. Which is why three years ago, I created my annual digital detox. For a minimum of a week, I completely extricate myself from everything and take a vacation.
The first time was challenging, especially as my clients were used to having me accessible and available. That year I went to Fiji, so between time zones (and being on a dream vacation!), being connected wasn’t even really an option. I came home with a new perspective and completely re-engineered my business for the better.
Disconnecting is hard, but the creative boost and perspective you get really can’t be found any other way. Schedule a detox for yourself as soon as you can. It takes planning but the payoff is so worth it.