Since last year I did a post titled 13 Leadership Lessons From 13 Years In Business, I guess it’s easy to discern that this is the anniversary of my 14th year.
From my perspective I feel like it’s kind of a big deal and yet it’s not. There are people who’ve been in business longer than me. There are people who have been in business way shorter than me but are better at it than I am. In essence, what 14 years proves is that somehow I’ve survived to get to this place where the overwhelming majority of small businesses never arrive. So, only for that reason, I take a moment for myself.
Last year’s post was pretty epic; don’t believe me because I said it, just click on the link above. Yet it only got a couple of comments. Frankly, I’m not up for writing something extremely long like that this time around, though knowing me it’ll be long when I’m done; track record. lol
Instead, I’m just going to give 14 thoughts that hopefully won’t be all that long and we can get out of here and go get some cake; oh yeah, I’m planning on cake. Let’s get started.
1. Before you even think about going into business for yourself, whether it’s solo or you’re going to have employees, make sure to read Rich Dad’s Before You Quit Your Job: 10 Real-Life Lessons Every Entrepreneur Should Know About Building a Multimillion-Dollar Business by Robert Kiyosaki. This book wasn’t around when I decided to go it alone but I’d have hoped I would read it before I took a chance. I don’t think it would have stopped me from taking the plunge but I’d have known more than I did at the time I decided to give it a shot.
2. Put away enough money to last you at least six months without any new income. I kind of got lucky in that I got 6 weeks of severance, all my vacation pay, and still got to collect unemployment, although I put that off until severance was over. It wasn’t close to six months of money and it put an early strain on our finances.
3. If you’re married make sure you have full approval of your spouse. I was lucky once again because my wife felt I had the intelligence to make it work; wow, was she wrong!
4. Why was she wrong? Because of two reasons. One, I wanted to do one thing with my new business to the detriment of what I actually knew. Two, because the one thing I knew nothing about was marketing. Marketing, promotion, branding… these are actually the most important things for any business and I didn’t know any of it. So I flopped early.
5. Just because someone’s been in business a long time doesn’t mean they know how to help you. I went looking for some assistance and folks I ran into locally told me about a program the state helped to fund where I could get some information. Unfortunately, as nice as the guy was that I talked to, in the long run he wasn’t any help at all. At that point I didn’t trust any of the people from organizations like that, including our small business administration.
6. The first gig I ever got was doing some work for a guy who I’ve always considered as kind of a mentor for me named Charles Conole. What I was making was $25 an hour plus a percentage of whatever cash I could bring in from collection accounts. In essence, I was initially making less than I had been making from my previous job but some of that collection money wasn’t all that depressing. It taught me that one needs to take a serious look at how you charge for services once you’re on your own.
7. The first gig where I got paid for actually being a professional was from a guy named Jim Yarsinsky. I still have no idea how he found me but he reached out to me to do a medical billing training at a hospital in New Jersey. He paid me a nice rate and it was my first out of state excursion. I’ve done more work because of him than anyone else over all my years so I have to thank him for that.
8. Sometimes you have to be ready to reinvent yourself on the fly. I started out doing leadership and business issues that involve employees (diversity, communications, etc). I fell back into health care finance because it pays the best. Along the way I became a professional speaker, a writer, a SEO and blogging expert, a budgeting authority and a computer repair person; whew! At least I never wore a cartoon character costume like another consultant I know did once to make a buck. lol
9. I learned that it’s not always what you know that determines whether things will work out or not. I’ve had some nice successes because I was able to work with people who let me establish myself and my vision, while trying to make everyone better. That sounds pretty nice doesn’t it?
However, you find that sometimes it’s just not going to work out that way. When companies expect you to know what they want rather than tell you what they need you’re going to fail. When people in charge have a different agenda than yours, no matter your ethics and your competence you’re going to fail. In those cases, because you never know going in that’s what’s going to happen, it’s better to get out fast.
Out of the four times it happened I got out three of them fast… but only two of them were of my own volition. The third… no way I’d have seen it coming, and it was probably the most crushing of all. The fourth… well, I ended up having to sue a guy for payment and prove once and for all that people shouldn’t mistake kindness for weakness.
10. This one might be strange after I talked about the process of reinvention at #8 but don’t do just anything for money, especially if you’re not comfortable with it. Something that continually happened early on is being contacted by a lot of people who had “business propositions” for me where I could make “a lot of money”.
Turns out all of them really wanted to use me to market for them without saying it. It still happens a lot now, only I’m a bit more savvy… most of the time anyway. I now make people tell me before we go too far what this opportunity is. If they don’t tell me I’m not interested. If they tell me something where I’m not working as a true partner, I’m not interested.
My belief is that if you’re not comfortable doing something, you not going to do it well. I couldn’t figure out how these people thought I could market my own business and theirs at the same time. Not only that but who would put their reputation on the line recommending someone you don’t really know? Don’t ever do that; once your reputation is smeared it’s hard to get it back under control.
11. It is and isn’t always about the money. How’s that for a dichotomy? This isn’t along the lines of #10, although that’s a part of it.
I’ve had offers to do a bunch of things where I was offered a nice bit of money that I declined. I’ve left clients, as I mentioned in #9, where I was getting paid pretty good money but realized I wouldn’t be able to be effective. In this way it’s not about the money.
In another way it really is all about the money. When someone seems willing to pay you as the professional you are, you have to be ready to figure out your value and stick to it as much as you can. When you work on your own, you might have long gaps where you’re not bringing in any new money. You still have lots of expenses and bills you have to pay. Sometimes you have to do research to complete the work you’re being paid for.
Never sell yourself short, like I did with my very first gig, and like I did when I did a two-day diversity training for someone locally where I got paid a total of $400; I still want to slap myself for that. Someone else once wanted to pay me less than the contract because, last minute, they changed the parameters of what I was going to do for them after I’d spent two weeks preparing. I declined, and luckily an intermediary stepped in and convinced them they should honor their agreement; thanks Mr. Ringold!
12. At #4 I talked about the importance of learning how to do business. Something else you need is courage, fortitude, self confidence and the ability to motivate yourself. Trust me, you’re going to have periods when you get depressed; there’s just no getting over that. I say take some time, be depressed, and then learn how to get out of it.
The strange thing about short periods of depression is that, at least for me, it makes me tired. When that happens, I usually take a nap and up to an hour, wake up, feel refreshed and ready to go again. I keep horrible hours, so those brief naps are often what I need to help me refocus on what needs to be done. It might be different for you; that’s why there’s this thing called variety.
13. Here’s a lesson I’ve learned but don’t really follow through on… learn to relax. I’m bad at this one because my mind is always working, and will probably always work until I have that $10 million in the bank… that should scare me.
Actually, I have picked my spots here and there. For instance, I’m not above taking myself out to lunch just to get out of the house. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of walking, not only for my health but because it helps me clear my head. I don’t go to the casino as much as I used to so I don’t have a true hobby anymore, so what I’ll do is grab my Nook and take 15 to 20 minutes to find something to read. And we have this thing called social media, which allows us to talk to friends and family all over the world and sometimes still market; what a concept!
Still, I haven’t been on a vacation since 1999, though I’ve traveled a lot for work and conferences, as has my wife. Neither of us actually misses it but it’s something to consider. So, it’s great advice… that one day I might take.
14. Nothing is perfect. I’ve made it 14 years with major ups and downs. Some things have come easily; others not so much. Yet I always believe, and eventually things come around and I’m ready to progress and prove myself once again to someone.
Whether you work for yourself or for someone else, you always have another day to make things better for yourself. If you succeed early on, good for you. If not… tomorrow take another shot at it, and another, and another. Just like I’m taking another shot at selling my latest book, Leadership Is/Isn’t Easy, by mentioning it in this post (cheap plug lol), and I’ll keep mentioning it until I’m famous… well, maybe not that long…
It’s okay to be happy and it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be great and not so great. It’s okay to take your shot or not take your shot. Just be you, be the best you can be, be the happiest you can be, and always remember that you’re in control of your own destiny… even if it depends on someone else figuring out how great you are!
That’s all I’ve got; whew! No wonder there was only one post on this blog this week…
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