This month I reached the 2-year milestone of running my own business. The day came and went with a team lunch, congratulatory messages and thoughts of wow that went fast. Other than that, it was a normal day and business as usual.
I was made to reflect on this achievement this week when I interviewed an executive who is at a crossroad. He is deciding between pursuing a leadership career path to CEO or to continue as a sought after expert in the management consulting space. I made a suggestion of a third choice “you could build your own business empire” and he laughed and said “I respect people who put their own homes on the line to build a business – but that’s not for me!” It hit me in that moment; I was included in that reference. I made that decision 2 years ago to back myself with a vision of creating something great. That optimism in my DNA kicked in and I never considered that it wouldn’t be a success or the depth of risk, if it went pear-shaped. This is not egotistical. It’s encompassed belief, capitalising on opportunities and a desire to make a difference.
Before you jump and put it “all on the line”, here’s 10 things I’ve learnt from taking the leap 2 years ago:
1. It’s up to you – I find being in control and 100% accountable for direction and results thrilling and motivating, but understand that this sort of risk and accountability might scare the bejesus out of you. There is no regular monthly pay, or leave provisions, if you like being the master of your destiny; you can put a tick here.
2. Do what you love – waking up excited about what the day may hold, who I’ll met and be inspired by is a rare commodity for the majority of the population (I know through many interviews!). You want to be sure that you are dedicating your energy to something you know you are passionate about. You can’t fake a love for what you do.
3. Conservative growth – I read an article in the first month of being on my own that said entrepreneurs should not hire any staff in the first 12 months – only when you are desperate for more hands. I was tempted many times – but only hired my first team member 6 months ago. The benefit was getting my hands dirty in every aspect of the business, defining the business strategy, knowing the pipeline was full and having clarity about who I wanted to work with day in and day out.
4. Vision – I didn’t take the plunge of starting my own business for a long time because I could not get crystal clear on the vision of what I wanted the business to look like. Let a vision evolve, just start doing because being in action allows the cream to come to the top. Sometimes it’s okay to not know all the details (take note control freaks!).
5. Culture – in my experience, culture drives everything in a business. The type of people who work with you, the type of clients you attract, the business decisions you make and the behaviours you demonstrate. Know your own values – do a personality profile and don’t try and be something you’re not.
6. Clients – without them, I don’t have a business. I make developing my connections and relationships a priority. I know at the core, these relationships are everything. If you don’t have the discipline to “walk the walk” as well as converse with people, building a business is going to be incredibly difficult. In 2 years, it gives me a buzz to be working with some exciting, innovative and generous business people who are like-minded in the quest for finding and keeping executive talent.
7. External support – I was able to identify fairly early on that I wasn’t able to do everything on my own. Outsourcing, asking for help and paying for expertise has been a great investment. I have learnt many business lessons from listening to others – ongoing learning is an essential success ingredient.
8. Brand – you don’t have to spend a fortune, but you do need to stand out from the crowd. I met a brand expert recently who told me that your brand could only be world-class in one of three areas – excellence, reliability or innovation. Having this focus means your brand brings something others don’t and then you have to leverage that. The past 2 years I have consistently been told our brand is authentic, relationship focused and progressive.
9. Be healthy! When you run your own business, there is no calling in sick and asking someone else to cover for you. Being top of your game and staying healthy across all aspects of life – physically, mentally, emotionally is critical to staying optimistic in the tough moments!
10. Reward & enjoyment – no point waiting for a rainy day to enjoy the business success – whether that’s an indulgent purchase, time out or just doing the things you love most. A very clever friend of mine said “pleasure is an absolute necessity for long-term success and it is essential to do things that make you feel delighted, delicious or just plain good.” I’m slowly learning to embrace this!
Since leaving my corporate role 2 years ago, I have consistently been told “you’ll build an empire again”, “it’s who you are”, “it’s in your blood”. I wasn’t so sure, but I can say it’s been a ride and the best is yet to come. I feel like I’m only half way up the mountain and I’m keen to see the view from the top.