After more than 23 years as an entrepreneur running Borden Communications, I have definitely learned a lot of lessons the “hard” way – everything from managing office systems to over-extending my trust to clients. Although the learning has been invaluable, it has often been painful, and I try to remind myself that the ups and downs are all just part of the ride.
Without exception, I am grateful to have these experiences in order to have a unique lens through which I create and work. Not only have I learned from decades of being an entrepreneur myself, but also from having the good fortune of working closely with so many passionate people and business leaders at all stages of their entrepreneurial journeys.
What do entrepreneurs have in common? We are committed, passionate, and eager (in addition to often being under-resourced), and, as such, we are also at a high risk for burn out. A healthy mindset can be our most valuable asset as entrepreneurs, and I hope that passing along some of my insights might help you in creating your own lens through which you can approach and tackle your best work – and best life.
Consider the following:
Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. You cannot manage time, you can only manage yourself. Increase your productivity, performance and output by reorganizing your schedule and how you spend your time.
Being busy is not best. Remember when, as a society, we over-glorified being busy? Turns out it’s not that cool to run yourself into the ground, or sacrifice your health and relationships. Instead, we choose to focus on a higher quality of life and output by working smarter not harder, and by being productive not busy. There is too much evidence telling us why we need to slow down, get grounded, and connect deeply to ourselves and others to ignore it.
Finding your problems makes you money. Only following your successes is about ego. Being able to identify your challenges and create and apply solutions will lead to long term, satisfying success. When things are going well, don’t just ride on the success. Pushing yourself when it’s slow and easing up when you are doing well will limit your business potential. What’s the solution? Find your inefficiencies, create financial reports and question everything, communicate with your team and your customers – and track progress on an ongoing basis. In a “blame-free environment”, take an honest look at the gap between your goals and your actual achievement. If the cause of identified problems are within your control and under your influence, begin working to fix them – you will see how it leads directly to a stronger bottom line.
Track everything – especially finances. Too many businesses let their financial information pile up until the end of the month or quarter, or even year, and then pass it off to a bookkeeper or an accountant. Money is the lifeblood of any business, and you should be reviewing and aware of your financials – always. It’s not just about how much money is coming in or going out, but it is critical to have confidence that you are remitting taxes, managing your payroll, balancing your bank account etc. so you don’t get into a position where you cannot catch up. If you are aware, then you have the advantage to correct your course, which avoids issues that can derail your entire business.
Turn the negative into a positive. Don’t be so quick to agree with your haters, but also don’t write them off completely. Be open to hearing what people love and what they don’t, without taking it personally. Customer service is the new marketing – and with social media lending everyone a voice, it’s now a spectator sport too. Learn to reply and react to all comments for your customers’ benefit and your own. Use all feedback to help you hone your interpersonal skills and your business development. If you can use the negative feedback to make something positive, that is true entrepreneurship – as mentioned above, successes in our world often come from identifying problems or gaps first.
Don’t listen to experts. Before you jump up and reach out to someone else for advice, remember that you have knowledge about your situation and business that others don’t know or understand. There is no shortage of “gurus” and “experts” in an exploding entrepreneurial field, but do they really have the experience, skills and understanding to support your business and boost your capital?
Rely on others. The thing is, in contradiction to the above warning about relying on yourself, it’s vital for every entrepreneur to have a close network of people to rely on for support and advice — people who are trusted and who you can speak to honestly. None of us can possibly know everything, and having a know-it-all mentality can result in us making critical errors that sabotage our otherwise successful business model. The reason we don’t know everything is not because we are not talented or don’t have enough experience; it’s because the realities of business, finance, operations, logistics, technology, marketing, human resources, and the rest of what comes with running a business are more complicated than anyone of us can possibly keep up with. Don’t just pawn off elements of your work on others, but evaluate what they are doing, and look for feedback and learn from them along the way – or hold them accountable if they are not fulfilling their tasks or roles.
Networking is always of value, even when it isn’t. The larger your network, the richer the connections, the more valuable opportunities will present themselves. Never make your schedule so full that you don’t have time to capitalize on new opportunities and talk to others.
Hire good people and treat them well. Someone with low skill and good intentions, great energy and a work ethic can be of massive value to you long term, relative to the person who has the skill at time of hiring but lacks work ethic. Consider the person over the resume alone. You can’t teach someone how to care or be a good person, and good people are who you want to spend your days with for infinite reasons.
Be the kind of person you would want to work with. Would you want to work with or for someone just like yourself? I always joke that I can be my own worst boss! True leaders know who they are and what they stand for, they have unwavering values and integrity, and they create an atmosphere of certainty and trust as they go about living, and creating and working. That’s you if you choose. Work to earn (and maintain) respect and create a culture that is as much for your well-being as your team’s happiness.
Consider the consequences. Before doing or not doing something, always consider the consequences – in the short term and in the long run – for your own health, the health of your business, and your personal reputation. You should be proud of your decisions to a point where you can explain them with pride and good reason to your friends and family.
Get rid of the victim mentality. Challenging situations, stressful and traumatic events happen to us all (congratulations, we’re alive!). Don’t dwell in the thought that you have it harder than anyone else or that others cannot possibly relate. Although we might not be in the same business or situation, we often share a lot as entrepreneurs, and relating to others can make everyone feel better. Deal with your crap, count your blessings (yes, you have them even in the hardest times), and let gratitude recharge you as needed.
Transparency matters. Be honest and conduct your business in a way that helps you sleep soundly at night. Transparency has also been called “the currency of trust”, as trust is the foundation of any relationship. As transparency increases, trust increases. And the inverse is also true. When we start withholding information, and wanting to hold back, consider what it is that you fear. That possible stress should be a signal to evaluate how you can be transparent again, maintaining trust with your customers, your partners and yourself.
Trust your gut. Maya Angelou said “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Personally, I still struggle with this lesson. Sometimes I choose to ignore people when they show me who they likely are 30 times, but it’s simply because I so deeply want to believe in people and their positive intentions. Unfortunately, when I ignore my gut, I’ve often been burned.
Don’t dread it, just get it done. The longer you avoid doing something, or procrastinate, the more painful (in your head) it becomes, and sometimes the dread or overwhelm of the activity is magnified by your mind. Once you take action, your discomfort will be far less severe than you imagined, sometimes you will even feel relief and at ease. Even to extremely difficult things, we adapt – we humans are quite amazing that way! Dread, fear and jumping to conclusions about outcomes, can lead us to make poor decisions with insufficient or “fake data” and hold us back from taking on the big challenges that lead us towards our goals and success.
Your word is your bond. If you make a commitment, no matter what, you must deliver – with or without a written contract. Not only does your business’ brand ride on this, but your personal brand and reputation, too.
Assholes can be your teachers. If you work and live with people long enough, you’re likely going to encounter an asshole (or dozens), and that’s ok. Assholes can be challenging, but every challenge opens a door to learn something about ourselves (read this if you’ve been burned by an asshole). Don’t let someone drag you down, and don’t trust someone else to be responsible for lifting you up long term, that’s your job. Bounce back as needed and don’t let anyone derail you. (Important: If you are inadvertently an asshole, work to repair it right away…you can!).
Remember those who have boosted you along the way. Do you know how much it means to someone when they are recognized for identifying your talent before you were a success or taking a chance on you when you were starting? Do you know how much it hurts when they are not acknowledged in any way after supporting you in the early days? We all have mentors and get help in many ways – be grateful and always remember to give back and pay it forward too.
Popularity doesn’t equal success. Whether you are excited about your online “likes” or engagement or real life fame or hype, these are not necessarily permanent or meaningful. This good fortune is fantastic and valuable, but it is critical during your surges in popularity to remain humble and focused in order to leverage the attention into something meaningful for you and your business for the long run.
Evaluate if you want to continue. It can be very empowering to realize you always have a choice. Sometimes just learning that you do not want to be an entrepreneur is enough to make a change. Often, I see people who are committed and want to persevere, but recognize they have options to reset and recalibrate how they might be able continue doing meaningful work without the stress they find too heavy to bear working for themselves.
Evolve constantly. If you’re not innovating as an entrepreneur, I believe that you are actually losing ground in our rapidly changing world. Don’t get so busy and wrapped up in the present that you lose the ability to grow and look forward – short and long term. What is “right” today, might not be tomorrow, so constant evaluation and consideration leads you to be more content, more aware and more successful. Our environment (economic and beyond) is perpetually changing – our customers even change with time as do trends. Many of these forces are out of our control, however, the way we react to external changes is what helps us succeed and even lead in our market segment.
Surround yourself with people who lift you up in a meaningful way at work – and in life. Not to be confused with people who only agree with you and tell you how amazing you are. Recognize the people in your life who love you even when you’re hard to love, who hurt when you hurt, who celebrate you without envy, and who love you hard enough to tell you the things you need to hear even when (especially when) it’s hard. At the end of the day, it’s these relationships that you will always be able to count on, and that you will consider to be your greatest treasures in life and work.
Self-reflection really matters. Even when problems are not completely your fault, you are the entrepreneur, the boss, your own hero – so point at yourself, because this will force you to self-reflect. When you can self-reflect, you can make more clear, less emotional decisions, seek support as needed, make changes in the way you approach your work, and become a more connected human.
If you are an entrepreneur, you don’t just have a great idea or a valuable skill, but you have the awareness to spot opportunities, the creativity to innovate, the leadership to manage, the confidence to assume risks and the tenacity to turn ideas and concepts into a successful business.
Go after all you want, with passion, integrity and ethics – you are worth it and people are waiting for you to make a difference.
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