LESSONS 5 YEARS INTO RUNNING A BUSINESS


Marketing & Business
piece written on the 9th June 2016 by  

Back in 2013 I wrote a blog post entitled, “5 Things I Wouldn’t Change When Starting a Business” which was very well received – thank you. Following this, several people have asked me to write a part two and now that a few years have passed I feel that I’ve gained some valuable experience that will allow me to add some substance to this part two post.

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#1 In & Out

Everyone’s quick to say the absolutely useless statement, “it’s business, not personal”. I don’t care what anyone says, but this is a rubbish statement. Your business is personal, if it isn’t it’s doomed. Simple as that. I’m all about being personal and I pump my emotional intelligence (or at least try to) into my business whenever I can. So when a contract ends and isn’t renewed or when a client leaves us I most certainly do take it personally – even if it’s completely clear that the decision isn’t related to our offering. See, if you take things personally you’ll be inspired to get involved, whether it’s trying to get a contract renewed, whether it’s learning from a mistake, whether it’s understanding how things could be done differently or even if it’s just to show support to the team. You get involved and you do something about it – making it personal forces you to give a stuff and that’s how you build your business. With that being said, getting personal doesn’t mean getting your knickers in a knot over it or not getting sleep at night – take action and be strong.

Contracts will end. Clients will fire you. This is business, but it’s personal if you care. Get used to taking knocks on the chin and get used to managing situations because it’s impossible to never lose a contract or client and if you let it knock you down too hard you’re going to put your business at jeopardy.

#2 Work Hard

Our world is brilliant at publishing articles about entrepreneurs who come across as overnight successes. How often we’re faced with article titles that say things like, “Overnight success”, “College student makes it big” and so the list goes on. I work with a lot of businesses, I mentor startups, I engage with investors, I have friends who’ve had investment and those who are successful are those who’ve put the hard work in. Things do not happen overnight, at least not unless the hard graft has been put in. Find a well known entrepreneur and look them up on WikiPedia or look for an autobiography and you’ll find it incredibly hard to find an entrepreneur who got up in the morning, took a piss, had some coffee and suddenly had a billion dollars in his/her bank account – it would probably be easier to by lotto tickets to try and win the lotto. I appreciate that there are levels of intelligence and drive that result in some people being blessed in a manner that sets them up quicker or allows them to achieve success faster, but you don’t get blessed with the ability to start an over night success.

I’d like to clarify one thing though, the focus here has been financial as that’s what the general public appear to focus on when it comes to the measurement of success. It’s not all about financial reward, some of the happiest people I know couldn’t give a duck about their financial success, they do what they love and it’s made them incredible people.

Gary Vaynerchuk always makes comments such as, “I’ll just out fucking work you” and he’s dead right. If you’re looking for someone to listen to who’s put the graft in and built a big business, Gary may be your guy. He’s got a colourful list of swear words under his belt, you’ve been warned.

#3 Procrastination

I don’t know many entrepreneurs who don’t use lists – either their inbox, perhaps a piece of paper or perhaps a software solution such as Asana. Most entrepreneurs are quite organised, or they’re good at operating in chaos, either way there’s a method to their madness to get things done. Perhaps they’re bright enough to hire someone to manage their list ;) The point is that a list gets created and items need to be executed on the list. If you’ve managed to read this far, you’re more than likely someone who can relate to this. Perhaps you can relate to that one item on your list that was due 2 weeks ago but you’ve found a thousand excuses for it to still be on your list? Yes, you know the one.

Procrastination for me is one of the most influencing factors when it comes to running a business. There simply isn’t time for procrastination (haha). If there’s one common thread amongst my fellow colleagues, it’s that they know how to concentrate on getting something done. This goes hand in hand with working hard, but there’s a difference. You can work incredibly hard, but you can also work incredibly hard in a focused manner. Those people who focus on getting through tasks, whether they’re interesting or not, are the ones who generally come out on top in my opinion.

A few months ago, Tim Urban (publisher of Wait But Why) did a Ted Talk entitled, “Inside the mind of a master procrastinator“. It’s one of the best Ted Talks I’ve listened to, his way of presenting is fun and engaging, but the root message from the talk is incredibly important. I’d like to encourage you to watch it:

#4 Investing

If you’re a reader of iMod.co.za, you were probably waiting for a comment about investing ;) Lucky employees receive a retirement fund of sorts through the business they work for, but for entrepreneurs we don’t get anything.

Think about that for a moment though.

If you’re working for a large company that rewards you with a pension of sorts, be very grateful. As an entrepreneur, when you get to 60/65/70/75 and it’s time to retire, there won’t be anything waiting for you when you get there unless you’ve planned carefully. Let me crunch some silly numbers quickly; if you receive a contribution of R500 a month for the next 20 years from the company you work for (assuming a 7% interest rate with a 7% yearly inflationary balancer) then you’ll have R450,000 available to you* when you retire. As an entrepreneur, when you arrive at 60/65/70/75 and you want to retire, you won’t have that R450,000 available unless you’ve planned carefully.

So, one piece of advise I have for anyone starting a business is to look at an investment vehicle of sorts right from the beginning! Even if you’re putting away a small amount each month, every cent will add up over the years. The new Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) (South Africa) are a great starting point. Please consult a financial advisor in this regard. Don’t wake up in your 50’s or 60’s and realise that you haven’t provisioned for retirement – the older you get, the less flexible you become and with this often comes limitations on how you run your business (especially if you haven’t hired carefully) and how well you can generate income.

Of course, if you build an amazing business you’ll hopefully be able to sell it and that may well be your ticket to retirement, but I wouldn’t take that for granted, especially considering the economic climate.

#5 Be Honest & Open

Just yesterday, Mike Stopforth, a successful communications agency owner, said:

For a long time I’ve done my best to be as authentic as possible and I believe that being vulnerable and authentic allows people to truly understand who you are. If they don’t like what they find.. tough shit, but if they like what they find and you like what you find in someone, you position yourself to potentially have a really excellent relationship, a successful business relationship. Our clients who have been with us going on several years are those clients (partners!) who know who we are and we know who they are. There’s merit in a game of golf or tennis with a business partner, it’s how you build a great relationship.. by getting to know someone. So, my point here is that you need to be authentic, let people know you who are, you’ll be surprised at how many people are intrigued by you and you’ll be surprised about how much respect you gain. I speak from experience in this regard, I’ve been open and honest from day one and it’s done me so much good!

* This depends on the investment vehicle, taxes and the likes. These numbers are by no means something to follow, I am merely using them for example purposes.

PS. Here’s a great read: Calling yourself an ‘entrepreneur’ means nothing.

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