If hindsight is 20/20, then it’s no less true for a business you’ve owned for decades. Taking a look back, I certainly can now see things that I wish I knew when I had first started. Yes, those years of experience are what teach us the lessons along the way. But I’ve had a saying for a long time: Smart people learn from their own mistakes. But geniuses learn from the mistakes of others.
So I’m here to give you a head’s up on lessons that took me a while to learn, but will only take you a few minutes… if you just read on. Here are five things I wish I had known when I first started my own business.
1) Support is crucial.
Don’t believe the egos of business owners who claim to have pulled themselves — and their businesses — up by their own bootstraps. I’m here to tell you — it didn’t happen that way. It never does. And I can say such a blanket statement with confidence, because there’s always someone who helps someone else along the path of every area in life, including one’s business. And if you know that going in, you won’t fight it. Personally, I’ve always been the type who wants to be “independent” and stand on my own two feet. The reasons for that run pretty deep, and I won’t bore you now with those details, but if people tried to help me when I was young, I consistently resisted. In my older age, I’ve come to realize that I couldn’t have done anything I’ve done in my life without help, and over the last decade or so, I’ve gotten much better at letting people who want to help into my life.
For me, that support over the years came from my parents and other family members, including most recently my now-grown children; from my husband, who always believed in my efforts; from both co-workers and superiors when I was employed; from my teachers that I’ve had through my life-long education; from others who someway provide me with either a product or a service I needed to make my business better; and from those who offered me a referral, cut me a break, or gave me a chance to prove myself. Someone else is ALWAYS involved in your business in some way, shape, or form. I think the knowledge of this is quite humbling and produces a strong sense of gratitude. We business owners all have been blessed. The sooner we recognize it, the better.
2) Focus is everything.
Multitasking is a myth. Back in the 1980s, that was the big interview question: Can you multitask? And everyone would say yes. Of course, that was the answer employers wanted to hear.
But the correct answer was really no.
While I’m the queen of being “multi-passionate” and juggling several businesses at one time, I’m fully aware that I can only do one thing well at a time. What you focus on is what you will achieve. Everything else is just in the way.
So stop trying to do it all, and do just one thing well, one thing at a time, before you move on to the next thing.
2) Good people make success and growth easy.
When that support comes from good people, a business owner has it made. Good people are the backbone of your business.
How do I define good? They must have the right skills, sure. I’d say that’s a given. But being good goes way beyond just being able to do the job well.
Good people have integrity. They are honest. They are trustworthy. They work hard and take pride in their work. They enjoy what they do.
They are service-driven. They think first about the client and what they can do to provide excellent service. When they make mistakes, they own them and take responsibilities for their actions.
When you have this sort of person providing you with services for your clients — you don’t fear growth. You look forward to it. You can feel confident that your employees or subcontractors will not let you or your clients down.
4) Fear is the enemy.
Speaking of fear… it is and always will be the consistent, perpetual roadblock. Every time you fail to take action, you can bet your bottom dollar that fear is what held you back.
While I feel strongly against using clients as Guinea pigs without their knowledge, at the same time, I think it’s good to push yourself through the challenge of a project in which your skills might be still developing. Better to try and do than to do nothing at all, simply out of fear of failure. Maybe you aren’t yet the expert — but you’ll never get to that level of expertise, if you don’t start DOING.
Perfectionism is stifling. It will keep you in your place and you will never improve. Don’t let fear of anything hold you back. You business can only grow if you take risks and extend yourself and your capabilities. Most likely, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much you really can achieve.
5) Creating boundaries is essential.
Early in my career, I had a client who would call me on my home phone at all hours of the day — even into the evening. That was my own fault. I had a separate phone line for business, but I gave her the home line as well. And then I made the additional mistake of picking it up when it rang. Obviously, this was in the days before caller ID was a regular thing (yes, I know — I’m ancient).
The despite the fact that I’m old, the point remains the same. I needed to create a boundary between myself and this manager, or I would not be able to enjoy any personal “down” time with my family.
One time she called me right in the middle of dinner. I told her what was going on — that she called me during dinner time with my family. She just laughed and said, “Oh well! I guess that’s the life of a freelancer.”
No — it’s not. That’s the life of a pushover.
I stopped answering my home phone after 5 p.m. and forced her to leave a message. After a while, she stopped calling in the evening. I guess she got the picture.
From that time on, I became particularly good at drawing boundary lines — both physical and virtual. I work my own business at home NOT so I would be bothered at all times of the day by business clients. In fact, it’s just the opposite! I work my own business so I have some control over my work life and career. I work my own business so that I can spend more time with my family, not less.
If you elect to be open 24/7, that’s your choice. But for me — I have specific working hours that need to be respected. And when you draw boundaries, believe it or not, that time IS respected, because you’ve decided that it’s worthy of that respect. Others will simply follow your lead. Creating boundaries is an area we as business owners must be bold about — otherwise, our clients will give your time as little respect as you do.
Some of these lessons came quickly to me. Some took a little longer. But if you can take them all to heart now, they can clear the path to a more enjoyable and success career at home.