Ten years in business comes with a lot of hard work and a little good luck.
For those that don’t know me, in 2005 I started a communications and marketing consulting company called Freestone Communications. We are small but forceful, providing communications counsel, support and service to a variety of organizations of all sizes and shapes.
After ten years of this awesome ride, I figured it was the perfect time to share what I have discovered thus far.
1. Money is not the motivator.
Many people start their own business, buy a business or dream of owning their own business because they believe it will lead to gobs of money and financial freedom.
Certainly, owning a business can be one way to a more comfortable bank account. But after 10 years of business, I have learned that money isn’t the motivator. It isn’t what gets me up in the morning. Not because I don’t make money in my business, because I do. But what gets me working bright and early, what convinces me to put in time on a Sunday, what compels me to do backflips for a client, isn’t the money. It’s being in control of my time.
Having a business can sometimes mean greater flexibility with your schedule. Entrepreneurship has allowed me to take off the occasional Friday afternoon; head out for a run at 2pm on a sunny day; take long weekends when others can’t. Greater control of my time has been my motivation. Don’t get me wrong, flexibility is the by-product of working your butt off: working very early or very late or when others are not. But the reward that comes from the hard work – finally being in control of your time – is like finding that elusive extra hour in the day.
2. Spend money to make money
You want others to hire you for your area of expertise. So naturally it follows that you should hire others that are experts in areas you are not. The time you spend on tasks that you aren’t really good at or don’t really like could be spent on your business or finding new opportunities. I hire other experts to do my bookkeeping, shovel my walks, design my business cards, etc. – because the return on investment is always highest when you invest in doing what you do best.
3. Saying “no” can be the best thing for your business
It can be easy to accept every piece of business that comes your way. I have had many organizations call and say, “I need X. Can you help me?”, and after a bit of digging I realize they don’t need X. So, I respond by telling them they don’t need to hire me and why, and I share what I believe they should be focused on instead.
In other words, I respectfully and professionally turn down the business.
There are many business owners, particularly in the marketing and communications space, that would call this approach heresy. But when you put another business’ interests first, and encourage current or prospective clients to head in a direction that makes sense for them (not you), a funny thing happens. They come back. They spread the word. They respect you because you put them first. Respect for you and your company always leads to more opportunities coming through the door.
4. Respect risk.
No blog post about running your own business would be complete without writing about risk. When you throw up a shingle and say, “Hire me!”, there is the ever present reality that no one will hire you.
Risk can be mitigated – by managing your cash flow, saving for when times are tight – but it never completely goes away. It is important to respect the risks that come with owning your own business, and not be naïve to this reality or think that after many years of success, risk will go away. Plan for risk every day.
5. The client can be wrong.
The old adage in business is that the client is always right.
Guess what? Sometimes they aren’t.
The statement isn’t made in disrespect. The reality is that sometimes companies don’t know what they want or need, or simply haven’t travelled a path you’ve been down a 100 times. They need your business to tell their business the hard truth. Frank, honest service and advice helps others make decisions that bring opportunity or get them out of a sticky situation. Your business is an authority in a certain service, product or area. Stand for something, and demonstrate that every single day with every single client.
6. Show gratitude.
Your business doesn’t operate in a bubble. There are clients who hire and pay you. Employees who selflessly give so you can be successful. Loved ones and friends that encourage and support you when you’re ready to toss it in. Be grateful and give thanks anytime you can. Being grateful isn’t just the right thing to do. It will also make you stand out from the pack.
7. Defy the doubters.
Everyone has their detractors. People that think you aren’t strong, smart, savvy enough to tough it out and make it work.
There haven’t been a lot of detractors in my career and business life, but there’s been a few. I’ve learned a lot from these types and I must admit, I take delight in the fact they might notice that Freestone is still alive, kicking and doing well.
8. The “no marketing” strategy for growing your business
It may come as a surprise to some, but I don’t market my business, even though I am in the business of helping others market what they do. My ten years is the result of word of mouth and referrals. But the one thing I do to increase the profile of Freestone and myself is volunteer. I have given my time to various boards, committees and councils over the years. There is no better way to increase your connections and sphere of influence, and put your skills and smart thinking on display to people you might otherwise not reach. My non-paying time on boards of directors has led to many rewarding opportunities and a positive impact on my company’s bottom line.
9. You = company; company = you
You are your business. Your business is you. The two are one in the same.
With social media and the endless capacity Google search offers, your personal brand is just as important as your company brand. Build a positive personal profile and your business will prosper.
10. Work on your business, not just in your business.
Many business people spend most of their time in their business – working on projects, with clients, on files, managing daily operations. And many business people don’t spend enough time working on their business – brainstorming the future, building profile, being active in social media, cultivating new business.
When you find the right balance of “in” and “on”, not only can your business thrive, but you will too. Working on your business can take you back to the exciting mindset that got your business started in the first place.
To every person that put their faith in Freestone and me, and encouraged us to be more over the last ten years, thank you. (Note: lesson 6 in action!)