You strike out on your own…finally you are calling your own shots and answering to no one… Freedom is yours. The first couple of weeks and months are intoxicating as you are able to pursue your passion as you never have before. Ah, this is the life of which you have dreamed! Then things start to get interesting – you find yourself building a website, designing marketing materials, sending out proposals and closing sales. Suddenly you’re setting up spreadsheets to track income and expenses, managing a calendar and a NEVER.ENDING.INBOX. You look around and think to yourself, I didn’t sign up for this…
As Michael Gerber (author of The E-Myth) put it, “You think that if you understand the technical work, then you understand the business that does that technical work.” As a prospective entrepreneur, we spend countless hours daydreaming about our vision and become so enamored with the idea of being a business owner that we give little thought to the actual BUSINESS of being a business owner. Here are the top 7 lessons that I learned my first year as an entrepreneur:
1. Build your business/financial acumen
Revenue, expenses, profit, margin, capital, budget and cash flow are all words that you should become very familiar with and will eventually become a part of your operational language. Be disciplined in tracking your financials. Even in the early months when you are making $0, keep a spreadsheet of your expenses. Be real about what it costs to be you. It will help prevent underselling or deep discounting yourself. Additionally, it will give you a clearer picture at year end of what was a good investment and what might have been a waste of funds or an overspend. If you’re brutally honest about the real costs of your business, it will put a fire in your belly to sell. Tracking also allows you to start seeing trends. What are my good months/bad months and how much capital should I keep in reserve? Review your financials at the end of each month as it keeps you accountable to your goals. Be proactive and flexible and make adjustments when/where necessary.
2. ABL – “Always be Learning”
There are countless resources, books and publications out there written by people that have “been there, done that” and are willing to share their knowledge and expertise with you. Seek it out and incorporate it where appropriate. Why reinvent the wheel when they already have the wheel a rollin’?
- Reading – or in my case, listening – has been a great tool to “school” me in topics where I am deficient, and to keep me motivated and committed to my vision. It is no surprise that as a consultant I spend a lot of my time in my four-wheeled mobile office – my car. I average about 15-20 hours per week in the fast lane, so audiobooks have become my copilot. I view these hours as the perfect opportunity to learn from business and industry experts and personally find Audible and Overdrive to be great tools to deliver information on the go. Whether you choose to use audio, online or paper resources you should commit time each week to expanding your knowledge and gaining new insights.
- Attend seminars and conferences. Attendance of local, state, and national seminars/conferences is wonderful opportunity to step outside your business owner tower and discover new trends in your industry and network with influencers. You will find that the exposure to new insights and perspectives will encourage you look at your own business with a more focused lens. And if/when you have employees, encourage them to attend seminars and conferences as well. It will enrich their work and promote commitment and engagement.
3. Build your Community
Connect with other entrepreneurs, innovators, and small business owners and ask questions…LOTS of questions. Building a community of like-minded individuals that can provide support, direction, and encouragement will make the journey feel a lot less solitary. Additionally, it is amongst this fold that a mentor may be revealed, and a mentor can be an invaluable presence in both your personal and professional life. The right mentor will balance care and compassion with structure and accountability in an effort to drive business growth. Take time to listen, observe and reflect on what you learn. Sometimes it is a small gem of wisdom that can make a big difference.
4. Don’t assume
Do not assume that people know what you do, care about what you do or see the value in what you do. Honestly, I was genuinely surprised by the number of misconceptions about what a HR consultant does and/or can do for an organization. And because I was not prepared to combat these misconceptions, I didn’t have an appropriate follow up that explained what I ACTUALLY did in a clear and concise way. I quickly realized that the best way to provide clarity for my audience was to craft a compelling pitch/intro. The simplest way to craft your pitch/intro is to answer these three questions: who is your target market, what problem do you solve and why should they do business with you? You should end up with one to two sentences that capture the heart of your business. Here is an example:
“Results HR’s mission is to help small businesses thrive by providing cost effective human resources solutions that help you, the owner, navigate the maze of employee engagement, workforce management, and employment law. We take time to understand your business and can respond to the HR needs that you or your staff simply don’t have the time or resources to address effectively.”
5. Jack of all trades, master of none
Doing it all yourself is a bad thing. If you think can do it all yourself you are guaranteeing burnout and may be digging your own grave. Yes, in the early days, you may be tasked with being CEO, Admin, VP of Marketing, Accountant, etc. But just as soon as you can…hire, delegate, or outsource. You should be working toward working “on” the business, not “in” the business. Make a list of all the activities that you do as a business owner, and honestly assess whether you are an expert, competent or incompetent. If you find that you are incompetent in a particular area, an effective solution is to use consultants with flexible contracts. You can try them out to see if it works for both of you. If after a few weeks, it isn’t working, then transition and move on.
(And if people operations are your biggest headache… I happen to know an HR consultant that can help!)
6. Get/stay organized
Whether it is making appointments, completing projects or managing finances/people, find a system, tool, or technology that helps you stay on track. Once business is in full swing, administrative activities can quickly spiral out of control and cause things to slip through the cracks. Be proactive and you will avoid many customer conflicts and operational disruptions.
- Make your email work for you. Today’s email providers offer countless tools that can help you become an inbox ninja. Your email has the ability to become a virtual assistant as it can help you filter, organize, prioritize and archive the communication you receive each day. Here are a few of my favorite features: folders – for storing and organizing information by topic or sender, color coding/notifications for key clients, calendar – time blocking for important activities that are often overlooked when things get busy (i.e. reconciling accounts, follow ups, marketing, admin items), daily task lists, templates for emails that are sent frequently, auto-respond for times you are away or experiencing high volume as a way to stay in touch with clients without answering every single email in real time.
- Make a plan and write it down. Create a daily punch list, action items, to-do list and prioritize tasks. What tasks are critical and what are developmental? Meaning, what has to be done today and what can be done within the week/month. If you have employees, help them prioritize too. If you ask them to do something, tell them where it ranks on the priority scale and/or give them deadline for completion.
7. Buy local
Support other small business owners by doing business with, promoting and encouraging others just like you! As our small business ecosystem grows, so does our local economy, bringing new and exciting opportunities to our community. When we support each other we all THRIVE!
So, what’s next in 2016? Results HR is excited to announce the launch of a staffing division focused on the direct placement of human resources professionals in the East Tennessee market. What’s next for your organization?