I am not a risk taker. Even as a child, I always did what teachers told me to do and listened to my parents — well,most of the time. Through college and the early part of my career at technology companies, I followed a linear and predictable path to get to the next level of management, the next promotion, the next raise.
But then I started my own business. That’s when everything changed. No risk meant no reward. I learned that sometimes, the standard rules don’t apply. Especially these:
Never Work With Friends and Family
This is a golden rule, right? Wrong. Family and friends can be some of your most trusted confidants. Who better to surround yourself than with the people who have been time tested and proven assets in your life. The ability to openly communicate will be a strong factor in building your business. Of course, these individuals who are very close to you must share the vision, work ethic and passion for the business as you do. You’ll be able to cut through a lot of the politicking that goes on with acquiring new partners or team members since you already have a rich history with family and friends. Just make sure that everyone on board understands that just as easy as you came in is just as easy as you can go. Family and friends must be held to an even higher level of accountability than anyone else on the team. That’s a fact.
Get an MBA
As we’ve learned from Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg, having an advanced business degree is not required for successful entrepreneurship. Leverage smart people, trust your instincts and just get out there. I gained tremendous insight by joining an angel investment group to see how other entrepreneurs positioned and marketed their companies. Professional organizations in my industry led me to successful owners whom I still tap for advice. And a CEO organization called Vistage gives me access to a braintrust of experts on any business matter.
Sales is the Key to Success
As the business owner, I was the primary rainmaker for years. Unfortunately, I sucked at sales. I hate asking for money. So I hired professional salespeople, and they all failed miserably. Now I understand that my customers hate being sold as much as I hate selling. They really just want someone who will share a cup of coffee and understand their pain, then come up with a solution that doesn’t require even more work. That’s all.
You’ve Gotta Get a Plan
For years, our team didn’t have any formal business plan, just a revenue target and a few key objectives. Of course, like a map-less Magellan, you can waste time and resources. You can even fail to notice when you do reach your goal. But spending weeks discussing and writing a comprehensive plan that few will follow isn’t productive either. Our started simple, and it’s staying that way: One page with an annual revenue target and theme agreed upon by the entire team, followed by one or two major initiatives for each person per quarter. That’s it. When the tech market dipped in 2009, our “plan” allowed us to quickly shift gears. We eased up on major account sales and made a major investment in social media. In the end, that’s what moved our recovery along.
Diversify Your Client Base
Really, we’ve tried for years. But when an industry giant is your largest client and managers tell colleagues in other departments about you, who’s to complain? Word-of-mouth marketing is always a gift. Sure, we’ve worked with many other large clients, and plenty of small clients too, but our largest client is the one that keeps us in business. We work hard to earn their business again every day.
Never Work for Free
There are still rare occasions when we give away our services. Actually, it’s how we started this business–by connecting friends who needed marketing and PR help with friends who provided exactly that expertise. After two years we knew there was a true business opportunity. And while we do have rent, payroll, insurance, taxes and other overhead costs now, there are times when we can’t resist supporting a non-profit organization or an especially close friend.
I may still be a rule-follower at heart. I still use my turn signals and wait patiently in lines. But one of the most exciting things about being an entrepreneur is being creative and discovering what works best, even if it goes against what others recommend. That’s the beauty of being your own boss.