3 Things I’ve Learned

I’m far from an expert but I’ve been through the fire of starting my own business from scratch and came out (relatively) unscathed on the other side.  I’m convinced that the only reason that this happened is all the incredible help I’ve gotten along the way.  There were clients who were willing to take a chance on me when my “practice” was just me running around with a laptop and equal parts ambition and determination.  There were mentors who took time out of their busy days and lives to meet for breakfast and pass along the lessons that they learned along their path.  They were friends and family who (thankfully) never tried to talk any sense into me and were supportive every step of the way.  The least I could do is pass along what I’ve been lucky enough to learn by osmosis.

1.  Being “busy” is not being productive and it’s very easy to confuse efforts with results.  When you’re starting a business, it’s easy to find yourself working ALOT.  But it also becomes very easy to confuse being “really busy” with actually getting shit done.  Sometimes the most insidious form of laziness is being “busy”.  Being busy can be an opiate of sorts.  It gives your mind something tangible to focus on and takes your thoughts away from the big picture uncertainty that comes with starting a business.  I remember spending about 8 hours worrying about the format for my blog.  Was it important? Maybe. Kinda.  Could I have spent those 8 hours actually growing my business (or, you know, actually writing blog posts or getting clients)? Absolutely.  But those sorts of things are hard and scary.  So I opted to fill my plate with something that was easy but didn’t really accomplish anything helpful.  I’ve learned to be more honest with myself about what I do with my time in the course of a day.  It’s a general habit of entrepreneurs to boast about the crazy hours they work; I would argue that it’s much more impressive to get a lot of work done in a shorter amount of time.  It took a LONG time for that to sink in for me (especially in a profession that bills by the hour).

2.  Relationships are about QUALITY and not QUANTITY.   Being connected to 1000 people on LinkedIn or having 5,000 friends on Facebook means very little if you don’t have that core of people you can call at 2am and know they will pick up the phone for you every time.  A fellow esquire that I have a tremendous of admiration and respect for told me over lunch (and apologies to him if I’m butchering by paraphrasing): “If you have 10 people in your corner who are fighting for you and truly invested in your success, you’ll be very successful.”  I thought about that a lot.  It sounds simple but it didn’t really strike me until later how rare and powerful it is to have those people rooting for you.  I’ve come to think of it as “You’re better off having 10 advocates, than a 1,000 acquaintances.”  Everyone knows a dozen lawyers, accountants, financial planners, salesmen, designers, social media experts, etc.  It’s easy for people to accumulate acquaintances, but how many advocates do you have?  Those relationships are hard work.  They take time.  They take energy. They take giving without expecting anything in return.  But your advocates will be more valuable to you than all the networking happy hours, business card swaps and social events you could ever attend.  Find your advocates and cherish them.

3.  Expect to succeed and, more importantly, be prepared for it.  Just when my practice was starting to get busy (and I was still working my tail off networking day and night), an experienced entrepreneur and I were discussing building a practice and how people he knew did a great job of building a lot of business but then got too busy to return phone calls, deal with customer issues, etc. and the product suffered.  It wasn’t his intent, but it scared the shit out of me.  I stopped marketing immediately and disappeared for about 3 months.  I spent that time focusing on my current clients and building an infrastructure that I knew would allow me to handle more clients and get much busier when the time was right.  Those 3 months saved my practice.  The takeaway is that whenever you build something (whether a service, a product or a company) you just can’t build just for today; you have to build something that will still be viable and work once things really get off the ground.  Bottom line is that if you’re not expecting success (and planning for it), you probably won’t achieve it.  Spend time from Day 1 planning ahead and investing in the things you’ll need to build something long term.

There are a 1,000 other things I’ve learned along the way and even what I’m written here is a gross oversimplication.  But those three things are what have been most valuable to me.  What it boils down to is simply “Value your time and energy.  Value your relationships, clients and mentors.  Value your vision, your values and your future.”  Do those three things well and everything else should come a little bit easier.