Small Business, Big Lessons

1200 words

6 minute read

Curious what it's like to be a small business owner or entrepreneur from the eyes of a former big business maven? This blog is a quick view into my personal experience, providing some lessons learned along the way.

Upon joining a small business last year, I also embarked on my first entrepreneurial journey. I quickly found myself completely baffled at the nature of some of my new struggles. Although I expected it to be hard, I wasn't prepared for the types of lessons I would learn.

No matter how much you Google topics on how to prepare yourself, question your friends, neighbors, and former colleagues, there is little you can do really ready yourself. The best thing to do is to live it. And while there are plenty of struggles to overcome, it’s the celebratory moments that make it all worthwhile.

1. Doubt kills more than failure. That is the truth. You'll go through thoughts of, "Will I regret it if I leave, or will I regret it if I stay? Do I take the risk? Do I not?" I’m here to tell you that although I may miss my former colleagues turned friends, I am glad I chose to take the risk. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have had the chance to learn the next 14 lessons on this list and more.

2. Personal growth and business growth go hand in hand. If you work with integrity, and you work hard, you'll find that not only will business improve, but you will improve as well. Entrepreneurship also cultivates continual learning. Personal growth through learning does not need to stop at university.

3. Great things rarely come from staying in comfort zones. Just try stepping out of it and see what happens. Getting out of your comfort zone creates just enough positive stress to ramp up your focus, creativity, pace, and drive. And really cool things can be born from that focus, creativity, pace, and drive.

4. Go into business with someone you don’t mind spending A LOT of time with, and preferably someone you really like talking to. Because you’re going to talk to them every day. Multiple times a day. My advice here is to always strive to have a positive outlook and demeanor. I constantly remind myself to try to be a colleague others want to work with.

5. Your sole role is not to make money. Your role is to build a sustainable business with sustainable products or services. As an entrepreneur, if you're in it just for the money, you may lack the extra will-power to overcome the challenges required to succeed. While making money is an important part of business, success does not require that it be the only motivating factor.

6. Hard work gets things done, but sometimes, you must remember to be patient. I'm reminded of a Bible verse I like to often reference. “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Luke 5:4. This verse teaches us that to be successful in any venture, we sometimes need to first go to a place of opportunity, lay out our net (do our honest work) and then wait patiently.

7. The ability to make decisions quickly is both powerful and exhilarating. Being small means being quick, customized, and consistent. All of which create a winning combination for building a good business and closing better business opportunities.

8. Speaking of closing, closing feels so much greater when you work the entire deal from start to finish. I had a successful career in sales and closed really, really big deals. The biggest? A 22 jet engine deal in my first six months with Honeywell. That was a great phone call to my boss. Yet the pride and accomplishment I felt when we received our first purchase order for additive training exceeds the deals I closed in the past. When you truly have to manage the entire process from start to finish, it carries a different value, a new sense of pride and accomplishment.

9. Things may seem impossible or intimidating at first. Our training business went from opportunity evaluation/idea generation to a successful business with four implemented products in less than six months. Something that first seemed impossible, a Mt. Everest on day one. The lesson learned? A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

10. Skills are important, but persistence and grit are more important. Skills are helpful, but it's hard work, persistence and grit that unlock talent and turn capable people into success stories.

11. If you’re not embarrassed by your first product launch, you launched too late. #Truth. I'm so grateful that our first customer was so... open-minded. It's also entertaining (and perhaps a good learning lesson) to look back through all the different iterations of products during "start-up" mode. We'll have a good laugh over them all over a beer one day. What is important, as author and business guru Seth Godin says, "Start small, start now."

12. You will soon become an expert on all aspects of your business, like it or not. One of the most rewarding aspects of being an entrepreneur is how quickly you become an expert in the various facets of running a business. I coined myself as a sales and business development professional before. Little did I know my skill set could extend far beyond opening doors, connecting people and thinking of creative new partnerships. I’ve learned that I’m also an amateur screen writer, amateur web developer, copywriter, project manager, digital marketing mogul, and bill collector. Each of us now gets a chance to wear all the hats. (“That’s not in my job description” does not apply. And that’s a good thing!)

13. Things don't always go to plan. No feel-good clichés here, just real talk. Watch out for “mission creep”. Things don’t go as planned so one must be adaptable. Your action plan may look completely different from original plan. I suggest anyone who launches a small business to hang onto all iterations of your plans to use as lessons learned later.

14. Leadership comes in many forms. Leadership experience doesn't necessarily mean experience with direct reports. In the past I sought out roles where I had direct reports, under the impression that not having that experience was one of my weaknesses. However, my experience has been that leadership is not just having a team under you, it is also the ability to influence others around you.

15. And last, if you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together. I am so grateful to have a team to collaborate with on every step of this journey; including every project, proposal, and training. Every single person on the team is invaluable. It’s difficult for one person to be the best at everything at once. A team allows everyone to be great at what they do and contribute to scaling up the enterprise. Growth is difficult to accomplish when everything depends on one person.

I'll close with this quote because it seems fitting and perhaps it’s inspirational to someone thinking about taking a journey into entrepreneurship.

If you can't find an authentic leader driven by their purpose, be one . If you can't find an inspiring connection, initiate one . And if you can't find an environment to thrive in, create one .

-Author unknown



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