Right around eleven months ago, I announced the launch of this business, Jaggers Communications. It was an emotional, then heady era, as I made the transition from employee to business owner beginning on January 1, 2011. I can honestly say I’ve loved every minute of the entrepreneurial life, even with its related stresses and increased responsibilities. Here are eleven lessons I’ve learned in my first eleven months of being out on my own:
- Ask and ye shall receive. Don’t ask and you’ll never know what the answer would have been. I hemmed, hawed and stressed over asking my employer about allowing me out of a non-compete clause, providing a small list of clients with which to launch my business. I asked. They said yes. Everyone is happy!
- Pay people quickly. It’s awful when you’re a small business waiting for a check to arrive. I try to minimize the wait times on my vendors and freelance team members receiving their checks because I know the pain waiting can cause.
- Plan ahead, work ahead and manage your time closely. I’ve been fortunate to have worked in the agency atmosphere where time budgeting is as crucial as budgeting of resources. I’ve been trained to log time and evaluate where inefficiencies exist. It’s helped me to become an excellent time manager and is the answer to “how do you do it all?” a question I’m asked with frequency.
- Share the story of your business as a method of connecting with your community. I have continued to blog about social media, communications, PR, my business and my community throughout the year, between three and five times a week. My web traffic has increased 400% in the last year and is the leading method of marketing I use to promote my business and connect to prospective clients.
- Outsource your weaknesses. I’m not a great bookkeeper — that’s why I have an excellent one I pay an hourly rate to help me stay on top of Quickbooks and balancing my accounts. I also have individuals I turn to for Web development support, media advertising buys and technical troubleshooting.
- Delegate! I had a bit of unexpected and sudden surgery in late May — an occurrence that forced me to evaluate quickly what “needed” to be done by me, personally, and what I could delegate to the cadre of capable individuals with whom I work. Nothing like urgency to force changed behavior! I am happy to say that the delegation lesson worked beautifully and has encouraged me to continue to evaluate projects and tasks to shift them to the most appropriate team member.
- Spend the money on the stuff that matters. I wasn’t ready at the beginning of the business to invest in my brand identity and in fact, felt that the business was still evolving and settling its focus. This quarter it was time, and I happily made the investment to have my brand identity created the right way. Thank you, Watermark Design!
- When the client doesn’t fit the business, walk away. This is hard for any entrepreneur in a growth phase; you want to take all the business you can bear. Saying “no” to new work doesn’t fit the entrepreneurial spirit very well, but when the business at hand is not right for the firm, it is the right decision.
- Don’t freak out, just get busy. There were a few times during the year when a flush of uncertainty would come over me. I’d realize the workload in the coming months wasn’t as crystal clear as I’d like it to be; that the billable hours weren’t quite meeting my goals. I WOULD freak out, but just a little. Then I’d put my head down, and concentrate on publishing, speaking and promoting, ultimately drawing in new prospects and starting or resuming conversations that led inevitably to new business. It’s a process that works, and thanks to my business development manager, Erika Gennari, one that is keeping on track much more regularly!
- Keep putting your money where your mouth is. (Yes, I know; a grammatically incorrect colloquialism, but I’m making a point, here!). I am a big believer in walking the talk, practicing what you preach and (insert another tired cliche here). I encourage my small business clients to use social media to market their businesses and I consistently demonstrate the behavior I’m recommending. When I share my experiences as applied to their businesses, I am addressing it from a firsthand perspective.
- Believe in yourself. I don’t know if it’s hubris or arrogance on my part, but I believe in the quality of the work I do. Clients of mine, with sole proprietorships tell me of the struggle they face in marketing their businesses. It’s awkward, they say, because promoting the business is self promotion, and they’ve been raised to be modest! I think when you do something well and you know it, it’s a bigger crime to hide your talent and not share it with the world. Tell your story! You owe it to yourself and your business to help manage your own success.
I’m still learning the ropes as an entrepreneur, but I’m enjoying the journey as much as the work.