30 Things I Have Learned in My First 30 Months in Business
Jim Strawn, President of Jim Strawn & Company
Well, I did it! I took the entrepreneurial plunge 30 months ago.
Cry and pray some? A lot.
Glad I did it? No doubt.
I now have 10 full quarters of business under my belt.
Been quite a journey. I was never formally trained in business. My bachelor’s and master’s degree are both in education. But over the years, you learn things.
As I teach my students at the University of Charleston, intelligence is one thing, but wisdom is a whole other ‘ball of wax’.
Over the course of my 21,457 days on Planet Earth, I have picked up a nugget or 2 about this thing called life.
We all should be constantly learning. I certainly have over the last 2 ½ years in business. The following is a composite of 30 things I think I think I know or learned in business.
- Come up with a solid company name. While Jim Strawn & Company is not unique or clever, it is functional. I decided with my many West Virginia connections, years of networking, and fostering all those many relationships, that a few people knew and would recognize the name. It seems to be working.
- Become good at sales. My secret to sales? No secret at all. I learned this one from Gitomer. People hate to be sold, but they love to buy. All I really do is provide businesses the opportunity to buy. Another secret, that again is really no secret, is to get in the ‘batters box’ as many times as you can. When I get invited to have coffee or lunch with someone, I always say yes. Always.
- Be a Johnny Appleseed. Remember him? He was an American pioneer nurseryman who introduced apple trees to large parts of Pennsylvania, Ontario, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, as well as the northern counties of present-day West Virginia. He was always planting apple tree seeds. I am always planting seeds as well. Mine are business seeds. Always putting a bug in someone’s ear. Always.
- Persistence is a key. After plunging in, don’t give up. I wanted to. Trust me. Almost did. So glad I didn’t. As we say in the Sad Mad Glad Books, ‘Keep your nose to the grindstone’ and ‘Keep a stiff upper lip’. Early on (with zero clients) I would get up and go to my favorite coffee shops. Network, talk, meet with, explain, discuss, learn, and then hope. It took me 4 months to get a client, then I got 3 in a week. BOOM, I was out of the gate.
- Have a nice engaging web site. People will visit your web site. Have one that reflects your personality and your business. Good info, lots of pictures and current posts. Keep it updated. Everything I do on social media, leads back to my web site. All the breadcrumbs I leave behind, lead back to my web site. Have a call to action on every page.
- Put the right people around you. My company has 1 employee, me, but the ‘And Company’ portion of Jim Strawn & Company is critical. I have handshake deals with other marketing professionals who do aspects of our business better than I do. So, we work together for the betterment of the client. Basically revenue-sharing yet ensuring the client is the beneficiary. It is a rewarding business model.
- Have a 1-minute elevator pitch. Know your service. Couch it in a unique position. Deliver it confidently, passionately, and articulately. Maybe spin in a little humor if that is your style. Be memorable. Make it difficult for folks to forget you. Remember, you are your own Johnny Appleseed, always planting. I have harvested some seeds 2 and 3 years later.
- The days mesh together. Saturday’s & Sunday’s become just another day. But you will have freedom. Yet you realize it’s a double-edged sword. In the world of social media marketing and running your own business, you just naturally take care of things no matter the time of day or the day. After a while, you find a rhythm and routine.
- Not everyone will appreciate your journey. Mother Theresa once wrote, ‘If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies: succeed anyway. You will always have your family and very close friends who support you along the way. But, your 2nd and 3rd tier friends just won’t understand what’s up. Why your not at card games, or golf outings, or dinners, or hanging out at Happy Hour. Your priorities have change. It’s OK. Move along.
- Learn how your budget works. QuickBooks is slick. I know the basics. Speaking of basics, this one is not rocket science. WATCH YOUR EXPENSES. Do not spend more than you make. Just like your household. The most stressful thing in business and life, is to spend more than you make. I am very conservative with my business spending including payment to myself.
- Nurture your Network. My favorite thing. I love networking. Cause I love people. This one is easy and fun for me. Try to hit all the Business After Hours, Fundraising Events, and Socials you can. Then follow up. Stay in touch. I have joined a business group. We meet every 2 weeks for 45 minutes. We focus on referrals, networking and fellowship. It is really working out well for me. Again, my favorite part of business.
- Find your flow. Find your rhythm of the day, the week, the month, the quarter and the year. We are creatures of habit. I like to get 8 hours of sleep every night. Which obviously, leaves me 16 in the day. I go hard those 16 hours. But I am cognizant to weave in personal with professional. I take breaks from my work. I also carve out time to hit the gym or go for a bike ride. The circadian clock and rhythm keep your body structured and tuned to responsibility. Listen to your body.
- Soft skills are important. Having strong character traits is so important, especially in our small state, where it feels like ‘Mayberry.’ Skills such as: integrity, responsiveness, respect, trustworthiness, empathy, humor, and citizenship go a long way in client and prospective client relationship. Do what you say you will do and say what you are willing to do. There are 3 key features in emotional intelligence: Adaptability, Stress Management and Caring. Work on honing those skills every single day. These soft skills can and will open doors for you. Your reputation is everything when running your own small business. Folks certainly don’t have to like you, but make sure they have no reason not to respect you.
- You are are the chief, cheerleader, bottle-washer, accountant, and receptionist. You literally must do it all. Especially as the only employee. No job is beneath you. And if you do not know how to do something, you best be calling someone who does. The appreciation you gain for understanding ALL the necessary skill sets it takes to operate a business, is mind-numbing. Attitude is a key here.
- Do one thing at a time. This one is from the ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ department. This is a tough one for me. With my ADHD and all. But when I do focus on one thing at a time, I seem to get more accomplished. Although you might think you are multi-tasking, studies indicate, it is virtually impossible to do more than one thing at a time. If you must, use the Wunderlist app and put everything on the task list. It helps.
- You must market your business. No one will market it for you. Yes, your network, past clients, connections, etc. will make referrals, but you must market your business. Having a solid and thorough Linkedin account is critical. I use 4 social sites, emails, web site, sponsorships and events to market my services. It is constant. Even when your plate is full.
- Sometimes ‘good’ is good enough. Another tough one. But sometimes, getting something done good instead of your ‘OCD Perfect’ is good enough. Yes, with more time and better focus and concentration, you could have done a better job, but getting something done functionally is sometimes, all you need. Stop with the obsession to be perfect. Good is good enough.
- Perception is reality. Branding is important in business. According to the American Marketing Association, a brand is a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s goods or service as distinct from those of other sellers. Branding is a daily grind of staying Top of Mind.
- Make things simple. Don’t over-analyze things. This one is easy for me, because I am a simple man. Keep things as simple as possible. Simple is good. Living and working a simple life gives you more time for the important things. Simplify not Over-fy your life.
- Don’t be caught with ‘Egg on your Face’. Have you ever had egg on your face? I have. It is quite embarrassing. It means to be extremely embarrassed. Usually the embarrassment is the result of one’s own actions. Caught with egg on one’s face is to be left looking foolish. I really do not care for that feeling. So, as mentioned above, good is good enough. Be as prepared as possible. Even if not fully ready, confidence with a little knowledge can take you a long way.
- Celebrate the small milestones. As my dear friend, Linda Arnold once wrote, we can live by 2 laws. The Law of Abundance, in which we are forever grateful for ALL we have and live in awe of everything around us. Or we can live by the Law of Lack, in which you live by focusing on all you DON’T have and all you haven’t accomplished. Too many live by this law. Stop it! Celebrate the small things. Baby steps.
- Read and share. I am a big fan of reading business articles to keep me sharp and up to date with trends. If you want to learn about business or improve on any aspect of your business, on-line articles are quite affordable, quick reads and easy to research. It is so easy to educate yourself with all the information at our disposal. If you liked it and gained from it, so might others. Share it. Read and share it. Do it!
- Stay curious and inquisitive. This is easy for me. Too easy maybe. See, I love stuff. I love to learn and try lots of new things. I ask a lot of questions. Always learning. And it helps you to stay sharp. My interest is always piqued. Take the time to learn about new ways or even new industries. By being curious, you will continue to thrive and grow in today’s turbulent market.
- Practice mindfulness. This is a relatively new practice for me. It’s a busy world. You can get overwhelmed. Or at least feel overwhelmed. Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment, the right now, and accepting it without hesitating or judging. Mindfulness is a key element in my stress reduction and overall happiness.
- Helps to have an understanding life-partner. Speaking of happiness, my bride makes me so happy. Running your own business is hard enough, but without the love and support of your partner, it is nearly impossible. My wife Lisa is my backbone. There is no way I am doing this without her. She just gets me. Supports me. Cheers me on. Instills confidence. Encourages me. Let’s me be me which allows us to be us. I simply love and adore her and very grateful that she supports me and my journey into these uncharted waters.
- Be confident and believe. Believe in your plan as you believe in yourself. Practice that muscle of optimism. Stay upbeat and positive that everything will work out. Take baby steps. Believe that all things happen for the greater good of your plan. Accept setbacks while continuing to believe. This one is all about faith in your plan and His master plan.
- Success begins at the end of your comfort zone. Everybody enjoys comfort. It’s just easier. Whether it’s our relationships, our personal life, where we live or our work, comfort seduces us into mediocrity. And the delicate part is, it’s hard to fight because it’s just so darn comfortable. Jump out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are green. I have learned so much in the last 30 months. I even became an adjunct professor at our local university. Teaching 3 different courses while starting my business. Talk about green. Boy oh boy! Stepping out of your comfort zone is intimidating, but once you’ve done it, the positives are gleaming.
- Set your goals higher than you first thought. You are more capable than you realize. Use your skill set. My goals are high. So high, I haven’t hit them yet, but the trend is good. Being entrepreneurial allows you to give yourself a raise whenever you want. You just must work for it. When you have your own company, everything is right in front of you. Go get it.
- Patience is a virtue. Job had it right. This is a hard one, well, just because. Bills pile up. Phone doesn’t ring. Clients are waiting, etc. The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it open. Arnold Glasgow. The more patient you are with others, the likelier you are to be viewed positively by your peers, clients, and potential clients.
- Enjoy the ride. The freedom to be your own boss, have you own schedule, break when you want, go on vacation when you want, work whenever the time is right for you, work from where ever is comfortable and do all this for YOURSELF, is the BEST! I wouldn’t change a thing from the last 30 months. I might do some things differently during the next 30 months, but the ride has been accelerating! I am enjoying it.