Most of what I learned in 2010 had to do with — surprise, surprise! — running a business. I’ve been a consultant and solopreneur a few times in my past, but until I started [meta]marketer in early 2009 I had never begun a venture with the mindset that I was creating something that could potentially exist without me, something of lasting value. Running a business with employees and clients and taxes and bills and lions and tigers and bears is truly a whole different ballgame from operating as Yourself, Incorporated. I’m sure I must be wiser after nearly two years in business, but I actually feel like I’m less intelligent than when I began. Which, I suppose, is proof positive that I am wiser.
So without pretending that I’m anything other than a rookie at all this, here are some of the lessons I learned in 2010.
Some Fun-to-Learn Lessons
- There is nothing quite like the feeling of starting a business, and nothing like seeing it enter its second year. The process could have been easier, but it could just as easily have been much harder, and at least professionally, there isn’t a whole lot else I’d rather be doing.
- Beer + brainstorming = creative freakin’ genius. Or at least what seems like genius at the time.
- Our best engagements have been with clients who are already at least semi-conversant in our language when we meet. And I do mean this pretty much literally. This was a less obvious realization than you might think for someone whose educational background is in linguistics.
- Figuring out who you really are as a startup business is sometimes as nuanced and challenging as figuring out who you really are as a teenager. Of course, there’s far less call for benzoyl peroxide and far more call for beer. (Well, more beer than in my teenage years; your teen years may vary.)
Some Tough-to-Learn Lessons (read: Candid Confessions)
- Even people you trust will sometimes let you down, and even people you respect don’t always have the guts to break bad news to you directly. But those relationships still matter, particularly in a big small town like Nashville, and even a smoldering bridge is better than one that’s left in ashes.
- When you start a business in a down economy, everyone tells you how smart (and brave!) you are to do it. But you’re still starting a business in a down economy, and that sure ain’t easy.
- Don’t take on risks on behalf of a client without a contract that covers your ass… unless you’re prepared to lose it (your ass, that is). This one could be generalized as: be careful about taking on too much risk, and don’t take on risk too early in the game.
- On the other hand, being too fearful of risk means never making gutsy moves, and it’s gutsy moves that propel you forward.
- Cash flow most definitely is king. And the business owner is its court jester.
- The E-myth adage to work “on your business, not in your business” is all fine and well until the “in your business” stuff isn’t working as well, and your clients feel as if they’re not getting value from the person they perceive to be the company’s strongest asset. Honestly, this is a balance I am working on, and hope to improve in 2011.
A Leftover Lesson
- Orange is a color that provokes strong reactions.
Lifelong Lesson: Be Aware of Who Wants You to Succeed, and Be Grateful.
Thank you to everyone who has supported us, encouraged us, and otherwise cheered us on in 2010. Let’s raise a glass (mmm, beer) to 2011 bringing us all a whole lot more fun-to-learn lessons and far fewer tough-to-learn lessons.