Running your own business, no matter the size, is a lot of work. Going into the eleventh year of my business venture as a solopreneur, I can attest to the drive and ambition it takes to turn a dream into the reality of a successful business. I began The James Agency as a one-man graphic design shop out of my living room and was hell bent to turn this project into something substantial. This small beginning has blossomed into a full service advertising, web development and public relations firm with an Old Town Scottsdale office and 20 employees. There are lots of perks that come along with being the boss, like writing my own schedule, calling the shots, choosing whom to work with (both clients and staff), and, of course, enjoying the financial rewards along the way. Being an entrepreneur is an amazingly uplifting, rewarding, and pride-filled experience. I wake up everyday glad that my name is on the door and proud of my team that is just as dedicated to building this company as I am.
As with anything that is worthwhile in life, there is a ton of work involved in owning and operating your own business. The proverbial Owner’s Manual neglects to tell you about the sleepless nights, 18-hour days, amateur psychologist part you’ll play, the perpetual crisis fixer and a whole mess of other things too numerous to list.
So just like your best friend who is brave enough to confess to you that the person you’re dating truly is slime, I’m going to give it to you straight. The good. The bad. The ugly. Because when you choose to run your own business, you should begin with your eyes wide open.
Here’s the reality of being the boss and how our boutique agency has dealt with the ups and downs in a small business:
- A smooth sea never made a skillful mariner. A fortune cookie once told me this and I found it to be a prophetically profound dessert. My mantra has always been “fall forward”. Mistakes are a part of human nature, but they are particularly painful when it relates to a client. When they are made, these times become a true test of your intestinal fortitude. Mistakes stretch your capabilities and turn your skill level up a notch.
Advice: Run toward your mistake and not away from it. Don’t always expect to get it right the first time because you may disappoint yourself. The key is to learn from the experience, grow your skill set and become a more experienced practitioner. Embrace the challenges and “failures” because they give us valuable insight into doing it better the next time.
- Environment + Energy = Success. Math equations may not be your forte, but commit this one to memory. The right office environment, the right people and the right clients are the key formula to a successful business practice. The office environment is more than just the type of chairs and paint color on the walls – although those play a role. The environment also includes the tone, feel, and intangibles your office exudes. The personalities within need to mesh with that vibe. Staff and clients need to have some harmony so when working together there is synergistic energy.
Advice: Aim for a balanced equation. If you’re missing on the office environment, it’s difficult to attract and retain the right people and clients. Without the right people, the client mix will suffer. You get the gist: if one of the three areas is missing, the stool is lop-sided.
- Relationships are hard work. Dating teaches us this one and the takeaways are just as applicable to professional relationships. At TJA, this rule has been particularly prominent recently as we’ve had some challenging decisions to make regarding our clients, including evaluating whether a relationship continues to be fruitful. In some instances, we realized that the relationship was no longer the right fit for either organization and we parted ways. While this is a difficult decision to make, especially in context of the balance sheet, sometimes it is the clear choice to maintain harmony. See rule #2.
Advice: Continually fuel the client relationship. Communication reigns supreme followed closely by time in the seat, so make the “I’m just checking-in” phone calls, secure the lunch dates and attend important events with/for your clients. Their business is valuable so keep them high on the priority list. Just as important, when the relationship has run its course, don’t be afraid to let go. Only healthy relationships will help your business flourish.
- When one door closes… Difficult decisions are a daily occurrence. They may be stressful, but they are required. Everyday. I started my business thinking that I would need to make a few of these, but didn’t appreciate the quantity and quality of decisions until I really dove into my business. Some are scarier than others, some are more impactful than others but those daily decisions all contribute to the overall success of your endeavor.
Advice: Educate yourself, talk with other business owners, discuss with appropriate staff, and above all, listen closely to your instincts. While you may not be able to pinpoint exactly why you want to go in one direction, there’s a reason. Don’t be afraid to pull the trigger.
- Business Development NEVER stops. Especially when you have a robust roster of clients and a full team, it’s tempting to sit back and soak up the success you’re experiencing. You worked hard to get to this point and you should be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Just don’t let it last longer than about five minutes. You never know when the wind will change directions: a new law gets passed that affects your bottom line, a client goes out of business, a rock star employee moves to Abu Dhabi. They all happen and if you aren’t prepared, any of those can sideline you.
Advice: Network, ask clients for referrals, and join like-minded organizations to keep your pipeline full. Having the capacity to take on that new client is immaterial if they don’t know who you are.
So the skinny on entrepreneurship: roll up your sleeves and check the rainbow and pony dreams at the door. Owning your own business is a ridiculously rewarding endeavor in so many ways, but it’s a lot of work. As long as your expectations are set at the beginning, you may just find a pot of gold at the end of your rainbow.
– Veronique James, Chief Executive Officer