When I first opened my company, EvolveMKD, I heard a plethora of horror stories from fellow business owners about their own experiences, ranging from lying awake at night struggling to figure out how they were going to pay payroll that week, to working out of their mom’s garage for the first full year. While I can happily say that those two issues have not (knock on wood!) occurred for me to date, many other experiences did. Some helped me during my early years in business, but others held me back. If I could go back in time, here are the six things I wish someone would have told me before I opened my doors:
1) Get Comfortable Saying No
Since I had worked at a variety of agencies prior to starting my own, I had a clear vision of the kind of clients I wanted to take on when I began EvolveMKD. What I didn’t anticipate as a result of that clarity was that I would be saying “no” to people I valued and respected, either because the product or service wasn’t a fit, or because their budget wasn’t aligned with the ask. Saying no can be scary for any business owner, since you’re literally turning down money, but I knew that it was most important for me to create the kind of agency work environment I wanted for myself and my team.
2) Manage Your Energy and Your Time
Entrepreneurs are always looking for quicker, better ways to do things. Because of that, it’s easy to view an hour of open time on our calendars as an excuse to book two back-to-back calls… But what we aren’t taught is that we should also be managing and conserving our energy. This is still very much a work in progress for me, but I try to build in breaks to walk, take a deep breath, grab some water and allow myself to recover and reflect on what I just finished, and prepare for what I am about to start. Unfortunately, that sometimes means being a bit more protective of who you spend your time and energy on. I always try to make sure that if I am booking time with someone, it’s for something that will truly enhance the business — or it’s time with someone I love!
3) Getting Credit Can Be Difficult
I’ve always had a high personal credit score and low personal debt, but when I started my business, finding any bank that would give me access to credit (either a business credit card with a reasonable limit and payment terms or access to a line of credit that would help to float client expenses when needed) was nearly impossible. My accountant ended up having to call in a favor to get my initial business credit line open, plus I had to put up personal savings as collateral to secure the line. To add insult to injury, the amount of credit was even less than the savings I placed in that bank. It took nearly four years before I could get a major bank to provide me with the business banking services a business of my size really needed. If you’re thinking of opening a business, I would definitely start researching credit options with your accountant and local banks as early as possible, so you have a sense of what may be realistic for you get.
4) Identify Your “Ride Or Dies” (the people who you couldn’t do this without) and Treat Them Amazingly
As a business owner, it definitely takes time to understand the qualities you need in people in order to create the culture — and get the results — you’re looking for. Once you have those identified, it takes even longer to find the actual people that embody them. For me, these “ride or die” colleagues have been critical to our overall success. And they should be treated as such. They are not only stewards of the culture and role models for new team members, but they also continually demonstrate the kind of customer service we want to offer. As an added bonus, these team members typically recruit some “ride or die” clients as well. In order to keep my best people happy, I’ve made sure our benefits are always best in class and recently started a shareholder program for those who really treat the business as their own.
5) Sexism Is Alive And Well, But Sharing The Same Gender Does Not Guarantee Help
One of the biggest surprises I found as an entrepreneur was that it can sometimes still be an obstacle to be a woman. I’ve been asked all sorts of ridiculous questions because of my gender — whether my husband will be co-signing leases (um, no) to what my plan is for children in new business meetings (still practicing, but thanks!) I definitely thought some of these things were issues of the past, but sadly, they’re still happening today. What was equally sad and surprising is that sometimes you cannot count on your fellow woman for help. In fact, in several instances, women have put roadblocks up while men have been my biggest supporters and advocates. These experiences have made me more passionate about creating a culture where women and men can support each other — and success is driven by performance and nothing else.
6) Business Is Easier When You Come from a Place of Abundance
It’s true – I notice this daily, and it’s a huge differentiator in how business owners approach everything, from working with partners, to how they treat the competition. I have always thought that there is enough business to go around for everyone, and I am grateful that I have a solid group of other agencies I can refer potential clients to if they aren’t the right fit for us. Unfortunately, some business owners see a field of limited opportunity, and this mindset often reduces the number of good things that come their way. If you think your potential is endless, it will be, and if you think potential is finite, it will be.
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