As part of an effort to promote Small Business Week, I was invited by the Calgary Chamber of Commerce to participate in their six-part blog series focusing on small businesses in Calgary. Writing this blog allowed me to reflect on the past three years following the launch of Forward Level, and while I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself an adrenaline junkie, I’m now left wondering if I should reconsider that.This isn’t your typical bungee jumping, skydiving kind of adventure – it’s the entrepreneur version – the kind where you jump out of a plane and then build the parachute during free fall.
This month marks Forward Level Marketing’s 3rd birthday. September has now become an important month of reflection for me, reminding me of when I first took the plunge out of the proverbial airplane and welcomed the challenge of entrepreneurship. In my opinion, there is no better learning experience than starting your own company – it’s an exciting, grueling, demanding, and most of all rewarding adventure. Being exposed to the finer intricacies of a business has changed how I approach business. It has influenced the conversations I’ve had with other business owners, colleagues, and of course, our clients. Through these conversations, and a healthy dose of self-learning, the past three years have been a crash-course in Entrepreneurship 101. Below are eight of the most impactful lessons, observations, and wisdoms that have been bestowed upon me in the early stages of what I hope will be a very long adventure.
Never say "no" to an invitation
If it sounds like simple advice, it is. However, the follow-through (just like anything else) is where the real challenge lies. I received this valuable piece of advice early on and it has played a significant role in the growth of my company. While it can be tiring – and unrealistic – to accept every invite, you will be surprised by the doors that can open by saying yes.
Talent: learn, retain, and challenge it
I've been fortunate enough to work with some very talented folks over my career and I don't take the opportunity to learn from them for granted. While it’s important to recognize when the HR gods guide talent through your company’s doors, it’s even more important to recognize that you have to work to retain it. Challenge and grow your talent. Don’t bottle it up.
The power of process
Processes require a great amount of initial investment, however like any investment, you get what you put in. I'm sure on more than one occasion my team has probably thought, “Amish is a complete OCD lunatic over the smallest details.” It’s these details that can make or break a process, and efficient processes are what make businesses successful in delivering their service or product effectively. Don't underestimate the power of organization and clear direction.
Your time is valuable – invest it wisely
Invest in systems and resources that allow you to focus your time on what you do best. This was a hard lesson to follow at first, especially as a young company fighting for every ounce of cash flow. I’ve gradually invested in resources to make the company entirely cloud-based, including being able to run payroll from my iPhone in Italy (true story). As your company grows, so will its needs in IT, Accounting, Marketing, and Human Resources, and you only have so much time. The more spaghetti you take off of your plate, the more room you have for delicious sauce!
Listen to your gut
I have trusted my inner sixth sense to guide me through important decisions. On the rare occasions I didn’t, I found I was convincing myself the decision was right and inevitably, it wasn't. In the moments leading up to my decision to start Forward Level, there was a very distinctive gut feeling that the timing was right. In my opinion, all entrepreneurs have some degree of instinctive sense. Listen to what got you here in the first place.
It’s lonely at the top
The top I am referring to is the organizational chart. In a small business where the organizational chart is fairly flat, taking the initiative to chat with other entrepreneurs who understand the highs and the lows of running a business is extremely valuable. Don’t underestimate the impact isolation can have - a soundboard does wonders (especially over lunch or wine)!
A leader needs a mentor
This year it’s my goal to work on this. Even though you are the leader of the organization, it doesn’t mean you know it all – I know I don’t. The most successful leaders in the corporate and political worlds have advisors helping them lead, so why shouldn’t you?
Don't burn out
Four months ago I never would have written those words – I was so caught up in the excitement of entrepreneurship. However, after taking a three week trip to Europe this past July (the first extended trip since starting Forward Level), I realized two things: 1) The business will survive with you on holidays, and 2) I needed that break. Take a break, go on a holiday, and return rejuvenated and excited to get back at it again.
I am optimistic at least one of these insights resonates with you as a fellow entrepreneur. Writing this blog has been the catalyst for deep reflection on all that I have learned over the past few years, and the ultimate goal is for it to spark a growing conversation among us. My challenge to all of us as entrepreneurs is to continue supporting each other and sharing our lessons, wisdoms and observations, generously. Reach out to me, and each other, by either tweeting me directly (@ForwardLevel) or by using the hashtag #SMBManifesto.