The speaker at tomorrow's Founder Friday Chicago offers words of wisdom to mark her company's second anniversary. By Rachel Portell (Founder & CEO, Convometrics)
A few weeks ago was my company’s two-year anniversary, which has me thinking about where I was at two years ago. It’s incredible how much you can learn and grow in such a short period of time, and I am so thankful I took the "leap of faith" to start my company. As I think back on all of the lessons that I have learned, I wanted to share five that I find particularly important with any entrepreneurs just getting started, or with anyone thinking about starting their own business. I by no means "know it all" (not even relatively close), but fortunately my entrepreneurial experiences have taught me a great deal, and I want to share my learnings with whomever may find them useful.
Perseverance Is Key
There will be incredible highs and incredible lows. There will be exciting days, there will be normal days and there will be endless 16-hour workdays. It’s an emotional roller coaster, but if you’ve got a good idea, a strong work ethic and the desire to truly see your business succeed, you can persevere.
About six months in, someone recommend I read the book Think and Grow Rich. Two simple sentences in that book lead to a new, strengthened focus, and ultimately to where I am (and my business is) today. "'I will burn all bridges behind me, and stake my entire future on my ability to get what I want.'" He left himself no possible way of retreat. He had to win or perish!”
Something clicked, and I stopped looking through LinkedIn job boards (an easy escape). I put all of my energy and focus into getting what I wanted, a successful marketing agency with steady growth based on client successes. When I think about my business two years ago, I sometimes cannot believe I’m where I am today, but I’m thankful that I persevered.
Create a Strong Network
I have a formal mentor, an accountability group, successful family members and friends who are (fortunately) always willing to listen and offer advice and an excellent group of peers. I can honestly say that I would not be where I am without the support of my network.
My network is incredibly important for many reasons. First, I’m only one person with my own knowledge. I know what I know, so it is incredibly important to tap into the knowledge of successful business owners, entrepreneurs who are in, or have been in, my situation, peers and friends. While multiple opinions are not always recommended, understand what you do not know and determine who can be a trusted resource. Avoid arrogance and ignorance.
Second, there is truth in the saying that people buy people. Two years later, my business has been built off of referrals from my network, and now referrals from my clients (who, theoretically are now part of my network). Words to the wise… do not forget that a network is not a "thing"; it is people that you care about. Do not be selfish, and give back every chance you get.
Build an Incredible Team
You’ll hear this one a million times, but that is because it is so incredibly important and true. Invest in people; make sure you hire the proper team to support your mission and vision. If you come to find that you’ve made a hiring mistake, do not let that mistake linger. Your team is everything, and it needs to be made up of people who are going to contribute to the business’s success. On the flip side, make sure to keep your incredibly important team happy.
When you can, hire people that are smarter than you. Your business will reach a point where you can no longer control every aspect, and at that point having incredibly capable people in place is crucial. It will put your mind at ease (and free up much needed time) if you know they are doing their job better than you ever could. Plus, hiring smarter produces a productive environment where everyone can learn from one another.
In the services industry, your clients are practically extended members of your team. For that reason, it is important to qualify potential clients to ensure that you can provide the service that they need in a manner appropriate for both parties. I now know that I’d rather pass on a client that may not be a good fit for our team, rather than go through a dreaded "break up" a few months in ("No really, it’s me not you…").
The Debate Over Good Sales vs Quality Products
At a recent investor boot camp (don’t ask why I was there – definitely not an investor!), the room got into a debate over whether they would prefer to invest in a good, quality product or service, or a good sales team. I immediately sided with the good, quality product, because that’s what my business was built on, but quickly realized that I’ve been a sales person for the past two years. It was an eye-opening debate (and one you should take note of if you are looking to raise money), and here are my (current) final thoughts on the discussion:
If you have a high quality product or service you can likely hire and build a good sales team. That being said, as an entrepreneur, if you cannot sell your own product or service, or get people excited about what you are doing, chances are no one else will be excited either, nor will they buy into what you’re doing. As an entrepreneur, being able to sell yourself is crucial to the success of your business. You may have taken the leap of faith thinking life would be luxurious as "president" or "CEO", but you will always be your company’s number one sales person, so make sure you have the passion, hustle and burning desire to sell your dreams to the world.
Never underestimate your value, or the value of your products/services. Seriously, this is the one piece of advice I wish I had listened to from the start. I don’t regret the value I placed on myself in the beginning, it was a start, but you have to understand the long-term impact of selling yourself short. If you want healthy, long-term client or customer relationships, ensure that your clients or customers understand the value that your product or services provides. With value also comes a certain level of respect and credibility, so price accordingly.
One of my favorite clients decided to set their prices high, aiming for luxury instead of being overly accessible. And it makes perfect sense, too. If you saw a pair of pants at the store for $15 one day, and $150 the next, you would laugh, and think the designer was a joke. If, on the other hand you saw the pants for $150 one day, and $75 the next, you’d probably be excited and you might even purchase the discounted item. You can always lower your prices if you come to find they are out of whack, but it is much more difficult to raise your prices, even with good reason.
I hope these five important thoughts will be of some help as you grow your business. While my list could go on and on (time management, organization, location…), I’m curious to know what lessons have been most important to your success. If you have anything to add, please share in the comments below!
What are you top lessons learned so far?
This post originally appeared on Rachel's personal bog. About the guest blogger: The founder and CEO of Convometrics, a Chicago-based social media marketing agency, Portell leads a team of strategists that build innovative social media campaigns. She has experience working with a wide cross-section of industries including tec, consumer goods, education, non-profit and retail.