Deciding to take the plunge into owning my own business has certainly been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life. I know I have beaten the odds as statistics show that over 90% of small businesses will fail within 10 years. Not only have I persevered but also continued to thrive, grow and expand.
But along with those accomplishments, profits, and celebratory fist bumps have also come breakdowns, tears, and lessons learned. Even though I don’t know if I will ever completely feel like I am in cruise control, I do feel that I have a clear vision of the direction I want to go and a better strategy of how to get there. As I look back over the last 8 years I’d like to share a few of the valuable lessons I have learned.
1. INVESTING IN YOUR BUSINESS IS CRUCIAL
That old adage: “It takes money to make money” holds real value in the world of small business success. It is not only important to invest back into your business in order to successfully continue to grow and scale but a crucial piece of the equation. I remember as a first time business owner all those years ago being so scared to spend any money on the business until we had more money coming in that I skimped on anything I felt wasn’t absolutely necessary to keep the doors open. I felt suffocated by the business and constantly worried if I would even make payroll. I reached out to a client of mine who also happened to be a very successful business owner I respected to ask for some help. He gladly said YES and looked over my books and business plan.
After reviewing my numbers he said the one thing he could see was that I had not invested enough money into the business to start with. I was not spending any money on marketing. He recommended I make another capital investment, which of course freaked me out… but I knew these were the decisions that make or break a business so I took his advice. With that additional small capital investment I was able to participate in a community wide marketing project and business took off. We more than doubled our revenue over the next 6 months and I have never felt suffocated again. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s this – if you’re unwilling to invest in your own business, then why should anyone else?
Investing in your business might be scary but it is crucial. It doesn’t have to be everything you have in the bank, but a significant amount of dollars, when targeted effectively can dramatically improve your bottom line.
That also brings me to my next lesson learned.
2. YOU DON’T HAVE TO GO IT ALONE
I used to be so afraid to ask for help because then people would know I was a complete fraud and had no idea what I was doing. Like most people I was afraid of sounding dumb. I feel like so many of us have these self-limiting beliefs and fears about what other people are going to think about us. If I had not had the courage to ask my client for help I would have never been able to take his great advice that turned my business around.
Across five studies, a research team led by Harvard Business School’s Alison Wood Brooks finds that people think better of others when they ask for advice — mostly because people really love to give advice. “Being asked for advice seems to give us a self-confidence boost, which in turn enhances our opinion of the advice-seeker. Essentially, people are so flattered to be asked for advice that their heads swell a little and they think of themselves as smart; that reflects well on the advice-seeker who is in turn believed to be smart enough to recognize their game.”
In the words of Rue Paul, “Your fear of looking stupid is making you look stupid.” So take my advice and the next time you’re feeling the need to ask for help, just do it.
3. NEVER COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS… THEIR PATH IS DIFFERENT THAN YOURS
It is often said that COMPARISON IS THE THIEF OF JOY. I do believe that some comparison is healthy and important. You should take a look at what your peers and competition are doing to stay current. However, don’t let it eat away at you and give you feelings of doubt or negativity. We should be happy for others successes. If we are doing things right there will always be enough business to go around and in the words of Sheryl Sandberg “There should be enough room at the table for all of us and if there is not just pull up an extra chair”.
Let others successes be the driving motivation to keep you working hard to compete. The minute you let it get you down it will only distract you from your goals and what you have accomplished so far. So it’s like I commonly say to my clients during Pilates class “ Keep your eyes on your own Reformer”.
4. THE PATH TO SUCCESS IS NOT A STRAIGHT LINE
We all know “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line” and while that is certainly true for mathematics it is not true in business. Creating a business plan, setting goals, working towards them, and achieving success does not always follow the shortest, easiest or straightest path. You will have set backs, speed bumps, roadblocks and detours along the way. You can often feel as if you are swimming upstream with a current that only gets stronger the longer you swim. But eventually you get more adept at finding the right path where the current is lightest and your swim becomes easier.
I have made a mountain of mistakes and continue to make mistakes, but the path I am on continues to move up the grid even thought it may not be straight. I have worked with coaches and found mentors that help me choose the right path for me and be kind of like a trail guide on my journey. People that have gone before me and have some insight as to the straightest path. But in the end YOU are going to have to figure out what your success is and how you are going to get there.
Don’t be so focused on the finish line that you forget to enjoy the journey.
As Joseph Pilates believed “Patience and persistence are vital qualities in the ultimate successful accomplishment of any worthwhile endeavor.”
5. BE SURE TO CELEBRATE YOUR SUCCESS
All too often this side of business ownership gets missed (especially for women). We focus on what’s not working so we can change it and forget to recognize what’s going well and to purposefully stop and celebrate it. It is important to stop every once in a while and reflect on your successes and achievements. It is healthy not only for you as a business owner to be proud or your own accomplishments but it goes a long way with your team as well. If you brush over your successes you lose out on an opportunity to keep yourself and your team inspired and motivated and cultivate a success mindset.
Celebrating success reminds everyone of the goals that were set and why you set them. It unifies your team and helps them remember they are working for a winning organization. It allows you to focus on the positive outcomes rather than the negative challenges.
Once a year I try and do a team building reward for meeting our company goals. I have done everything from a spa day for the entire team to an all expense paid weekend getaway for my team and their families. These gestures go a long way with showing the people that work so hard for you that you appreciate their hard work and loyalty and allows you to have fun and enjoy each other outside of the day-to-day grind of the business.
6. NOT EVERYONE IS YOUR CUSTOMER
The phrase “The customer is always right” originated in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of a department store in London. It is generally used in the business world not only to convince clients or customers that they will get good service but also to convince staff members to provide good customer service. There are times in business however that I believe this adage can do more harm than good.
If you are in any customer service related industry you have had to deal with complaints and unhappy customers. It is obviously important to provide excellent customer service and dealing with these issues is par for the course. But then you have those customers that go above and beyond your typical complaint.
In my business customer service is actually one of our core values and a huge part of our success but that does not mean that my customers should be allowed to get away with whatever they feel like. Staff members have to put up with a lot from customers and allowing unruly, abrasive and aggressive clients get whatever they want begins to devalue your loyalty to your staff. Just because a client pays for a service does not give them the right to abuse you or your employees. If your employees don’t think you have their back and always take the customers side over theirs it will begin to foster feelings of resentment, which is never good in an organization.
Sometimes you have to realize that some customers are just bad for business. There have been a few times in my 10 years in business where we suggested clients might be better served elsewhere. Now you may be thinking…”What??? You told your client to go to one of your competitors” and the answer is YES. My staff and I work very hard to create a positive and uplifting environment where our customers feel confident, comfortable and happy. I will not let anyone, employee or client, sabotage that. So next time you are dealing with another blatantly aggressive and unruly customer that you cannot seem to appease no matter how many concessions you make for them, consider if they are the kind of customer you want for your business.
7. LEARN HOW TO ADMIT WHEN YOU ARE WRONG
So often in business, leaders believe that admitting they were wrong shows weakness and ineptitude. I firmly disagree with this idea. I believe that admitting you are wrong, especially when you hold a position of leadership, earns you more respect and goes along way with your team and even your customers.
If you want to be successful in business you have to be willing to set aside your pride and insecurities, and come to understand that you must earn – not demand – the respect of your team.
Making mistakes is part of any business journey and an integral part of leadership just as we described in the previous section about the windy road to success. When you are honest about your failures and can learn from your mistakes, you earn respect and along the way create an environment of transparency. It shows that you too are vulnerable and not above making poor choices. Your team will begin to value the importance of having each other’s back and isn’t that what we all want as leaders??? For our team to stick together even during the failures. An environment that promotes trust stimulates innovation and initiative that allows businesses to grow.
8. SOMETIMES YOU JUST GOTTA BET ON YOURSELF
Each day we have choices and decisions we have to make. These decision whether Big or Small create opportunities for us to bet on ourselves or against ourselves.
One way you bet against yourself is when you really want to say NO to something and instead say YES. I read on a BLOG somewhere once that if you aren’t saying HELL YEAH to something then it should be a NO…I have been tying to incorporpate this into my business practice and while it is challenging for me to say NO it has really been helpful. You don’t have to feel guilt saying No. You should feel like you are prioritizing your life, which is making you a smarty-pants and clearing the way for you to ROCK the things that really matter.
And when you bet against yourself, you will always lose. No amount of betting against yourself is going to help you achieve your dreams or fulfill your vision. No amount of playing small out of fear is ever going to lead to success.
On the other hand, when you bet ON yourself, you take a chance. You are trusting your gut, trusting your instincts, trusting your decision making process and believing in what’s right about you. You are allowing yourself to see your true potential and go after your dreams.
And when you bet on yourself, you give yourself the chance to win. And WIN BIG!
Now will there be times when the house wins and you don’t come out a winner? Of course there will. That is also why the path to success is not a straight line. But rather than looking at these instances as failures we need to look at them as opportunities for growth, development and learning. Betting on yourself allows you to open yourself up to bigger and better opportunities. It gives you permission to chase after your dreams instead of constantly hedging your bets.
9. BE HUMBLE AND AUTHENTIC
Maybe the most valuable lesson of them all is to be completely authentic. It has been proven that people do business more often with someone they LIKE and also with companies that provide a social purpose. Authentic businesses inspire and prosper.
We try to offer our clients a genuine experience. An experience that is honest and transparent and consistent every time they arrive at our studio. It not only encourages engagement with our clients but also turns them into advocates for our business.
Frequently share your values and mission not only with your staff but also with your clients and make sure everybody is on board with following through with that goal. Pride yourself on remaining true to your vision for where you want your business to go. Being real, authentic, humble and genuine will draw people to you and create raving fans for your business for years to come.
Christa Gurka, MSPT, PMA®-CPT