Beyond Business Books

Four Things I’ve Learned After Four Years of Entrepreneurship

I have taken more vacation days in the first four months of this year than I did in my first two years of starting my business.

Am I slacking on the job or getting lazy? I hope it’s the opposite.Jake and Graham

Four years into my journey of being a small business owner, I’ve learned a few things along the way. Books, podcasts and advisors have helped me get to this point. But there is no manual on how to handle situations that are unique to you, your business, employees and clients.

Here are four lessons I’ve learned over the past four years.

1. Have faith
Leaving a full-time job with great benefits and a consistent paycheck wasn’t easy. Add to that equation two kids and a wife with a part-time job. That made my decision seem even crazier to outsiders. I remember telling my accountant my plans to start a business in 2014 and the “are you serious” look he gave me from across the table.

The first two months were tough. The phone wasn’t ringing and there weren’t any signed contracts for projects. I was hustling, but didn’t have a lot to show for it. I began to doubt my decision to go off on my own.

Faith is believing in something in the absence of evidence. For me, this faith was a big part of my decision to become an entrepreneur. I was walking blindly into a brand new experience, trusting I would be able to support my family.

Each day I still lean on this faith. There are times when business slows down and I look at our project list and wonder when that next contract is going to come in. So far God has not let me down.

2. Use data, but more importantly your gut
Pulling data can help make certain decisions simple. For example, I’ll be able to see if the number of people I’m reaching with this blog justifies my time investment to create it. Other decisions are not so black and white. In fact, that tends to be the norm.

I’ve learned to trust my gut. Knowing that every time I come across a success or failure, my gut gets stronger. I try to take in all of the information I can knowing that I’ll need to make a decision at some point. I often face this when deciding whether to post a job for a new position. I can look at sales numbers and the project pipeline for some data points. But a lot goes back to faith and the gut check. It’s hard to recognize if an increase in business is just a “bubble” of work or the new normal that needs to be staffed for.

3. Hire intentionally
The pressure for high growth drives many leaders to be quick to hire, but slow to put off the awkward, hard conversations. A poor work ethic or a bad attitude can be toxic for an entire team. I’ve learned it isn’t compassionate to keep one person and make the whole team struggle as a result. We need teams in which everyone can trust each other to do a great job. Finding the right person for the job can be difficult. Someone who has strong skills and a lot of experience on their resume doesn’t always make a great hire.

I’m in an industry where there is no shortage of people wanting to find full-time work. I’ve always had a large pool of candidates to choose from, which has allowed me to interview a number of people before extending a job offer. It is not easy. It takes having hard conversations. It takes leadership. Putting in the effort to find the right people has saved me time in the long run.

4. Go slow to go fast
I’m usually all about speed and time. When driving I typically don’t take the scenic route, I want to get to the destination as soon as possible. As a business owner, it’s easier for me to think short-term, optimal performance and day to day operations.

I’ve come to realize my time is better spent slowing down to think big picture, in order to go fast later. If we are constantly in a rush, it is easy to make mistakes and lose the long-term opportunities that lie ahead. I’ve found the importance in working on the business, rather than always working in it.

Small efforts towards slowing down can make a huge impact. During the workday I’ve seen a difference when I step away from my computer and eat at the lunch table rather than at my desk. Research shows slowing down and taking a break improves our focus and productivity for the rest of the day.

Remember those vacations I talked about? This mindset has also shifted the way I think about the need to disconnect for a little while to grow personally and professionally.

-Jake