Post No. 35

7 Things We’ve Learned in 7 Years as Business Owners

Daor Design has come a long way since 2011. We’ve learned how to serve clients from afar, we’ve added new services, we’ve grown our team, we’ve made an acquisition and we’ve learned a whole lot about owning a business. With our birthday coming up, we wanted to take some time and share seven of the biggest things we’ve learned from our first seven years as business owners. So if you’re a fellow small business owner, sit back, relax, and take a peek behind the scenes of our journey.

  1. Surround yourself with other small business owners.
    If you’re not careful, owning a small business can be very isolating. You work in your business during business hours and you work on your business nights and weekends. When challenges come up, you try to solve them on your own by sinking even more time into your business. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Most small business owners face very similar challenges. It’s worth the effort to build relationships with other small business owners for encouragement and advice. We have a handful of friends who also own small businesses (you know who you are). Aside from just enjoying each other’s company, it has been invaluable to be able to be transparent about the ups and downs of owning a business with people who understand. We’ve given advice, received advice, and in some cases, even found synergies between our companies to make us all stronger.
  2. You’re only as good as your team.
    If you’re like most small business owners, you’ve started out as a solopreneur. You do it all. You answer the phones, keep the books and single-handedly crank out your product or service. The margins are nice, but it’s not sustainable for a growing company. That was us about three years into our business. So we built a team and have never looked back. Our team has not only helped us scale, but they’ve also helped us offer a better service than we ever could have on our own. If you’re in business for the long haul, a solid team is a must.
  3. Invest in your processes.
    We know we’re a little OCD about our processes (our team can attest to this), but they really do matter. As you grow your team, processes help ensure you’re offering a consistent client experience. When you’re getting ready to delegate something to your team for support, take the time to document the ideal process and train your team accordingly. You’ll need to provide some accountability and fine tuning along the way, but that’s okay. Developing solid processes from the start is the best way to duplicate yourself as you scale your business without sacrificing quality. Once you do it, you’ll wonder why you waited so long.
  4. Resist the urge to micromanage.
    This is a biggie. Your business is your baby, and, if you’re like most entrepreneurs, the reason you got into business is because you think you can do everything better than everyone else. Yes, we’re talking to you. You know you need help, so you build your team, but then you have trouble getting out of their way so they can do their jobs. You make up all sorts of excuses for why you have to stay involved in every detail, but the truth is, you’re just a micromanager. As a recovering micromanager, when I, Sarah, catch myself starting to micromanage, it’s typically because I’m either not confident in the processes we’ve set up for our team, or because we’ve inadequately trained the team. Either way, it’s usually more of a reflection on me than on the capabilities of our team. Learning to step back and give our team room to grow has been a healthy process for our business and for us.
  5. Take the time to get to know your clients.
    In today’s world, we want results and we want them now. It’s easy to jump on the next social media bandwagon (remember Periscope?), or blindly pump money into the next sure-fire marketing tactic. Some of those things have their place from time to time, but when you’re always looking for the next shortcut to grow your business, you’ll continue to get short-term results. We like to call that sugar high marketing…you get a burst of activity from a new tactic, and then you revert to a slump forcing you to look for the next big thing. Get out of that cycle. It’s expensive and discouraging. Instead, invest in building long-term relationships with your clients. Take the time to get to know them and understand their needs. If you look at people like a piggy bank there to help you hit your next sales quota, they’ll feel it…and they’ll leave as soon as they have an opportunity. Instead, truly try to understand their needs, and work every day to offer a quality product or service that meets those needs. Building relationships with your clients makes it natural for you to operate with their best interest in mind. That’s good for their business and for your business.
  6. It’s okay to say no.
    We used to say yes to every project that came through the door. Small business owners can easily fall into the trap of trying to be all things to all people. A client asks you for something that’s not quite what you do, but in an effort to please them you scramble to accommodate the request. If you’re not careful, migrating too far outside your core competency can waste your time and money. Even worse, it can put you at risk of sending a sub-par product or service out the door, which can quickly erode the reputation of your business.So what do we do? Now, instead of trying to say yes to every request we get, we keep a short list of trusted small business owners we can recommend for projects outside of our service offerings. This allows us to maintain our standards of quality (by staying in our niche), build synergistic relationships with other small businesses and still get the people what they want…even if it’s not through us.
  7. Set benchmarks and celebrate along the way.
    When you start a business, it’s easy to just put your head down and get to work without having a clear definition of success. Before you know it, days turn into months, months turn into years and you don’t have a clear idea of what you’re working towards or if you’re making any real progress. Most business owners will say they generally want to be bigger or more profitable, but they never take the time to get specific. Pause long enough to envision “wild success,” in the words of David Allen in his must-read book Getting Things Done. Map out 1, 3 and 5 year goals in line with your big picture vision. Then take it one step further and map out quarterly benchmarks to keep you on track with your goals for the next twelve months.At the end of each quarter, take time to celebrate your progress and commit to next quarter’s benchmarks. This gives you a healthy awareness of where you are in the life of your business and what you need to be doing over the next 90 days to move the needle towards your bigger picture vision. Too often, business owners get so busy working that they forget to stop and celebrate from time to time. If you’re in it for the long haul, it’s important that you enjoy the journey and celebrate incremental successes along the way.

Are you a small business owner? We’d love to learn from you, too! Contact us with your best pieces of advice. And from one small business to another, keep up the great work!