Entrepreneurship takes a great amount of discipline and respect for the "job." No, it's not a job, but you have to in many respects treat "as if" it were a job. The first five years in business are the test. While I did not go through the standard first-year angst like many business owners do (most business die on the vine within the first year), I have learned valuable lessons as to why I did not face the uphill battle toward success. I have several colleagues right now eager to go independent. Here are five great lessons on how to successfully make your first year "the first year of the rest of your business," and not your trip to bankruptcy court.
Focus and stay the course -- this is probably my number one tip of all. Focus on what you're doing and stick with it. I'm not saying be inflexible. I'm saying just get on board, don't get caught up in the traps and challenges, and know in your deepest heart of hearts, this is it. You will make it and there is no other alternative.
Play time is play time -- work time is work time -- I can't tell you how many people either screw up business, lose sales or destroy their reputations by spending more time "off" then on. A business is not a free pass to the swimming-pool deck. It's not cause to take a vacation every other week or even month. The more time you spend distracted, playing, taking time off, etc., is time spent away from building business and being successful. When you fail to be available to your client; repeatedly cancel and reschedule meetings so you can do something else; ignore emails and phone calls so you can get your nails done on a Tuesday morning; and put off meetings while you take your 10th vacation in a row; the net result will be client losses, cancellations and general knowledge that you are not available.
Responsiveness builds customer loyalty -- your policy to respond to and be available to clients should be top-priority. You should respond as quickly as possible and within 24 hours if you're unavailable for whatever reason. I have had numerous clients comment on how impressed they are with my responsiveness. What this creates -- even if it's not true -- is the impression that you are there for your clients. It produces an intimate, deep relationship that engenders a sense that they are your no. #1 client -- and whether that is true or not it's not the point. When a client feels "married" to you as his or her service provider, it creates loyalty -- and loyalty produces more opportunity for up-sales.
Take it out of the digital to the voice or face-to-face to build a real relationship and solve problems -- another ill-advised policy is to avoid talking or meeting clients in person. If the client lives in town, you should go out of your way to see them. If you're having a challenge, pick up the phone and call them. Nothing gives you a better impression of emotions than a phone conversation. Email and texting is dangerous. It's curt, abrupt -- and doesn't convey attitudes. Clients can mis-perceive what you really mean -- and that can be dangerous to your relationship. Also, I've worked with two people now who did this -- send one line emails to answer deep concerns or solve problems. One word doesn't instruct, inform or communicate. Take a moment and really respond. Don't send off monosyllabic, cave-girl or guy speak. Do not communicate this way with your staff when you're trying to tell them what you want. It doesn't work and comes off like you really don't care.
Reward your team -- take care of the people who make you great. Treat your team with the respect and courtesy they deserve. Loyal staff build great companies. If you're such an ego-maniac who doesn't understand or appreciate her staff, you'll soon find your staff treats you the same way. Giving your team rewards, bonuses and raises makes them feel valued and important. It shows you appreciate them. I'm taking my hard-working team on a retreat to Bodega Bay to stay right on the ocean. They're thrilled to go -- and I can assure you their morale is high as a result.