While I am fortunate to own a business I enjoy, have great clients and a fantastic team, I owe much of my success to the many misjudgments, miscalculations and plain stupid decisions that I have made over 26 years in business. Fortunately each mistake has led to an "aha!" moment that has distinctly benefited me personally and my business. I am not sure if I would still be in business today without these various business failures.
Some highlights (or should I say low-lights?) include...
• Starting the Business - At 22-years-old, with very limited experience other than as a college student, I was brazen and stupid enough to think I could strike out on my own. I did well in school and people for the most part liked me, so how could I fail? All I had to do was knock on some doors and people would be eager to do business with me. Unsurprisingly the business world was getting along just fine before my arrival and there was not a sense of urgency to incorporate my minimal talents when I arrived on the scene. Yes a few years of seasoning working for an established company in my industry would certainly have benefited me both mentally and financially, but would I have become complacent and never set out on my own if I worked for someone else? Aha! Moment - Take smart risks and focus on success, not failure.
• Hiring Staff Before I Was Ready - While it seems like a no-brainer, running your own business can be lonely and when starting out much time is spent idealizing about the many benefits that a hired hand would provide. So against the suggestion of the business people I asked and against the numbers on my own balance sheet I doubled our team to two and sat back waiting for the new hire to add to my limited success to date. But you know what I learned? Employees not only take time to manage but they also take their cues from their boss, so I suddenly had a similarly optimistic employee who was equally has deft as I was at working hard and not making much money. Aha! Moment - Be sure your business, and you the owner, are prepared mentally and financially before hiring staff.
• Doing All The Work Myself - Eventually it was time to bring on staff, and over time I was able to hire the right staff as well. But for years I was still licking my wounds from point #2 above and was not about to make the same mistake again. So instead I determined it would be best if I was involved in every aspect of the business and made all the critical decisions, even though my team was comprised of bright young talent who had industry experience. Not until we had overlapping events to manage and the program evaluations from the event my staff ran were as good or better than for the programs I ran did I realize that maybe, just maybe, with a maturing business it was a good strategy to have staff take on added responsibility. Aha! Moment - When you have a solid team developed, stand back and let them shine!
• Trying to Perfect What Is Already Stellar - My team and I are in the business of planning. Though we do not use the term in our marketing, ultimately that is what our company and most businesses do -- plan. We have been successful in planning and are compensated for our success in planning. But with this said our ability to over plan is, unfortunately, one of our business weaknesses. It is great to be set in every way possible for that big project, marketing campaign or client meeting, but I would pay handsomely to buy back the time wasted creating the second and third backup options for a program, or doubting that our marketing materials would be well received by our clients (note - most business contracts are won or lost based on our personal brand and the core of our business and not how shiny our marketing materials are). Aha! Moment - Believe in yourself and your product or service, always refine and improve, but be confident that you are always ready to take on new challenges and opportunities.
• Always Having The Answers - I have been in the meetings and events industry for over 25 years and have produced hundreds, maybe thousands of successful team events for corporate groups, so of course I know what is best for every group. I have seen it all, and can tell exactly how an event will turn out based on the dynamics of the group and the activity selected. I am so smart that I only wish I was intelligent enough to have listened to you when you described what you thought your group would like best. Maybe, just maybe, when that event turned out to not be that popular, I could have gone back and used my experience to fine tune or augment your ideas and delivered a program everyone raved about. Aha! Moment - It is a big world and there are a wide variety of different perspectives derived from the same situation so you are better positioned for success if you are a listener and learn, not a talker who tries to seem smart.
I could go on for hours on this subject, but will save for future posts. And who knows what "learning opportunities" the future might bring?
What errors have you made in business that have turned out to be beneficial? Please share!
This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.