Learnings from the Last Year of Running a Business

Wow, another year has flown by! That time of year has arrived once again, the time of year when we look back, reflect, learn from the broader patterns, and make decisions that set the foundation for a successful next year!

Last years reflections were certainly plentiful, and this year certainly didn’t disappoint, with the emotional roller coaster of running a business seemingly having no end. However, advancing along your business journey from conception, to growth, and beyond exposes you to new experiences and challenges, offering an endless opportunity of new learnings.

This year offered us no shortage of insights, and while we’ve made sure to share plenty with you all throughout the year, we wanted to take the time to highlight some of our more personal experiences for anyone going through the similar stages of running their business!

1: The stress is real.

Firstly, the immense stress of thinking about things like runway, sales, and employees -- You read about it, everyone warns you about it, but it's something you can never fully conceptualize until you’ve learned it for yourself. Kind of like when you get married, everyone says ‘the day goes so fast so try and enjoy it’, and it certainly does. Even though you knew it beforehand, that doesn’t stop you from feeling like it went far too quickly, and it doesn’t stop you from telling that next happily engaged couple the very same advice! Much like that, the intensity of the emotions, the rate in which they go up and down, and the way they manifest in your behaviors, are all things not to be taken lightly. Personally, I tend to need some alone time with my thoughts and some activity that I can be absorbed in daily to help me endure it all. Whatever it is, it’s critical to find that thing that works for you so you can properly manage your stress levels.

2: Practice reflection and gratitude.

There is a never ending slew of things to be doing. It is super easy to feel overwhelmed, wonder why you are doing something, and feel like you’ve lost control. While I have always tended to be a very grateful and self-reflective person, this year I made it my daily practice to purposefully set aside time for it. While this daily effort started because we test and use our own data models and tools -- as we always do -- I soon found it hard to imagine my days without it. In this particular case, I was testing an aspect of our latest data model that we have spent most of this last year creating, which we built to increase performance and happiness through stress management, resilience, and positive energy management. While trying out one of the exercises I got into the habit of practicing this behavior out for a couple of minutes every day. By reflecting, I can improve myself in small steps every day - which is better for me, my business, and those in my life. By acknowledging something I am grateful for each day, it helps ground me and sets me off in the right mindset for the day as it enabled me to remember, no matter how challenging it can be, there are so many great things in life.

3: Implement behaviors that make you feel your best.

This could be from treating yourself to some fries, cleaning the kitchen, exercising daily, spending time with loved ones, or doing the very best you can do on some work so that you can look back on it and feel proud of it. Whatever it is at the current moment, for the current task, do what makes you feel good about yourself. Ask yourself, did I feel good about x? If you find yourself not feeling good about something, accept these moments as opportunities to drive change as they are openings for growth. Sometimes, in tough situations, you can find yourself feeling forced to do something or reacting in a way that mis-aligns with what makes you feel good- say, missing that family time due to something that came up, or reacting a bit too harshly to an email. We have all been there, and it takes time, but when you start thinking about what makes you feel good inside and out, you will naturally start living your life fully aligned to your value system. From here, you will feel more energized, happier, and this will only help you be better for yourself, your business, and those around you. This also goes for people. As a business owner, and in life, you will interact with many people. You won’t always see eye-to-eye and sometimes you will find yourself in interactions with very difficult people. This is an ongoing journey, but for those you keep consistently in your life, it is important that they energize you, lift you up, encourage you, and bring out the best version of yourself. When you have limited interactions with difficult people and find yourself reacting in a way that maybe wasn’t ideal during a challenging moment - take a moment to reflect. You cannot change them, their opinions, or how they behave, but you can learn from the moment and understand what you may be able to develop to help you better navigate these moments in a more comfortable way.

4: Partnerships

Given that we spend our time creating data models, a big part of our business growth is through great partnerships. Typically, consulting organizations that use the data models to enhance their services, or strategic partnerships that have some mutually beneficial value. We have explored many different types of partnerships and have certainly learned some valuable nuggets as we expand our partner base.

4.a: Understand what you are looking for.

For example, which kinds of companies are optimal for the realization of value on both sides? What skills do they need and what do you bring them? What kind of company are they? What values are you looking for? So many people come to us with ideas all the time, which is great, however, it is very easy to get excited and say yes - just to find that perhaps the partner or idea was not the best match for your business.

4.b: Be aware of the give and take balance.

Many people tout the skills and what they can do and while many are great, some are just great at making you believe they are great. To make sure you can tell the difference it is a good idea to ‘date’ a little. There is nothing wrong with proceeding with caution and spending some time working together, and then assessing how the partnership can work, should work, or how deep it should be, with the genuine knowledge of what each side can offer.

When you go into a partnership it is usually because both sides are bringing something to the table - so it is wise to make sure that each person is on equal footing with what they bring. For example, the quality of services match, make sure their work ethic matches yours, make sure their value system aligns with yours, and make sure that you are aligned on your strategic vision….all these things will impact the success of the partnership.

4.c: Protect yourself.

When you create something or have IP, make sure you protect yourself. Make sure it is clear what you actually created, have any marks in order, and make sure your contract is clear. If you are creating things make sure you keep clear documentation along the way. Regardless of the fact that we have had a great year of increasing our understanding of contracts and learning lots of useful lessons, it is wise to always get the contract reviewed by a knowledgeable professional.

4.d: Be prepared to have difficult conversations.

No one likes them, but you need to have them. You need to be able to talk about money, discuss when someone is not performing as they should, discuss contracts, and stand up for your corner - after all it is your business. You need to be able to articulate your points and reasonings, and know when to walk away. You need to understand long and short term needs, and how the decisions you make today will have a lasting impact on your long term goals.

5: Embrace the ups and downs

One minute you will be on top of the world and the next you feel as though the whole world is on your shoulders. These moments can be frightening, like if we stopped to think about all that we had to do then we might break down and panic. You consider the sacrifices you are making and wonder about what it may cost you down the line. But then, you smile, because you know that it is the best class you have ever taken. There is no learning like it. You are a better person because of the journey you have been on. It is important to embrace these moments, they are the ones in which you realize perseverance, belief, passion, and some common sense are what will take you through it. In the moment things can feel like the worst thing in the world, but, after every challenging moment, and there are many, you realize - if you make it through that time, that fleeting time, then you can do anything.

6: Embrace all feedback

While clearly not all feedback is equal, you should take a moment to think about the feedback you are receiving. Sometimes people may not articulate well what they mean, or it can come across as more hostile than what they intend, however, it is worth looking at the underlying message. For example, during a deployment some executives felt they didn’t know what was going on. This caused some of them to be reactive rather than responsive. The way in which they delivered their thoughts was not in the most optimal way for anyone. We worked with our partners to take everything in and looked at the underlying message - we realized that they needed an extra explanation page in some of the deliverables as they were missing a core link to another part of one of their projects. While the delivery sucked, there was something valuable tucked behind it. Now, this is not to say that you have to listen to everything someone wants or a singular stand-alone opinion as listening to every whim and fancy will cause you to find yourself in a cycle of “want-engineering”.

This is to say that it is important to listen, understand, then reflect: Who is giving you the feedback? What is their role in the product? What is their intent? What is the underlying message? Is it a one off or something that may be a pattern? Then use your judgement.

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These were just a few of the so very many learnings we discovered to take forward into next year, and I am sure as we continue this journey, there will be plenty more! Happy Holidays Everyone and here is to 2018 and all the learnings that it will bring!

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