What I learned about owning a business in 2018

It’s been a year since we started Growth Guild. I had spent 5 years before that building a personal design studio; I thought I was well-prepared for the challenge of building something from scratch. After all, I’d already done it once. How hard would it be do it again this time with the help of partners?

I was young, innocent and so, so wrong.

Turns out there are virtually no parallels between starting and running a personal design studio with a portfolio of corporate retainer clients and starting and running a full-service marketing agency. The only parallel I can find at the drop of a hat is that for both jobs I show up at my home office with my dog and my beverage of choice in my yoga pants.

Lesson 1. You need a village.

A village? Don’t you need a village to raise children? Yes, you do. But a business is the second most important thing you will birth in your lifetime, aside from a tiny helpless human. There are so many hours involved in getting a business running. You need to come up with all the processes: HR (How many days off do we get a year? Is vacation paid? What are our business hours?); to sales (Which sales methodology do we use? What is our prospecting style?); operations (Which CRM do we pick? Is it an LLC or an S-Corp?); finances (Are we bootstrapping or getting an investor?) and every partner is wearing multiple hats. Forty hours a week doesn’t begin to make a dent on the work required — and you will need a village to make it through. A great CPA, the advice of a good lawyer, an understanding family unit, a couple of friends you can blow off steam with after a long week. The people you surround yourself with during the first year are going to be key in the success of the operation, whether they are burning the midnight oil with you as your employees or partners or keeping other areas of your life orderly and sane.

Lesson 2. You have to want it. Like, really want it.

The Spice Girls said it better: “So tell me what you want, what you really, really want.” If you want your business to succeed, you have to be fully invested. If you read Lesson 1 above you’ll notice how much work is involved in getting up and running? Well, after you’ve setup all those processes, (think you’ve) smoothed out the inevitable kinks in the systems—reality sets in. Once you start getting clients and shipping projects you will probably dismantle every rule you created re-write them based on real world experience/feedback.

For anyone who’s not fully bought in, the constant state of flux within the organization can be demoralizing. You have to completely trust yourself, your partners, your idea, and your instincts and know that sometime in the future everything will normalize. Are we on the other side? Not by a long shot. We are still experimenting with the perfect “secret sauce” to offer our clients with a successful experience, but we all agree that every week is better than the last.

Lesson 3. Take a step on the wild side

Apparently I am just full of musical references today. You know that perfect day scenario where you get to do everything you love every single day and get paid for it? The entire reason you decided to go into business? Say goodbye to that. You might have dreamed of owning a business where you never have to deal with clients face-to-face or present to an audience of executives seated around a conference table and, if you’re successful, maybe you’ll get there eventually. But while your business is young, you need to be prepared to be janitor or CEO depending on the circumstances. One moment you’re at the top of the food chain, hobnobbing with bigwigs downtown; the next you’re elbow deep in getting the next project shipped out on deadline at 3 am. This means you need to talk to a lot of people and lead a ton of meetings, step out of your comfort zone and be willing to go where you’re needed most, even packing your bags and traveling to spend the day somewhere halfway across the country, with strangers and wearing real clothes. As an introvert, that’s not something I ever, even in my wildest nightmares, thought I’d have to do. And yet here we are.

Lesson 4. Your partners are your new family

Were you an only child? Congratulations, you’ve sprouted extra siblings. Your partners become your work spouses. You develop a language, private jokes; your families are intermingled. You’re sharing videos of your second grader doing a presentation about Lions; you fly cross country to surprise your pregnant partner with an impromptu baby shower; you find your partner’s two year old to be the cutest toddler to ever exist; you have a Christmas party on a Google hangout so you can spend some time together and organize a Secret Santa using the business’s Amazon Prime account. If you cannot love these people and trust them unconditionally, your business won’t succeed. I never had that when I was working by myself at my design studio. And, clearly, I didn’t know what I was missing.

Bottom line is: 2018 was an awesome roller coaster of amazing heights and super scary lows.

2019 is what we’re referring to as GG 2.0. We’re taking everything we learned individually and as a team, and pouring it back into this entity in order to hopefully deliver a new (and different) list of learning experiences for 2020. Step onto the roller coaster and come along for the ride.

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