When I started my business in the summer of 1997, I did not know what I did not know. That was quite possibly the best position to be in. What would I do if I had to do it all over again knowing what I know now with 20 years of experience? That is a tough one. Below are ten tips I wish I had understood 20 years ago when I was starting out.
Dear “1997 Susan,”
- People Will Amaze You – Work with a great team every day, it makes it all worth it. Work with great clients that drive your business and work to make you better. Hire people who have different talents than you, and empower them to do what they do best. The results will amaze you every day.
- People Will Disappoint You – Sometimes you will make bad hires. Sometimes, you will have employees who have been with you for a long time, and the company grows beyond their abilities and you have to make a tough choice. Don’t wait to do it, do it when you recognize the problem. Give people a chance to correct, but once you know the results are not improving, move swiftly. Remember, it is not your fault. Employees are a company investment. They have to produce more than you pay them, plain and simple. While it sounds harsh, if it is not looked at through this lens and you keep people on because they are nice, or they are trying but not quite getting it, it is not sustainable. The return on investment has to come from somewhere, and if not taken care of, the company can start having financial issues as a result. Be strong when it comes to making these tough decisions, and listen to your gut. It will never steer you in the wrong direction.
- Give Yourself a Break – It is hard to be “on” all of the time. You are a person and you have feelings, and they can get hurt. Most times you don’t have an outlet to vent. Join a CEO group and learn from others how they do it. CEO groups are a great way to learn from your peers that have no stake in your game. Never lose your love of learning. Don’t forget to laugh, especially at yourself. Being so serious all the time is not good for you, and hey, there are a lot of funny things out there.
- Give Back in Ways That Are Truly Meaningful – Being in charge of a company, you have the ability to influence issues and passions that are near and dear to your team’s heart. Have a company culture that gives back. Gift projects and dollars to organizations that need it. Over the years, you will do so with groups like PRSA-NCC, WWPR, and JUST TRYAN IT.
- There is So Much Paperwork, Stay Organized – The number of forms for local, state and federal governments, for health insurance, for property insurance, for property tax, for 401ks, for profit sharing, for several types of taxes. You have to be organized, stay organized and stay diligent. On your last day in the office before having your first son, you will have to fill out the government form 5500. Twelve years later, you will still believe you filled this form out correctly, and many attorneys will agree with you. But, the IRS will not. And, after an audit, while pregnant with your twins, you will be told you might have to pay a fine of $300,000 and possibly spend time in jail. Those who know you know you are the most above-board person, especially when it comes to finances. The audit will truly be the worst experience of your life. There will be months where you do not sleep, do not take care of yourself, and come close to closing the company’s doors. You will use this as an opportunity to help others. Being put in that position after years and years of providing employment, taxes and tons of paperwork will open your eyes to the position you put yourself in when opening a business.
- Payroll is Always on Your Mind – In the next 20 years, you will process 480 payrolls. It is a big responsibility, one that you will take as your most serious task. Understanding that people are relying on you to make car payments, rent or mortgage payments, credit card bills, and other monthly bills is a big responsibility. That means, many times foregoing your own payroll and missing out on your own financial obligations. It will not happen often, but when it does, it will be rough. It makes you re-evaluate everything, and lets self-doubt enter into your mind. Is this worth it? Maybe I am not good at this anymore? Then, you make it, and it is all good until about ten to 12 business days later when you do it all over again.
- Some Clients Won’t Pay Their Bills – It seems odd that you would do good work and deliver it on-time and clients sometimes don’t pay, but it will happen. You have to trust that people will do the right thing, but sometimes they simply don’t. It will be mindboggling and frustrating, but you will get over the hurdle.
- Tax Payments Can Be Overwhelming – Five time a year, taxes or estimated taxes are due. Unfortunately, those payments don’t always line up with when clients will pay you. They are also estimated, so many times you will end up way overpaying, and the government gets to use your money until the following year. It sucks, plain and simple, so do you best to plan for it.
- It Truly is a Grind, but You Are So Much Stronger Than You Think – Some days it is hard to get up and be motivated. You will learn a tip that will help you immensely: break your day up into three parts, giving yourself a chance to re-boot throughout the day. That way, if something goes wrong, you have two chances then to restart.
- It is the Best Job You Will Ever Have – Every once in a while, you will sit in a meeting or at an event, and you will hear about how the work you did changed someone’s life, or took away someone’s pain. And, you will smile with pride. You will hear from a client that a bill they were working to pass did, or that a campaign you worked on was a huge success. You will get the same feeling when an employee buys a new car, or refinances their home. You know in a way, you had something to do with that success.
So, yes, “1997 Susan”, do it all over again. Not that there aren’t things you won’t wish you could change, but on the whole, the benefits tilt in our favor. Here’s to the next 20! I will be in touch in 2037!