Being the Founder of a Small Business is Tough!
This June will mark the 10 year anniversary of when I first rolled up my sleeves as a 21 year old college student at UConn and started “lugging junk.” While my friends were getting MBAs or law degrees, I was starting a business that depleted my savings accounts and frazzled my mind consistently. Thinking back as a 21 year old, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with no real experience running a business, I find it amazing how much I have learned. For example:
Sweat it Out – As the son of a Jewish mother, I have had to learn all too well how to overcome worries and anxiety. My Mom never stops worrying, and apparently she passed that trait on to me. One thing I have found to help suppress and even overcome these emotions, is good ol’ exercise that makes you sweat. There’s nothing like a solid run first thing Monday morning to clear your mind before starting a big week.
Culture – Seriously, a lot of business people talk about this, and I have definitely been on both sides. It’s tough to appreciate how much your business can grow and how happy it can be to come to work if you build a solid culture where people get along well, communicate regularly, and all aim to be A-players.
Hire Slow, Fire Fast – I have unfortunately had to let a lot of people go in the past 10 years. Some were well deserved, others were borderline. But if someone isn’t the right fit, you have to cut the cancer and move on. It’s better for the entire organization’s productivity to eliminate the dead weight, setting a standard for what and whom the company looks for in a productive and motivated team member.
Find a Coach or Mentor – I have had both, and they each served very important roles. While one was free (and the other not so much), without both experiences our growth would have stalled big time. It can be lonely being alone at the top. It can also create tunnel vision when you are in the business everyday. Coaches and mentors offer a unique perspective and experience that is often hard to come by. Find great teachers and milk it for all it’s worth!
Read! – I have ADD. I’ve been known to avoid reading at all costs. But when I can get myself in the mindset, even for 20-30 minutes, it is amazing what I can learn for a tiny fraction of the cost of business school. It also helps me focus. I can attribute many of the best decisions I have made to what I have read in a business book.
Relax – Tomorrow will be another day, and almost every problem has a solution. Running a business is a long-term project, filled with daily problem solving needs. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Decide – I remember early on I had a hard time being decisive. I worried that each decision I made could have big repercussions if I made the wrong decision. I longed for the days when I could ask my parents what to do. But, as the founder and leader of the organization, you usually know what to do, even if you don’t think you do. Make an educated decision and don’t look back. Sometimes they will be right, sometimes they won’t be, but it’s not worth the time to agonize over every little decision. Flip a coin if you have to…and move on.
Communicate – Your team shouldn’t need to chase you on the way to the bathroom to ask you a question. Setup recurring, consistent, dedicated time to communicate with your team. One game changer for us was when we started weekly 1-1’s, meetings between a manager and his/her direct report. This structure frees everyone up. You don’t need to be on call as much, and your direct report knows they have your undivided attention for 1 hour per week, same place, same day, same time. I have found this type of meeting to be extremely effective, both for the team member and their manager.
Be Nice – I was so stressed out for so many years and I took it out on everyone else. I would plow over people when they things weren’t perfect, including employees and vendors and all that got me was a soured reputation and a lack of respect. Being nice is so much easier and it sets a tone in the organization that treating people well is important. Who wants to work with or for someone who is a jerk? Put your stress aside and go for a run before saying something negative. You will be glad you did.
Be Hands On, But Not Too Hands On – I love, love, love the book E-myth Revisited. It absolutely shaped my thinking on how to be a business owner. The book talks about how to work on your business from a strategic standpoint, and not just in it. Where I went wrong years ago was when I took time off, stayed home, and told my former C.O.O. to run the show because I needed a break. Big mistake. You can trust your team, but every team needs a leader. As the C.E.O. and leader of The Junkluggers, I realized I can still be involved while stepping back from daily operations to make more strategic decisions.