Business rules to live by – what five years in business has taught me.
Happy 5th birthday to us – halfway to double digits.
Funnily enough, I feel a little like I blinked for a second and here we are at the end of our 5th year in business, one of the about 98 per cent, or 140,000, of the proud South Australian small businesses that employ around one-third of the state’s workforce.
It is amazing to look back at how the business has evolved in that time to become what we are today and some of the truly awe-inspiring business owners I am now privileged to count as friends.
Whilst I am glad that 5 years ago I was faced with the not unusual challenge of an employer who wanted more than I could give if I wanted to spend time parenting Hunter and Saxon, then just 5 and 2. It is hard to fathom that even 5 years later, many employers struggle to embrace the true meaning of a flexible workplace.
I think most difficult for me is the fact that that flexibility, if available at all, often just seems geared around working mums with dads left out of the equation, or the “millennial” workforce not really given the same level of autonomy and trust.
I am proud to say that the flexibility that I craved so much when I started the business is the same flexibility afforded to every single one of my staff. Yes, we have “rostered” times in the office, and workflows and client deadlines, but our core internal team values of Accountability, Authenticity, Ownership, and Drive mean that the work gets done – when, where and how – is largely up to my amazing and dedicated team.
This year we find ourselves once again a Telstra Business Awards Finalist which is no small feat given the fine company we are in. So it gave me cause to reflect on how far we have come in just five short years.
So what have I really learned in the last 5 years? Here are the business rules I live by:
1. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Not a truer word was spoken. This is from Ivan Misner. It applies to every human interaction you have. In order to be truly successful in business and life, you should always put your relationship with the client or staff member at the centre of your concern. That doesn’t mean that you can’t raise issues or hold people accountable for things. It just means that you do it with an enquiring mind and with respect. If you assume you don’t have all the facts and you take the time to get the story in full from the other person, you can usually find a resolution or outcome that is a ‘win’ for everyone involved. Sometimes that win is parting ways, but you can usually still do that on good terms.
2. Growth for growth’s sake will see you at best in debt up to your eyeballs and at worst in “Administration”.
Too often we see businesses around us fail and go into administration where they have chased the ‘golden fleece’ that is growth for growth’s sake. In the last two years, I have seen a lot of businesses go under, who on the surface looked to be thriving, leaving staff out of pocket with their entitlements. Our focus is on sustainable growth whilst maintaining our profitability. This means ensuring that we add-on services that are aligned with what we currently provide but are designed to expand our offering in a way that bulletproofs the business by maintaining our unique selling position as a specialist social media agency. Social Media AOK is committed to growing in a way that is sustainable, remains true to our core internal values, and allows us to maintain the workplace culture that we have worked so hard to build.
3. Feed the family first and the ego second.
Do you want to be right and go hungry, or be humble and well fed? Our entire business is built on the power of relationships and the strength of good coffees. The day that a coffee with someone is considered a waste of my time will be a clear indication that my ego is what is getting fed. With 6 other families to feed due to our growing team, there is no room for egos and self-importance. Again, I am lucky to have such strong foundations when it comes to building relationships on the back of all the training I have received during my time with BNI.
4. Sometimes you must feel the fear and do it anyway.
In business, sometimes your gut says “It’s time” but your brain says “think of the logistics”. Every person in business has been there, the first time you take on an office lease, your first hire, every subsequent hire thereafter, that big contract that is going to cause you growing pains -otherwise known as all-nighters to deliver on time and to scope. If the culture is right and your business networks are solid you will get through this provided you remember rule number 3.
5. Be kind at all costs.
If you can help then help, whether it is a word of encouragement or acknowledgement to a fellow business owner, giving up your time to make the world a brighter place, or lending your expertise or experience to those who need it – help. The 5 minutes you take out of your day can be insignificant to you but can change a person’s world in an instant. Most importantly even on the days when the world is on your shoulders and everything is going pear shaped remember to be kind. The person you lift today may well be the person who helps you to your own feet tomorrow.
6. Stay true to who you are.
Avoid the “golden fleece” in Rule 2, and remember why you started, what you set out to achieve, and what’s really important. For me what is important is people, my relationships with staff, customers, and peers is always going to be more important than the sale. We are not in the business of selling a modern version of “virtual snake oil”. There are plenty of other people in our space who will play that game. We are in the business of providing honest, authentic solutions and options for our clients because that is what builds long-term meaningful business relationships with other quality business professionals. This is part of BNI’s mission, but something that is closely aligned to who I am.
7. Surround yourself with people who are driven to succeed but whose core values and ethics align with yours.
In business, you don’t need to have a fan club telling you how good you are and you don’t want to be the biggest fish in your pond. Find people who will challenge your thinking, test your ideas, encourage you to stretch yourself and grow. But most importantly find good people who live by Rule 5 and ascribe to Rule 3. The more of these people that you have in your life the more amazing things will happen.
I often look back on the last 5 years and quietly shake my head in amazement at the opportunities that have made themselves available to me through the power of relationships, what’s more, the incredibly enriching experiences which have shaped both life and business through deep and challenging conversations with people who fall into Rule 7. So if you find yourself stuck in the grind and forgetting where you are going and what you are trying to achieve, maybe ask yourself what your Rules need to look like for you. Write them down and health check whether you are sticking to them. If you are still lost maybe its time for a coffee.
To all the other amazing, stand-out businesses who find themselves listed as Telstra Business Award finalists this year, best of luck. It is a great achievement and I hope that July the 11th will be the beginning of many new relationships, coffees, and lunches as we continue to build relationships with other amazing business owners.
Expect a lunch invite to land on your desks sometime soon, Tamara and I hope that when it does you can take the time to come and be one of the big fish in our pond.
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