For me, 2011 has been a year of starting and building relationships. This year my team traveled to nearly 40 different US cities to do our part in helping small businesses grow. It’s been inspiring to meet so many entrepreneurs eager to share their success stories, learn from one another and network. As we look forward to 2012, I’d like to share two lessons that 2011 taught me, as well as three more important lessons that come from some of the insightful business owners I met along the way:
1. Meet and tweet
While this year was packed with face-to-face meetings that have left lasting impressions, it was also the year I found Twitter. For me, Twitter has been a great way to stay in touch with the entrepreneurs I meet. While most folks are partial to engaging either online or offline, this year taught me the importance of using both channels to create deeper relationships. I think of the joy of meeting Mary Scheetz of CCI in person at a Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) conference after meeting her by email for an article we were both interviewed for. It's also been fun to follow Erica Nicole of YFS Magazine after doing an interview with her at the Victory in Procurement awards in Dallas.
2. Make time for what’s important, not just what’s urgent
Urgent tasks stalk you. Be just as diligent in stalking tasks you define as important. In my own work life, I can see how easily an afternoon can slip away. And I saw how easily it happens to others just last week when I visited Emmett McCarthy in his women’s wear store, EMC2, as he prepared for a TV show’s camera crew, figured out holiday lights for his windows, and gave style tips to two customers—all in 45 minutes. I’ve also seen the wins I can get when I dedicate two hours to brainstorming new ideas to move our work forward. As Meredith Pizzi of Roman Music Therapy puts it, "I am amazed at how the world can move so very quickly when you focus on the big picture and you visualize the bigger goals and plans for your business. It is incredible."
3. Work ON the business, not IN the business
Taking the steps to automate processes and hire employees to work in the business meant letting go of certain areas where I was most comfortable and required me to focus on business elements where I was less comfortable. The first step I took in this direction was entering the Make Mine a Million business competition, and winning forced me to start thinking differently about my company and my role. Now I'm freed up to work on strategy, marketing ("tell it to sell it") and networking. It turns out that I'm even more comfortable in these areas—and my business is doing better than ever.
-Colleen Mook, president of Baby Be Hip
4. Step back and let your employees do their work
This year, I stopped micromanaging and instead put more trust in my incredible people. A key addition to my team was a fantastic virtual assistant. I interviewed meticulously and it has paid off. Delegating has given me more time to focus on the bigger, more strategic issues and has allowed me to find that ever-elusive “life balance.” We no longer have live-in help for our children, and I’m now even more engaged in their lives. The best part – SayNoMore! Promotions is having its second-best year in its 11-year history.
-Kris Wittenberg, president of SayNoMore! Promotions
5. Don’t put a price tag on happiness
My company worked on seven projects in 2011. We turned down almost as many—not because of capacity or capital issues, but because we (as a company) weren’t passionate about those proposed projects. The choice to work only on projects that generate excitement and enthusiasm among ’ZinePak’s team isn’t always the obvious one, since it’s sometimes hard to say no to the jobs that “pay the bills.” But, we’ve found that the extra revenue generated from “so what” projects can’t come close to the feeling that comes from dedicating 100% of your creative energy to projects close to your heart. If a project has the potential to make part of the workday miserable—whether due to a client, subject matter or something else entirely—it isn’t worth undertaking, no matter what the potential financial gain.
What did 2011 teach you? Share your top lessons with other business owners by leaving a comment below.
-Brittany Hodak, cofounder of ’ZinePak