A global pandemic. Massive unemployment. A gyrating stock market. Social unrest. Inequality. Politics.
It’s been a no-good, rotten year. Other than that, it’s actually been pretty great.
When I founded PHL Branding, I chose September 2019 – September 2020 (insert cynical snicker) as our inaugural year in business. The good news is that business is more than okay. The even better news is there probably won’t be a worse year than this one.
The best news is that starting a business combined with enduring a global crisis teaches you some things. Here are three lessons I’ve learned in my first year running PHL Branding.
Lesson 1: The Power of Replicable Intentionality
Day 1: “Yay! I own a business.”
Day 2: “Wait, I have to do all this accounting stuff? This sales stuff? This marketing stuff? This client stuff? This tax stuff?”
Day 3: “Do I ever get to take a vacation again?”
When you start a business, you suddenly realize that you have to literally do everything – or at least oversee all of it. In my quest to do everything, I found it very, very easy to accomplish absolutely nothing. Jumping peripatetically from task to task – an email here, an email there – and looking back at the end of the day, wondering what it all added up to.
A coach taught me the value about being much more intentional with my time. Backing up, thinking clearly about the activities I need to be doing with regularity in order to grow the business. Importantly, I then thought about weekly, replicable tasks that I could do to help me get there.
Example: Every Tuesday, from 9-10 AM I work on sales, with four discrete activities – nurturing relationships, researching prospects, doing outreach to prospects, and seeking referrals. I now do this every week, without fail, and it generally leads to 2-3 networking conversations per week.
So, with just an hour per week, I’m essentially having 100+ conversations per year that I never would have had otherwise.
Even if you don’t own a business, intentionality can be absolute gold. What can an hour a week, repeated 52 weeks a year, deliver for you?
Lesson 2: Conquer Worry Thoughts
In the midst of a global pandemic and massive economic dislocation, it can be easy to get stressed. It can also be easy to let that stress become anxiety. And for that anxiety to completely inhibit productivity.
In the throes of mid-March and early April, I won’t lie and tell you that I wasn’t worried. Who wouldn’t be? But after about two weeks of feeling helpless, I remembered some advice from an old friend, many years back:
“It’s not about what happens. It’s about how we handle it.”
Business, life and the world always throw curveballs. Curveballs that might make Type As like myself think that we’ve done something wrong, or that we bear personal responsibility for every bad thing that intersects with our own lives.
When bad things happen, we are given a choice: We can either sit around asking “why me?” or we can accept that a bad thing has happened and get to work. When I chose the latter, I stopped worrying and started reacting. Evolving our business strategy, doubling down on sales and marketing, tripling down on our existing client base and how to ensure their business would survive the unsurvivable
Business isn’t just about strategy, smarts and hard work – it’s also about a mindset. The moment I stopped worrying and started reacting was the moment our business started growing again.
Lesson 3: We Get Nowhere on Our Own
I had had a pretty good career up to the point of founding PHL Branding. Lots of promotions, and lots of positive feedback and plaudits.
What’s interesting about starting your own business – especially without a business partner – is that you suddenly realize how nearly impossible it is to be successful on your own. All that good thinking and good work in the past? Yes, I got some credit, but did I ever once actually do anything on my own? Come to think of it … no.
While I now have a team around me, the early parts of year 1 brought into stark contrast the power of partnerships, collaboration and relationships. I’m in awe of how often the many people I’ve built relationships with over the years (you know who you are) have stepped in to help, especially during the pandemic – to offer advice, to make a connection, to be a sounding board, or a listening ear.
For anyone who says “I am successful” – you are absolutely positively wrong. “We are successful.” Plain and simple.
The lesson: above all else, nurture your rolodex. Ask people for help. Build a network of mentors. Add members to your team that can make the ideas in your brain bigger and better. We are nothing on our own.
Our first year in business was the worst. But sometimes the worst can lead to whole lot of better.
Here’s to many more no-good, rotten years in business.