Year 4: Lessons Learned in Running A Business

Entrepreneurship

Welp, if you predicted a pandemic virus to hault the global economy and all but straight up shut down America, you win! My baby turns four this September (2020) and this year has been one for the books. I continue to maintain that people always matter most. However, I will say that this year has been exceptionally challenging. I've felt extremely challenged as a leader. Not that my team is confronting me with direct challenges, but the situations I've found myself in, I've had to lead my company through, personal challenges I've explored, and the list goes on. It's been a real year of mental, emotional, and leadership growth.

This is what I learned in the fourth year of running my business:

  • The future is virtual. I knew since day one that I wanted to start a virtual business. I knew all we needed was a wifi connection, laptop, and a rock-solid team to do the work. But MAN, never did I ever anticipate a pandemic virus would sweep through the world and rock this country, the economy, and eliminate so many people's livelihoods demanding a more virtual workplace. Having a virtual operating structure has saved us from having extensive overhead, allowing us greater flexibility to pivot, adjust to this new reality, and focus on protecting our people as much as possible. When I launched The Work From Home Playbook in 2018, I hoped it would help people start their own virtual businesses and now I see just how necessary that is.
  • Managing people is hard. As the owner/founder/leader of your organization, it's your job to steer your ship through choppy waters - not to be everyone's best friend. My friend and mentor, Drew McLellan, called this out numerous times during these last few months and it's hard to swallow, but it's so true. In order to best lead your team, you have to have a company to support them. And therefore, your job is to make the best decisions for your business. Because if you sink your company, you have nothing to offer anyone. But this is hard. Sometimes it means having to let clients go. Sometimes it means having to say no to revenue. Sometimes it means having to cut your pay. Sometimes it means having to find the truths that must be shared and harbor those that shouldn't be in order to be honest but not unnecessarily burden your team. Sometimes this means having to let people go.
  • Leadership is challenging and humbling. I've said this many times this past year, but I really feel like this last year has seriously challenged me as a leader. For anyone else out there managing a team in your fourth year of business, if this is a right of passage of sorts, please let me know. But this past year has been one of significant growth for me a as leader. It's been a set of new challenges and I always welcome growth, but yeah, it's been tough.
  • Let go and trust. I took my first real vacation last fall for the first time in four years. I went to the Grand Canyon last September and knew I'd have limited internet access and that I'd have to trust my team to let me step away. And they did. As a Type-A, control freak, entrepreneur it's hard to let go sometimes. However, I'm learning that it's absolutely necessary for growth. It's also absolutely necessary for sanity. At some point, you have to trust yourself that you've made enough good decisions in the people you've hired and you've set them up for success well enough that you can step away for a few days and your baby (your company) won't come tumbling down. And I did. And I am really proud of myself for how I've built the structure of this company. And I'm really proud of my team for being the people they are and caring so deeply about this company we've built together -- one where we all have each other's backs.
  • Solve conflict with facts and compassion. A while ago, I wrote a post about how to manage difficult client conversations. And while my acronym is crap (not literally, it's AFOICH), it's still such a good guiding light. I've found myself in a few difficult client situations recently and, while it's hard not to take things personally - "it's business, it's not personal" - which is true, but when it's your business, it still feels pretty personal. It's been a good reminder to separate the people from the facts. And yes, people still matter most, but when managing challenging conversations that start to seem void of rationality, stepping back to just focus on the facts has been super helpful. I always encourage empathy but don't let yourself get steamrolled.
  • Say what you need. In our weekly business development meetings, we've started implementing this as part of our weekly status update. Each week, we pick one thing and we say what we need help with that week. It's so liberating. It's also a great reminder that we don't have to do this by ourselves. Actually, it's better not to. "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." Yes. Ask for help, but more specifically say what you need.
  • Set boundaries. Working remotely, I've never had clear work/life boundaries. However, when COVID-19 hit and my SO started working from home 100% as well...that changed things. I also found that while I tend to work long hours (as most entrepreneurs do), I was working longer hours. Which meant I had to start setting boundaries both with myself but also in my home. I have started doing a better job of blocking out time on my calendar to complete things and saying "I'm done for tonight" at a certain point. Luckily, we managed to move out of our two-bedroom apartment and into a house last month, so having a little more space for boundaries to be actualized has helped at home as well. This is still something I'm very much so working on.
  • Get a coach. I'm not the first to say this, but I will echo the sentiment from others: get a coach. I know they're an investment. But I'll tell you, they do provide clarity. And that's priceless, baby. They ask you the tough questions you don't want to take the time to answer, but you know you should. They help you see different perspectives. They help you decipher the feelings from the facts. They help you maximize your life and figure out how to make your business work better for your life, not the other way around. A big shout out to my coach, the lovely, Leah Roe (pictured above).
  • It's still all about people. I have a feeling that this will always be my closing note here because it just continues to be truer and truer year over year. This year has been really hard. But the single thing I'm most proud of is our team at Brainchild Studios. These people care so much about one another, our clients, doing their best work, and going above and beyond to take care of our communities. I am so humbled every day by their talent, determination, grit, thoughtfulness, and kindness. I'm grateful to have had the insight that people are always what matter most from the inception of this company because it's so fricking true. They are the rock, the anchor, and the north star of everything in life.

To all the people who have helped us make it through our fourth year in business, thank you so much. You'll never quite understand how grateful I am to each and every one of you. This year has been a doozy. It's been a challenge. But hey, if it were easy, everyone would do it, right?

I have a good feeling about 2021 though. I have a few things I'm looking to explore and start to branch out in new ways. Keep your eyes peeled for what comes next...it's guaranteed to be fun!

Kiley Owner & CEO, Brainchild Studios

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