I was scheduled to speak at a Voices of Leadership series at Burlington College on Monday of this week. The presentation room was all set. My powerpoint, titled "10 lessons learned from 10 years in business" was projected on the screen. And I sat and waited for attendees to show up. Nobody came.
While I enjoyed my conversation with Angela, the woman who put this series together, I drove home wondering why no one showed up. Maybe I didn't have enough credibility? Maybe the event fell on deaf ears or maybe it was "just an off night." Regardless, here's my presentation with a lose transcript of what was in my head below the slideshow:
1. Age Doesn't Matter
I started my first company when I was 15 years old. I sold cookies in front of a hair salon in downtown Richmond, VT, just to make enough money to go to the movies with my friends. And you know what? People have started even younger than me, and three times as old as me. Age is just a number. Start a company and follow your passion. Let your age play to your advantage.
2. Never Stop Learning
I'm always reading - books, blogs, pdf's, meeting with people who are smarter than me, etc. I'll never know everything, but I can get close. Learn what you want to learn. Make it something completely different from your day job. For me, right now, it's food photography and video production. Sure, both help me in my core businesses, but I have limited skill in both areas.
3. Be Different
I interned for Magic Hat Brewing in the Summer of 2008. Their iconic founder, Alan Newman, sat all the interns down and walked us through a presentation about Magic Hat and what made they different. As he began the story of bringing Magic Hat to life he said one thing that has stuck with me since 2008. Look at the entire industry and do something completely different. How can you differentiate yourself? Is it in your customer service level, the nice serve, your packaging, or maybe the precision equipment and tools you use. Be different. Be unique.
Man, did I hate to write a couple years ago. Blogging was a chore. Research papers were the death of me. And heaven forbid I write a book. Well, I've done all of three - and a lot more. Writing is a skill everyone needs to develop. Write more. Write in a journal, start a blog, write copy for your company's website. The more you write the better you'll get at it. And keep a conversational tone. No one wants to read corporate jargon.
5. Help People
I do a lot for free - free advice, design, food start-up consulting. I give it all away because I know eventually it will get back to me. It not only connects me with more people (see #8), it builds my credibility in the industry. Plus, I find that when I find other people who extend a hand, our relationship is stronger and they tend to connect me with more givers. Keep giving. Be patient. You'll get eventually.
Just do it. Screw the planning, the SWOT analysis, and the money. Do something for a few hundred bucks, build a website. Get off your butt and talk to people about your business idea. File an LLC with the state. Whatever is stopping you - just do it. Laziness is no longer an execute. Plus, your side project is a HUGE boost to your resume.
7. Shut up & Listen
Many people love to talk, talk, talk. That's all they do. If I've learned anything, it's shut up and listen. Who are you talking to? What do they do? Are they facing any challenges? How can you help them (yep, #5 again)? I like to talk only when I have something of value to say. Other than that, I'm a pretty quiet person. Nothing says you have to be extroverted or introverted. Just pay attention and listen. Ask questions. Listen again. If more of the world listened, we'd be in a better place.
8. Build Your Network
Nothing gets done when you're in your apartment playing World of Warcraft. No one knows you. No one knows what you're working on. Get out there and talk to people. Go to industry events, get coffee with anyone who will listen, join the local chamber or business association and attend their meetings. It's hard to build something by yourself. That's why you need a team of people who are going to help you succeed. The only way to do that is to build your network.
9. Learn to Like Roller Coasters
Entrepreneurship is the worst roller coaster I've ever been on. It's not like Six Flags. Let me give you an example: in the morning, you start with a quick win, then all hell breaks lose. Then you're back to receiving a big order. Then you lose an order. And not to mention your production line is having problems and the local news wants to interview you. It's like being sent out to sea in choppy waters. Your business is your boat. Get ready for a wild ride, put your hands up and enjoy it.
I've started several companies. Some I've just let go because they weren't working. But, I learned a lot. When you start your own company, don't be afraid of failure. What you're building might not work - even if it's software or a pug-walking business. And if it doesn't get off the ground, what did you learn (remember, lesson #2)? Take what you've learned and use it to build something so much better the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th time around.
I ended with this quote: "If you don't build your dream, someone else will hire you to build theirs." I love it. I love it. I love it. I finally realized I was a cog in someone else's wheel. Now, I'm doing everything I can to bring my dreams to life.
So, that's what I've learned. Yes, it's a shame no one came to see the presentation, but now it's up for the whole world to see.
Do you own a business? What have been some of your most valuable lessons?