A New Approach to Leadership
I’ve learned a lot in my 19 years as an entrepreneur. For instance, you can compulsively read, study and seek advice about running a successful business, but you cannot possibly anticipate every challenge you’ll confront. That’s just one realization I’ve come to grasp as I grow into a seasoned entrepreneur who no longer wants to be “the hero.” I’ve moved beyond business naiveté to a place where I strive to become “the coach,” a business expert who empowers others through his own organic brand of leadership. Here are some things I’ve learned throughout my entrepreneurial journey:
You Can't Do it All
Many entrepreneurs think they can do everything themselves. Managing every aspect of a business is an enormous amount of work and takes a toll on resources, especially if you focus valuable time on areas where you’re not the expert. Why not hire experts to do those tasks for a lot less than you can? For more than five years, we did our own bookkeeping because I couldn’t find someone as meticulous as I am. Eventually, I realized I was wrong. I wasn’t looking hard enough, nor did I provide adequate training.
It’s unrealistic to think someone could assimilate years of accumulated knowledge in a few days. After wrapping my head around that, I made some fantastic new hires and dedicated 300% more time and attention to training. As a result, now I have designers who out-design me, salespeople who outsell me, bookkeepers more organized than me and project managers who outmanage me. Now I focus on what I love. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t become an entrepreneur to do things I don’t like doing.
Success Won't Happen Overnight
No business is successful overnight. Period. It takes months of preparation, marketing, networking and hard work to launch a successful organization. At the start of any new business, time and finances are tight. You worry that you’ll never succeed. But you have to stick to it. With perseverance, you can achieve your dream. Early on, I went 18 months without a paycheck. I reinvested every penny back into the business. It was tough. I lived frugally in my father-in-law’s condo, working 10-hour days and attending industry events most evenings. On my rare days off, I worried about how I would make payroll. Now I make sure I’m prepared for tough times by having at least six months’ worth of expenses in the bank.
Also, never underestimate the value of networking! Before I closed my web-hosting business, I built strong relationships with clients, vendors and other industry contacts. Those great relationships helped jump-start my agency business from day one.
Social Circles Make or Break You
Who are your influencers? What is their mentality? Close influencers make or break an entrepreneur. To grow, surround yourself with positive people who believe you will succeed. Cultivate acquaintances who challenge you to believe in yourself and think big, and who offer insightful advice— you’ll be more likely to succeed.
I surround myself with people who focus on learning, growing and boldly going beyond comfort zones. You don’t have to abandon your friends, but it’s important to consider the impact acquaintances can have on you. That’s why I joined EO. It’s also why I participate in other organizations that support the entrepreneurial mindset. I also make time for several local associations dedicated to inspiring leaders, because I believe it is our duty to encourage a new generation of entrepreneurs.
Clarify Your Values
Once upon a time, you could start a business and with reasonable outreach, customers would find and appreciate you. Those days are over. Consumer behaviors have changed dramatically. It takes time and commitment to grow a customer base, and even longer to develop loyal clients who will recommend you to colleagues. Before launching an outlandish marketing campaign, realize that hundreds of other businesses pull similar stunts. Don’t fall into that trap. Entrepreneurship isn’t a sprint— it’s a marathon. Live your values, define your company culture and insist that your whole company walks the walk.
One powerful exercise we do is outline our company’s core values. We list how we interpret each value, give examples of how we demonstrate it daily or weekly, and define why it’s important to us. Just putting it on paper won’t cut it. Living, deciding, firing and hiring to uphold your values does. In every weekly huddle we have, all team members must talk about one thing they’ve done to demonstrate one of our core values. When I had the design agency, beauty was a core value. Nothing left the agency without our creative director’s thorough inspection—even AdWords campaigns! It’s the same in my agricultural business, where product quality reputation is crucial. Nothing ships unless it’s pristine. We’d rather lose money than damage our reputation. And if an employee doesn’t support our company culture and values, they’re out.
A Big Marketing Budget Won't Save You
Most entrepreneurs have small marketing budgets. But even when you have money, spending recklessly on every channel can be a bad decision in the long run. If I gave you US$1 million tomorrow, how would you spend it? You might not even know. Don’t feel ashamed—I didn’t either. When I had money, I wanted to outspend and outspeak competitors, but doing so caused a financial burden and created an expectation. When resources dip too low to uphold that expectation, your brand may deteriorate. Now, I consult with experts before spending my marketing budget. Spending a few hundred dollars on advice that can save a few thousand is well worth it.
As you embark on your entrepreneurial journey, remember: It isn’t just about the ideas. It’s about execution, too. Let’s stop saying, “coulda, woulda, shoulda,” and let’s start making it happen!
Jeremy Choi (pictured) is an EO Toronto member, as well as a father, husband, mentor and irredeemable golf addict. As the founder and CEO of WPUP, Jeremy helps entrepreneurs get back to doing what’s important in their businesses by proactively supporting and managing their websites. Contact Jeremy at firstname.lastname@example.org.