When I left my job to start Prosper Strategies, my boss and an entrepreneur whom I greatly respect and admire said, “I can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you what not to do.” I didn’t fully grasp what he meant when I walked out the door, but now that I’ve been at it a few years, I get it. When every business is different, it’s hard to tell others what to do to be successful. It’s easier to talk about the common threads that lead to failure, which I wrote about in my last post. I concluded by saying that failure is inevitable, but repeat failure shouldn’t be. So I thought I would spend some time sharing a few things about what I’ve learned about what not to do as an entrepreneur and business owner.
Don’t overlook red flags in the hiring process
It’s easy to get excited about potential new hires. They’re the knight in shining armor, the person who is going to walk in through the door and solve all of your problems – until they don’t! Like everyone, we’ve made some mistakes by overlooking red flags in the hiring process, usually because we were more focused on filling an immediate need than thinking strategically about what this hire meant for our firm in the long-term. However, our short-sightedness with previous hires has helped us learn about making future hires. We’ve developed a clear hiring process that includes various types of skills assessments and interviews, and we include the team. We evaluate skills first, so we don’t fall in love with a candidate before we know whether or not someone can do the job. And, by including other members of Prosper in the process, we have a more well-rounded view of any candidate we might hire, making it less likely that we make a mistake.
Don’t lose sight of your books
For most entrepreneurs, books are the no fun part of your job – well at least some aspects of the books. It’s fun to take a look at money coming in the door, it’s not so fun taking a look at money going out the door. However, keeping not only a close eye, but also a strategic eye on the books, we’ve learned, is one of the most important aspects of our business. While we have our accountant keep tabs on overdue invoices, so our receivables don’t get too far out of hand, we also look at the books each week and evaluate our entire financial picture. We determine how this aligns with our overall business goals, so we can make smart decisions about where to invest and where to pull back.
Don’t overlook the value of creating scaleable processes
The only way to truly grow your business is through the creation of scalable processes. I’m fortunate to have partnered with Alyssa who is AMAZING at this. Thanks to her, we’ve developed our 4-D approach, which informs the strategic direction of all of our projects at Prosper. She’s also developed a roadmap for defining the tactical elements of each one of our campaigns. We put everything in Basecamp to hold teams and clients accountable, and we have a process for measuring, communicating about and reporting our PR and marketing successes. She’s also designed similar systems for scaling the business as a whole. These things allow us to understand who is doing what when. However more importantly, it makes it easier to onboard new team members and clients and ensure things are done “the Prosper way.”
Don’t fail to have perspective
I read a quote the other day that said, “If you won’t be worrying about in 5 years, it’s not worth worrying about today.” Worrying is one of my number one abilities. It’s also the thing that motivates me to execute at the highest level possible. Therefore, I’m not advocating that you don’t worry at all, but I do believe as a business owner, you need to pick and choose what to worry about most. It’s an art I’m still mastering – if I’m not busy enough, I sweat the small stuff. I do my best, most strategic worrying when I am so busy, I can hardly think and I have to be selective about where my mental headspace goes.
Don’t forget, not everyone thinks like you
One of my favorite story lines is from Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird when he says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” I never understood this quote more than when I started to manage people, clients, vendors and everyone in between. Not everyone thinks like I do. Not everyone thinks like an entrepreneur. At first this was a stumbling block for me, but now I both appreciate it and see it as a welcomed challenge in terms of figuring out how to communicate clearly, provide good direction and ensure everyone is on the same page about expectations and outcomes.
Do you have insights on what not to do? I’d love to hear your perspective.