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Part of the 60 Percent
By Angela Leavitt
That’s roughly the number of small businesses that fail before making it to their third birthday.
As I reflect upon the last three years of highs, lows, laughs, tears and amazing personal growth, I can’t help but feel truly blessed to be part of the 60 percent that make it.
Mojo Marketing, the business I started on a whim in 2010, is turning 3 on October 15th.
I’m especially reflective this year. Perhaps because my company has reached “adolescence" with 12 full-time employees spanning the globe. Perhaps because we’ve reached a milestone I’ve been envisioning since we started: to be in a position for me to focus solely on biz dev and high-level strategy. Or maybe it’s because as I look back over the last three years, I can hardly recognize the person I’ve become … for the better.
I’ve come to believe that entrepreneurism is a refiner’s fire, meant to test your resolve and commitment to the core. It’s a painfully descriptive mirror that not only shows you your greatest strengths and weaknesses on a daily basis, but it also constantly asks the question, “How badly do you want it?"
With that in mind, I thought I’d share some of the lessons I’ve learned over the last 36 months.
1. Not everyone is ethical. My very first client out of the gate racked up $10,000 in services, negotiated it down to $3,500, then stiffed me for the entire amount. I didn’t get a dime from the guy. That one hurt. So badly that I actually had nightmares about it for a few months. The person was a friend — or so I thought. Lesson learned: Get upfront payments and don’t trust too much.
2. Some clients deserve to be fired. As the girl who never claimed a “group" in high school but tried to be friends with everyone, I’ve had to wrestle with the idea that not everyone is going to like me. Not everyone is going to be a good fit for my company. And trying to change to make more people like us is not only a waste of time and resources, but it’s a drain on energy and morale. My new slogan is “Love us or leave us."
3. It’s okay to say “no." This goes with the one above. I hate disappointing people so my natural inclination is to say, “Yes, we do that!" and then figure out a way to do that. I’ve learned it’s another waste of resources because we can’t possibly be all things to all people.
4. You must take care of yourself. I’ve never experienced more joy at a win or more sorrow at a loss. I’ve been surprised to learn my business is an extension of me — and it takes an emotional toll. I have to ensure I’m properly managing my stress levels and overall health so I can show up as my best self every single day. There’s no time for less.
5. Emphasize strengths, but minimize weaknesses. Focusing exclusively on your strengths is great in concept, but if your weaknesses interfere with the team, they need to be addressed. As a “creative type," I’m not the most organized person in the world. (My business partners are probably laughing hysterically at that understatement.) But I recognized early on that it was causing an issue with my partners, who both have engineering backgrounds. I learned some systems, along with some needed discipline, and while I’m still not a 10 out of 10, I’m no longer the bottleneck for critical projects.
6. It’s all about relationships. Relationships, not revenue, are the most valuable asset of the business. Relationships with customers, vendors, employees, partners and the industry in general. Companies are not made of buildings or computers or mobile phones, they're made of people — people who like to do business with people who they like. (Say that five times fast!)
7. Finding the right people is EVERYTHING. It doesn’t matter how smart we are or how great an idea is that we come up with — if our entire team isn’t on board and executing on all cylinders, it’s obvious. I’ve become hyper aware of the power each team member has to propel us forward or hold us back. It took us more than 100 candidates and six months to find the right person for one of our key positions, but now that it’s filled with the right person, it made the waiting totally worth it.
8. There are no days off. Including weekends. And holidays. This was something I knew logically but it isn’t the same until you experience it. While I may not be sitting down at my computer writing press releases or responding to emails, I’m ALWAYS working — thinking of how we can be better, how we can help our clients more, how we can make a bigger impact on the industry, how we can help better educate the market. It’s like a software program running in the background that never sleeps.
9. I can’t delegate my demons to someone else. It was easier to “hide" my weaknesses and shortcomings in a larger company. If there was something I didn’t know how to do, I could delegate it to someone who did. Not so much in a startup. We are all in the trenches together, and everyone has to get dirty.
10. It’s all worth it. These last few years have been some of the most challenging of my life, filled with ups and downs. We’ve achieved well beyond my expectations, but not without a cost. Over the weekend I met with a friend who asked me why I do this thing called entrepreneurship to myself. He was shocked as I told him of the hours I put in and some of the situations I deal with. I laughed, knowing how ridiculous it must look from the outside. But from the inside, it makes perfect sense. I can’t think of a better way to become the person I’m intended to be. I choose to willingly throw myself into this fire, I need — I even crave — the refining.
Now I return to the question that begs answering every hour of every day: “How badly do you want it?" How badly do you want to make a difference? How badly do you want to make it to four years or five years or 10 years? How badly do you want to achieve beyond what you believe is possible for you?
Sometimes the answer is “I don’t know." Less frequently it’s “I’m not sure if I do." But most of the time, the answer is “More than anything."
Angela Leavitt is the chief mojo-making officer for Mojo Marketing . With more than 10 years of experience in sales and marketing, and nearly four years in the telecom channel, Leavitt helps telecom companies design and execute effective strategies for social media, PR, branding, Web development and more.