2015 is over. Happy new year!
I started to write your typical motivational post on Facebook today but I stopped myself – I want to give you something more.
I’m not going to lie – 2015 was an incredibly year for both me and my business.
- Over 3,000% increase in year over year revenue.
- Got featured (regularly) on Moz, Ahrefs, SEJ, Inc, B2C and many more.
- Grew our staff from 2 total to 6 total, with a boat load of contractors on the side.
- Spoke at dozens of events, grew website traffic over 5,000%, grew social media channels over 3,000%, and more.
Out of all of those things, the most important thing is I’m happy.
I work well over 80 hours a week but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I’m able to wake up everyday and support myself doing something I love.
Now, I’m not telling you this to gloat. Despite what most people think, this growth didn’t happen overnight.
It came from trying, failing, learning and adjusting. Over, and over, and over again.
In those failures I learned valuable lessons on various aspects of my business that I needed to take more seriously.
I mainly focus on marketing tactics to help grow your business. Today, I want to focus on the other side of the coin – these are 15 business lessons I learned this year, the hard way.
1. Know Your Numbers, Inside and Out
Revenue will cure all of your problems. However, there will be a time when sales dip. When this happens, it’s critical to understand your margins so you can make adjustments as needed.
- Which clients/services/products are most profitable?
- Which clients/services/products require the most resources?
Sometimes your largest earners are your biggest detractors. Knowing your margins will help you make informed decisions in tough times.
If you’re still using spreadsheets to account for your financials, stop – immediately. While spreadsheets work for project level tracking, they don’t work well when allocating assets across multiple projects.
There’s a number of low cost solutions out there that will help you get on top of your numbers:
2. Account For Your Taxes
There’s no better feeling than seeing your hard work pay off in the form of revenue. There’s no worse feeling than helplessly watching Uncle Sam take a fat chunk at year end.
Now, I can’t tell you exactly how much (% of revenue) you’ll owe in taxes at the end of the year – it depends how your business is setup.
At the end of the day, you’re going to owe something – hire a professional to help you out. If you’re using Quickbooks or Bench to manage your books, tax accountants don’t charge much (generally $200 – $600 for small businesses). Finding a good tax accountant to manage this pain in the ass process will save you both time and money.
3. Know How YOU Fit Into The Numbers
Try and think of your business like a human. Just like you, your business has expenses. More importantly, your business needs money to grow (marketing, office space, employees, etc) – how much is for you to decide.
However, your family’s gotta eat. It’s important to understand the margins between how much you need for personal use and how much the business needs for growth.
Open Excel and just list out your personal expenses – what payments do you personally have to make every month?
After that, list out the “nice to haves” (i.e. cable, entertainment expenses, etc). Simply add these to your business’ expenses list to understand how much you need to make to maintain your living situation.
This is also a helpful exercise because more likely than not, you’re going to realize you have to make changes in your personal life to make your business work.
Always make the sacrifices in your personal expenses, never on behalf of your business (i.e. don’t fire an employee because you need to pay for your BMW). Don’t make the business suffer for your personal selfishness.
4. Processes Are Vital To Scaling Up
One thing I learned from my corporate consulting days was the value of processes and structure. The world’s largest organizations all have incredibly detailed processes in place to make sure their staff understands how to perform their job.
Processes have a number of benefits:
- Reduces downtime from employee turnover. The next one simply picks up where they left off.
- Gives you the ability to scale what you’re doing.
- Allows you to use lower cost labor by reducing the need for critical thinking. I know this sounds bad, but it’s good business. A process turns anything into an assembly line – you don’t need to pay $100k a year for someone to perform tasks that don’t require critical thinking.
Open an Excel file and start by typing out every step in your delivery process. Then, assign that task an estimated time to complete and who within your organization is responsible for it.
Having the process recorded is a pain in the ass, but it allows you to make critical decisions about your business:
- Do we need to hire more people to deliver for clients?
- What parts of the process are we missing?
- How can we make this more efficient, speed up delivery, etc?
5. Automate When Possible
More importantly, having a process allows you the purview to understand which parts you can automate. There’s thousands of low cost software solutions out there you can use to plug in to your process to speed it up, reduce human error and lower costs.
Take an in depth look at your process and do some research into what’s available on the market. We were able to automate a large portion of our link outreach service by simply mapping out the process and understanding tools available in the market.
6. Make The Right Hires
While automation is awesome, there’s no replacing good people. I got burned with a bad hire this year – I didn’t do my due diligence interviewing her and she ended up being a disaster.
This is a terrible situation because you’re paying them a salary and spending your time cleaning up their mistakes – it’s a double loss.
In addition, you want to understand the type of hire.
- Is this something that can be outsourced for cheap?
- Is this something we should contract out?
- Is this something we should hire locally for?
Look hard at your process and determine the answers to the questions above. General rules:
- If the task can be performed like an assembly line (no critical thinking), outsource to a virtual assistant.
- If the task requires critical thinking and in depth skills that you yourself aren’t equipped to train, hire an experienced contractor or consultant. There’s nothing wrong with taking this route! In fact, this is how most of the world’s largest organizations function at such a high level.
- If you’re equipped to train the person, I like to hire locally. I’ve found this is the best way to maximize output from your staff.
7. Train Your People Well
Even if they’re a VA or contractor, make sure they’re doing the work the way you want. Their work needs to fit in seamlessly with your process to ensure proper delivery of your product or service.
In addition to your process flows, create guides and training materials. Personally, I’m a big fan of speaking into a screen capture – I find it;s the best way to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. I have a private YouTube channel I use exclusively for training staff.
8. Good Customer Service Is Huge
I learned this one the hard way. I signed a good size client to manage their paid marketing spend and do some light design work.
I was traveling for personal reasons and was out of touch for 2 days – I forgot to put up an out of office or forward emails to my assistant. When I came back online after those 2 days I got a cease and desist email from the client, citing us as thieves, irresponsible, etc.
Make yourself (or someone on your team) available, 24/7. While that client was a huge asshole, they have a point – when you’re paying good money for a service, at the very least you expect to have someone to talk to.
Later in the year we had a pretty big botch up on a client’s SEO campaign. I immediately sat down with my team to come up with a solution for the error and as soon as we came up with something, I called the client and walked them through it.
They’re now our largest client and have been retained for over 10 months.
9. Crush At Least 1 Marketing Channel
Your main job as a business owner is to drive growth so you can pay your employees and vendors. You can’t do that without having a steady steam of customers or leads coming in. With so much competition these days, you have to dominate your marketing.
Understand your resources, what you do best and what you enjoy doing. A lot of your time will be tied up in marketing, so make sure it’s something you enjoy.
Or, just hire me to build it out for you.
10. Your Brand is Important
I put “brand” in bunny quotes because most small businesses / entrepreneurs think a brand is reserved for Fortune 500 companies. A brand is a consistent message, design, feel and quality that resonates across everything you do. Anybody can build their own brand with the right
Building a brand isn’t overly difficult, it just takes some up front planning and dedication on your part.
- It starts with your website – build one with the right messaging, design and feel.
- Create content – blog posts, videos, social media updates, etc.
- Design your content – everything you push out to the world should have the same voice, design and message (just look at what we do with WEBRIS).
11. Stay Calm, Stay Positive
Being an entrepreneur requires a significant amount of stones – we’re essentially jumping without a parachute and figuring out how to land while we fall.
As the figure head of your business, you can’t show weakness or let your staff know there’s a problem. You need to portray confidence at all times.
It’s OK to get overwhelmed at times, we all do. At the end of the day, this isn’t life or death, it’s just business. If you fail, you fail. You took a chance on yourself – that’s something to be incredibly proud of.
- Take a deep breath – 10 seconds in, 10 seconds out. Do this 8 times. It works.
- Talk to friends, family and colleagues to take your mind off things.
- Always, always, ALWAYS remain positive. It’s incredible what self reinforcement can do for you.
12. Take Your Health Seriously
Bottom line, if you can’t work, your business can’t grow.
This really hit home when I was bed ridden with a nasty flu last winter. At that point, I didn’t have much help to sustain the business while I was out, so we hit a brick wall with client delivery.
This could have been avoided if I wasn’t out partying the entire weekend before with my friends.
My sickness could’ve been avoided if I took better care of my body the weekend before (I was out guzzling whiskey until 5 am with my friends).
- Eat healthier – we’re often shut in the office with little access to quality food. Plan ahead, bring vegetables as a snack to eat when you’re healthy.
- Exercise – I know it’s easier said than done, but find something you enjoy doing and set goals (i.e. ride a bike, play basketball, job, etc).
Ugh, I hate to use cliches, but your health is your wealth. Don’t take it for granted.
13. Your Product / Service is Your Most Valuable Assest
Approach it like a craftsman would. Take pride in what you deliver and make efforts to constantly improve it.
Watch this documentary:
14. Take Revenue Seriously
Look, it’s really hard to make money – once you do, it becomes easier (it’s weird like that). If you’re just getting started, look for any and all ways to make money. There’s no such thing as bad revenue.
Get the ball rolling by selling low cost services that you do really well. I started off by emailing local agencies and asking them if they needed hourly help with tedious tasks like keyword research, blogger outreach, etc. I then used my team to fulfill the work – it was an easy way for us to generate an additional $1,000 per week.
15. Create Something of Value
The internet has lowered the barriers of entry for people to start a business. Essentially anyone with an internet connection can start something.
While that’s amazing in itself, it also means it’s an incredibly competitive time to be a business owner.
In order to stand out from the crowd you have to create something uniquely valuable.
I don’t have all the answers for this one (even though I act like I do). I can only speak on what I know – I believe the best way to do that is creating content.
It doesn’t have to be a blog or YouTube channel, it can be an Instagram account, a Meetup Group or simply providing value in forums and communities.
Whatever it is, figure it out – it’s the only thing that’s going to separate you from the others.