This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
As an entrepreneur with 14 years of business experience under my belt, you know that there are things that I would do differently given the chance to start my business again – I recently shared some of them with you.
However, there are lots of things I wouldn't change about my entrepreneurship journey if I could do it all over. Here are just five things I committed to practising right from the start that I continue to live by to this very day.
1. Take a bootstrapping mindset
My goal has always been to build a self-sustaining business. While this can mean a slow path to growth, living within my means early on sure helped my company get through some pretty tough times. Today, when I do invest in new business activities, I still opt to self-fund. But if I'm being honest, my bootstrapping mindset isn't really about limiting my financial risk – it's about making sure that I have built a solid foundation with my current target customers before focusing on expanding my reach.
2. Apply the 80/20 approach to get stuff out the door
I admit it – I'm a recovering perfectionist. What I learned early on is that striving for perfection is an unachievable goal that doesn't add significant value for anyone. Perfectionism keeps you from getting what your customer wants and needs from you out the door, so I live my version of the 80/20 rule: I obsess about getting what really matters to my target client right, while being fine with everything else being the best that it can be. By committing to always delivering exceptional customer value, you can decide exactly where you can afford to give that little bit.
3. Make yes your default response to opportunities
Right from the start, I pledged to say yes to opportunities unless there was a good reason to say no. Saying yes more than no has helped me meet really interesting people and clients that I might not have met otherwise, go to some unexpected places (St. Petersburg, Russia), have some really interesting experiences (spending the day in New York with marketing guru Seth Godin), and live out some of my dreams (sharing my knowledge with university students). Saying yes has taken my business places I never would have predicted. Where might saying yes take you and your business? You'll never know unless you give it a try.
4. Be ready to go the distance
Our businesses are built on relationships that take time to build. The foundation of a solid relationship is trust, and trust is earned by the real you "showing up" consistently. I learned early on that you've got to invest years, not months, building and nurturing relationships. This can mean writing a blog for a long time before it finally draws clients to you. Where you go to "show up" depends on where the people you are building relationships with hang out. And you've got to be prepared to move with them if/when their preferred hangout changes. Never lose an important relationship just because you refuse to step out of your connection comfort zone.
5. Make your business a passion project
I've learned that the best, most sustainable businesses fuse a business owner's passion with an unfulfilled customer need. It's not rocket science but you'd be surprised how many entrepreneurs forget this important formula. I love bringing people together to create a better organization that has greater impact – companies are looking for help creating and executing their plans to produce better outcomes for their customers and stakeholders. By leveraging my passion to meet a customer need, my business has been a match made in heaven from Day 1. Not surprisingly, making your business a passion project pays off in many ways.
Every entrepreneur I meet dreams of creating a successful business. Some build their business to flip while others want to create something to pass on to their kids. Almost everyone wants to build a business that will last. This is my motivation so, to achieve my goal, I began by committing to doing the five things I've mentioned here. However, I don't think that it matters that much whether you commit to my "big five" or you choose to focus on other things. What does matter for entrepreneurial success is choosing the principles that feel right for you and then sticking with them over the long term.
Sample what has worked for the business owners you know. Try a few on for size and select your path. Commit and then dive into what will be the greatest adventure of your life.
Sandy Richardson (@collabstrategy) is president of strategy execution and strategic planning firm Collaborative Strategy, and the author of Business Results Revolution.