It's an adventure out there in the land of entrepreneurship and I've been on a quest to have it all. For me, that means having a career I love, having time with my family and friends, and having personal time to pursue my interests. If you ask me how I'm doing, it may depend on what day you catch me.
Like many other executives, especially women, there have been many challenges, choices and lessons along the way. Last month, I was fortunate enough to speak to a group of aspiring executives at my alma mater, Wilfrid Laurier University, and share tales of how I helped grow the company more than 3,000 per cent over a decade. There were a lot of growing pains due to literal expansions. Outgrowing seven offices in that period is a badge of honour we all wear proudly – though that badge may be packed away in a box in the event we have to get new or more office space.
Here are 10 lessons so far that have taken the company from starting out in a home to occupying a couple of floors in an office building in Pickering, Ont.:
1. Growing 3,000 per cent in 10 years isn't a straight crescendo Achieving that figurative steep slope would be a myth. Real growth comes with ups and downs. It's impossible to grow that fast and not outgrow your processes. When you reach plateaus, you have figure out how to achieve that ascent again, whether it's a system redesign, process overhaul or even staff changes.
2. The strength of your relationships will see you through the growing pains When you're growing that fast, change will have to be executed at that speed as well. Not everyone will be comfortable with that. But if you've built strong relationships with your team and if you've earned their trust, they'll work through the growing pains with you.
3. The buck stops here Make people accountable. In our early days, we built processes, but didn't have strict controls. How did we turn a situation like this around? Give crystal clear direction – 'some' is not a number and 'soon' is not a time. Get clear answers and hold them to it.
4. Hire key roles early And don't cheap out. You need hire the best talent that you can afford in HR and finance. A good HR professional will find and recruit the talent you need. They will develop a structured process to determine who would be the best person for the job. The same goes for a good finance person. They will put management controls in place and make sure that you're measuring not only leading indicators like your financials, but lagging indicators too, which will tell you when things are going off the rails.
5. Get rid of bad apples We had a rock star who was also a bad apple. He was very good at his job, but bullied everyone and made their lives miserable. The air was much lighter after he was gone. There were absolutely no regrets.
6. Get people working to their strengths This is especially true for yourself. It's important that you work to your strengths and excel. I learned this from our CEO Jeff Quipp. Apparently, that's why he hired me – we are polar opposites. Surround yourself with people who can support your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses.
7. Look to people who've done it before Everybody talks about the importance of mentorship and it is very important, but the source can come from different places. I haven't been lucky enough to have had a direct mentor in my life. In a lot of cases, I chose my management style by understanding what I didn't want to be. In tough times, I looked to books from leaders I admired and this helped me work through challenges.
8. Work-life balance This is not female thing, it's for everyone. I'm a mom and I'm an executive of a growing company, so finding a work-life balance is a must. I used to think that stress was something whiners complained about. I didn't actually believe that it was a real thing – that is until long hours and health concerns added up to a reality that wasn't ideal.
9. People are not staying at one company for long It's a growing trend and an issue that executives must tackle on a daily basis. Create and foster an environment to keep key people. Not only will it incentivize the stars to stay, it will attract others to join the festivities.
10. Technology is a core strategy Technology has gone from a key differentiator to a core strategy. Any company that isn't figuring out how to use technology to revolutionize their business is doomed. If you are just looking to evolve, that will give you success in the short-term, but in the long term, those that do figure it out will have your dinner – and cake, too.
Jennifer Osborne is a digital marketing expert. She is the President of Search Engine People Inc. (SEP), Canada's largest digital marketing firm, which has been on the PROFIT 100 ranking of Canada's Fastest Growing Companies for the past five consecutive years and named one of PROFIT Magazine's 50 Fastest Growing Companies in the Greater Toronto Area. Jennifer has been named as one of Canada's top women entrepreneurs.