15 Lessons From 15 Years in Business
As of 2016, I’ve been doing business as Kane Consulting for 15 years.*
The experience has been a gift (I’d like to publicly thank my husband for supporting the endeavor), a phenomenal learning opportunity and, at times, a test of endurance. All of it–the good AND the bad– has taught me some valuable lessons…
1. Fear is the root of all problems.
Every single problem I’ve run across in my 15 years of consulting has come down to an issue of fear: employees who fear contradicting their bosses, bosses who fear being contradicted by their employees, companies who fear changing the status quo but also fear staying stuck where they’re at. I’ve learned the very act of changing or doing anything requires courage. The people and companies who can muster up that courage and face their fears head-on are the only ones worth doing business with.
2. Let go of your mistakes.
Sometimes I’ll have a sleepless night thinking of all the horrible mistakes I’ve made in my life and in my career (believe me, there have been plenty of them.) But I know I can’t let myself wallow in those failures for too long. If you stay hung up on stuff in your past you can never really fully invest in your future. So, after I experience a fabulous failure, I make it a point to try something new as soon as possible using the knowledge I’ve gained. That way it feels like I’m always moving forward.
3. Flexibility is awesome.
I had two spinal fusions and a kid during the 15 years I’ve been consulting. With all of the time I needed to take off, I likely would have lost a regular 9-5 desk job. Having my own company gave me the flexibility to navigate these planned and unexpected life changes while still providing some continuity on my resume. Yes, having your own business isn’t always great for work/life balance, but it isn’t always bad, either. When I’m on, I’ve been REALLY on. But those times when I’ve needed to be really OFF, I was able to swing that, too.
4. There’s no going backwards.
It’s a totally different world now than when I started my company. I’ve had to adapt to a lot of change over the years or risk becoming obsolete. So, I have little patience when I encounter companies who want me to help them make things “go back to normal”– the ones who are tired of two-way conversations with customers, technology that changes by the hour and new forms of media and content. Let me be the bearer of bad news to these companies–from one old geezer to another–you must let the past go. The digital genie ain’t going back into the bottle.
5. Believe in yourself.
For a very long time I shied away from calling myself an expert in anything, because I thought it was a term you were anointed with, not one which you give yourself. I was wrong about that. If I’ve learned anything from social media it’s that people crown themselves master of all sorts of things all the damn time. Most of the time no one ever questions it. In order to be successful, you need to get comfortable embracing your awesomeness and proclaiming your power. Because if YOU don’t believe in yourself why should anyone else?
6. Just ask.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned from Millennials? They ask for things all of the time–from famous people, from strangers, from new contacts–and they usually get what they ask for. That’s been a hard truth for me to accept. I’m always inclined to think, “Why would that famous person do me a favor? Why would that person want to be my mentor? Why would that company partner to help me?” I get so caught up in wanting to be respectful of other people’s time I forget that giving your time to others can be a reward, too.
7. Fake it until you make it.
I have taken many gigs where I mostly knew what I was doing and just figured out the rest as I went. Those gigs were often my biggest successes. That’s not because I did everything perfect, but because I was willing to take a risk and dive in head-first on a new challenge, even when I had doubts, while other people were waiting around for a risk-free “sure thing” that would make them look good.
8. Everyone is human.
All people–the famous ones, the ones who pay us, the ones we admire–are fallible humans who have doubts and fears and flaws like everyone else. Because of this, I try to treat everyone I meet the same–with respect, but also with a a lack of pretension and preciousness. Yes, I have run into powerful people who are rattled when I don’t treat them like a Demigod. But, in general, I’ve been told my ability to talk openly and honestly with people–regardless of their title–is refreshing.
9. Sexism still exists.
Yep, I’ve run into sexism while doing business. It’s casual and not always in your face, but it’s still there. I’ve had men spend an entire meeting openly staring at my boobs, men who have asked me to take notes like their secretary, men who have dismissively called me “little lady” or “missy” and men who have mansplained my business to me. (Like the uber patronizing one who told me “Facebook is just a fad. Businesses will NEVER be on there.”) One of the very best things about having my own business is I’ve had the luxury to walk away from these contacts and clients.
10. Listen to your gut.
I’ve worked with a few shady characters in my 15 years. Usually I knew something was not quite right at the beginning of the relationship. Over time, I’ve learned to trust my gut’s early warning system. When I feel like a client is not a good fit or a contact is not trustworthy, I cut my losses and step away before things go sour. In the end, I’ve found the practice saves more relationships than it severs.
11. Social media is a double-edged sword.
Social media has very much changed the nature of how I do business. In fact, for many years it WAS my business. I am eternally grateful for the amazing connections and relationships it has given me. (It really is an introvert’s best friend.) But, at the same time, social media has also been the source of some of my most unhappy moments. I’ve learned social media a delicate weapon which must be respected and wielded with both precision and prudence.
12. Offices are overrated.
People might be surprised to learn my best work always happens outside of my office space, like when I’m cleaning my house, taking a shower or going for a walk. It’s the biggest reason why a job in a cube farm would be the kiss of death for me. Yes, I sit and type my grand plans at a desk, but the ideas behind those plans are always hatched in the wild.
13. Bigger isn’t always better.
Every once in awhile I’ve gotten my hands on the deliverable from a big agency that’s comparable to the work I do. And I’ve learned my stuff is competitive (often it’s also better quality and 3 times the volume for a 10th of the cost.) Yes, some clients are always going to be attracted to the flash of big agencies with their cool offices and the big teams. But I’ve learned there is a place and a purpose for us little players, too.
14. Don’t wait for perfect.
Done is better than perfect. Every time. “Done” gets you attention and opportunities. “Done” gets you paid. All “perfect” gets you is anxiety and frustration. Yes, there have been times I’ve wished my work was better (actually, always.) But, in the end, all of my big successes have happened because I let go of the need to be perfect, shipped something and just got the work out there.
15. Go with the flow
I never set out with the intention to start a consulting business. I just did some consulting. Then I did some more. Then I did it so often I finally decided “this is a company, I should give it a name.” That’s kind of how I look at the future of my business, too. Most of the things I specialize in weren’t even invented 15 years ago. That’s why I try not to get too hung up on making rigid plans for the future. If people continue to need my help, I’ll continue to help them. If they don’t, I’ll go do something else. After 15 years of peaks and valleys I’ve learned, when it comes to the future, it’s best to just relax and ride the the waves.
*My LinkedIn profile says I’ve been in business 14 years. That’s because the first year I was consulting I wasn’t sure this was actually a business. Next year is basically the anniversary of me getting business cards.
14 is my favorite. Just get it done! Thanks for showing me how to keep at it — hope I can do my own 15 years post in time…