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Things I Have Learned From The Last (Almost) Twenty Years of Being in Business

Like many of us during the last two months, I have had more time to be reflective in both my personal and business life. I have examined those things that are going well along with those items that need some attention. One group of clients we love working with is small business owner clients and I thought this blog could offer some insights on what I have learned over the years. Below are my top five.

1-Embrace Change

More than any other tenet, this is the one that I find to be the most important and often the most difficult to undertake. Change is good, I really do believe that. It allows us to grow and progress, always looking ahead to see what may be coming down the pike. Regular change keeps us from becoming too complacent and forces us to evaluate our current practices in search of better ways of doing things. I have found, in this business especially, that things can move quickly (technology, new investment vehicles and strategies). In our current situation, we find ourselves embracing change yet again.  It is not always easy or comfortable and seems to be more uncomfortable the less control we have over that change. Although, each time I have gotten out of my comfort zone to “embrace” something new I find that our business is rewarded handsomely. These rewards are not always directly related to profit. Often it is related to efficiencies, work- load and even a more happy and inspired work environment. I love this quote that is often attributed to Charles Darwin.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

2-Surround Yourself with Great People

This is one I learned quite by accident, luckily for me and the growth of the business, I learned it early on.

You are only as good as those around you so be sure to surround yourself with smart, competent, motivated people. We began bringing on staff many years ago being sure we had great back office support and exceptional customer service. In more recent years, we have added advisors to our team, each with a separate and distinct set of skills and area of knowledge. Developing a team of professional, dedicated, talented people is the best thing we could have done to serve our clients and to ensure the longevity of our practice. For years I have run around quoting Henry Ford “Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you”.  Recently, it was pointed out to me (by one of those smart people in the office) that this is not a quote by Henry Ford, rather, it is a quote by businessman Russell Simmons.  It has been humbling at times to surround myself by such people. However, it has forced me to grow in ways that have made me a better communicator, collaborator, and quite frankly, a better person.

3-Do Not Lose Sight of Why You are Here

It can be easy to get side-tracked from the main objective, especially for those of us who have been in business for more than a few years. Decide what business you are in and be in that business.  It is true that we need to adapt to change and this often includes making improvements in our processes and procedures and the way we deliver. However, the fundamental reason of why we are here is constant. Remember and live your core focus and values. If you find yourself veering off track or losing identity, I find it helpful to go back to the “why”. When you remember why you got into business in the first place it can re-focus your efforts to prioritize what is most important.

4-Do What You Say You are Going to Do

At first glance, this one seems so apparent. Of course, we all intend to do what we say we are going to do. However, I have found that many businesses do not live by this premise. I am astounded by how many companies we deal with that do not adhere to even the simplest requests. Things such as returning phone calls when they are expected, sending documents in a timely manner or getting menial tasks completed in the allotted time frame. Often, these are not critical items and take very little effort so they can be easy to postpone or delay. I find it a matter of integrity. If we tell you something will be done by a specific time, no matter how mundane, we are meeting that deadline or reaching out to you to let you know why we are not able to complete it in the given time frame and when you can expect it. This is one of the easiest ways to stand out in the business world.

5-Having a Plan Matters

Just like we recommend putting a plan in place to our clients and then following, monitoring, and adjusting that plan, we must do this for ourselves as business owners. I like Stephen Covey’s process here, “start with the end in mind”. I have learned over the years to build out a one, three, five and ten-year plan and then review and update these plans each year. Interestingly, I find that it sometimes takes me every bit of a year or more to complete my goals for the one year plan, although, I do find that I regularly am far ahead of schedule on the three year, five and ten year plans. It is so important to know where you are headed and have a written game plan. If you fail to plan you will end up somewhere, however, there is a good chance that it is nowhere near where you intended to be. Lastly, I find it helpful to get an outside perspective on your business. This can be done through a trusted advisor or even a mentor. We can sometimes be so focused on our businesses minutia that we lose sight of the bigger picture, an outside set of eyes can help us have a better understanding on where we are and where we want to be.

Finally, I am adding this picture of us early in the business so you can see how far we have come.

I learned from looking back on this that wearing my father in law’s jacket was not a good look!

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