5 of the Most Vital Lessons I’ve Learned as an Entrepreneur

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I’ve officially been an entrepreneur for nine years — although I’ve spent my career working for small campaigns or organizations with a start-up mentality.

During that time, I’ve learned a number of lessons. Some I’ve learned the hard way — and I have a lot more to learn.  I learn something new every day.

Over the past year, however, I feel like I’ve really hit my stride in terms of being productive, happy and successful. This success, I believe, is attributable to five key lessons I’ve learned (and implemented):

1) Work Should Revolve Around Life, not the Other Way Around

The passing of my father in December 2012 was a wake up call to me about how short life really is. He had lived a full life, to the age of 83, and yet I still wish I had just one more second to spend with him.

My wife and I have three kids (and one more on the way next month), and I don’t ever want to feel like I don’t spend enough time with them. What good is being successful in business if you and your family aren’t happy, connected and together.

As such, during the past year, I got an office outside the home, which allows me to place real (and psychological) boundaries on my work. When I leave the office, I truly leave work, I shut down my email and I focus on my family.  I’m more productive during the day, weeding out the waste in my workday, so I can get home, relax, attend my kid’s soccer or basketball practice, or just enjoy a good book.

Life is too short to spend it prioritizing work over family. Don’t wait until the weekends, vacations, or retirement to enjoy it.

2) Don’t Let Sucky People Get You Down

Sometimes it’s a client. Sometimes it’s a vendor. Sometimes it’s a person who works within the organization of one of your clients.

Try as we might, there are always going to be negative, micromanaging, mean people in our lives. I used to let these people stress me out and ruin my day.  Then I remembered that, in the scheme of things, they don’t really matter. Even that, sometimes, isn’t enough to get past their “suckiness.” As such, I work hard to limit my contact with such people, or delegate the relationships with those particular people to others on my team.

In some cases, I’ve fired clients; or I’ve appealed to others within the organization for help.  In the end, if the costs of these people’s impact on your happiness is too great, leave them in the dust.

3) Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

It took me way too many sleepless nights, early mornings, and stress-filled weekends to learn that investing in quality, talented team members to whom I can delegate is worth it.  As such, I’ve invested in more writers, more designers, and even a virtual assistant to help me get things done, be more productive, and serve my clients better.  Yes, it’s been a financial cost to my company, but the investment has been worth it in terms of relaxation, client service, and overall happiness.

4) Don’t Sell. Network.

I’ve never been good at cold call sales. Let me rephrase that: I’ve never tried cold call sales because the mere idea of it causes me anxiety.

Even without “selling”, however, I’ve built two successful businesses, with a mixture of core, long-term clients and new and project-based clients.

This is because I love networking and building relationships.  Whether it’s building strong relationships with my existing clients which, in turn, translate into word-of-mouth recommendations to new clients, or simply networking with my local chamber, I’ve found this type of networking is the best way to build my business.

Selling sucks, and it often turns off potential clients. I network, instead.

5) Say No to the Small Stuff.

The small stuff will get you down and ruin your business. Small clients, small tasks and small worries can undo even the most talented entrepreneur.

That’s why I focus on the big stuff each and every day.  As I posted here, I focus on only a few “big” priorities each day.  I delegate small, or repetitive tasks to my team members.

I also work to focus on my big clients.  As Four Hour Workweek author Tim Ferriss writes, business owners, should focus on the 20% of clients who actually produce 80% of the profits (referred to as the 80/20  or “Pareto”, principle.  The remainder of the clients are usually lower-paying clients who are high-maintence.

One of the best things we can do as entrepreneurs is to learn to say “no” to the time-sucking, high-maintenance, low-paying clients.

These are just some of the important lessons I’ve learned as an entrepreneur.  They’re the ones that have allowed me to hit my stride, stay most productive, and be the most stress-free and happy I’ve been in years.

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