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Accinctus - 7 Critical Lessons from My First Year as a Business Owner

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Thursday, 10 July 2014 00:00

7 Critical Lessons from My First Year as a Business Owner Featured

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Today marks the one year anniversary of Accinctus.  A good friend of mine who is also a successful business owner told me when I started – the first year is a game of 52.  52 weeks in the year and 52 cards in a deck – week by week keep going to make it through the deck (looking forward to your book on the topic Bill).  Many days I feel it’s a game of 52 pickup with all the cards tossed in the air and I have to pluck just the right one out of the air at the right moment before they all fall. Might seem like magic but I’ve found there is no magic to any of this – just hard work with a good dose of stubbornness (which I have in spades).   


I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned this year and would like to share my thoughts on what I think are the top 7 lessons.  Those who have far more experience running a business will perhaps enjoy a reminiscent chuckle and those like me trying to build a new business or thinking about starting a business will hopefully find some value in these to perhaps feel they’re not crazy.  

Lesson 1:  Starting a company is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. 
I am constantly challenged to learn about so many new things that a business owner needs to know.  Every time I think I’m starting to understand one thing, 50 more jump out at me and I do not know when that will slow down.  Some days it feels a lot like basic training with a string of rough minutes, hours, and days strung together.  Tenacity of purpose and thick skin are required to wear the title of “business owner!”


Lesson 2:  Don’t be afraid to ask for and accept help. 
I have been blessed with advisors and mentors (all whom have great patience) from different sources and they have helped me keep moving forward.  Some from organizations such as the SBDC or PTAC, while others have been unofficial coaches willing to share their knowledge and give me a boost (or kick in the posterior) here and there – including my Mom who has been a go-to for questions on some professional topics.  Someday I hope I can repay all this by helping someone else.  Check your ego at the door because asking for help and accepting it when offered is critical.

Lesson 3:  You are your business and your business is you.
I’m not implying a loss of individuality.  What I mean is that the more work I put into this crazy endeavor, the more pride I take in my company.  Whether it’s how I dress (I hate ties and jackets, but I just can’t leave the house without a jacket anymore) or more important things such as how my ideas about brand protection have evolved.  The more I work to build this company the harder I want to protect it and make it a success.  The realization that you bear all responsibility on your shoulders is a strong motivator. 

Lesson 4:  What’s free time?
If you need to keep up with the latest movies, TV shows, books, or video games I advise you not to start your own business.  Don’t kid yourself, you are not going to catch up on those recorded shows so don’t bother taking up space on the family DVR.  Oh yeah, about sleep, it just isn’t as available as it used to be for some reason.  I have learned to appreciate much shorter moments of relaxation when I do take the time.  I expect that those longer times (vacation, what’s that?) will be back in a few years as I grow this company and I can’t help but smile knowing they’ll be even sweeter then.  Take pride in paying your dues. 

Lesson 5:  Honesty leads to Trust which leads to…

(Almost) everyone is trying to sell me something even if I don’t need it or can’t afford it.  I realize that if a company doesn’t sell they don’t make money; that has to be one of the fundamental laws of business, right?  But as a new company I do not need (or have cash for) an enterprise IT solution, advertising on a golf course, or similar services.  I don’t understand how when I’m honest with someone and politely tell them I don’t need (or don’t have funds for) what they’re selling they see that as an invitation to ratchet up their approach as a challenge.  I know there is a “sales game” to play and that I really do not know the rules of this game, but is honesty so far removed from that system that people can’t accept (or comprehend) a straight, honest answer?  I have a different perspective – I never want a client to feel that I “sold them something.”  I want them to trust me as a professional that helped them protect their business, employees, and reputation and I can’t do that if I’m not 100% honest and up front with them from our first introduction handshake.  If they don’t trust me, they’ll never do business with me.

Lesson 6:  Positive thinking WILL clash with reality.

This could also be titled “Profit doesn’t come as quick as you plan!”  Many business books and speakers imply that positive thinking is the greatest contributor to success and profits.  I say BS to that - reality is a cruel teacher in this.  I had goals for revenue by amount and date and plenty of positive attitude to go with it.  I now understand the look on my advisor’s face when I mentioned those goals in an early counseling session… it was very polite of him not to laugh (thanks Andra).  A positive attitude is damn important, but if that’s all you’ve got you will have a very empty wallet. 

Lesson 7:  Do not lose focus on what is truly important.

Keeping family front and center is critical, but will be challenged.  My business is not more important than my wife and children, but building this business comes in 2nd behind them in priorities right now because I am committed (with their encouragement and assistance from day 1).  Priorities have been shifted and sacrifices made more than I wanted for them and I’m sure more challenges await.  I remember my Grandfather with his HVAC business leaving at inopportune times when a call came in from a family with no heat during the viciously cold NW Ohio winters; he went because it was important.  I know I’ll have days when I miss sporting events, family dinners, and even some celebrations.  I will make sure I don’t miss those times unless it’s truly critical.  I would not be where I’m at without the help of my family, especially my wife who is my greatest supporter in so many ways.  One of the main reasons I chose this path is my desire to have more control over those challenges, to not be at the mercy of another layoff notice because of another corporate restructure.  It doesn’t make sense to sacrifice my commitment to them to succeed for them.  Success is empty if you lose why you wanted to succeed in the first place. 

So there you have it, seven concepts that I’ve thought about a lot as I approach Accinctus’ 1st company anniversary.  I say it often (usually in frustration): “I don’t know what I don’t know.”  It will be interesting to see what new lessons await and what I learn in the next year.  We’ve made it this far, all I can say for year two – BRING IT ON!


As always – Be Aware, Be Prepared, Be Safe.


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