Being a business owner is hard. It’s like the old maxim. You avoid mistakes through your experience. You gain experience by making mistakes. By owning a business, you are guaranteeing yourself a fair number of mistakes. Embrace it. If you have never owned a business, you can never understand the struggle. So, if you are considering starting a business, be careful what you wish for. There is no experience quite like borrowing money to make this week’s payroll. Sometimes you will wonder why you bothered starting your company at all. Building a business is a struggle. You struggle to build something out of nothing. To impart some of your vision on the world. And to try and make the world a better place. As you struggle, strive to build a company where great people come together to make great things happen. You struggle, but you can also win.
In The Hard Things About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz likens running a business to driving a race car. When driving a race car, you must focus on the road. If you focus on the wall, you will run into it. By focusing on the road, you will stay on the road. Any given day, there are hundreds of obstacles lurking in and around your path to success. And as long as you focus your attention solely on these obstacles instead of focusing on your goals and vision, you will never achieve your dreams. Life is a journey. Keep your eye on the road. As a business owner, do not obsess with what can go wrong with your business. When obstacles occur, address them, look for the opportunity within the obstacle, and move on. And remember to always stay focused on your vision. Look ahead and keep moving forward.
You must develop an environment of open communication with your team. The size of your team does not matter. If your team consists of more than one person, then you must have effective communication to be an effective team. Nothing destroys communication quite like having a jerk on your team. Really, the only thing worse than having a jerk for a team member is having a jerk for a team leader. Either way, an argumentative, quarrelsome individual will naturally shut down communication from most of your other team members. In this environment, company issues will not be fully discussed, if they are brought up at all. Always be mindful of the chemistry of your team. If someone is a jerk, you must deal with it. If you are the jerk, you must change. Because no matter how brilliant the jerk is, eventually they will have to mellow or leave.
If you stay in business long enough, you will experience negative events completely out of your control. Life happens. When it does, your company’s ability to survive will depend on the health of your company. Good companies can weather storms. Bad companies do not. You can measure your company by the attitude and work ethic of your employees. People like working for good companies. People want to enjoy their work and feel like their work will make a difference for the company. And people want to know that they will be rewarded for the difference they make for their company. Ben Horowitz writes, “Being a good company is an end in itself.” And yet, there are so many small businesses that fail because they are not built to be good companies. Would your employees say that you have a good company? If not, start building a good company today.
Nobody wants to hear bad news. And nobody wants to deliver bad news, either. Phrases such as “don’t shoot the messenger” highlight society’s problem with blaming the deliverer of the bad news for the bad news. And it is safe to say that we have all done this in the past. As leaders, we cannot shoot the messenger many times before our team will learn to hide bad news from leadership. And hiding bad news from leadership prevents the organization from working to solve problems while the problems are still small. Instead, encourage your team to tell it like it is. Not only will that get your issues out in the open, but discussing problems with your team will engage more minds working on a solution. After all, that is what your team is for. So, ask your team what issues you should be talking about today.
It takes the entire time you know someone to build trust, and only a second to destroy it. As a leader, your team will trust you only as long as they believe that you are a person of integrity. That you will do the right thing no matter the situation. That is how you build trust with your team. In The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz recalls a restructuring he initiated so his core company could survive. The bottom line: 150 employees would become employees of another company. And 140 employees would be looking for a job. Instead of going to New York for the announcement, a mentor advised him to go tell his employees where they stood. It could not wait a day. By showing integrity with these employees, he maintained his trust with the employees who would stay. How have you shown integrity with your team?
Starting a company is not easy. There are times of enormous stress. Times when you wonder if it is really worth doing. Times when you are just ready to quit and walk away. But walking away will cost your people their jobs. Walking away will cost your investors their funds. Walking away will cost you your reputation. So you keep going. And you keep losing sleep. It is hard to understand the stress of owning a business. Yes, you may have the next great idea. But reading books on leadership and business organization will never prepare you for having to fire people because of a bad decision. Or bad timing. There is no secret formula for success. Sometimes, things just do not go as planned. Life happens. Seek out a mentor. Find someone who started a business and succeeded. Lean on their advice. Because sometimes you will need it.