Twelve Small Truths About Running a Business

Photo by Ali Yahya

Photo by Ali Yahya

It’s been over 4 years since I’ve gone off my own and I’ve learned more about the world and myself in this short amount of time than I think I’ve learned in my whole life - at least it feels that way. Now that my business is no longer a sketchy house of cards that could fall down at any moment, it’s a lot of fun making things exist in the world to help people.

Here are twelve small truths that I’ve learned while forging my own path. 

  1. Build an audience Your audience is everything. Your audience is who you sell your service or product to. Your audience will tell you how to make your service or product better. They’ll even tell you what other problems they have that they would pay you to solve. Serve your audience; respect them; care way too much about them. Your livelihood depends on them.

  2. Don’t make products or services that people don’t want

    I know you think you know better than your audience. Maybe you do, but if you can’t convince them that you have something to solve their problems, you’re still wrong and your business is probably suffering - insult to injury. Ask your audience what they want you to make, make it well and enjoy being compensated for helping them with their problems.

  3. You have to know what makes you different Can you explain why someone would hire you or buy your product over your competition? If you can’t answer that question, neither can your customers. You don’t have to be radically different in a lot of ways, you just need to be different in one way. It could be your process, it could be your “why”, it could be that you’re bringing a skill set to a community that needs it, it could be that you’re the only option in your location or that you have a specific worldview.

  4. You get what you pay for and good help ain’t cheap

    When you’re building your business, if you’re hiring someone or bringing on a new piece of technology to help your business grow, it’s ok to be frugal, but remember, most of the time, you will always get what you pay for. How much can a cheaper, less experienced person screw up? What does their screw up cost you in time, money and reputation? If you go with the cheap technology, how soon will you have to upgrade? How much will cheap technology cost you if you have to relearn a new system relatively soon? How much will it cost you if it never works and you always have to trouble shoot?

  5. Whatever your job is, your job is to manage expectations

    Does the food you’re serving look remotely like the picture you’re advertising? If there is too big of a divide between expectations and reality, people will be bummed. And it’s hard to have a good relationship when you bum people out. And if they go around telling all their friends how much you bum them out, it’s an uphill climb to fix your reputation. Even if there are a lot of fish in the sea, it’s still not a great idea to shit in the pond.

  6. If you don’t understand your business in terms of revenue, expenses, assets and liabilities, you don’t understand your business

    As a business owner, you have to come to the table ready to learn this stuff. If you aren’t, then find another seat at another table or partner with someone who has this skill set. As a business owner, this is your problem and nobody else’s. Even if you hire a bookkeeper or an accountant, they’re helping you, but it’s still your job to at least try to learn these things.

    If you wanted to be a professional soccer player, you’d have to learn how the game works or else no one would take you seriously. The game of business is all about the numbers. If you don’t learn these rules, no one is going to take you seriously, like investors or a bank or your peers and your customers.

  7. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good

    Done is better than good. You are dynamic, you are always changing and getting better. Don’t let this stop you from putting something out or else you’ll never put anything out. You can reiterate in public. You can relaunch. I can’t tell you how many musicians I’ve met over the years that are “still working on their sound” and someday “they’ll put out an album.” You’re going to get better and you’ll eventually hate some of the things you put out years ago, but that’s just part of it.

  8. Understand the value you’re creating

    When you’re providing a service or creating a product, don’t just think about how much time and effort something has taken you. Understand the value that your customer is getting from your service or product. A webpage that could take you 15 hours to make could help your customer generate $250,000. When you start to think about the value someone is getting, then you can start to play around with marketing and price.

  9. Not taking time off will cost you

    Step away from your work regularly. If you’re in charge of building the vision for your company, you need to have the space to do that. The genius comes to you with gifts when your brain steps away from the hard work of doing and is allowed to relax. Don’t take my word for it, take science’s word.

    If you wanted to run a marathon, your training wouldn’t be to run as many hours as possible and as much as possible. You’d run, then recover and rest, you’d sleep enough, avoid terrible food most of the time, drink enough water, stretch, maybe do some other types of exercise. 

  10. If you don’t set boundaries, you won’t have boundaries

    This one is all my people who suffer from codependency issues. This was hard for me to accept too, but just know, you will disappoint people. You’re going to let someone down because you won’t be available in one way or another. You will say something that pisses off an internet troll. You might set expectations that are not met. 

    You have to work on accepting this or else you’re going to work so hard trying not to let anyone down that you’ll give yourself away. And there won’t be anything left for you or your friends and your family. Work with people who respect your boundaries and those who don’t can find an unhealthy relationship with someone else. But also, set boundaries. 

  11. You are not your work

    Never forget the big picture. You’re going to die and everyone you’ve ever known will die and one day it will be like you didn’t even exist. So lighten up, and do what you can to help your fellow humans suffer a little less. Try not to get too down about this human experience you are having. It’s just an experience. 

  12. Work on yourself and deal with your baggage, because if you don’t, it’ll come out in your work (not to mention your relationships) and fucking that up can be expensive

    Listen, we’re all screwed up. We’re all flawed. First, accept that and then, work on it. Learn about all the ways you’re crappy to other people and understand why. Work aggressively at finding your own blind spots. Don’t let your ego be the navigator of your behavior. Ego is helpful, but that dude shouldn't be the boss. Don’t beat up on people at work because growing up your dad was an asshole to you. Don’t undervalue your employees because you are insecure and don’t know your own self worth. Don’t make your problems other people’s problems. Life is hard enough already. Find your joy and be an example to others, otherwise, what are you doing with your short time here on earth?