I don’t have a remarkable story. I didn’t become an overnight success. I didn’t invent a product that saves lives. I haven’t made millions. And I don’t have a degree in business.
But what I am is determined, motivated, and passionate. I am a hard worker. A creative. A leader. A dreamer with a work ethic. I have more endurance and drive than most people you’ll meet. I don’t cave in the face of adversity. Rather, it pushes me to accelerate.
I am a mom of two, a wife, and an entrepreneur. Lots of days I’m barely hanging on by a thread, but I love what I do and I have had the great blessing of getting to see my efforts bear fruit.
The latest chapter
This year has been a game changer. Although I started the company almost 10 years ago, this feels like our first year in business. We have taken more risk in the last 8 months than in all the previous years combined. We have also had a lot more win than I can ever remember.
Something is working this year that separates it from any other. We’ve certainly matured, but I think we’ve also determined who we are and what we want to be when we grow up.
In a nutshell, here’s what has made this year remarkable:
We developed a personality.
We truly defined our brand and our values. We decided to have a sense of humor and focus on finding joy in our work.
We started investing in ourselves.
We made ourselves a client. We’ve decided that we will pave the way and actually do what we are recommending to our clients. We spend every Friday working on ourselves so that we can become a better company.
We stopped letting our processes run the show.
We have shifted our focus to the customer and we customize everything we do for them based on their business objectives. We are thinking bigger.
We started being transparent.
We are putting ourselves out there. We write about what we do and how we help our clients. We are reaching out to our competitors. We’re being bold and taking risks to show the world who we are.
We made an effort to build a community.
We are reading and learning more. We are sharing our knowledge and helping people out. We are making new friends in the industry.
We started saying no.
We are standing strong in our values. We are deciding as a team what direction to take and we’re sticking to it. We became selective about our relationships so that we can make the most of what we do every day.
If I’ve learned anything about being an entrepreneur it’s that you’re the one who’s writing the manual. There are no right answers and everyone takes a different path.
For what it’s worth, here are some of the most important things that I’ve learned so far on my journey:
Courage and risk are requisite
At the beginning of the second quarter of this year, we changed our business model. After 9 years of the same basic service offerings, I decided we weren’t a web design company anymore. We were an internet marketing company, a hybrid agency. That’s what we were good at and it was the kind of work we wanted to do. And that was it. I made the decision, discussed it with the team (who, fabulous as they are, affirmed my decision), and that was that.
It’s not like we were doing anything revolutionary, but our approach was new. We were asking businesses to look at their web marketing in a whole new way. To forget about everything they had ever done, throw out all myths and stereotypes, and trust us. “Give us the keys (and your budget),” we said, “and let’s go for a ride. You’ll like where we’re going. We promise.”
And it worked. I mean, it is working. In fact, 8 months later, that story is still unfolding. And that’s the thing about growing a business. It takes guts to do what you love. A lot of times it’s scary uncomfortable, but you just make a decision and go for it. If that doesn’t work out, you make another decision and you do something else. It’s all just part of the process.
Failure is actually serendipity
What I have come to realize in this last 8 months is that failure is relative. It’s just an interpretation of expectations. The only reason you fail is because you expected a different outcome than what actually happened. And as a result of that, you deem yourself a failure.
How do you know that the outcome actually is a fail? Can’t you look back at moments in your life that you thought were an absolute train wreck at the time, but now in hindsight you can see that they unfolded into something amazing? Something that never would have happened without your epic “failure”?
It’s all in your perspective. So call it whatever you want, but I’ll take failure any day over not having the courage to take the risk in the first place.
You’re probably going to feel lonely and I guarantee you’ll want to give up
I’m the sole owner of Mack Web Solutions. I have an incredibly supportive husband, a family who loves me, great friends, brilliant mentors, an amazing team, and 9 times out of 10, I still feel alone.
Being an entrepreneur is lonely. There are no rules, no right answers, and no guarantees. Victories can be short-lived, and sometimes they are few and far between. I have learned that you just have to continue to put yourself out there and try not to be overly emotional about the decisions you make.
I want to give up. A lot. When we’re in a stage like we’re in right now, I want to pack it in on a daily basis. What keeps me going is knowing that we’re doing good things and we’re on the right track. Every few days or so I get a glimpse that things are working. I know in my gut that there’s more ahead, so I put my head down and just keep going.
Sometimes, my team serenades me with, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming” and threatens to replace my office artwork with “Hang In There, Kitty” posters.
Humility is a really important quality to possess
Rand Fishkin is the founder and CEO of SEOmoz. I have learned so much from Rand and I admire him greatly for his transparency, values, and humility. Here’s one of the 12 lessons he learned while building SEOmoz. I have this slide hanging in my office:
There are lots of times when you’re running your business that you feel like you’re on top of the world. Like you’re a genius. Seriously, like you’re a bad ass. The truth of it is, unless you’re saving the world, you better keep yourself in check.
It’s ok to celebrate victories (which is very necessary to endure the volume of struggles you face as an entrepreneur or a start-up), but instead of always basking in your greatness, use it as a time to reflect and give the credit to your team.
You need heart and hustle, but you also need to have priorities
Call it drive. Motivation. Desire. If you want to be a successful at anything, you have to have heart. You have to be passionate. You have to be all in. And you have to be willing to bust your ass.
When you’re an entrepreneur, you have to do whatever it takes to make the company successful, but you also have to take care of yourself or there won’t be a company to run.
These days I could invest a lot more time on my family (oh, and some free time for me), and a lot less time on the company. But that’s the stage we’re in, so I keep pushing along. I work daily to keep my imbalance in check so that when things let up, overworking hasn’t just become standard routine.
Transparency is the key to everything
One of my kids’ favorite books is The Rainbow Fish. Long story short, the fish realized he wasn’t happy until he gave away what was so near and dear to him (his shiny, beautiful scales). Once he let go of what he thought he had to keep only for himself, he found satisfaction, joy, and happiness.
One of the biggest contributors to our success has come from the choice to be transparent. It sounds simple, but transparency is actually a huge risk. You have to be willing to own up to your mistakes (and be public about them). You have to be open to criticism. You have to have the guts to take a look at yourself and face the things that you may not want to see (and then do something to change them).
But transparency also means being human. It means being kind to others and taking time for relationships. It means sharing things with people that you’ve worked hard to develop, monopolize, and own. Opening up about how you operate and what makes you a great company will make you more successful. It will also empower others to be successful, and they’ll have you to thank when they’re on the other side.
I have learned (the hard way) that not everyone possesses integrity, authenticity, and genuine kindness. Not everyone will embrace your transparency. But there are a lot of people who will. Reach out. Take the risk. Show them your stuff. Learn from each other. It will change your business and you’ll make some amazing friends in the process.
You’ve got to be a leader, too
(and don’t forget your team)
The biggest thing about being a leader is that it’s not about you. Even if you work for yourself and you are the only employee in your company, you aren’t doing this alone. You always have people who are helping you along the way (and yes, your mom counts, too).
You can’t build a business on your own. You may think that because you’re the entrepreneur you are due all of the credit for success. But the fact of the matter is you won’t get anywhere without a team of people who support and believe in you, who can see your vision and know, with a certainty you may sometimes lack, that you will get there.
Building a successful company is a full-time job in its own right, but being the leader your team needs is at least another part-time job on top of that. And, unfortunately, you aren’t going to be able to do the former without the latter. You’ve got to invest as much time in leading your team as you do in achieving your vision.
Someday, I’d like to get more sleep
This year I haven’t slept much, I definitely have more wrinkles, and I have worked more than either my husband or myself would like. But as I take the time to reflect, I can see that it’s been a pretty amazing ride.
For me, success as an entrepreneur isn’t about the money (although that certainly would be nice someday). It’s not in the recognition or respect you get as you grow your brand and people come to know who you are.
It’s in the relationships.
This year has been the most exciting for me because I have made so many new friends. This year has been successful because our team has worked their asses off. I have put myself out there, and we have taken more risk as a company than I ever thought I had the courage to do.
We’ve got some pretty amazing stuff we’re doing for our clients. And we also have some valuable things that we are planning for our community. That’s the thing. This stuff never, ever ends.
It’s been 10 years, but get ready, kids.
We’re just getting started.
Bonus! Video Footage
I had the honor of speaking about my journey as an entrepreneur at the Colorado State University Women Entrepreneurs’ Leadership Summit. In a TED talk style format, I tell my story.