When I started my business in 1998 people were still running to Blockbuster to rent VHS videos (I know, right!) and Britney Spears had just released her debut single “Baby One More Time.” I’m wrapping up a month of celebrating 20 years with 20 business lessons learned from the last 2 decades of running Rock.Paper.Scissors. From VHS to vavavoom, here we go.
Inward facing – know thyself
- Find your why: I call myself an accidental entrepreneur because entrepreneurship found me when clients started to (unexpectedly) call. My business growth was organic but things really started humming when I took the time to find my why, my passion. It made all my multi passions come together, sewn up with a beautiful red thread. When you know your why it’s easy to know what to say yes to and what to say no way Jose. Find your own why using Simon Sinek’s oh so good process.
- Praxis makes perfect; praxis is a learning and development term for balancing action and reflection. It should be the same with running your business (and your life for that matter). Consciously switch back and forth between:
- action / jumping in / experimenting / taking action and
- retreating / reflecting / pondering / researching / planning.
Too much action means being uninformed and potentially reckless. Too much reflection means analysis paralysis. Both together make your business and life hum.
- Learning; when you’re self-employed no one gives you an annual professional development budget. It’s up to you to make your own learning plan. This is critical to keep you current and of service to your clients. Mine includes reading a minimum of one business book a month, many a podcasts (How I Built This is one fav), and attending and speaking at conferences.
- IP; regardless of whether you make a product or produce a service, your intellectual property is your golden ticket. Make sure yours is protected whether it be through copyright, trademarking, being clear in client contracts etc.
Tools, tips, techniques
- Magnets, chalkboard and shower hooks; I design and teach workshops from slums to CSuites all over the world. My tools of the trade include easy to pack supplies from years of honed experience. Did you know that most chalkboards are magnetic? That means you can post flipcharts on them (if your toolkit happens to include magnets as mine does). And a metal shower hook twisted back on itself forms a hook I can hand on doors and use when nary a flipchart stand is in sight. Whatever your tools of the trade are have them handy so you don’t waste hours searching, seeking and packing for a gig.
- Life Lenses® or perspective making; years ago I developed an assessment that looks at what comes onto your radar naturally and easily, as well as what you tend to miss (because nobody can be paying attention to everything all the time). It’s been a real eye opener sharing the tool with thousands of participants. Regardless whether you’ve taken the Life Lenses® assessment of not watch your perspective; often the most valuable one is the one you don’t have …. yet. And it’s often just beyond the tip of your nose …with a colleague.
- Your time is your most valuable resource. When I pitch a client, I base the price on the number of days I estimate it will take me to deliver. If I deliver in ½ the time yeah me! If it takes me double or triple as long as I estimated, then I’ve effectively halved or more my per diem. Tracking and effectively estimating your time is one of the most valuable skills you can practice as a self-employed person.
- Biz tech; there is simply no end to the tech tools that are out there to help you run your business. From tracking clients, to do’s, invoices and digital strategy metrics to using tools that help you engage and listen to your target audience, it’s a wild, wonderful world of digital tech tools. Figure out what your needs are for tech by tracking your pain points and get a strategy in place pronto. Your clock and your happier more engaged clients will thank you.
- Systems; get systems in place and you’ll save huge chunks of time. Figure out what you do repeatedly and create checklists, then delegate. I swear this is a magical must do. Whether it’s saving time when you create your invoices because you don’t have to look up who you should address it to, what that PO number is etc., to in my case, running a monthly learning and development roundtable that has a rotating checklist of things to do based on the time of month, systems deliver. Easy peasy and ohhhh so efficient.
How I work
- Ah ha; I know I’m on track when I’m sparking curiosity and connection. This all stems from my ‘why’ (see #1). Know what makes you and yours go ‘ah ha’ instead of ‘ugh.’
- Laughing matters; suffering is optional. Making sure my workshop participants are relaxed pays off when everyone is enjoying themselves. Plus the learning ramps up tremendously which makes the client and me very happy.
- Community works; I come to this world with a particular perspective based on my gender, age, ethnicity, country of origin, country of residence etc. When I get participants working better together everyone wins – the individuals, the client, the organization, our communities and the world.
- Be generous; create lots of resources to share. From surveys, digital content, puzzles, blog posts, newsletters, music playlists, games … the sky is the limit. When I moved to Kenya 8 years ago I looked for a community of practice for trainers. I couldn’t find one so I started one. Years later there’s a thriving Facebook group, an online resource portal, videos of meeting etc. It’s been a wonderful resource to share with my physical and digital community. Move from WIIFM (what’s in it for me) to WIIFY (what’s in it for you, as in your client, your community).
- Figure out your strengths and find strategic alliances for the rest; years ago I realized I was never going to get lit up by crunching data and writing reports but I could find someone who did. That started a strategic alliance with the wonderful Diana Tindall that lasted decades. Plus it let both of us offer our best selves to our clients as we could share our greatest strengths instead of propping ourselves up on crutches for things we didn’t like doing. More recently I’ve started working with the copywriting and digital strategy wizard Rachel Allen. Life and business altering is not an understatement. This only happens though if you seek out the best people. Don’t settle! It took me a few tries with folks who I didn’t click with (digital strategy; get the pun?!) before I found Rachel.
- Get a virtual assistant; I’ve been working with GetFriday for almost a decade now. My VA saves me time, and lets me focus on things where I can truly be of service, instead of drowning in details. From creating memes, to collating surveys and doing research, Vipin my VA makes a remarkable difference to how I do business.
- Decisions, decisions, decisions; early on in my self-employment journey I’d be pitching a client while under the impression that I’d sealed the deal, only to find out later that they weren’t the decision maker. Now when I do my intake interview for new clients I always ask how they’ll decide which vendor to go with which helps me understand the decision making process – who, how and when the decision will be made. Get clear and fast on who and how makes the decisions for who decides to hires you.
- Storytelling; every business and every business owner has stories to share. As humans we’re naturally drawn to stories. They help us connect and bond. Learning how to tell my stories has really affected my business (and there’s no one better to learn rom than Marsha Shandur from YesYes Marsha). Root around for compelling stories and share them far and wide.
- Digital strategy; compared to 1998 when I started my business it’s a whole new world with a vast array of digital options. No matter what business you’re in getting a digital strategy is vital. Digital content (as Kris Krug aptly puts it) lasts, makes us be able to be found and spreads. Who doesn’t need that? (And if reading this has made you cringe with dread go back to #14 and #17).
- Moola; especially when you’re starting out, knowing how to price your services is tough. I’ve learned to always ask what the client’s budget is and then to be quiet and let them fill the space. Also see #6 for how moola relates to your time.
- Options; because I customize all of my services for my clients, I give each client 3 choices. Each choice has different options and different pricing. This has the added benefit of showing a complete range of services I can offer without pricing myself out of a bid. And quite often clients will pick the option with more offerings than they’d originally planned which is great for all of us.
So there you have it, 20,000 people. 20 years. 20 lessons
…what I’ve learned over the last 2 decades of running Rock.Paper.Scissors Inc. From Inward facing – know thyself and tools, tips and techniques, to how I work, strategic alliances and outward facing. Something for everyone. Now go forth and prosper at being self-employed. It’s a wild ride. One not to be missed.
Missed some of this month’s celebratory posts? Here you go …
- 20 years of Learning and Development; Rachel’s haircut, Google and me
- 20 Working Better Together lessons from 20 years of teaching
- 20 things you need to know about Life Lenses® from 20 years in business
- 20 things you need to know about Goal Setting from 20 years in business
If talk of Life Lenses® and perspective (#5) piqued your interest, check out my planning course where you’ll learn what your Life Lenses® are and craft a fun, fab 2019 for yourself. Join me online Dec 6th.