During the fair summer months of Minnesota, my family spends a lot of time on the river. For us, it’s a refuge and adventure all in one spot. I’ve had nights on the boat with close friends, enjoying their company while we sit and watch the moon rise above the horizon. I’ve had days that turn into nights where we take the boat out, go on an adventure to “froggy island”, pick up pizza, and pack it up when the kids are this close to losing their tired little heads. Minnesotans love their lakes, but my family prefers rivers. Lakes are great – don’t get me wrong, but there’s only so much area to explore. Rivers, on the other hand, have movement. A river can take you to new places, new people, and give you unique memories every time you leave the dock. You need to be aware of the undercurrents and hidden logs that are like icebergs, concealing their danger underwater.
On a river, just like a lake, you have to be vigilant. You need to constantly scan for other boaters in every direction, especially those who are coming in at a reckless speed behind you. The ones from behind require the most attention as they are the ones most likely to create mild havoc to pure destruction in their wake.
Being an entrepreneur isn’t much different.
Entrepreneurs Sail Away From Safe Harbors
“ Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover. ”
– Mark Twain
This quote hits close to home for me – especially “Sail away from the safe harbor”. Before I stepped foot into the world of entrepreneurship, I was perfectly content with just sitting in my harbor. I knew what I could handle, what I was good at, and how to create a space that made me comfortable and content. But I wasn’t content forever. Maybe I wasn’t content in the first place and was just too scared to admit it. I remember a conversation I had, where I said out loud a thought that had been plaguing me:
I’m playing it safe. I’m maintaining the status quo for what?
There were so many things I could be doing. I could be learning, growing, and helping others. I wasn’t putting my talents and knowledge to the test and helping others. I was sitting in my harbor, with algae multiplying on my boat.
Three Business Lessons I’ve Learned Along the Way
Jumping into owning a business is one of the scariest things I have done. It has opened my eyes to things I hadn’t thought about, challenged what I have thought, and provided more adventure than I would have imagined. Not going to lie, I’ve come THIS CLOSE to losing my tired little head more than once. Yet, after the fear subsides and I look around – I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
Here are 3 things I have learned along the way.
Lesson #1: Build a Crew
Just like a captain has her crew on the boat, there are so many other people a successful business owner needs to build a team. These are the people you trust, that will hold you accountable, and give you tough love when you need it. This goes beyond your internal team and your family.
The people I pull around me range from my attorney, financial advisor, (and I HIGHLY advise your CPA), and banker, to a network of other business owners who also traverse the waters. This includes a fractional CMO, a tribe of women I can reach out to at any time, a therapist, insurance advisors, and networking groups such as NAWBO.org.
These are the people who will guide you in areas that are not your strong suit, provide guidance and provide security in unchartered territories. They are the lighthouses, marinas and coast guards of entrepreneurship.
Lesson #2: Outsource and Delegate When You Can
If I’ve learned anything the hard way, it’s this one: I cannot “do all the things”, nor should I! I have a complex with admitting I can’t do something. It’s an ugly side of pride that I will constantly struggle with to keep it from overtaking me. Do I need to know aspects of the business and have a pulse on it? Yes! Because I want to be able to take a break, explore, and see big picture. Do I need to be the one doing it all? No. Not only does this create bottlenecks in the system, but it undermines the team as a whole.
If I can’t provide opportunities for them to pursue their passions and give them creative freedom to achieve our objectives, then what kind of leader am I? The answer is a very ineffective one.
I coach clients all the time on sourcing out different aspects of their business. Yes, you can do QBO and enter your finances, but should you? What I ask them is : How much do you enjoy doing it? Usually, their answer is not at all. I then ask them how much time and energy they could dedicate to their company if we took that off their plate. This same idea applies to my company, too. I took a monumental leap of faith and outsourced our marketing this year. Scratch that, we actually started marketing this year. What I was doing could not be considered “marketing”. Yes, the cost was scary – but it’s not something I’m good at. I would much rather work with people. Not only was marketing something I didn’t enjoy, it took time away from helping my clients.
At home, my husband and I outsource what we can. I use SHIPT to order groceries, Grove for cleaning products, and Hello Fresh for two meals a week. Although it doesn’t seem like much, every little bit helps. They shed off some mental weight – and that’s worth every penny.
Lesson #3: You’re Going to Make a Wrong Turn
Going back to the river analogy – I’ve learned to use the landscape and weather to guide me through unfamiliar territory. It’s easy to make a wrong turn where rivers intersect. When you are busy, in a hurry, or just rushed to make a decision, your gut doesn’t ALWAYS lead you in the right direction. The question is, what are you going to do about it?
The easy way is to get angry and blame your crew. You’d lament that the tools you have aren’t the best while making every excuse in the book to shift the blame. But guess what? At the end of the day, the blame always lies with you. It’s your company, your decision, and your leadership. It’s easy to turn on everyone around you, but it’s definitely not in your best interest.
It’s important to realize that upfront, no matter how beautiful of a day it is or what the weatherman said, you should still plan for rain. We were out on a client’s boat and it started to pour. I mean POUR. We quickly helped to get the side panels up and figured we can wait it out. Then the engine had an issue and malfunctioned. When it rains it pours, right? Instead of getting angry, we got to work doing what we could. Part of that was making the most out of our situation while realizing that nothing we do will make the engine cool off any faster. This gave us the liberty to plan for what’s next and keep a steady head.
The Best Days of Entrepreneurship and Boat Ownership
If I gave up the first time I took a wrong turn or had an unplanned obstacle to overcome, I wouldn’t be here. I would have given up long ago. It’s not always easy, but success will come from knowing that things will happen that you hadn’t planned for.
The other quote I keep in mind – The best days of boat ownership are the day you get it and the day it leaves. That is true about owning a business. It’s a lot of work and some days it seems easier to move on than to hold on. But, if I missed those nights on the river where I had a three-year-old snuggled up to me, and a baby on the way, as we watched the Northern Lights in the middle of complete silence. Or I missed the opportunity to hear the wild shrieks of kids as they go tubing and catch the biggest fish of their lives, I would regret not owning the boat.
I feel the same way about my business.