October 2, 2012|
On October 1, the Brick Factory turned one year old. We had a great first year. We are in a good place financially and have done some fantastic work that I’m really proud of.
On a personal level, the launch of the Brick Factory has been a big change for me. Transitioning from running a five person department to a twenty person company has been more challenging than I thought it would be. In the last year it feels like I have gotten accounting, law and business degrees while holding down a full time job as a web strategist at the same time. It has been stressful and fulfilling.
And not surprisingly, I’ve made a ton of mistakes. In an effort to hold myself accountable and refocus, I wanted to share the three biggest lessons I’ve learned in my first year as a small business owner.
(1) Solve the hard problems.
Those of you who know our company are familiar with our back story. The core Brick Factory team worked together at a firm called The Bivings Group for many years and split off to form the Brick Factory last Fall. I learned a ton during my time at The Bivings Group, and when I started the new company I had a long list of improvements I wanted to make. We have gotten through a lot of our list.
We launched a 401K. We instituted disciplined and transparent financial procedures. We transitioned to a much better time tracking solution. We moved our email hosting to Google Apps. We transitioned most of our hosting to the cloud. We implemented a regular review process for employees. We started holding regular company events. Employees are paid via direct deposit. Etc.
All of this is great, but when I look back it is clear that I focused on solving easy problems, or problems I had no choice but to address. The bigger, messier challenges we face weren’t tackled aggressively. We failed to address problems that that would take months to fix as opposed to days or weeks. Two specific examples come to mind.
- Our personality as a firm is put our head down and do our work. It simply isn’t in our company DNA to self promote. While I think this trait is admirable in today’s world, it can be limiting. It has prevented us from putting together far reaching marketing plans for the company. As a result, we don’t have the mindshare we should given our size and accomplishments. As we look to grow in year two, we need to force ourselves out of our comfort zone and work to more aggressively promote the company.
- Our core team has worked together a long time. As a result a lot of our processes for developing websites are very informal. As we’ve taken on larger, more complicated projects, this informality has led to inefficiencies and unneeded stress. We always seem to do things the hard way. As we enter year two, we need to take a critical look at all our processes and fix what is broken. This is hard, tedious work, but it is something that has to be done for the company to scale.
In year two, we need to continue to solve small problems, but not because we’re avoiding the hard ones.
(2) Think beyond the financials.
Founding the Brick Factory was a big risk for me. I have a lot at stake professionally and financially. I also know that financial mismanagement is the number one reason businesses fail. Given that, it should come as no surprise that I have placed a big emphasis on financial success in year one. This focus has largely been a positive, as we have been very disciplined and have hit all of our financial targets so far.
But it has also led to a bit of tunnel vision. I have been so focused on the financials that I have lost sight of other aspects of the company at times. As we enter year two, I need to spend just as much time and energy on non-financial business goals as the financial ones.
(3) Run the whole company.
I worked at The Bivings Group for ten years and spent seven of those years running the Client Services department. Given my background, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that at times I’ve fallen into the trap of acting as the head of the Client Services department instead of the head of the entire company. I was actually really good at thinking about the big picture in the beginning when everything was fresh and new. But as the year went on I started throwing myself into client work more than I should have, and not doing a good enough job leading other aspects of the company.
Moving into year two, I need to make sure I manage the whole company every day.