6 Big Small Business Lessons: Looking back to look ahead.

I often wonder where the last decade has gone but running a small business will do that to you. Keep your head down, deliver for current clients, work to add new clients, add staff and other resources…before you know it 10 years have come and gone! If you’re a small business owner too, major milestones are a good time to pause and assess what you’ve learned. It’s a way to remember how far you’ve come and what you need to ensure your organization’s future success. During a recent look back at KDH Consulting, here’s where we netted out.

  1. Walk a mile in their shoes.  The more we can internalize what’s truly important to our clients, the better we’re able to serve them. Sometimes that means going beyond our scope of work. We learn as much about the company as we can—how they’re doing, how competitors are doing, the overall health of the company. If it’s possible for us to experience the buying process or the online customer experience, you can bet that we do it. In fact, that’s how we come up with our best ideas. Call it CE, Consultant Empathy– the more you have, the more your client will view you as someone who gets it.
  2. Lead or follow but don’t get in the way. We never forget that we serve at the pleasure of our clients. Knowing and adhering to that dictate makes our work much easier to deliver.  At the same time, we must be ready to lead if needed. I’ve worked with clients who wanted and needed to turn a project over to us completely—and when given that authority, we were ready to do so.  If we don’t agree with a client’s strategy or path forward, we’ll tell them why. Then we move forward to help them achieve their goals; continuing to churn is not productive.
  3. Never stop learning. Employee Engagement, Corporate Culture, and Change Management are three of our sweet spots. These fields are evolving—and it’s our job to find out as much as we can about these topics. We read everything we can get our hands on, attend conferences and seminars and engage with subject matter experts whenever possible. We have to be aware of what works and doesn’t, and continually build our expertise. After all, if we don’t stay on top of trends, how can we can help our clients stay on top?  
  4. Fit to be tied, together.   We collaborate with a wide number of partners—vendors and subcontractors—to help deliver our services.  Some collaborations have been exceptional, others less so. The difference? Not skillset but mindset. I might need an exceptional graphic designer or videographer to help with a big project. Regardless of how “good” they may be, our collaboration will be a success only if they are also responsive, proactive and flexible. They need to be enthusiastic and pleasant to work with, too. No matter what skills I’m paying for, these behaviors make a big difference in how well partners fit with our company and whether or not we’ll hire them again.
  5. Step away from the laptop.  About a year ago, my best friend shared that she was worried about my health. I knew that I wasn’t sleeping enough and had abandoned the idea of taking time to hit the gym. I honestly thought that if I just worked a few more hours each week I could get it “all” done. Who was I kidding? Owning your own business by definition means it’s never all done.  I decided then and there to make a concerted effort to step back more often, to enjoy dinner out with my husband on a weeknight or do something impromptu with my kids when the opportunity arose.  Guess what? The work was waiting for me when I got back, and I felt better about tackling it. 
  6. Expand and grow, naturally. No shock here: new business rarely comes to you; you have to go to it. What I’ve learned, however, is that the big expansion plan or growth strategy wasn’t something I ever had the time to pursue as a discrete and separate activity. I realized that it didn’t have to be; it’s more organic than that. Rather than the dreaded networking or prospecting activities, I prefer to connect in a more natural way, when and where the opportunity presents itself.  I feel fortunate that people genuinely want to know how things are going with my business and I happily share, making the point that I’m looking forward to growing. If there is a need for a deeper discussion about a business opportunity, then I’m always prepared to share my often-refreshed and always up-to-date website, social media, and capabilities deck.    

I can’t wait to see what Lessons my team and I will learn in the decade ahead! What about you? Do you own your own business? What lessons have you learned? How will you carry these lessons into your future success? Leave your comments here!