Don’t Always Listen to the Experts

Two or three years ago (I honestly can’t recall how long ago it was), I was working with a bookkeeper for my business who was great and seemed as dedicated to my business as I was. Most importantly, she knew how to sort through the mess of finances for a growing company. I trusted her, I leaned on her. When it came time to renew our contract together, the monthly fee she presented me with was particularly high for what I understood a bookkeeper did. Had I seen the value for my business, I would have invested.

At an earlier point in our working relationship, this bookkeeper had mentioned Profit First to me, and said she was excited to implement it with my business. I was curious and willing to learn more. But a year passed and when we found ourselves renegotiating her contract, I brought up Profit First and asked why she had never used it with my business.

Her response? Because my business didn’t need it.

I can’t tell you how much I regret listening to her in that moment.

At the time, business was on a high! It was healthy and I was doing just fine. Why would I ever need to worry?

As any entrepreneur or meteorologist can tell you, you cannot avoid rainy days — and sometimes those rainy days become rainy seasons.

I didn’t have the tools of Profit First to help me as my business grew. And so I found myself in a difficult financial situation, making more money than I ever had in the business but having so little profit that I couldn’t even give myself a raise (again). And yes, technically business has grown, but that growth may not be sustainable.

When I get the sense something isn’t quite right in my business, I look back to the foundations: what do we do, who is on this team, how we operate. And clearly, it’s time to re-establish the financial foundation for my company with Profit First. First step: open the bank accounts.

And a reminder: Don’t always trust the “experts”. Explore for yourself. Talk to multiple people. Find the people who truly have expertise to share with you. And make sure you have the right foundations in place.

Thank you to all my friends and connections who recommended I read Profit First, and for those fellow entrepreneurs who run service-based businesses who helped me truly see how this can work for me.

See All the Solutions

One of the joys of being a business owner is that I’m often presented with complex problems, typically involving people but sometimes related to the way my business has been structured. The challenge I’ve given myself in these situations is to find all the solutions.

So often we only find the two most obvious “solutions” and force ourselves to choose one, even if neither is attractive. But if we found a third option or fourth option or even fifth?

We’re terribly stuck in the single-winner mindset. I win, you lose. Or you win, I lose. We forget that there are win-wins that are possible.

It definitely takes some creativity and dedicated time set aside to brainstorm. The other options may not be traditional solutions, but they may be better, more interesting choices, which push us further into evolution rather than keep us stuck in false dichotomies.

I’m in that place with my business right now: do I continue to scale even with the problems it’s creating, or do I return to the pre-scaled business structure I had?

Neither is appealing. Instead, I’m looking for a different way to do things, a new model of business that puts people first, that can adapt and grow, that can build wealth for everyone involved – our team, our clients, the world.

It isn’t easy, but success is only success if you love what you’ve created.

Ways Not to Measure Success

There are a lot of metrics in business, rather seductive ones that scream success from an external point of view: revenue, team size, number of clients. We live in an age where the hustle and excessively long work days are parts of the glamour of business: you’re simply so busy you don’t have time to eat or sleep or remember what it’s like to stop and just be — you have to keep going, climbing your metaphorical mountain of success so you can come out on top.

What have we done to ourselves?

The early phases of business have different measures of success than a scaled business has. And the reality is, if we’re not asking ourselves regularly what our own measures of success are we’ll find ourselves dissatisfied and burnt out, with a business that may look like a success to the rest of the world but feels like a failure to us.

So where do we start?

Profit over revenue. If you’re not keeping the money you make, does it really matter how much you make?

Team culture over team size. Bigger is not always better. Sometimes it’s more complex. Sometimes you end up with the wrong team members. But if you have a group that trusts each other and works well together, that’s gold.

Client fit over number of clients. How much easier would life be if you had the right clients, ones that fit your philosophy and culture? Would you really need tons of them, or would it be more fun to go deep with a smaller group than shallow with many? Think about that impact.

What’s really interesting to me now is what new metrics I can create for my business, like play and deep collaboration with clients, or the number of pro bono projects we can tackle in a year. Those are not all worked out perfectly yet, but we’re experimenting with what feels good.

Start Where You Are + Know Where You Want To Be

I had a call with a new client yesterday. A designer referred her my way for a conversation. They were planning to work on the client’s visual branding, but since she was still in the early stages of her business, she wasn’t in need of a custom website.

As I listened to the client share her story with me, I was struck by two things: her story needs to be shared and her mission will help give voice to so many people. But there was also something else I discovered along the way: this was a passion project for her. She didn’t have plans for how she would bring money in or what services she would sell. She only knew that she needed to do this.

In this situation, every business owner has a choice. You can make a sale or be a guide.

I used to hate sales calls. I convinced myself a long time ago I would never be good at sales because I wasn’t an extrovert. The advantage I did have and what got me through so many of those first calls was that I was an introvert who loves people. But even more than that — I love helping people. My first business coach taught me how to reframe a sales call to something new: a service call. For the last few years, my job simply has been to serve people, to guide them, to show them what’s possible and help them make the right decisions.

And so I told this potential client something unexpected. I told her not to invest in a custom website or even one of our smaller website packages. Instead, I advised her to start creating content and use YouTube to circulate it. If she really wanted some sort of landing page site, I told her, we could help her set up a simple website with a homepage and blog. But that’s all she really needed to get started. Nothing fancy. No big investments.

The most important thing is that she create. She doesn’t need a website to do that, and I wouldn’t want her to be pulled away from creating by the website process.

Maybe in six months she’ll need a fancier site. Maybe it’ll be a year or two. She understands the work she’ll do will have an impact and it will need a container. But right now, I did my best to reminder her where she is and what’s most critical to her future success: not the website we could build together, but her doing the work she is so passionate about and ready to give to the world.

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Jane Reaction

(logo and original branding) is a graphic design and art director who works with with small businesses and creative entrepreneurs, creating cohesive and interesting brands and websites.

Carrie Coleman

(photography) is a wedding photographer, whose goal is to capture the visual expression of a couple's love through timeless, organic images. She is based in Charlottesville, Virginia.