10 Lessons I’ve Learned in 10 Years of Business

In April, my company celebrated 10 years in business. I can’t even begin to describe the level of gratitude that I have for achieving this milestone, especially because, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “approximately 20 percent of small businesses fail within the first year. By the end of the second year, 30 percent of businesses will have failed. By the end of the fifth year, about half will have failed. And by the end of the decade, only 30 percent of businesses will remain — a 70 percent failure rate.”

In addition to giving a heartfelt shoutout to EVERY single person who has even remotely helped me along the way, I also want to give back by sharing my top 10 business lessons I’ve learned over these 10 years in business.

So here they are, in no particular order. These valuable business lessons have all played a crucial role in our ability to survive and thrive as a company, and my ability to enjoy the flexible and incredibly rewarding lifestyle of an entrepreneur — which I am INSANELY grateful for.

1. Competitors can be your best source of revenue.

You can’t pay for things with a “competitive advantage,” and you SHOULD “give away the farm,” so long as you’re getting paid for it!

When I first started my company, I was terrified of competitors. They seemed like such a serious threat to my livelihood, which depended upon securing every dollar of revenue I possibly could.

Over the years, though, through a lot of networking, I met a lot of “competitors” that on the surface seemed to do the exact same things my company did. However, after getting to know them more, and getting to know my own target audience more, I realized that there are plenty of projects and clients that competitors don’t want to take on that I would love to take on — and vice versa.

Beyond that, even competitors that did prefer to take on the same types of clients and projects as my company often ran into either bandwidth or skill deficits within their own teams. They would then reach out to us and ask if they could subcontract us to fill gaps in their workforce.

We actually received SO many requests of that nature, that we started a whole separate brand to serve this exact need: Stealth™ Search and Analytics.

Last, but certainly not least, one of the most important business lessons I’ve learned is that “competitors” also often turn to us for training. Whether it’s skill training for new team members, or process optimization training for their SEO or PPC operations, we often earn revenue by training our competitors to do what we do and how we do it.

That’s another thing I used to be afraid of — “giving away the farm” as some would say. Many people feel as I used to feel, that my company’s intellectual property (proprietary processes and procedures) should be kept under lock and key as a competitive advantage.

However, if you’re getting paid to share that IP with others, competitors or not, you’re not giving away anything! I’d rather take the guaranteed money from the training than hang onto an imagined competitive advantage that may or may not actually lead to more revenue for me someday down the line. A “competitive advantage” can’t pay my bills, but payments for training sessions can.

Plus, after all these years of doing what we do at such a high level and, in turn, gaining such a rock-solid reputation from that, I’m not really worried about anyone else being able to magically gain all the benefits of 10 years of blood, sweat, and tears just by taking a few training sessions from us.

Today, my company’s biggest source of revenue comes from these alliances with competitors that lead to referrals, reseller work through Stealth™, and training other agencies. In no way do I feel like I “gave away the farm” by not protecting my supposed competitive advantage. Quite the opposite, actually. One of the most valuable business lessons I’ve learned is that collaborating with “competitors” is what BUILT my farm!

2. Networking is NOT “not working.”

Without networking, you really will be “not working” because you’ll have no clients to work for!

A running joke amongst some business owners is that “networking” is “not working.” Granted, sometimes networking events are nothing more than a gathering of humans with adult beverages in hand (in person or virtually, as the birth of the “Zoom Happy Hour” has shown).

However, if you think of small businesses that you repeatedly use, you probably keep going back to them because you either know them, like them, and/or trust them. That’s who people choose to hand their money over to (or refer people to): people they know, like, and/or trust.

So how do you get people to know, like, and trust you? Well, spending time with them and getting to know them via networking is clearly one very effective way to do that.

A majority of the revenue I made in my first few years of business came either directly or indirectly from networking. I would go to the same events over and over, and see the same faces over and over, talk to the same people over and over, until seemingly suddenly everyone knew who I was and I was getting referrals left and right. Plus, I now had a network of trusted professionals to refer my clients and friends to, and my giving of referrals further strengthened those relationships, leading to more referrals from them to me. Rinse + repeat that = revenue growth.

Nowadays, one of the business skills I’ve learned is to do most of my networking via speaking engagements where I can network with other speakers and attendees both before and after my presentations, as well as some excellent mastermind groups that I partake in when I can. I also now have my own VIP Facebook Group where people in my network get to know each other and help each other out with real-world needs. These are all different flavors of the same delicious networking sandwich, and one of the skills I’ve learned as a successful entrepreneur is that I wouldn’t survive without them.

In short, I like to flip this saying on its head and say that WITHOUT networking, you will be “not working” because you’ll have no clients to do work for!

3. People buy processes, not services.

Having a solid process and giving prospects a visual to help them understand what you’re selling will close more business in less time.

This one hit me like a Mack truck. (Does anyone even use that saying anymore? Anyway…)

After several years of pulling my hair out trying to create an internal system that worked for efficiently delivering our services to clients, while at the same time providing high-quality work, I had come up with something that worked. It’s always being slightly tweaked, even now, but the foundation of it works and works well.

After spending what felt like most of my waking hours on prospect calls explaining how the process would work if they sign on with us, the light bulb went off. One of the valuable business lessons I’ve learned is that in my proposals, I was only explaining the services themselves (i.e. what we would do), not HOW we would do it. So, duh… it’s no wonder I had to spend so much time on the phone explaining how we would go about getting the work done for the client.

I started to put descriptions of our process into our proposals, and my hour-long prospect calls suddenly got shorter. Then, another light bulb went off, and I started including flowcharts that gave a visual representation of the process.

That’s when I started seeing light bulbs go off for the prospects I was speaking to. Now, in a fraction of the time I used to spend, I can explain how our process works and what the experience will be like for a client to work with us. I can’t even accurately describe how enormous of a difference those visuals made. My prospect calls are now MAX 30 minutes, often shorter. I could even probably do most of them in 15 minutes if I tried hard enough, but I don’t like…

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