Here are five observations about business I’ve gleaned in my experience at various companies (and by interacting with hundreds of clients).
After a birthday last week, I find myself feeling reflective on life in general, and I remembered this post I had started years, literally years, ago (who else has WordPress draft posts older than some of your friends’ children?) and never published.
Please don’t mistake these observations as a direct reference to my present employer…it’s quite the opposite since I started writing this years ago! These themes are universal and have been consistently experienced throughout my work and employment history.
Know where your money is.
If you’re spending money foolishly, it’s carelessness. If you’re misplacing revenue owed to the company, it’s stupidity. How often do you review your billing and collection systems? Do you have a late payment policy built into your contract with the client? Do you have a procedure for contacting those who are late on payment? Are you ready to fire clients or pursue legal means to get paid?
The really interesting part of having a business is making cool stuff, and not everyone is interested in the details behind the operations of the company. I equate this to how I feel when I’m in the kitchen – I love cooking, I hate washing dishes. You should never ignore the dishes.
Tell your customers what you’ll do. But be sure to tell them what you won’t do.
Friendly agreements are fine until the relationship takes a bad turn, account managers and contacts change or leave the company, or communication lines get dropped. When a contract or relationship ends, have you protected your intellectual property? Your assets? Do you know how to get out of the agreement or if there are penalties? What services are you liable for in your agreement? Were there special favors you were performing because of the relationship which are now inappropriate (& unpaid for) now that things have gone badly?
Often telling people what you won’t do is as important as telling them what you will do. You know what they say about assume, right? Often the most “obvious” assumptions you make and those that your client make will contrast greatly. Write it out, in contest rules, contracts, and offers. The best thing about communicating an assumption is that you then have an opportunity to correct or modify it. The longer you’re in business, the easier these assumptions should be to anticipate and address.
No launches on Friday.
This is the mantra of many web agencies which sums up a very important lesson: Don’t make big changes (in life, in your products, in your service, in agreements) when you will be unable to properly check and/or follow through on the impact of those changes.
If a site went live on Friday, it was always at the end of the day as people trickled out the office door on the way to their non-work lives. As changes went online, fewer resources were around to troubleshoot, to make decisions, and to repair errors. Sometimes an entire weekend might go by with erroneous or drastic changes online with no one around. Give yourself enough time to do things the right way – don’t push something out the door so you can leave the office whether it’s an announcement, feature launch, or a new site design. And then give yourself enough time to make sure you didn’t do them the wrong way.
Your ideas are not always needed.
Just because you have ideas, doesn’t mean anyone has to listen to them. This is probably the hardest lesson I’ve had to learn because I feel like I am always getting ideas and spouting them off. But while I’ve been lucky enough to propose my ideas in most of my workplaces, there are many situations in which they are not welcome: 1) When you need to be listening, not talking. Period. 2) When you are not part of the “idea group” – this is a sad reality, but sometimes you’re not part of the idea group. If it that’s important to you, figure out how to get into the idea group, or get out.
Get ready to own your ideas.
If you have an idea about something which is not yours, decide carefully when to open your mouth. If you’re willing to open your mouth and voice an idea / criticism / improvement, be prepared for the ramifications of voicing that, which may end up with you owning the idea / criticism / improvement moving forward. It may sound like a good thing to have ownership of it, but if you end up with a lot of things, you can lose focus. You can also end up with things which you really aren’t as passionate about as you thought – that one voiced idea / criticism / improvement came in a fit of passion which fizzled, and now you are left holding the reins.
What do you think?