By Stacy Burke
Becoming a business owner has revolutionized my understanding of business, and I now believe you cannot tell someone else how to run their business if you have never done it yourself.
n 2013, I made a life-changing decision. I decided to “take a break” from my dream job, which while amazing, was also fast-paced and demanding. I gained invaluable experience, opportunities, connections and more as a law firm partner, but my personal life suffered.
I was fortunate to have had financial success that enabled a break, and this difficult decision catapulted me into becoming a full-time entrepreneur. While I miss some things about being a part of a law firm, I love setting the pace of my own life and that I still help others daily, just in a different way.
Becoming a business owner has revolutionized my understanding of the realities of running a company. I now believe you cannot tell someone else how to run their business if you have never successfully run one yourself. In celebration of 10 years as a fully self-funded female business owner, here are ten things I’ve learned.
1. You can actually start your own business and be successful!
I never intended to become an entrepreneur. However, after deciding to pause, I was asked to consult with lawyer friends who had previously been competitors. Unlike work, it sounded fun, and I could do it while “on a break” from law firm life. Ten years later, I manage a team of marketers and work with law firms across the country, helping my team members and my clients succeed.
2. No matter how good you are at what you do, some people will still treat you like you aren’t
You might expect that after over two decades as a lawyer and achieving both legal industry accolades and marketing industry awards, those I talk to and work with would always treat me with respect. You’d be wrong. No matter how many years of schooling, degrees, years of experience and awards you have, some people will always try to make you feel small, treat you as if you do not matter and belittle your skills.
Don’t work with those people. Don’t employ those people. Don’t allow those people to impact your energy and success.
3. You cannot control your clients, but you can only control how you respond to them
Most marketing agencies do not refund client money after being paid. I used to feel the same way — I did the work, you paid me, and I deserved to be paid. Fear of having done a bad job, fear of not being able to afford to refund that money and fear of that client keep owners myopic. Success has allowed me the privilege to evolve.
I had a client who was negative and abrasive and refused to collaborate. Even though we delivered everything they paid for, the firm was still unhappy. So, I fired them and refunded every cent of their money. While this made my business lose money, the financial price was worth it.
4. You do not need a physical office to be a seven-figure company
I spent my legal career working in business attire in a professional setting in office buildings. Once the pandemic hit, the beautiful corner office on the top floor of a building in my neighborhood I had painstakingly searched for and decorated became a source of stress. Our team became remote, not really by choice, and we stayed that way. Now I pay no rent and reallocate those funds. I miss working collaboratively in person, but my team is thriving. We have been able to take on more clients than ever before, all without a physical office.
5. If a new hire is troubling you early on, they are likely not going to work out
A successful business owner told me that I would know within two days of working with a new hire if they would work out. I scoffed at what sounded like a lack of care and a lack of willingness to try harder when onboarding.
After ten years, two days still seems pretty quick, but it does not take long to know if a new hire is the wrong one. The longer you wait to deal with it, the worse things get for the new hire and the existing team. Cut your losses early, allowing that person to move on and you to start looking for the right fit.
6. Narrowing services offered means increased expertise
As a 21-year lawyer, legal marketing is my consulting focus. Because there are a lot of lawyers, and most law firms engage in marketing efforts, I have a decently sized national marketplace from which to obtain clients. One of my strongest selling points is that I have a niche business focused on one industry and am a licensed expert. Expanding into other industries I know less about and have no footprint in would dilute my biggest point of differentiation. Stay focused and grow within your niche.
7. Saying “no” leaves room to say “yes” to opportunities you don’t know about yet
It is scary to say no to paid opportunities early in the life of your business but remember, each engagement is a partnership, and you should only partner when it can be mutually successful. Prevent doomed collaborations on the front end.
Gauge compatibility by paying attention to how they speak to and email you, the “story” of how they came to be in their current position, and more. Every client you choose to work with can come at the expense of being able to take on another, better opportunity you might not know about yet.
8. Being your own boss is addicting
Over time, being my own boss has become a commodity worth significant value to me. I greatly enjoy not having to ask permission to spend a full weekend day uninterrupted with my children. The scary part of being the boss is being responsible for yourself, your team, your clients, and many others, but the benefits of determining how to handle those responsibilities are worth it.
9. Set boundaries early and do not compromise
Boundaries are important in both our personal and professional lives. The legal industry cultivates a culture of constant availability and immediate response, which is stressful. Now, running my own business, I make conscious choices to shape our company culture differently.
No one on my team is required to work outside of normal business hours. No one on my team has their work email on their mobile device. I no longer provide clients with my personal (and only) cell phone number. Establishing boundaries like these makes work healthier and more productive.
10. If you can’t pay yourself as an owner, you are not doing it right
A surprising number of business owners I consider successful cannot and do not pay themselves at all. Their businesses do not generate sufficient revenue to allow the owner to make an income. If you cannot pay yourself (after a reasonable startup time, of course), you are not succeeding. You should reevaluate your financial position, overall business plan, and whether or not owning a business is the right choice for you.
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