Things I Learned In 2016 as a Millennial Business Owner

At the beginning every year, I always look back and reflect on what has happened in the last 12 months in an effort to improve and grow not only as an individual but also as a business professional. As a digital agency owner, I not only have my client’s businesses’ well-being at stake; I have employees that trust and rely on me to lead the company in a forward-moving direction.

Even though continuous growth was the goal for 2016, it was also a year that presented many struggles. Hiring. Firing. Broken partnerships. Feelings of doubt. Sighs of relief. Without outside investment or people to tell me what I was doing right or doing wrong, there were times where I was scared shitless.

For many people, this is what deters them from actually starting a business. Sure, everything is unicorns and rainbows while you’re coming up with your business plan. Your go-to-market strategy plays out perfectly in your mind, and your confidence in your five-year sales projects seems like a certainty. But the reality is – nothing ever goes exactly according to plan. Which brings me to the first lesson I learned from last year:

  1. Always have a Plan B, and a Plan C (D, E, F, etc. wouldn’t hurt either)
  2. Whether that means storing six months of operating capital in your bank or coming up with a second target market, never assume that you have got all of the details on lock. Don’t get blinded by your own personal bias. There are plenty of huge companies that have pivoted from their original idea to stay alive.

    For example, did you know that Instagram was originally called Burbn, and was modeled off of Foursquare? They ended up scrapping everysingle feature from the original app, except for the photo sharing infrastructure. A little under two years later, the revamped photo-sharing app was sold to Facebook for $1.2 billion.

    Not too shabby for a Plan C idea.

  3. Your team is everything. Surround yourself with the right people.
  4. Nobody can do it alone. Michael Jordan had the 91-95 bulls. Barry Sanders had the 95-2000 Lions’ offensive line. The media often puts organizational leaders on a pedestal, but they wouldn’t have achieved greatness without a team.

    I heard a quote from another entrepreneur (can’t remember who exactly) that said a business is simply a group of people who are working together toward a common goal. If your entire team isn’t on the same page as you, you need to get everyone aligned as soon as possible or start moving people around.

    This is even more important for startups. The first group of people you bring into your team will dictate your company brand and culture for years to come. Which brings me to my next learned lesson:

  5. Vet everyone you work with, and ask for second opinions.
  6. Because your team is everything, any weak spots in your squad will reflect badly on your business. It can be tempting to hire someone you know based on relationships (friends or family). If that particular person has the proper credentials and experience, I’d say go for it. However, you need to really ask yourself the true reason of why you are hiring a particular person. That reason should be logical, not emotional.

    Find candidates that possess the right skills, passion, and work ethic. Vet for trustworthiness. Then, double and triple check. Regardless if this person is a partner, employee, contractor, or client. Even clients and customers can get fired, too.

  7. You can’t please everyone
  8. No matter how amazing of a job you have done, someone out there will always disagree with you. Sometimes people will say things without merit, just for the sake of pissing you off. Remove yourself from those circles and gravitate towards people who bleed positivity, instead.

    We as humans are products of our environment, and although you can’t control what people think about you, you can control who you surround yourself with.

  9. Focus on scalability and profit, not money
  10. If your business does $1 million in sales but has $2 million in liabilities, you’re probably going to under pretty quickly. As logical as this may sound, many people in this situation would still consider themselves a successful millionaire. Why? Because it’s easy to fall into the trap of looking at your balance sheet on the sales side without realizing that you’re spending more than you’re making.

    I personally went through a few months of this early on in 2016. I wasn’t anywhere near making seven figures in revenue, however, I knew that if something didn’t change, I wouldn’t be able to continue doing what I love and being my own boss.

    How did I fix it? I made someone else accountable for my finances. I hired a CPA that didn’t sugarcoat things. He gave me advice on how to improve the financial shortcomings of my company. From there, I created a strict budget and scrutinized every business decision that I made. I only spent money on things that would provide a return on investment in terms of knowledge, capital, or productivity.

    This was probably the most impactful change I went through in 2016.

    Free finance hack: I replaced my credit card every quarter. This allowed me to audit all of my subscriptions quarterly and decide whether or not to update the credit card and continue paying them, or just let the account lapse.


  11. Passion and hard work go a LONG way
  12. When I first started the company, I was a mediocre web designer. I wasn’t really a developer, either. I was more of an ‘implementer’. I could put the puzzle pieces together, but I couldn’t engineer the pieces by themselves.

    Even though I wasn’t the best, I still loved solving problems with code. I invested countless hours into practicing my skills and learning new things. That investment into myself allowed me to start Verde Media with very little capital.

    Sure, I could’ve gotten this point in half the time if I would have gotten a bank loan. I could’ve hired a developer, designer, and sales person to do all the work for me. Looking back, however, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. The knowledge and experience that I gained were well worth the hardship that I went through during my early years as an entrepreneur. What’s important to note is that I wouldn’t have dealt with that hardship if I wasn’t passionate and hardworking along the way.

    If you have these virtues instilled into your personally, never let them go.

  13. Being busy and being productive are not the same
  14. I used to think I had to put in 80 hours a week to become successful. There were times in 2016 where I was working that much, too. What I learned toward the end of the year, however, is that when it comes to creating impact, often times less is more.

    Burnout is a real thing. Burnout will kill every last creative cell in your body, and will turn your motivations to shit.

    To fix this, I shifted my focus to things that I was good at. I had to put my ego aside and really determine what parts of the business I brought the most value too. Everything else I would delegate.

    The result? Revenue is up substantially, profit margins are steady, I have two full-time team members, a new office, and I never work over 40 hours per week. Delegation is an amazing thing. You just need to set your ego aside, let go, and trust your team enough to handle everything.

To all my fellow entrepreneurs: if you’re going through a slump, have faith. Pray. Mediate. Go to the gym. Remember that why you chose to be an entrepreneur instead of working for someone else. If reflecting on that ‘why’ doesn’t do it for you, then realign yourself and take a break. Find your true motivation and keep pushing ahead.

Best of luck to all of my fellow entrepreneurs in 2017!

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