I started Madison Taylor Marketing in 2008, and, in no particular order, here are a few lessons I’d relay to my fellow entrepreneurs:
1. Hire Cleaning People
This sounds trivial at first, but it’s important. Starting a business is more difficult than you think, and you’re going to be running into speed bumps left and right. There will be financial obstacles you don’t foresee, stubborn clients that are hard to get on board, office space to rent, and more.
The last thing you want to do after 14 hours on the phone is scrub toilets or vacuum. I know you want to save every penny early on, but you also can’t afford to split your focus or burn yourself out. Believe me, it’s worth it to spend a little extra so you can focus on your personal life, your business, and just getting some sleep.
2. Failure is Always an Option
You won’t succeed at everything you try. Even the best of the best trip over their own feet or just get unlucky sometimes, so you need to be prepared for failure.
Get comfortable with failing. Losing a client or a pitch doesn’t mean you’re a failure, it means you’re learning. After the initial disappointment has worn off, take the time to do a post-mortem on the areas you didn’t succeed. Figure out what went wrong and what went right, then catalog that away for future reference.
Remember that the way you lose matters. If you watched the first round of the NBA playoffs this year between the Suns and Lakers, you saw the Lakers lose in Game 6. At the end of the game, LeBron James walked off the floor without shaking hands or congratulating any of his opponents. This is the guy with the most wins and most points of all time in the NBA playoffs, arguably the best player the game has ever seen, and he just took his ball and went home.
People noticed, and they’ll notice if you do the same thing. I can’t speak for every industry, but the marketing industry is smaller than you might think — any bridge you burn behind you might also bring down the ones in front of you. If you’re going to lose (and you are), lose with dignity.
3. Celebrate the Small Wins
Since you’re not going to win them all, it’s important to celebrate the accomplishments you do get. You might send out cold emails to a hundred prospects and only hear back from one. That’s a small victory in itself. You might make a pitch and get to the final three vendors that a client is considering, but not get hired. That’s a small victory. Just recently, we got a call at Madison Taylor from a big, well-known brand that wanted to know what we could do for them. Even before we signed a contract, I considered it a victory that they were reaching out to us.
Marking these little victories will help you mark your progress and stay excited about the work you’re doing, even if they’re not quantifiable goals that someone else might be excited about. If you don’t focus on the positives, you’ll obsess over the negatives and lose momentum.
4. Opinions Are Like Assholes…
…There are a LOT of them on the internet. The good news is that if you’re just starting out and have no idea what you’re doing (as I did 13 years ago), you can find a treasure trove of useful tips and best practices for starting a business, managing a team, hiring new people, and so on.
The bad news is that there is an equal number of overenthusiastic business types who think they can tell you how to handle your business without knowing anything about you. How many articles have you seen about “the habits of millionaires” where it turns out that those habits are just waking up early and eating dry toast?
Just because someone has experience doesn’t mean their opinions are valid, and it certainly doesn’t mean that their experience will apply to you. They’re not invested in your success, they don’t know the particulars of your business or your situation, and they don’t know you. Learn to filter all the “shoulds” you’ll hear and listen to the people you trust.
5. Chemistry Matters
I use the word “fuck” at least once in every job interview I give. I also sprinkle it into client meetings. Not because I can’t control my salty streak, but because chemistry is crucial to workplace success — if a potential employee or client is so put off by the word “fuck” that they get flustered or offended in a meeting, we’re probably going to have cultural differences that we can’t get past in our working relationships.
Collaboration breeds success — you can’t expect two people (or a group) to work together and produce top-tier results if they don’t like each other, so I need to ensure that my team and my clients get along first.
6. Be Aware of the Halo Effect
The “halo effect” says that we tend to judge people’s expertise, authority, and other characteristics by their charisma and charm. The result is that groups develop a leader organically that people naturally gravitate toward, but that person isn’t necessarily the best equipped to contribute to the conversation.
If you’re the kind of person who naturally attracts attention, you should be making a conscious effort to step back out of the spotlight and let other people speak up. If you have such a person on your team, make sure they don’t steamroll the conversation by soliciting ideas from everyone and writing them down so they have equal footing.
Personally, I’ve struggled with how assertive I should be. I’ve heard that women tend to fade into the background and allow the conversation to be dominated by men, but I’ve also seen an overcorrection to this problem where female leaders attempt to run meetings single handedly to avoid seeming timid or weak. I’ve had to learn to lead the way I want to lead, not the way I think a man would lead in my position.
7. Get a Nerf Gun
Seriously. There are few better ways to blow off steam than by shooting foam darts at things. Highly recommended.