03 Jun #Incite20: Thoughts on 20 Years in Business
As the calendar has turned to June, we’ve officially launched #Incite20 to celebrate Incite’s 20th anniversary. It is hard to believe we are already at this milestone (and yes, I know what you’re thinking. I am far too young to have been in business for 20 years!). It seems like just yesterday that Jared and I gathered in his parents’ basement to hold our first official planning meeting using the now infamous flower covered tv trays as desks!
We’ve come a long way and the journey continues to educate, challenge, and inspire me. I am most grateful for the people – the clients who have placed their trust in us, the many colleagues who quickly became friends, the partners who help us deliver, and the mentors whose time, advice, and support have helped us navigate this wonderful path we call business.
There’s a significant amount to look back on with 20 years in business. For me, there are five themes that stand out. Some are certainly a tad cliché, yet all continue to inform or remind me of what’s important as I look forward to the next 20 years.
1. Who Trumps What
It starts when we are really young – “what do you want to be when you grow up?” It continues into school with job shadow days and books about doctors, lawyers, firefighters, nurses, and teachers. It really ramps up when you hit high school and university – “what are you going to do after you graduate?” And it is likely the number one question we get asked in business – “what do you do for a living?”
There is an overwhelming focus on what you do. What’s the plan for next year and what do I need to get done today? However, I’ve come to learn that regardless of what you choose to do, the people you do it with will determine how much you achieve and how much enjoyment you get out of it. Who always ends up being more important than what. The difference is obvious when we reframe those basic questions:
- “Who do you want to be when you grow up?”
- “Who do you want to spend time with after you graduate?”
- “Who do you choose to work with for a living?”
The people and relationships we surround ourselves with should be intentional choices, and I’m intent on placing a greater emphasis on who’s involved in my business and my life moving forward.
2. Give More Than You Take
When you start out in business, it is easy to be focused on the next sale, the important pitch, or the bottom line. The catch is we tend to frame everything from a “what’s in it for me?’ perspective.
We are busy and we race around making asks of others – can I pick your brain over a coffee, can you introduce me to your contact, can we count on your support for our campaign, can you get that done tomorrow, and can you please get me that signed PO?
This one really hit home a few years ago when a friend shared a story. He’d reached out to a mentor for a reference letter. The mentor called him and said he’d be happy to help. Then after a pause he added, “it would be nice to hear from you sometime when you didn’t need something from me.”
When is the last time you called a client when you didn’t need something from them? How often do you reach out to a friend just to touch base? Have you recently asked a co-worker if they need any support? It can be hard to shift my focus, yet I’ve found that the more I emphasize those around me the more that tends to come my way in return.
From referrals to clients to great advice, the more I focus on connecting my network to opportunities that will benefit them, the frequency of it being returned has increased disproportionately. Give more than you take.
3. Beauty in the Dark
Business is a roller coaster ride. Huge highs and challenging lows. Over 20 years, Incite has run the spectrum. I continue to have days where I can’t stop smiling as I leave the office, and also moments where I ask myself why the hell did I sign up for this?
While ups and downs are normal, part of the entrepreneurial path and the human journey we are all on, what I am *slowly* starting to appreciate is how many moments (both from business and life) that today I wouldn’t trade for anything, actually came from the down times.
Close friendships, stories I most love to tell, unique business processes, and new venture partnerships can all be traced back to something going way off the rails. In fact, Incite’s current business model that has reignited my passion for the work we do is a direct result of our struggles navigating the downturn.
Certainly, I’d rather spend more time enjoying the highs, but it is clear that most of them wouldn’t have happened without the lows. They are so often directly connected, that learning to appreciate the beauty that comes from tough times is critical. This one is a work in progress for me, so please, remind me of the beauty that comes from the dark the next time I’m in the bottom of the cycle!
4. Outside Perspective is Invaluable
One of my favourite thought leaders, David Baker, has a great saying I’m fond of quoting – “You can’t read the label from inside your own bottle.” Yet, too many business owners when faced with a challenge choose to dig in, go nose down and butt up, and try to solve it on their own. I’m certainly guilty as charged.
Ask for help! Seek guidance and advice from your peers. Ask your clients what they’d like to see you do. Sit down with a competitor and discuss your industry. A fresh, outside perspective can help nudge loose that missing idea, or simply give you the reassurance to get out of your own way and move forward.
The list of mentors who have helped me is too long to list here, yet I still know I have a tendency to try to go it alone. Guidance and perspective are such gifts, and I intend to leverage them better in the future. I also believe it is why Incite’s clients choose to work with us and what we strive to offer – the clarity to make more informed business decisions.
5. Write it Down and Celebrate
I’ve come to appreciate how important it is to write things down. Goals for next year, ideas to improve the business, or lessons learned in defeat. You can’t just think about them or share them with a colleague – you need to actually take the time to write them down. That way they don’t get lost, but more importantly, you can then look back and compare. I, like most people, am so focused on what comes next that I fail to remember how far I’ve come.
A year ago, I wrote down 5 goals for Incite as we embarked on the next chapter of our company’s journey. At the time, they seemed daunting and difficult to achieve. I know I would have been overjoyed if in a year they were all accomplished. Yet, just last month, I found myself frustrated at the lack of progress I perceived we were making. I pulled out the list of 5 goals. I realized we’d hit them all – 5 for 5. Mentally, I’d already moved on to the next list.
Our goals tend to expand over time, always remaining just out of grasp. If we don’t write them down, it is easy to feel like we never get anywhere. We also need to celebrate the wins, to remind ourselves of what we’ve achieved. Even with 20 years under our belt, I still struggle to celebrate a job well done. I feel like my energy is best spent on the next challenge. Learning to pause and to cheer, even if only for a moment, is a gift we should all feel comfortable giving ourselves.
20 years in business doesn’t come to be without the support of clients, teammates, partners, mentors, friends, and family. To all who have shaped and helped with Incite’s journey, please know that I am grateful for and inspired by your support.
Cheers to the next 20!