We’ve just celebrated our 15th anniversary at BVOH Search & Consulting. At the party, as we were looking at over a decade’s worth of pictures and reminiscing about the “old days”, one of my teammates asked us how we got here. This led me to reflect on our journey with the company and everything we’ve learned along the way. We nailed some things, while others, done differently, would’ve enabled us to achieve better results more quickly. With that in mind, here are five tips for anyone thinking about starting a business.
1. Choose Your Co-Founders WiselyThe first thing to consider is whether you want to build a company on your own, or you want to share this experience with others. This is a very personal choice, and both approaches have pros and cons. If, like me, you enjoy working in a team and feel that two (or three, or four) heads are better than one, then you must choose this team wisely. Starting a company with others is much like a marriage, you will be legally bound to them indefinitely, and it’s critical that you share the same value system and are aligned around the vision of the company. There’s a reason why 70% of partnerships fail. I was fortunate enough to start BVOH with people I had worked with before in a similar capacity, so I knew we were fundamentally aligned on how we approached the business – but not everyone is so lucky. So, if you are considering partners, make sure you are purposeful in your decision to have partners for the right reasons and THEN choose individuals who:
– Are aligned with your values, ethics, and integrity – Agree on the structure, business plan and operating model of the company – You communicate and work well with – Share the same long-term vision for the companyLeaving a partnership, in particular, can feel like a divorce, and so it’s crucial to be very thoughtful and purposeful in this step. You need to be confident that your relationships (and thus the company) can survive over the long haul, knowing that you, as individuals, will grow and change along the way. Will you grow and change together, or drift apart? It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and this is one area you can’t afford to make a quick or unsubstantiated decision.
2. Begin With The End In MindI believe this is one of the most important pieces of advice for someone who’s starting a business: Don’t just envision why you want to do this and what it will look like today, but also decide what you ultimately want to accomplish. How do you want the company to look in 10 or 20 years? What’s the long-term painted picture? Is this going to be a lifestyle business for you and your partners or do you want to build a company that lives on without you once you’re no longer there? If you see your company scaling and growing beyond the founders, the investments you make in all areas—people and infrastructure—will need to be scalable, and you’ll want to start with a strong balance sheet.
“Don’t just envision why you want to do this and what it will look like today, but also decide what you ultimately want to accomplish.”Every decision you make in the early days will form the operating system that will feed the company for many years to come. “All organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they get.” The source of this quote is debated, but the message is proven time and time again. Certain operating norms are incredibly difficult to change or unwind the longer they are in practice in your organization. Being a visionary, and thoughtfully considering the company you want to build, and then creating a structure that will support that vision over the long term, will save you time, money, and stress down the road. It’s often difficult to envision 5, 10, 15 years in the future, and while you can revamp and revise as goals and business needs change – it is much more difficult and will test your abilities and commitment much more so than setting it up correctly in the first place.
3. Someone Needs To Run The CompanyAs soon as you hire your first employee, you are no longer a group of individuals – you are a company. When you have a company, you need a leader to serve that company (versus the personal interests of the initial group). And if everyone’s in charge, no one is in charge. It’s just like the analogy, “There are no two-headed animals in the animal kingdom,” much less four or five and so on. You need to have one person who is thinking of the company first. Not because the job of CEO or Managing Partner is bigger than the others, but because someone has to be working on the business and not in the business. Your company will be its own entity with specific needs and wants, and when those are met, you’re ultimately meeting the needs of the most important people — your clients. The earlier you realize this and invest in your leadership team appropriately, the quicker you will achieve your long term vision and grow the company, while providing a much more compelling opportunity for those early adopters who take the leap of faith to work for you and with you.
4. Do Something You’re Passionate AboutMany people think passion is overrated, but I beg to differ. Belief and excitement about your business is essential because it takes energy and enthusiasm to improve and evolve. You’ll live, eat, breathe, and sleep the company you found, and passion will keep you from getting sick of it, and yourself, over the long haul. If I didn’t have a profound connection and love for the core that my company operates in, I wouldn’t have made it this long. Fifteen years later, I still get very excited when talking about BVOH and the recruiting industry as a whole. One of the most fun aspects of my job is pitching BVOH to a potential client, partner, or new team member.
“If I didn’t have a profound connection and love for the core that my company operates in, I wouldn’t have made it this long.”I also love brainstorming with other recruiting professionals about how we can elevate the role of recruiting – the reputation and the profession as a whole. It’s critically important to be a brand ambassador for your company. Doing work you’re passionate about gives you joy and something to be proud of, which helps you tolerate parts of the job you don’t like doing so much. This passion is what fuels you on the weekends (and oftentimes in the middle of the night) because your company will need this level of commitment and energy from you to thrive. I think about the well being of the company, even when it’s driving me crazy, the same way I think about the well being of my children. Maybe this is extreme, but it’s realistic to expect that you will be consumed by your company. So, it better be something that feeds your soul on a fundamental level.
5. Don’t Forget to Invest in YourselfEvery founder reaches a breaking point where you have to seek outside help. Otherwise, you’ll drown or burn out (I know I did!) You will not know everything about owning and running a business, nor is it realistic that you should. About six months after I was promoted to Managing Partner, I realized that I needed help to be successful in my role. A contact of mine who was running another business (quite successfully) introduced me to the CEO peer advisory group, Vistage. I was hesitant about joining – mainly because of the annual price tag and monthly time commitment. I thought, I can’t spend that kind of money and be out of the office for one full day a month. What would everyone think I was doing? It felt so self-serving and like an investment we couldn’t afford or my partners wouldn’t see as worthwhile. But investing in yourself isn’t a luxury. It’s necessary for your performance, contribution to the health and growth of your company, and ultimately, your team. I eventually joined and have now had four years of that investment, and it’s paid for itself several times over. I’ve also learned that bringing in the right external consultants, when needed, can drive instant value for your business. It’s incredibly worth it to invest in the leaders of your company so they have the resources to gain perspective and best practices as the business continues to grow.
Seize the OpportunityStarting a business is not exactly what I thought it would be. The motivations I had in the beginning and what makes me excited today are completely different. To this day, our company continues to evolve, but because we’re passionate about what we do and we find joy in our “why”, we can grow and evolve without letting go of what makes us BVOH. I know how hard it can be to just start, but there’s never been a better time to choose your “why” and create your own path. I hope this helps you, fellow entrepreneurs, start your businesses with a little more insight, and realize the opportunity you have to build something amazing – not just for you, but also for all the people you’ll impact along the way.
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