5 things I learned in my first 5 years in business

Yesterday was the five year anniversary of Toister Performance Solutions. Although this post is a bit of self-indulgence, I thought I'd take a moment to share the top five business lessons I've learned in that time.


Lesson #1: Your gut instinct is a good compass

I remember the first time I told a client "No thank you" when I was presented with a lucrative consulting offer that just didn't feel right. It turned out to be a good decision, especially since the contract wouldn't have been nearly as lucrative as promised. That gut feeling you get when making a decision is usually a good indicator of the value and worth of your options.


Lesson 2: Goals, plans, and policies must be flexible.

I found early on that having goals gave me a destination to work towards, having plans gave me a path to get there, and having some policies gave me guidance along the way. The caveat is flexibility. For example, I have a strict policy of not working with government clients because it's simply not cost effective for my business to deal with their bureaucracy. Having said that, I've been working with a local housing authority since 2009 because they convinced me they were bucking the trend and could make good use of my services. There is still plenty of bureaucracy, but I'm glad I paid attention to my compass because they are a very enjoyable client to work with.


Lesson 3: Be your own client

One of my first jobs was selling uniforms. I remember going to work every day wearing a shirt and tie and then getting on the phone and trying to convince my clients to go business casual and give everyone polo shirts embroidered with their company logo. It always seemed strange that we were trying to convince our clients to do something we couldn't convince ourselves to do.

Toister Performance Solutions helps clients improve customer service, so I knew from the start it would be important to treat my clients well. The truth is that good customer service is less about common sense and empty platitudes and more about hard work and persistence. I work hard to understand my clients and their businesses, I take time to cultivate relationships based on trust and mutual benefit, and I do whatever I can to make it easy for them to be successful. 


Lesson 4: Avoid black box thinking

It's amazing how many experienced business people retreat to a little black box to make decisions. What's a black box? It's a figurative term for shutting out all data, past precedents, relevant examples, and experts when making important decisions. Effectively putting yourself in a 'black box'. You'll know what I mean the next time you are in a brainstorming session and you realize all the data points are impulses, hunches, and feelings but not really data.

I was fortunate to realize early on that there were plenty of consulting firms that I could learn from. Many consultants and business owners were more than willing to mentor me and share their own experiences. And, a lot of their advice prevented me from making costly mistakes or throwing in the towel and things were a bit rough.



Lesson 5: You will know how to work your business if you know how your business works.

One of my favorite business books is Norm Brodsky's The Knack, because it offers so much common sense business advice. It's still a challenge I grapple with, but I now have a much clearer idea of where and how Toister Performance Solutions makes money and where it doesn't. The short version of that story is I now charge my clients more than ever, but I also provide more value than ever before so they are quite happy to pay my fee.


Bonus lesson:

Most of my blog readers don't particularly enjoy reading this sort of drivel. Over the coming months, I'll be adding in more of what gets the conversation flowing: fun experiments, new research, and personal experience. In return, all I ask is you continue to keep me on course.