30 Years of Pain and Suffering
“Nobody told me there’d be days like these.”
- John Lennon
Whenever friends or acquaintances tell me that they’re thinking about starting a business, they probably wonder why I look back with a blank stare. It’s because for a brief moment, my mind races over the memories of starting a business from scratch and running it for the past 30 years. These memories bring up a well of emotions including fear, frustration, excitement, anger and exhilaration.
Insight was born out of a passion that was shared with my wife, Monica. It was something that both of us seemed destined to do, ever since we met in college. We spent countless hours researching ad agencies, attending seminars, interviewing other business owners and reading everything we could about marketing communications and business. We thought that we created the perfect strategy to guarantee success, at least based on our definition of success at the time.
After 30 years, we reached many of the milestones that we thought defined being successful. We continued to add clients and employees and witnessed more than 40 competitors come and go. We also assisted numerous other businesses grow and were often told that we were instrumental in their growth. We won many local, regional and national awards for excellence in our industry. We were featured in many publications. We helped a wide variety of non-profit agencies and made our communities a better place to live. But amidst the success you plan for are the many unpredictable challenges that you’ll face which seem insurmountable at times.
Today, social media can make it seem that many friends and acquaintances have the perfect life and that every aspect of their life is easy. The same holds true for the social media face of many businesses. But let’s get real for a moment. That’s not reality and it’s certainly not that way when running a business. I’m not talking about a hobby or passion project. I’m talking about a business where you have a payroll to meet and have to pay all of the required taxes (including all payroll taxes, personal property, sales and use, etc.). A business that is properly insured for all liabilities and a business that offers your employees a solid benefits package.
The fact of the matter is that starting and running a business is a mixture of sweet and sour, hot and cold, fun and misery. It needs to be in your blood to endure the ups and downs. Your desire to succeed must be so strong that you are willing to do almost whatever it takes to persevere. The “almost” part I’m referring to is stopping short of doing anything that is dishonest, unethical or illegal.
I’ve learned over the years that you can never, ever take your foot off the accelerator and coast. Never. You must never become complacent. Thinking that you have it made just because you reached some milestone can be detrimental. That’s often the moment your business starts spiraling downward. That is vastly different from what I thought going into it. I’ve learned business is dynamic. It’s constantly changing. What worked only a few years ago may not work today. When we started we used typesetting services, our artwork was designed on boards (not Macs), we processed film in a darkroom and we sent transparencies to color separators. The internet and social media did not exist. As a business owner, you constantly need to reinvent yourself to remain relevant.
So why start a business and what defines success?
If you’re going into business for the money or to have more flexibility, then you may be starting a business for the wrong reason. If you’re going into business because you are passionate about your industry, thrive on challenges and are determined—regardless of how difficult things become—then you are on the right path. Basing your success strictly on reaching milestones may leave you feeling disappointed once you reach them which include financial goals, anniversary dates, number of employees and more. I discovered that success is being able to do what you are passionate about, regardless of whether or not you own a business. I’ve discovered that the challenge itself is the reward. Sure, running a business can be a roller coaster of things that you can and can’t control. But the only way to grow and keep your business relevant is to dive into the day- to-day challenges and deal with the pain that presents itself from time to time.
It’s a lifestyle that in many ways defines you. If you take care of your clients, develop a nurturing culture for your team and persevere, the financial rewards and flexibility will follow. Personally, it was a decision that I’m so glad I made over 30 years ago and I continue to welcome the challenges ahead.