Many entrepreneurs start out with the passion and skills for their industry, but often fizzle out when it comes to actually running the business side of things. It’s a difficult reality to swallow when a small business owner struggles to merge business management with their passions and talents.

The last 15 years has been an incredible adventure for me. One that has included learning, growing, dedication and (if I’m being perfectly honest) a lot of patience, perseverance, and resilience. I don’t want to write a blog about all of the best things that happen as an entrepreneur. I also don’t want to write about all of the dark, lonely moments that happen when you’re at the top–and there are many I could share. What I want, is to inspire you to keep going. To celebrate success, to rise to challenges, and to get back up when you fall. So, I’ve compiled a few of the principles that have kept me going over the last fifteen years.

Whether you’re in the design industry or a leader in business, I hope this insight encourages you.

Bravely Commit To Your Journey

When I first started my own business, I was it. I’m sure many of you know exactly what I mean.

I was sales and marketing, I was the “I.T. guy”, the bookkeeper, the CEO, the CFO, the designer, the draftsman, a specification writer, the project manager. I traveled to the sites, met with clients, connected with reps, ordered samples, and organized the design library. It was exhausting, but it was the testing ground to find out what I was made of. Could I do it all? Was I willing to put in the time, energy and focus to wear every hat within the organization?

When you own your own business, there are a lot of things to fear. The good news is, that means, there are a lot of opportunities to be BRAVE. As a leader, I’m allowed to be afraid, but I must face my fears. Choosing to start my own business was a leap of faith in and of itself. It was a journey that required bold commitment. Everyday, I choose to be brave.

Keep Learning

John Maxwell, known for authoring many successful leadership books, wrote “good leaders are always good learners” (5 Levels of Leadership).

In the beginning, when I wore all the hats, I learned that being good wasn’t good enough. I was driven to learn more about my craft, my industry, my business, my team, my vendors and my clients. It can be daunting to keep up, so one thing I try to do is “hire up.”

And when it came time to hire staff, I knew I needed designers whose strengths matched my weaknesses. I still hire people who can do what I can’t do. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have more experience than I do, it simply means they have a skill that rounds out our team and makes us better. I want JAI to be a container where new seeds are constantly planted. A place where greatness can be nurtured and grow. Each day, I strive to make myself and my staff better than we were the day before.

As mentioned in my previous blog: The Value Of Mentoring, I also rely on mentoring as a key way to stretch my knowledge in different directions. The best scenario for learning includes someone that mentors you (reach up to), someone that you mentor (you reach down to), and someone on the same level (reach next to). Surround yourself with opportunities to learn.

Don’t Quit. Adjust.

For many years, I was not just a business owner, but also a single mother. There was a constant pull between being emotionally and physically available for my daughter and developing JAI into a sustainable, successful business. At one point, not so long ago, I had to make a really difficult decision.

Was I going to exchange financial security for emotional peace and healing?

I knew the decision I had to make. The one that was right for me as well as for my daughter, my business, my employees and their families. Taking that step back was the biggest risk I have ever taken with JAI, but I knew if I didn’t make a big move, I would burn out and quit. The moment I made the right decision, a new spark of determination to succeed was ignited. I knew I had the source of all strength to pull from and that I could do it.

Many business owners die climbing the mountain to their dreams. It’s not that the dream mountain is unsurmountable. It’s that many entrepreneurs only see one way up. Sometimes the right path looks like it is going down hill, if you could see the big picture, it’s the clearest way to the top. Trust your instincts. Adjust your path as needed.

Failure Can Bring Success.

Even with unmeasurable determination, there were times I didn’t know if I would make it. Being at the top means being the final decision-maker when the choices are hard. I didn’t get it right every time. There were occasions where I had to choose to pay my employees instead of myself.

Many of the tasks I excel at doing today, I learned from doing wrong in the past. Failure hurts. But it also fuels.

Only 50% of small businesses survive 5 years or more. Approximately one-third will survive 10 years or more. And though those are not great numbers for the small business world, I can’t find a statistic that tells me how many people closed their doors on their small business because the process of opening their doors shone a spotlight on their true direction. It’s only when a person fails that they are able to clearly see a better way.

Owning a small business is a dream come true for many. For me, it was more like a series of crazy events that resulted in the birth of JAI. Regardless of how I arrived here, I realize that I have the luxury of spending each day enveloped in a craft that is truly one which I consider my God-given talent. I surround myself with many mediums of inspiration to stay fresh and to be the best, and I have been blessed to work with amazing clients to interpret their visions and bring it to reality.

Which brings me to my final principle.

Be Grateful

Thank you to all JAI clients, vendors and designers who have trusted me over the last 15 years. I am deeply grateful for each one of you. Here’s to the next 15 years…

If you own a small business, please comment and share your insight.
What drives you forward?
And what drives you insane?