What I’ve Learned After Four Years in Business

by Matt Heinz, an EO Seattle member and CEO of Heinz Marketing Inc.

Exactly four years ago today, Heinz Marketing became a real thing. The Monday before Thanksgiving in 2008 I was finally on my own.

The stock market, you probably remember, had just tanked. My wife was pregnant with our first child. So, of course, I decided to quit my job and finally start the business that had been gnawing at me.

Fortunately, it started with just me and a laptop, in the Seattle public library. That first Monday, I had a meeting in the morning with my first client and a proposal review in the afternoon with what became my second client. So in the middle, it was me with my shiny new laptop in the broken wooden cubicles of the Seattle public library. I’ll never forget that moment.

Four years later, what started with a guy and a laptop is now eight people with an office in Redmond, Washington and clients literally around the world.

I’ve learned a ton along the way, and continue to learn every day. Here are eight things that stand out to me:

Put on your hard hat every day
There are no shortcuts. Building a business isn’t all sexy, but it’s the little things you have to do every day, all day, to make it work. Put on your hard hat, put your head down, check your ego at the door, and get to work. We can talk about strategy and business plans and focus areas all day long, but once we’re done with all of that, it’s about execution.

It’s exciting and terrifying
The swing between those two was definitely more severe in the early days. Today, it’s definitely more exciting than terrifying. But those variances are a reality for early-stage businesses. The key is to focus on what’s right for your business and your customers.

Relationships are everything
The people you work with, the people who work for you, your prospects, partners, fellow business owners; the relationships you have with these people will make or break you. The way you treat people will make a significant difference in the perception and growth of your business now and into the future.

Every day is a new day
Those bad days? Yesterday’s news. The difficult morning? Gone after lunch. Just like a good field goal kicker in football or relief pitcher in baseball, you know not everything is going to fly your direction. So when you blow a save or miss a game-winning kick, wake up the next day and get back to work. Get and keep the right attitude to make today erase all residue from yesterday.

Balance optimism & skepticism
Look at some of the most successful business leaders out there – Bezos, Gates, Jobs, Branson – and you’ll see people who are optimistic and skeptical. They were equal parts optimistic with rose-colored glasses about the future and vision they see before them, but also skeptical and critical about what’s really going to work. It’s a delicate balance, but critical to giving yourself a higher batting average of successful decisions and moves moving forward.

Build, prioritize and focus on your values
What do you stand for? Who do you want to work with? It took me far too long to formalize our own core values. Now we use these values to hold each other accountable, find clients and partners that align with how we work and operate, and find new employees who we can trust to make the daily and client-facing decisions that will do us all proud.

Look for leverage
Sometimes spending 20 minutes on the phone with someone, helping them solve a problem or brainstorm a solution, is the right thing to do. But when it comes to defining process or generally deciding how and where to focus your time, look for leverage. Look for where your finite time can have the biggest, most sustained impact. Look for ways to do something once and make every subsequent, similar action far easier, faster and more consistent.

Work with great people
Inside and outside of your organization, find the best people you can and do everything possible to keep them around you. Work with people smarter than you, who make you better, and challenge you to get out of your comfort zone on occasion. Life is short, work with people you enjoy.

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