4 Lessons Worth Sharing On Our 10-Year Business Anniversary (2018)
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Has it been 10 years already?
Though I’ve been exploring Costa Rica since the mid-2000s, this week (in 2018) marks 10 years since Ricky and I officially incorporated our business, Pura Vida! eh? Inc. What a tumultuous but wonderful experience the past decade has been, from the moment we developed our business plan in Costa Rica on a bus ride between San Jose and the Caribbean coast to the day Moon Travel Guides chose me to assume authorship of their prestigious Moon Costa Rica guidebook. Along with the hundreds of Costa Rican souvenirs we’ve collected over the years, we’ve picked up more invaluable lessons than we could ever count. If you’re interested in learning the top four things we’ve discovered about operating a business in general, this blog post is for you.
A quick disclaimer…
I’m no expert when it comes to building businesses and this article isn’t meant to suggest otherwise. It’s more a reminder to my future self that, when times get tough (as they often do), there’s honed advice I can claw my way through that will lead me to better days. Perhaps you too will find the ramblings below to be helpful.
It’s much easier to criticize yourself than to celebrate yourself.
Business beginnings are bogged down with words like “can’t,” “won’t,” and “shouldn’t.” If you need a loan, banks may turn you down, especially if you lack good credit or collateral like most first-time entrepreneurs do. If you’re handling operating costs on your own, debt becomes a black cloud that seems impossible to escape, at least for several years. If you’re not lucky enough to be surrounded by supportive folks, members of your family, your friends, and perhaps even your first potential customers or clients may doubt your dream and abilities. At a time when you’re most fragile, assuming loads of risk in return for seeds of chance, it seems like every step you take could shatter you to pieces. If you’re up for hearing the truth, it’s this: operating a business may indeed shatter you. It may also thicken your skin, build you a foundation to stand on, and strengthen your voice. It all depends on you and how much you want to succeed.
If you’ve ever tried to succeed at anything in life, be it business or something else, you know how hard it can be to block out negative thoughts and opinions. I say, don’t bother blocking them out. Don’t waste your time trying to fight negativity. It will always be there, and, quite frankly, if you find yourself constantly feeding it with energy, it will only grow hungrier. Instead, let negativity be what it is while you seek out what you’re great at. Surely, you’re not a master of all things business but that doesn’t mean you’re not a great customer service representative, a fantastic product creator, an intelligent web developer, or some other person who has something of value to bring to your brand. Though it is easiest to criticize yourself, including everything you don’t have (especially when compared to your competitors), make it a priority to focus on the good things you bring to the table. There must be something, if not many things, or else you wouldn’t have set out to build a business in the first place. Don’t forget to applaud your something(s). In a world where too many people long to act like, look like, and be someone else, your uniqueness is worth celebrating.
Give yourself a break. You’ll get there someday.
If I knew 10 years ago that some of my products or services wouldn’t sell, that certain marketing campaigns wouldn’t work, or that particular programs were a waste of time, I’d be way better off than I am today because I would have saved myself so much time and money. But hindsight is always 20/20, not to mention completely unrealistic. All it does is lead us to believe that we should have been someone different or done something different at an earlier time. On the flip side, if you’re presently living that “earlier time” (i.e., if you’ve just started out on your entrepreneurial journey), you may wish you could jump ahead a few steps to get past the initial tough stuff and be “better off.” But life (and business) doesn’t allow that. Yes, high school students often wish they were independent University or College students, postgraduates wish they were making money at a job in their field of study, the newly employed wish they had monetary savings so they could start a family, empty-nesters wish they were closer to retirement, and so on, but if everyone skipped to where they want to be, there’d be no life to live. The invaluable good stuff encountered along the way would be missed, too.
Just like you can’t skip stages of life, you can’t time-warp your business to where you want it to go. Time filled with hard work paddles entrepreneurship. If you’re a committed captain who has a particular end in sight, you’ll get there someday.
Success is multivariate and has an always-evolving endpoint.
When I let my mind roll back 10 years to when I was a much more naive version of myself, I nearly cringe at some of the poorly constructed entrepreneurial projects I took on. I won’t go so far as to label them as embarrassing because there’s nothing shameful about brainstorming, trying new things, failing, learning, and trying again. Each bad idea, which wasn’t as bad as it was undeveloped, shaped my understanding of (and my ability to form) good ideas. They also led me to where I am now, and at this moment, I’m doing alright. Fast-forward 10 years to the future and perhaps I’ll cringe at the work I’m doing today, having not yet learned from whatever tomorrow brings.
If you’re just starting a business, focus on the now and decisions that are within your current reach. It’s great to envision and plan for the future but all that really matters is today; it’s the biggest opportunity you have to secure your tomorrow. And, try not to fixate on what tomorrow—or better yet, success—will or should look like. As life shifts and evolves alongside markets, demographics, technology, and business strategies, so will your wants, needs, and abilities, which inform your perception and definition of success. From that light bulb moment when you realize you could start a business to the end of a career you’ve dedicated to company growth, success should be something you consistently pursue, not something you ever reach.
The best businesses aren’t mechanized, they’re flexible.
Get used to being flexible. Most businesses require flexibility from their owners, even control-hungry businesspeople like me. I used to think the more organized I was, the more I could design every step of my business operation, and the more I built my company to run like clockwork, the more professional and successful I’d be. I forgot, all the while, that the fluid that keeps my machine running is ever-changing, unpredictable, and oftentimes frustrating human connection.
Human connection is what drives my business. On a basic level, without clients to acquire my services, I’d go bankrupt. More importantly, without clients letting me know what they think about my services, I’d run a business from the position of being stuck knee-deep in the mud of my own musings instead of a business that flourishes in attending to others. Do I sometimes sulk over client requests for changes I’m not entirely on board with? Of course! But I’m not too proud to recognize that flexibility—to a safe and agreeable degree—is largely what pays the bills. Similar to the old adage, if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all, consider this: if a client or customer’s request won’t kill your business, don’t let it kill your sale.
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: What other business advice do you think is worth sharing?