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BUSINESS CAN BE UGLY- 7 valuable lessons I learned over the past year


On April 1st 2016, GNT Signs and Services LLC moved from our living room to our shop.  It is hard to believe it has been a year since we took a leap of faith and made this move. I cannot say the past year has been easy for us. In August of 2016, I left a secure job to work on the growth of our business.  We have had many highs and many lows over the past year.  We have learned valuable lessons that we will carry with us as we continue to work to grow and improve our business.  Our experiences have helped us understand that starting a business and building it from the ground up is an uphill battle. Each day holds a new challenge.  You learn that people are not always genuine.  That the deal they promised will not always come to fruition for you, but it is important to focus on you and what makes you continue to passionately overcome obstacles to achieve your personal and business goals.


1. YOU ARE GOING TO MAKE MISTAKES Life is full of mishaps.  There is no such thing as the perfect human or perfect scenario.  In business, you or people in your company are going to drop the ball.  When you start, you have a vision about how everything is going to be perfect and flow because you have it figured out in your business plan.  You have the perfect systems, products, etc. in place until you realize that you don't. We have made plenty of mistakes, from estimates to final products, from overspending to planning.  We have made customers angry and they will most likely never use us again.  As we continue to move forward, we will make more, but the key is admitting them.  Admit you made a mistake and work hard to make it better in the current situation and then learn from it and move forward.  We often dwell on our mistakes and we think, "What have I done? Will we recover from this?" If you are willing to work hard to fix it, then you will most likely overcome it.  There is no perfect business, but using mistakes to learn and grow is what will make you stand out above the rest.

2. 'DON'T COUNT YOUR CHICKENS BEFORE THEY HATCH' I cannot tell you how many times I have heard, "We are going to call you for our next sign project." "We will give you a call in a couple days." Then a week later you drive by and they have a new sign going up and your heart sinks.  Here is the deal, your friends, family, and others in the community will give you false hope.  I believe most of this is unintentional because some of us have 20 thousand conversations each day (slight exaggeration) and people forget, but it will happen.  Over the past year, I have seen this several times, and I have counted on that job for income and planned for it, but it never came. It cost me time, money, and agony. We learned that nothing is certain.  People talk and forget or have no intentions to use you. What can you do? Write them a nasty note? Leave them a hateful message? Deface their sign? It would be wise to do NONE of the above. Although, reaching out and asking for feedback can be helpful for you if they are willing to give it. Sometimes it is an honest mistake and sometimes you will get the truth.  Point is, people will tell you one thing and do another.  Do not plan on the work until it is in hand and ordered.  False hope will crush you emotionally and financially.  It is important to push forward and keep grinding.

3. PEOPLE WILL USE YOU AND BURN YOU  Business is risky and exciting, but it isn't always beautiful.  As a business person, you want to please everyone. You want to make sure your reputation is in tact and sometimes you get caught in "overgenerosity" and some people will take advantage.  Our company gives 5% of our sales back to a local charity each month, but in addition we have made trades and given sponsorships in other capacities.  We like to help people and we like to give back and will continue to do so.  Sometimes our generosity is rewarded and sometimes it is not. We have donated or sponsored and then the organization has not considered us for work to be done and used a competitor.  This has happened to us on more than one occasion.  There are a lot of people who will take advantage of your generosity and services.  I have learned this lesson and we are much more careful about who we donate to and who we sponsor.  We will continue to give back, but as we move forward we will choose carefully who and what we give back to.  We are firm believers of generosity, but being generous does not mean you cannot say no.  If you make a trade, get a contract.  Word of mouth is not good enough. When you donate, research and meet the people. Make sure they are passionate about their cause and that they are genuine. It is also okay to ask what your donation will be used for.  Be generous, but do not get taken advantage of.

4. IF YOU GIVE A "DEAL", EVERY ONE WILL EXPECT ONE This is one of my biggest struggles, but also where we get taken advantage of.  I like to help people and we have given products at a lower price because it seems like the right thing to do.  Now some people expect it and ask for it. When we say no, it is like they are shocked. Scenario:  When was the last time you said, "Hey Boss, I am going to cut you a deal today and work for 2 dollars less an hour."?  My guess is never, because you have a family to feed and bills to pay. Well, so do I and so do most people in business, so why do people believe it is okay to take advantage of a business's generosity?  I learned that the more we give, the more people want to take. I have given deals to family, friends, customers, etc., but now it is like people expect it, and at my expense.  If I could go back, I would have never cut a deal with anyone.  It is a terrible habit and a bad business practice.  Business people have more expenses than most, so before you ask for a deal consider the above scenario with your boss.

5. YOU WILL BE SLOW AT TIMES When you are growing a business, you expect it to grow and flourish. People think each month should be better than the next, and that is what we strive for.  The reality is that you will have slow months.  We operate debt free, and I expected things to be slow from time to time since we are still building our business, so we were prepared.  Although, it is still very stressful and irritating that the money is not coming in as it did in previous months.  DON'T PANIC! I learned this is a great time to look over pricing, systems, and other management duties we sometimes neglect when things are going fast and furious. It is a great time to reach out to new customers and meet up with new business connections. Continue to be confident in your work and products, but don't use your slow times to sulk. Plan ahead and be prepared.

6. FOCUS ON YOU It is easy to look and see what the competition is doing.  We have been working full time for nearly a year.  We cannot compare ourselves to a company that has been around for 30.  It is frustrating when you miss out on a job to a competitor.  30 years of experience vs. a year is a HUGE selling point to some customers.  It is hard to break the mold of loyalty. I have tried to find out what special magic my competitors have, but there isn't any.  They have accrued a customer base that are loyal to them.  Even if I offer the same product at a lower cost, I will often lose out on a job.  It is discouraging, but you have to focus on you.  Do not try to be the competition. Be yourself and your company. Focus on making quality products and offer excellent service to you customers.  As you prove yourself and your company, you will see people begin to look your way.  It will not happen overnight, but people like genuine people. Be genuine and do your best to be better and things will slowly grow.

7. KEEP GRINDING Some days you will question your decision of starting a business.  You will question your abilities. You will question pricing.  Your emotions will be tested.  You will feel like a failure. You will feel betrayed. KEEP GRINDING!  I have felt all of the above, but you have to push through it and focus on the positives.  There have been days and weeks that I have wanted to give up because I thought I was failing, but if you work and grind things WILL happen. MAYBE not when you want them, but things will come around.  Anytime you enter a field brand new, things will be slow.  Building a business from the ground up is no easy task and it will test you each day. Keep pushing. It will take time to establish yourself in a community.  We are still working hard to build our brand and reel in more customers.  It is not a sprint, but a marathon.

Business is hard, frustrating, aggravating, etc., but it can also be very rewarding financially and emotionally.  Knowing that you produced successful products to help others, knowing that you built something that is worth being recognized, will overcome all the other emotions one will feel while growing a business. If you are willing to GRIND, you give yourself a chance to be successful.

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