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My Rookie Year As A Business Owner

Late in 2017, I took the plunge and participated in buying out one of our company’s partners. Now, a year later, I’m grateful to have the opportunity to reflect on three key experiences that I hope will help you as you navigate the early stages of managing your small business.

Keep Your Tax Game Tight

Most of what you read and hear about taxes as a small business owner is bullshit. My first year having to file as a business owner was foolish and expensive. Stay away from those that oversell you an obnoxiously aggressive tax plan with little or no coaching. Not only will this result in future tax problems, but you’re buying power for normal things, like mortgages and auto loans, will go down the toilet. Find yourself a conservative CPA, and focus on the long term. My current accountant may not be the most aggressive, but he has saved me (and many other converts) from fines, poor choices, and ending up on the IRS’ shit list.

What Motivates You May Not Motivate Your Employees

What I learned this last year is that my motivation for growth doesn’t always sync with my team. I remember being a part time employee during college for a young cell phone start up. The owners would sit in the back of the store for hours without engaging the team, then eventually poke their head out every few hours to ask for sales numbers. This was during the recession, so this usually resulted in them sliding back into the office with a scowl.

Their intent or motivation was clearly not syncing with our motivation to make sales. Now as a business owner, I sometimes find myself getting stressed out about sales numbers and revenue late in a month, and acting similarly to my old bosses in college. Inherently, your team isn’t going to feel the same stress or anxiety as you. However, projecting that stress and anxiety seems to do more damage than good. I found that my team reacts strongly to well prepared, clearly communicated flows and action plans where I can outline the foreseeable problems, and lead them in a way that is motivating for everyone.

Double Down On Culture (And This Doesn’t Mean A Cereal Dispenser In the Kitchen)

I spent $500 on cereal over the course of 6 months for my team last year, and it had no impact on our team’s ability to provide an amazing customer experience or drive sales. If you’re worried about building a great culture for your business, start with the basics.

  1. Culture is mostly dictated by your team, not your mission statement on the wall. If you have team members (and even managers) that promote distrust and create animosity, no amount of catered lunches will save you. Weed culture killers out, and start to repair the bonds of trust within your organization.
  2. For those of us who don’t own multi-billion dollar companies that provide desk-side massages and sleeping pods to our employees, don’t despair. A good culture for your employees can be as simple as flexible break policies and the occasional potluck. The only way to find out is to ask them what makes a positive work culture, and try to implement what’s realistic (I’m sorry Ben, we’re still not going to stock the fridge with Pabst and Bang).
  3. Seek to understand your team. This year, my primary intent during our year end interviews was to give every team member the opportunity to be heard. Some of our best and most successful cultural changes have come during these types of one on one meetings.

I definitely won’t be winning any rookie of the year awards for my first year as a business owner, but I hope my experiences and feedback help you better manage your investment and keep you on the right track to building a healthy business.

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