What It Took Me 8 Years To Learn


It took me awhile, but hopefully, I can impart this information to you in 15 minutes or less. I originally wrote this in the fall of 2009 for a business tips blog. Interestingly, my business was in serious trouble at the time*, though I wasn’t telling anyone yet. I’m glad I wrote these truisms down then, because it was difficult to evaluate anything about the business for the next 12 months as it plummeted downhill. A little like a beginning skier on a really steep blue slope. The following is the assessment I made before I tore off down the hill.


The only result that matters is when the customer is willing to give up his or her hard-earned money for your product or service.

We just celebrated our 8th anniversary at jcaroline creative! and though I can’t call the business an overwhelming financial success, it has survived eight years, which must say something. Though sometimes I wonder if it isn’t a testament to my stubbornness more than my business acumen.

So, as I thought about where we’ve been in the last eight years, I came up with some themes that I need to keep reminding myself that might be helpful to you in your business, too.

1. Vendors can make or break your business.

A vendor that rewards you with timely deliveries and a liberal credit line can mean the difference between your business having items to sell or not. Treat your vendors (especially your good ones) like they are your best friend because they are. Even the ones that are mediocre can usually be convinced to improve with a little sweet-talking. And don’t forget to use your vendors as a strategic partner, if necessary. If you have an opportunity that could benefit both of you, discuss it with them and see how they could help.


2. Don’t get upset about every little hiccup, because there will always be a hiccup.

And if each one shuts you down mentally or emotionally for a day or two, you’ll never survive. Yes, some hiccups are huge and will give you pause. Just make sure you aren’t over-reacting to the small ones.


3. Everything in business involves risk.

Some you can avoid, but some you just have to manage. Think through the series of disasters that could occur and have some idea of how you will attack them as they arise. Then if the disasters occur, you’ll be better prepared to address them. And don’t forget rule #2.


4. Maintain some sort of work/life balance.

There is always more work to do, more projects you can take on, more problems to solve. You probably can’t take a three-month vacation as your business is growing, but do take care to give yourself some breaks, whether it be an occasional long weekend or a commitment to never work on weekends. It’s a marathon, so keep your mental and emotional health in check.


5. Take people’s opinions and advice with a grain of salt.

Many people will have opinions on your business, regardless if they have any idea what your business is about or not. Just practice nodding politely and thanking them for their interesting ideas. But do listen, because sometimes you will run into that 1-out-of-100 piece of advice that is a real nugget of business wisdom.

6. Focus groups and survey results don’t matter.

The only result that matters is when the customer is willing to give up his or her hard-earned money for your product or service. You can ask people a million different ways what they will buy, when and why. And their answers (not knowingly) often have no relationship to what they will actually do. I’m not saying you can’t do research, I’m just saying don’t base your entire business plan on what people tell you they are going to buy. Your only reliable research is the actual sale.

7. Employees and/or a landlord change everything.

You have now signed up for a recurring weekly or monthly expense and you’ve made a commitment, either by contract or by custom, to those people to keep the business going. As your business grows, taking on one or the other may be unavoidable. Just remember that what you hope will be a boost to your business growth may become an albatross. Make sure you are able, legally and emotionally, to pull the plug on either if it becomes necessary.

* I feel compelled to add that this was one year after the Great Recession of 2008, which economists call the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression of 1929. That wasn’t the sole source of my business issues, but let me tell you, it did not help matters any.