Five Years: Five Lessons from the Entrepreneurial Trench
by Gillette Vaira
February 19, 2021
When Bob Tambo and I first announced we were opening a new marketing firm in early 2016, we heard from a chorus of well-wishers:
“Oh, that’s great!”
“You’ll do amazing!”
“Wow, how exciting!”
The cheering was often accompanied by a look that said:
“That’s very brave.”
“Are you sure??”
“I give it 12 months.”
It wasn’t that people were insincere, it was just that they recognize the perils of entrepreneurship – and the grim statistics that come with the territory.
In 2021, our crew at Rebel River Creative is celebrating our fifth anniversary. Along the way, we have learned a lot about accounting, insurance, administration, managing workflow, managing priorities, and managing our collective penchant for perfection. These are all important. However, the biggest lessons came not from books or business experts – but from the heart.
These are our pearls of wisdom that every entrepreneur should consider embracing.
Honor your employees.
Our employees distinguish Rebel River. They come preloaded with immense talent, a positive attitude, and unwavering commitment to the client and to each other. They are industrious and smart, and they want to change the world. Push these folks into a precast corporate hierarchy and watch their lifeblood and creativity evaporate.
Lesson 1: Hire talent – and let talent do their jobs.
Sharpen your listening skills.
Our team works hard every day to deliver extraordinary work for our clients. We don’t hit a home run every time – but darn close. Our secret sauce is the ability to listen, intently. In the world of instant communication, the art of listening has been largely lost. No one cares what others have to say. Ah… but that’s not true. Listen to your clients, uncover their unique value proposition, connect it to their target audience, and suddenly a lot of people care.
Lesson 2: Fine tune your ability to listen – you’ll be astounded at how much you’ve missed.
Celebrate the wins.
You plan, you work hard, you produce, you create – then you do it all over again tomorrow. Hold on! A very wise business coach explained the wisdom of making time to celebrate wins with the team. Not just the big wins – a signed contract, a multi-year deal, but small ones like a team member’s birthday. Yes, a birthday is a win. Why? Because employees relish being part of a winning team, but they also desire personal recognition. Someone adopts a new pet? We celebrate. Someone’s son places in a ski race? We celebrate.
Lesson 3: Redefine a “win” and celebrate together.
“Oh! You own a creative studio?” Yes, and for the first three years, my partner and I took turns cleaning the studio bathrooms. There’s nothing like swirling a cleaning wand around and around the toilet bowl to keep you grounded. We might be the owners, but we never forget where we started. I think it might be good for all Fortune 500 CEOs to scrub a toilet now and again. It’s honest work that no one is above.
Lesson 4: I will never ask someone to do something I won’t do.
Visualize your future.
In the past five years, we’ve gone from a two-person team operating in a home studio to a five-person firm located in cool historic building downtown. We’ve branded entirely new companies and built dozens of new websites. We’ve helped people start their first business and 100-year-old organizations redefine their market position. And like many of you, we rapidly adapted to working during a pandemic. What’s next? Actually, there’s a lot taking place behind the scenes at Rebel River for FY2021 – changes that will redefine our company. It’s exciting – and a little unnerving. But it isn’t by chance. Our team has a clear vision of what the next five years will look like, down to the studio kitchen remodel. Being entrepreneurs means we don’t have a beginning, middle, and endpoint. Our story is constantly unfolding to align with our vision.