Advice for folks starting a second career as a solo entrepreneur
Define your values early and often. Values are not generic two-word commandments that state the obvious. They should codify what you believe in place where everyone can see them and everyone can suggest changes.
Values should be an oral tradition. They should tell your employees how to behave in both normal and extreme situations. And they are effective because values stick in our brains, they are efficient and memorable.
Using Nordstrom as an example. For my readers outside North America who may not be familiar with Nordstrom, it is a high-end department store noted for exceptional service. In an iconic story a customer brings a set of tires to a store to be returned, even though Nordstrom sells clothes, not tires. The store accepts the tires and fully refunds the customer. In another case a clerk being unable to find right pair of shoes for a customer recommends a competitor, Macy’s and pays for the additional shipping cost.
These stories tell you more about the service Nordstrom and their customers expect than a thousand-page manual on how to be a good salesclerk.
Knowing these values, a potential employee could know whether they would be a good fit for Nordstrom before they joined the company.
Values are not just for employees, you should communicate them to your customers, suppliers, or anyone else you expect to interact with, investors, journalists, bloggers etc.
Absolute clarity is essential, as a minimalist entrepreneur many of the folks you hire, it will be their first job. Defining and communicating your values sets the expectations of how work will be done, how disagreements will be handled within your company. They help hold your team together and provide a path for your team to hold you accountable.
Values become more important than any one individual, they will allow you to scale. You founded your business to control your environment, how you work, where you work, who you work with and who you work for. They will guide when the time comes to make difficult decisions, for example when to drop a product or service from your business offering.
Establishing your company’s culture that aligns with your vision may prove to be harder than developing your product, but it will be more valuable.
People do not change jobs often and they rarely declare that they are thinking of doing so in advance. By communicating your values, you will allow potential applicants for roles within your organization to say this is not the place for me, or for some this is exactly the place for me. Great people will only apply if they see a job matches or exceeds their expectations of what their ideal work life will look like.
From the outset you should seek to hire people who are better than you. They are not there to just implement your vision, but to improve on it based their own interactions with your customers. Consider hiring from the ranks of your customers, you know they are already aligned with your values. Gumroad, a company founded by the Sahil Lavingia gives priority to hiring from their customers.
As entrepreneurs we are often poor at delegating. But this can be improved by developing a higher level of self-awareness. Ask yourself:
- What do I enjoy doing?
- What am I good at? What am I not good at doing?
- What functions would be a relief to pass onto someone else?
- How do I spend most of my time, and is that the right choice?
Once you understand the job you are hiring for you may be able to identify who will be a good fit. But maybe it will still not be clear. That is why it is important to communicate your values and let people come to you. Your job listings should be a filter not a magnet.
If you can do this well, hiring becomes easier, faster and safer. Because you have built your business around your community you are well placed to engage them when it comes to hiring,
In his book Sahil describes in detail how he communicates his business culture within Gumroad. There is not enough time to cover all of this in the time I have available, if you want to learn more the consider buying his book, which once again is the Minimalist Entrepreneur, how great founders do more with less. His methodology is working, as he says Gumroad has 48 employees, and they seem to be happy.
At this point you have achieved success. You have a meaningful business, delivering products your customers value, with employees who share your values and enjoying their time at work. It has not been easy and there have been setbacks along the way, but you have met your personal goals. And it has all come about by building and leveraging your community. What you do next is up to you. But do give yourself the luxury of time. Whether that is time to do something you have always wanted to do, such as take a world cruise, to write that novel you have always known was within you, or to start your next business venture. By following the ideas in The Minimalist Entrepreneur and or the values in Dorie Clark’s the Long View covered in episodes 33 to 36, you can build the business you want not the business everyone else is telling you to build.
For a sample podcast on making the impossible, possible, please use the link below.