THE BLOG

7 Business Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

10/24/2013 08:26 EDT | Updated 12/24/2013 05:12 EST

The adage "hindsight is 20/20" is popular for a reason. Every one of us, from business owners to political leaders to 10th graders, have fixated on events in our past and uttered the words: "If only I knew then what I know now." For entrepreneurs, the impulse for retrospective musings tends to be strong. I'm certainly no different.

While I'm ecstatic about the progress of Search Engine People and the position our company is in, there are things I wish I had known when I started out. In honour of Small Business Week, I've decided to organize my reflections on it now, and would like to share with you the top 7 things I would tell my former self about growing a small business. I hope my hindsight may help those who are just now embarking down this path.

1. Understand your goal

As an entrepreneur, nothing is more important than understanding what the goal is for your business. Do you want to be a small, mom-and-pop shop? Do you aspire to grow your company into a mid-sized business? Or are you swinging for the fences with ambitions to go public? Have a clear vision of what you want to accomplish, because it's going to dramatically impact what you have to be prepared to do to get your business there.

2. Understand that bigger size means bigger problems

Bigger is not necessarily better. Whatever the goal for your company, understand that more people means more headaches and less sleep. If you want to grow your company to 100 full-time employees, know that it will affect all aspects of your life. Yes, as a result of growth you will hire people to manage employees, but you'll care about every one of them, respect their ideas and contributions, and won't want to lose them. So ultimately it becomes a game of dominos in that everything you do impacts others in ways you couldn't have conceived of initially.

3. Technology is easier to scale than people

Scaling people requires scaling management as well, which is never an easy feat. Someone may be remarkable at their job, but this talent doesn't necessarily transfer to the management of people. Technology is something you can scale with a degree of predictability and consistency that isn't possible with people. Therefore if your objective is to grow to become a large company or go public, technology is a must in this day and age.

4. Let everybody work to their strengths

Passion always produces the best results. If someone is passionate about something they will always do a better job than they would on something they are apathetic about (or something they hate, for that matter). Similarly, people will perform better when they are given the freedom to play to their strengths as opposed to struggling through a project that is outside of their element. If you ensure that your employees are working on things they are talented in and passionate about, the output will be better 100 per cent of the time.

5. You need time away from your business

In order to think about your business objectively, sometimes you need to take a step back. When you're embedded in it every second of every day, you don't have perspective. You're too close to the chalkboard, so to speak. Vacations, sleep, exercise, walks -- they're absolutely critical. Allowing yourself time away from your business will help you keep the creative juices flowing, maintain a logical perspective and ultimately increase your effectiveness as a business owner.

6. Find people that are better than you

Always strive to hire employees that are better than you at basically everything you do, and give them responsibility. This is a lesson I learned in my early days as an entrepreneur. I was struggling to program with HTML, and realized I needed somebody who was far better at it than I was in order to increase productivity. In fact, this individual was Search Engine People's first employee, apart from myself. The point is, always, always look for people who are better than you are, because they can do a better job than you ever could.

7. Make sure everybody is accountable for objective results

Objective results are a team driver and allow every participant in your company's journey to better understand their contribution. You should be providing your people with regular feedback that provides them with a clear understanding of how they're doing in relation to those objective results. People work better when they can see the direction, know their role in getting there and see the clear results of their efforts.

The great thing about retrospect is that it allows you and others to learn from the mistakes you've made. While every business owner will have different experiences and face unique challenges, some are widely applicable, and in my experience, no less true now than when I first began building Search Engine People into the company it is today. No doubt in a few more years, I'll have a lot more retrospective wisdom to share.

Jeff Quipp is an expert on digital marketing. He is the founder and CEO of Search Engine People Inc. (SEP), Canada's largest digital marketing firm, which has been on the PROFIT 100 ranking of Canada's Fastest Growing Companies for the past five consecutive years and named one of PROFIT Magazine's 50 Fastest Growing Companies in the Greater Toronto Area. Follow Jeff on Twitter at @jquipp.