06/04/2012 03:16 EDT | Updated 08/04/2012 05:12 EDT

After 10 Years of Business, Here's What I've Learned

June 6th marks a personal milestone for me: It's my company, NKPR's, 10th year anniversary! As we blow out the birthday candles and look forward to the next 10 years, I can't help but pause and take stock. What really stands out the most isn't so much the major moments, it's more that life is a series of small decisions that ultimately guide us along our way and help us find ourselves in the world. And while, of course, I've learned many things specific to my industry, there are some observations I can share that apply to anybody in any business. I think of these as areas of intersection between life and business. A few posts ago, I wrote about work-life integration. These principles really apply to both...

1. The little decisions are the ones that shape you

Sometimes the little times you don't think are anything while they're happening turn out to be what marks a whole period of your life. - Andy Warhol

The big decisions are obvious. You'll labour over them and lose many nights' sleep. But what you might not realize is the significance of small things. I remember a small, pivotal moment one December 23rd: I was asked to coordinate a press conference in Montreal for January 13th. It was over the holidays, suppliers would be closed and I wondered if I could make it happen. I hesitated due to fear. And then ultimately, I said yes. What could easily have been an automatic "no" became a major client. That spirit of saying "yes" even when circumstances are not ideal, even when you half want to run the opposite way is, for me, what the entrepreneurial spirit is all about.

Saying yes, or at least being open to the possibility of saying "yes" has meant many seemingly small decisions yielded unexpected results. There's no way to plan for this, no way to pinpoint what those small decisions will be or how they will impact your life. You can't (and shouldn't) say "yes" to absolutely everything. The most you can demand of yourself is an open mind and follow your gut. If you're saying "no" to something, think about why. Try to think about decisions beyond the small things they represent. If you're the kind of person who talks yourself out of doing things because they're not perfectly ideal, well-timed or you're already too busy, have a fear of failure or success, you may be unknowingly depriving yourself of long-term opportunities and amazing lifelong relationships.

2. You need to constantly evolve

Listening, absorbing information from every possible source, and making those key small decisions, are what help a business evolve. The industry I work in today is markedly different from the one I started out in. Blogs and tweets, Facebook updates, our media has definitely evolved quickly in the last 10 years... Doing something small like starting a Twitter account when it was just a faint rumbling. Or, now, looking ahead to figure out what the next Twitter will be. These are the small decisions we continue to make every day. There's no point at which you can think "okay, I can rest on my laurels now." As the business has grown, the services we provide have changed/evolved too and they'll continue to change in the future and so will we.

So, you definitely can't be narrow-minded in this industry, or in any industry for that matter! Figuring out how and where people were communicating and exchanging information has been key to our success. Today, we manage the online communities of over 75 per cent of our clients -- we wouldn't have even known what that meant 10 years ago! It's important for any business to keep an open mind and remember that you have to stay flexible and ahead of the curve to evolve in the right directions to predict the next big thing.

3. You're not a one-person show

When NKPR started out it was just me and my dear friend and colleague Cat Richens (who is now our director of operations). Many entrepreneurs and small business owners will relate to rallying resources and contacts and making many small decisions working from your home. I was happy there and thought working on a few projects would be just and perfect for me... but life had a different plan!

Ten years later, NKPR is not just me and Cat any more. But while I really believe it's the little decisions that have defined my business, it's not only about my decisions. You really are only as good as the people you work with -- a business is a community. Every team member at NKPR contributes to its success and is invaluable as is every client.

Success is never a one-man show. It's really about a group of people collaborating, creating something bigger than they are out of their unique qualities, working together to harness the best possible potential in each other.

4. Find mentors in unexpected places

Inspiring people are all around and not only in obvious places. I've forged truly inspirational business relationships and friendships in the last 10 years, and I've learned from each and every one of those people, whether it was the blogger who talked passionately about digital media (back when all my clients still only cared about glossy magazines), or individuals like Steven Graham, (formerly the CMO at CIBC, now the Maple Leaf Foods CMO) whose leadership informs and enlightens.

The point is if you're not open to people, you might miss the opportunity to grow, both as a person and a professional. All kinds of relationships shape us for the better and your next two minute conversation could be one of those small moments that transforms you. Never, ever think any person is not worth listening to!

5. Explore ways of giving back

Finally, I really do believe it's important that business owners find ways of giving back. Success is built on the back of a society that enables education, entrepreneurship, healthcare etc. and so I really believe that your success should circle back and make the world a better place. Every year, during the Toronto International Film Festival , we host the IT Lounge (a charity gifting suite) and it's definitely one of the hardest weeks of our work year... high pressure, high profile and long, long days. But, it was also through the IT Lounge that I met Paul Haggis and became part of The Artists for Peace and Justice (APJ) Advisory Board.Of all the opportunities seemingly small decisions have yielded, the opportunity to give back has made me most proud.

To start and run a business you have to be ambitious... it's a heart and soul operation. But, for me, ambition never meant cutthroat business principles. If I have one core message it's that you can achieve things you dreamed of, including business success, without losing sight of integrity and honesty and that passion that got you going in the first place. Many blog posts ago, I wrote my FIVE I AMs. In a sense, they could also be NKPR's I AMs. Being open to people and to ideas - it's how I approach both my LIFE and my BUSINESS... because those small decisions really can shape your entire life. And it's in that same spirit of openness that I look forward to the next 10 years!

xo Natasha