When M&R turned 10, I reflected on what we learned along the way. It’s hard to believe another 5 years have passed and we are celebrating M&R’s 15th year in business. As we approach this milestone, I sat down again to reflect on what these years have meant and how Nick and I have been shaped by the joys and difficulties of being small business owners.
#1: Humility Allows for Accountability
One of the greatest signs of a healthy team is accountability. It creates trust in each other, gives space for difficult conversations, and keeps everyone aligned and moving forward together. When ego is involved, accountability shrinks.
#2: It Won’t Go Exactly As Planned
Ever. Sometimes it goes better than planned, sometimes not as well, and sometimes it goes somewhere completely different. A great example is 2020, the COVID year, when our marketing plan, goals, and strategy were scrapped. There’s just not a blueprint for half the stuff you encounter while running a small business. But, if I’m being honest, that’s also what makes small business ownership so much fun. You can be agile, quickly adapt, and gather your whole team within minutes and set a new path.
#3: Resiliency is a Superpower
Adapt, adapt, adapt! You could argue that’s the mantra of small business. Possessing the ability to bounce back from adversity with determination and focus is truly a superpower and one of our greatest weapons. And when you have an entire team who share this mentality, literally anything is possible.
#4: There’s Nothing Wrong with Slow and Steady
We started M&R in 2008, and for the first 3 years it was just me and Nick. We had other jobs while we moonlighted with M&R. Then we gained enough clients for Nick to go full-time, then a few months later we had enough clients for me to follow.
Initially, our mantra was “hire when it hurts,” and we would work in each department until the workload was too great, and then we would hire for that department. First it was a developer, then a designer, then an account manager, and then a copywriter. Over the years, new departments were formed and new positions were created, and we are now able to hire proactively. We never borrowed a dime until purchasing our downtown office. Even then, we renovated the downstairs in 2016 and the upstairs in 2020.
#5: Focus on the Intangibles When Hiring
A developer must be capable of building complex websites, and a digital strategist must understand strategy and cross-channel promotions, but just as importantly, they must fit within our culture. We call it being RIIP, pronounced “ripe.” RIIP are our core values (relational, insightful, innovative, and passionate) and we do our best to discover a candidate’s ripeness during our interviews. It’s why we have multiple rounds of interviews, pay them to work a day at the office, and share meals with them and our senior team prior to offering the position. We’ve learned that finding the right culture fit is one of the most important jobs I have within HR.
#6: Be Replaceable
Three years ago, with the help of our business coach, we implemented the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), and we run all our meeting rhythms, planning, and goal setting through EOS. One of the major components is called “delegate and elevate,” and the goal is to focus on what you do best and delegate your weaknesses to others who excel in those areas. It’s allowed me and Nick to step out of production, account management, and creative direction, and focus on operations. In every delegation, we’ve found our replacements are more capable than us.
#7: Having Fun is Not a Waste of Time or Money
We keep an active social calendar, both during work hours and outside of them. If I were to calculate our hourly rate by our number of employees, a half-day pool party for July 4th or a three-hour costume contest and Halloween party will “cost” us over $10,000 each, and I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. For us, we’ve learned that when we carve out time to enjoy each other and break from work, our team is healthier, our work is more creative, and, honestly, life is just better. I don’t want to work somewhere that’s all work and no fun, and I assume no one else does.
#8: Risks are Less Risky with a Great Team
There are times when running a small business is a bit like speeding along a winding, mountain road in the rain, while blindfolded. There are risks you take to get to where you need to go, but when you have an excellent team of committed leaders, the risk is mitigated.
#9: Failure Can Be a Great Teacher
We’ve made mistakes. Some were minor and some were not. But I’ve learned that if you take the time to properly evaluate how the mistake was made with the people who made it, failure becomes valuable. Maybe you identify a missing process or procedure, expose a gap in knowledge, or reveal the need for new hires. If you’re willing to be vulnerable and trust your team, you can learn a lot in failure.
#10: Take Time to Celebrate
Business is no different than life – if you don’t take time to celebrate your wins, you’ll overly focus on the losses. We celebrate every month in our full-team meeting. We call it “Reply All,” because it started as a long monthly email. We meet to look at the calendar for staff meals and gatherings, acknowledge work anniversaries and birthdays, discuss volunteer opportunities for the month, and nominate team members for being “RIIP,” meaning they exhibited a core value in a very specific way. Our monthly celebration reminds us that the work we do, and the people we do it with, matter.
#11: Processes are Like Super Glue
It’s boring, but processes hold everything together. Over the last 3 years, we’ve identified and defined every core process for our company, department by department. It’s a manual that keeps us all aligned. I’ve learned that the more you can standardize and make “boring,” the more time you have to be creative.
#12: Keep Score
Every department at M&R has a scorecard that is reviewed weekly. They measure the most important numbers for their individual department. Time has proven that you’re more likely to achieve your goals when you track them.
#13: Make Decisions Based on Your Values
When you establish authentic values, you have confidence to use them to make decisions. We hire based on our values, we evaluate based on our values, and we choose the clients we work with based on our values. Our values have been especially helpful during difficult times. When COVID turned everything upside down, we focused heavily on our core value of being “relational” and worked tirelessly to support our clients and our team as we entered new territory.
#14: Hard Work is the Great Equalizer
I’ve yet to find a substitute for hard work, and it truly levels the playing field. This was especially true when we were just starting out in the 2008 recession, and we didn’t have a portfolio of work or client base to lean on. So, we decided to out-work everyone and gave aways gobs of free work during the proposal phases to close deals. That work ethic has become the backbone of M&R and is shared by the entire team.
#15: Trust above the Rest
At the core of every lesson I’ve learned, there is trust. For me and Nick personally, it starts with our trust in Christ. He is our foundation, and we have prayed for M&R and our team every day, literally, for the last 15 years. This foundational faith allows us to control what we can and release the rest. We also have trust in each other – I trust Nick as much as I trust myself, and we make all our major decisions together. And of course, it’s trust in the M&R team and the advisors we’ve built over the years.
Here’s to 15 More
It’s hard to visualize the next 15 years. My sons will be 25, 27, and 29, and maybe 1 of them will be working with me. I’ll be 57. Kim and I will celebrate our 33rd wedding anniversary. Nick and I will be closer than we are today and he’ll be preparing his oldest son for college. M&R will look different, and it’ll be hard to reduce the lessons learned down to 30, but I’ll enjoy trying.
From all of us at M&R, we are eternally grateful to everyone who has helped share M&R over the last 15 years. From past employers, former M&R employees, our current team, the countless advisors and mentors, our families who supported our decisions to quit jobs and start something from nothing, and all the amazing clients who have entrusted us with their business and allowed us to work alongside you – thank you. This is your story, too.