What I've learned as an entrepreneur...so far

There’s a great quote from Abraham Lincoln that I’m pretty sure any entrepreneur can relate to. “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” Owning a business often means it’s down to you to care the most, work the hardest, uncover every opportunity and grab it with both hands. As Lincoln might say, to be the person who hustles and changes the status quo, not the one who waits.

But something I’ve learned is that seizing the chance to make a difference – the answer I usually give when someone asks me ‘why did you become an entrepreneur?’ – it is only part of it. And it certainly doesn’t mean being a control freak. Trusting colleagues to run with things is vital too. Otherwise, you end up being a bottleneck, stopping your own business from growing.

Personally speaking, it took a while for that penny to drop – and I still battle with it daily. I’ve spent countless hours down in the weeds of projects that others were perfectly capable of handling or trying to fix every little problem. Even now, I catch myself obsessing over minute details ahead of a board meeting despite the fact the colleagues I’m presenting to don’t need (nor want!) to hear them.

How to relinquish control is just one of many things I’ve learned since launching Sempre nearly seven years ago. There are loads of other hacks that have, collectively, made a real difference to my working life. A lot of them are relatively simple and what follows is not meant as some kind of revolutionary recipe for success. But I do hope that sharing them might be useful for other business owners. Besides, if nothing else, it will serve as a good reminder to myself to abide by them!

Remember Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’s easy to rush as an entrepreneur. To think you have to achieve all those big goals and ambitions right here, right now. A great piece of advice I received was to be realistic in what I can accomplish each day and break down big projects and long-term goals into smaller steps. That way, you can focus on incremental change without getting caught up trying to do too much at once. This bite-sized approach also makes it much easier to bring your team on the journey with you – what some experts refer to as embracing the power of one. Plus, you’ll have lots of mini-successes to celebrate along the way, which is great for momentum and self-confidence!

Turn off. Don’t get me wrong, technology is great. In fact, my own business wouldn’t exist without it. But it can also be distracting. I’ve turned off all notifications, bleeps, noises and flashes on my phone, so I’m not a slave to the bombardment of incoming messages, and I’ve started only checking emails at certain times of the day. As well as being seriously liberating, this has helped me focus better on the task at hand and be more productive. When I turn off, colleagues know to come and chat to me for anything urgent and the worst that's happened so far is missing a meeting that someone booked in without telling me (despite sitting three yards away!). I’ve also stopped taking my phone into meetings, which has led to much better, more effective time spent – for everyone.

Beware decision fatigue. In his book called The Organised Mind, Daniel Levitin says: "Our brains are configured to make a certain number of decisions per day and once we reach that limit, we can’t make any more, regardless of how important they are.” So, one thing I’ve started doing is lining up the important decisions at the beginning of the day. That means I tackle them when my mind is at its sharpest. The stuff that requires less brainpower comes after – right down to packing my work bag and laying out my clothes the night before. It sounds like a small thing, but I’ve found it makes a big difference, especially when I’m getting out the door in the morning!

Don’t double dip. This comes back to the control thing. If you insist on trying to do colleagues’ work for them it will: a) mean your own workload soon runs out of control; and b) be very demotivating for them. As our non-exec director recently told me, my job is to work on the business, not in the business. Hard as it can be, it’s vital to let go and give people the space, trust and power to do their jobs – and, of course, I’m lucky the team at Sempre are more than good enough to do it. I’ve also started establishing certain key tolerances on particular processes. If any of those are breached, I want to know, Otherwise I don’t need to. Check out this great blog from Nick Thistleton describing leaders as being the safety car behind a pack of Formula 1 drivers.

Take a breath. Whether it’s going to the gym or taking a stroll at lunch, finding time to step away from it all is massively important – even if what you’re stepping away from is your own business. I find an hour away doing something non-work related actually saves me time as I come back refreshed, alert and far more productive. Same goes for my drive to the office. Instead of checking my phone when I wake up, a friend suggested I wait until I’m at my desk. So, now I have 40 minutes listening to music, enjoying driving and thinking things through. That means I’m not reacting to things before I even get to the office and, interestingly, this tends to be the time when the ideas flow best too. And if you’re worried about colleagues getting frustrated that you haven’t replied to their email by the time they get in, I can honestly say no-one on the team even noticed the change!

Embrace the admin. Let’s face it, few, if any, business owners are in it for the admin. But from payroll and invoicing to filing your tax return, the big little stuff is what makes a business go around. I’m not a naturally detail-oriented person, so a colleague recently suggested I try having an Admin Day every week where I don’t book in meetings. And while, yes, I don’t particularly enjoy those days and tend to drink more tea than is good for me, it definitely takes the pressure off the rest of the week. Plus, it helps with expectation-setting as team members know I'll cover actions on a set day.

Finally: keep learning. You may have noticed lots of my hacks came from people around me, and I guess that’s the most important thing. Even as a business owner, where your company can feel like your child, you can’t always know best. In fact, always being open to learning from others is a major part of being successful. Which means, of course, I'd love to hear your hacks too...

Special thanks to Derek Flynn, Alex Winchester and Fiona Talbot for giving me some of the tips included here.