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25 lessons I’ve learned in 25 years

anita-nelson

March 1st marked my 25-year anniversary of owning IN Food Marketing & Design. Honestly, I had no idea when I started out that I would be fortunate enough to still be in business all these years later. As the date approached, I found myself getting a little sentimental and reflecting on what I’ve learned over the past 2 and a half decades. In no particular order:

  1. Be curious. Ask questions and bring a sense of curiosity to every interaction and endeavor. It will force you to keep learning and growing, and you’ll be amazed at some of the crazy and interesting things you’ll learn.
  2. Practice gratitude. I use the time when I’m walking from my car into the office each day to reflect on my blessings. It helps me bring a positive energy into my workday.
  3. Be mindful of finances. Making business decisions on a wing and a prayer is not an effective strategy. Understand financial metrics and apply them rigorously.
  4. Have a strong support network. Let’s face it. As a business owner, there are days that are really, really hard. Having business advisors, family and friends who you can freely share and process with makes all the difference.
  5. Follow your gut. Every single time I’ve ignored my gut, I’ve regretted it. I once lost hours of sleep tossing and turning over someone I was about to hire, and still went ahead with it. Yep, bad decision!
  6. Be true to yourself. Walk your own path, at your own pace, in your own time. Fight the urge to compare yourself and stay focused on what is right for you.
  7. Have fun. If I had a nickel for every belly laugh and silly moment over the years, I could retire very comfortably today. Take your work seriously but make sure you’re having fun doing it.
  8. Listen well. As a business skill, there’s almost nothing more important than really listening to the people around you. Stephen Covey’s quote sums it up well: “Seek to understand before being understood.”
  9. Show appreciation. No one in business is successful without the help of clients, employees, partners and advisors. Be intentional about showing appreciation on a regular basis.
  10. Take risks. Some of the best decisions I’ve made have been the riskiest ones, like rebranding as a food agency in 2008. Did it close some doors? Absolutely. But it’s opened many, many more.
  11. Be humble, but not modest. It can be uncomfortable to receive accolades or talk about successes, especially as a woman. But to be competitive in business, it’s important that we share our positive news.
  12. Be true to your word. This is at the heart of what integrity is all about: just doing what you say you’re going to do. It’s one of the key factors in building trust with clients, team members and vendor partners.
  13. Give back. Find ways to bring your time, talents and resources to your community to make your purpose bigger than just financial success. Giving back 5% of our profits to hunger-relief efforts has enriched our agency in so many positive ways.
  14. Be kind. By this, I don’t mean we always have to be “nice,” but I do believe we can always choose to be kind. Over the years, I’ve had to let many people go, both for performance and financial reasons. Bringing empathy and kindness to those conversations has made all the difference.
  15. Invest in people. Great people are the most valuable assets of any business. Helping them grow and develop is one of the smartest things you can invest in. I love the anecdote about the CFO who was worried that employees would leave the company after getting expensive training. The CEO replied, “yes, but what if we don’t and they stay?”
  16. Make courageous choices. Whether it’s saying “yes” to an opportunity that takes you out of your comfort zone or saying “no” to a piece of business that isn’t quite right, I’ve found the universe always seems to reward choices that require a bit of courage.
  17. Make time to think. Great ideas generally don’t emerge in a sea of “doing.” They arise when you allow yourself the space and time to take a step back and ponder.
  18. Empower people. We accomplish A LOT at our agency every day, and it is so true that people will rise to the level of the expectations you set for them. I’m blown away on a regular basis by the great thinking and ideas of my team members.
  19. Admit when you’re wrong. As a leader, you’re probably going to be wrong… a lot. Own it, apologize, and make it a point to learn from it and do better the next time around.
  20. Love your space. You spend 40-50 hours a week in your office. Make it a place you like to be in. My office is filled with plants, flowers, inspirational quotes, favorite photos –and usually a calming essential oil wafting from my diffuser.
  21. It’s ok to change your mind. Over the years, I’ve had ideas that seemed fantastic one day, then awful the next. If possible, give yourself time to reflect on it. If not, give yourself permission to change your mind.
  22. Be clear about your values. When you know what you stand for, making decisions becomes really, really easy. I love that our values have permeated our organization so much that we reference them in our Slack shoutouts.
  23. Challenges lead to resilience. It seems cliché, but tough times really do make us much stronger. If you can remember that as you’re going through the sh*t, and know there is an amazing lesson to be learned, it really does help.
  24. Good clients are priceless. Over the years, we’ve been blessed to have some absolutely fantastic clients who are collaborative, transparent, receptive and appreciative. They are the true gems who make this business so fun and rewarding. Make sure to have a good vetting process in place so you bring on the great ones.
  25. Celebrate successes! Too often, we forget to celebrate our achievements, large and small. Take a moment to raise a toast to your successes. And to all the clients, partners, employees, family and friends who have been part of our journey, thank you for making it a wonderful 25 years!

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