A week in the life of AIE during the first years is a study on priorities and creativity.
There were two general focuses (foci?) that were battling for importance each week – short-term vs. long-term, or billing work to survive vs. laying a business foundation. Also, there was the daily faith that had to be mustered to believe we would survive on what little return we saw in the beginning. A lot of emotional energy is spent by start-up entrepreneurs while riding the “Did I make a career mistake?” roller-coaster.
We had a lot of time to talk theory, because time was the most plentiful and least expensive resource during that early period.
Looking back, a week in the life should have been spent strategizing more on how to gain business.
That would have made surviving a little easier and the theory a little more practical. We did not have a service catalog of the ten things we were willing to do. This lack of definition was mostly born out of the false assumption that we would limit ourselves out of doing Service #11 when an opportunity arose. At the same time, I believe we lost some opportunity to get focused on the core services and really go after the market.
Jeremy and I, as a team, are creative in delivering solutions, but selling the service “we can make it happen” is not that easy.
“We can make it happen” is a great quality in a business, but as the business matures, we have to have repeatable processes for efficiency's sake. As a business takes on more employees, they have less authority to “make it happen” and more responsibility toward following process. So, as a business, I have to be very aware that I must be more process-oriented to give the employees a more comfortable working environment. It is the equivalent of putting up reasonable boarders. We still want the spirit of “we can make it happen,” but now there has to be a process behind achieving that goal.
One week of sitting down and putting our ten services on paper would probably have accelerated our success.
I do not doubt if we had done that exercise, someone still would have asked us if we did Service #11, at which time we still could have said yes.
In summary, a week in the life of AIE during the first couple years was a time of learning survival tactics and being creative. It was also a time of being unfocused and too theoretical.
I would encourage those who are starting up any business endeavor to sit down and write out what you offer. Spend two-thirds of your day scratching out your living doing what you planned, but spend one-third of the time really laying an appropriate foundation for the grand future you believe is out there. You will have to admit that to do this properly, sometimes your work day may be 16 hours long.
I had some fun with this one.
Instead of trying to rely on my shaky memory to recall what took place, I went back to the facts.
I was able to pull up archived spreadsheets, emails and other documents to piece together the story from 2009 when we went full time. Small business owners tend to think in lump sums when there are fewer people involved, so I didn’t necessarily think about the fact that I was managing a number of departments back then. And, regardless of the size of a business, every department exists and must function effectively in order to grow appropriately.
So, in essence, I was heading up and executing on all back-end operations.
This included the daily management of all sales, marketing, accounting, operations, human resources and legal matters. Every day required decisions from financial to manpower decisions, as well as operational and strategic decisions regarding the direction of the company. In some senses, this was exhilarating, having the blank canvas. In other senses, there was a weight of responsibility to perform in order to provide for our families and the future of the company.
These decisions are only accelerating. Only, now the decisions come at us faster and tend to be much larger in scale.
While decision-making continues, we now have more people, processes and tools in place to manage the day-to-day tasks—something for which I am extremely grateful!