6 Years, 6 Lessons

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“Life is a journey, not a destination.”― Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have to pinch myself when I think that Ali Specialties has been in business for six years. When I started the company from my home in 2009 I had no idea what to expect. Blood, sweat, and tears have gone into the success of this company. Not to mention countless hours. I have had so many positive life changing experiences as a result. Inevitably, there have been plenty of tough lessons learned along the way. There have been days when I felt like I was on top of the world and there have been moments when I questioned everything I was doing. No matter which way I look at it, there is nothing that I would trade for this experience.

Here are the top six lessons I have learned in the past six years.

1. Have Defined Guidelines – When I started Ali Specialties, I wanted the environment in the office to be one that emphasized hard work yet was also relaxed at the same time. At first, I didn’t enforce any strict guidelines or even have contracts or handbooks. That was until the company started to grow. As I look back now, I have learned that people not only respect, but thrive on rules and regulations. They appreciate clearly defined rules. I have found that the team prefers to know what is expected of them, and they want to feel like they are being protected. Having one unruly employee does not only affect the owner and the company – it affects even your most productive, loyal employees.
My advice is to set strict guidelines from the very conception of your company. You can always ease up as you go forward, or reward the team members that are going above and beyond the call of duty. But you can never get more strict. A fun, upbeat company culture is a result of thriving business, advancing roles and challenges, and an increase in pay. This can only be accomplished by setting very strong ground rules from day one. Do not be afraid of looking like the bad guy.

2. Learn to Reinvent Yourself – When the company had only 50 clients it was very easy for us to get out and see them all. However, as we have grown we have had to determine the best way to be accessible to our nearly 600 clients. We are revamping our website (coming soon!) to reflect a more personal approach, we launched a newsletter to share our journey with our clients, and we will be hosting an annual party to show appreciation to our clients. Additionally, we have developed a method to keep track of how quickly our quotes and emails are going out. If and when we feel like we are getting spread too thin, we hire on some additional support to ensure that our clients are receiving the absolute best service. They deserve nothing less.

3. Make a Decision – As a business owner, there will always be things that we want to implement, but sometimes fear of the unknown holds us back. If there is one thing I have learned this past year, it is that making no decision is the worst decision you can make. All of your decisions might not be perfect, but there is only one way to find out. I have never regretted making a decision. It has either turned out to be a very positive choice which led to massive results- or even in the worst case scenario- I have learned an invaluable lesson. When you put your mind to something, give it your all. Never let fear get in the way. But above all, always make a decision.

4. Lead by Example – I like to have complete transparency in the office. I share my visions, goals, and even my calendar with the team. I like to let everyone (including our clients) in on exactly what we are trying to accomplish. If you want to have a successful company, you must think, act and work every single day in order to achieve that success. You must also have an enthusiastic and upbeat mentality and demonstrate a constant sense of hustle if you want your team to follow suit. Sometimes the worst thing that can happen is that you hit your goals and become too complacent. Do not ever get too comfortable with success. Make a plan to grow. Whether it is developing a new territory or increasing your sales force; if you are not continuously growing in business you are shrinking.

5. Every Order Counts – There are times when I will receive an email and the customer will apologize for giving us “a small order.” I immediately tell them that there is no order too large or too small. Every order counts and every person counts! You never know who the recipient of the order is going to be. This person can end up at a Fortune 500 company, or they could end up being an ambassador of our brand. They could eventually pass along a referral to someone else or they might just continue to order 72 mugs a year. Either way, every order should be treated with importance no matter how big or small.

6. Learn as You Go – I recently met with my CPA to determine the best way to enhance our commission structure. My aim is to inspire the team to focus more on increasing our annual sales revenue. Sales people thrive on commission incentives, so we want to put together an aggressive and motivating structure. I explained to him my hesitations and how it is very difficult to know what is going to work and what isn’t. He immediately stopped me in my tracks and said “Everyone who starts a business has to learn through trial and error.” This was a great reminder that everyone who starts a company goes through these kinds of trials and tribulations. It is all part of the journey. I immediately felt more willing to make a decision. No one knows what is going to be successful until they try. Don’t beat yourself up and be willing to learn as you go. It’s okay to fail, as long as you are willing to make adjustments as needed.

I know I said six lessons, but I would like to end with one last word of advice. Enjoy the Ride! No one makes its out of this life alive, so you might as well enjoy all that life throws your way. Challenges will arise, goals will be met, and lessons will be learned. Enjoy whatever happens to come your way. I feel truly blessed by this experience and to be surrounded by such an amazing team and inspiring clients. Inevitably, there are days that challenge me to the point that I question what all of this hard work is for, but I quickly refocus and remember how far I have come and this mentality helps me to be more grateful for all that we have accomplished.

Is there a lesson that you have learned as an entrepreneur and would like to share? I would love to hear from you!

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