My start as a business owner and agency founder began by negotiating the purchase of a media buying department—that I was leading—from my employer. I named the company Tipping Point Media after my love of Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point about how little things can bring big change. Five years later, I co-founded a public relations firm called Tipping Point Public Relations to offer PR and social media to clients. The two companies were run separately for a while, but they eventually merged into the current company, Tipping Point Communications. After the pandemic, I purchased a digital creative firm called Facehead Digital and brought them into the fold.
When I started, I was a business owner with no experience with profit and loss (P&L) statements or balance sheets, so there was definitely a learning curve in understanding how those two things work together to inform the health of the business. My first struggle was understanding that net profits on a P&L don’t provide a complete financial story of the company. So, I spent a lot of time with my accounting firm to understand the relationship between each report and set up key performance indicators (KPIs) to gauge progress. We also did year- round tax planning since it’s entirely different for a business owner. If it weren’t for my relationship with the accounting firm, my business could have just been another statistic. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 20% of new businesses fail during their first two years, 45% fail during the first five years, and 65% fail during the first 10 years. I remember thinking, ‘Okay, how do I make it through the first two years?’ Once I crossed that hurdle, I created a strategic plan for the next few years, and so on.
There are a lot of challenges in starting a business. There’s the financial decisions and daily responsibilities of payroll and HR, but then there’s going from the employee to the owner. Many people underestimate how isolating that can become. This is especially true when you're working with employees who were formally your peers. Also, bringing the business pressures home to your spouse and kids isn’t ideal. It can really take a toll on your family dynamic. That's when I realized it was time to look for a business owners peer group. Vistage Worldwide is the one I joined. This was a game changer. I could let the team be the team, protect my family, and have my own group of people with whom could commiserate, celebrate, and learn from.
This to me is the value of a peer group. They don't have to be in your industry. You're in a group with people who face similar challenges, though they're all at varying stages of ownership. Some of them may have a startup, some of them have owned their company for 25-30 years. You may think you're in it alone, but every single one of those peers has gone through—or is about to go through—exactly what you're going through. It helps you get through the challenges quicker if you're a good listener and you take heed from their past experiences. You can also have confidence that the advice you're getting is unbiased; members have nothing to gain other than helping you grow as a leader. Plus, it’s nice to have a group of cheerleaders who are determined to help you to succeed.
1. I think the most important one would have been to become a better listener. When you’re first put into a leadership position, many people think that they need to have all the answers. That assumption originates from the belief that you want people to be confident you are running a successful business. But if I was a better listener in the beginning, I don't think I would have made so many personnel mistakes. Very often we keep people too long because we don't hear what's happening in the organization. We get fairly removed from the day-to-day and people stop confiding in you. But when someone does muster up the courage, you need to listen.
2. The importance of establishing a peer group relationship, whether it's structured a membership, or creating your own group of trusted advisors is key I underestimated the power of joining a group. In college I was not a member of a sorority. I didn’t join a country club. It was a long time before I learned the value of industry trade associations, local business clubs or the Chamber of Commerce. I totally misread the value of those types of group organizations.
3. You should have a strong relationship with your accountant, and you should interview until you find the right match for you. An accountant has to be patient enough to educate you on the consequences of your decisions, and they have to be strong enough to stand up to you to guide you.
4. Find a lawyer you can call when you need help and one that responds immediately. You should have an established relationship so you're not looking for an attorney when you need an employment agreement, or one to review a contract. It’s important to have that relationship in place from day one, because in the moment, everybody is busy and it’s hard to get their attention if it’s for a one-off project.
5. I wish I had talked with some established business owners before diving headlong into starting a business. I would’ve asked what it takes to be a parent, a spouse, a team leader, and to take care of myself all at the same time. I wasn’t doing any of it well for at least a few years. Mainly because I thought I had to be super woman at all times; the stress of it all really started impacting my relationships. Finally, one of my clients told me that work-life balance is an unrealistic ideal; that today we need to think about each day as work-life integration. This approach doesn’t turn one part of your life “off” to benefit the other. Be present with your family when it matters most and learn to find pockets of time to do what you need to do to keep connected with work responsibilities.