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12 Crucial Lessons I Learned About Business In 12 Months

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12 Crucial Lessons I Learned About Business In 12 Months

2014 was a huge step in my life. Me. Josh Coffy. A 22-year-old (yes, I finally admitted my age) kid with black, thick-framed glasses, who dropped out of college to pursue business—a very dangerous game, seeing as 80% of businesses fail in the first 18 months. To most people, that’s a big risk.  To me, it was an adventure. [Insert Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit 1] Going on an Adventure In a small town of 28,000 people, the chance of failing in a startup business was high. Budgets were tight, the economy wasn’t great, and selling marketing & advertising services without a portfolio didn’t make me a top priority to local businesses. However, despite having massive odds against me, I made 2014 the best year of my life. Over the course of the last 12 months, I managed to build a team of 2 full-time employees & 3 part-time sub-contractors, launch my first Twitter course, travel all over the United States, create a high-retention, recurring clientele base, and experience excessive happiness on a daily basis. (Very important) All that said, through much trial and error, I finally got to the point of seeing healthy, abundant growth for Flight Media. My goal of this post is to save you from the many mistakes I made and hopefully inspire you to be the best business-person you can be. Here are 12 crucial lessons I learned about business in 12 months:

1. Choose Your Entity Wisely

When I first started Flight Media LLC, I happily went 50-50 with one of my best friends. This was the largest mistake I ever made. When you're 50-50, there isn't a single person who can make a final decision. Arguments become stalemates, leadership styles tend to differ and one partner always does a little more than the other. Within 3 months, we knew it wasn't working out. The company wasn't worth much, but tension was still created, I lost my best friend, I had to pay back a $6,380 loan that was my ex-partner's, and I had to pick up the pieces of the company. (Flight Media) It was a rough time, but Flight Media pulled through and grew massively from it.

2. Don’t Look for Employees (Let them find you)

I'm a big thinker. I like to prepare for hiring people before I need them, so I collect as many applications as possible through Elance, career-resume websites, Facebook advertising, and social media ahead of time. Unfortunately, every time I try to force it, I fail. I typically end up with nothing to show, but hours of wasted interviews and many unqualified people who wouldn't fit our team. The only times, however, that things work out is when I continue business as usual and keep my eye out for 'that person' who has the integrity, personality and skill I'm looking for.

3. Create an Inbound Strategy Now

January of 2014 was the first time I decided to take 'inbound marketing' (or content marketing) seriously. I began blogging on a daily basis and was able to increase Flight Media's blog traffic from 5,416 visitors during 6 months in 2013 to 85,978 total visitors in 2014. From that, we generated over 3,000 leads (email subscribers) and boosted revenue dramatically. Here's what our Google Analytics looked like for 2014 vs 2013: 2013 vs 2014 Traffic We would've never captured that many leads, had we not started inbound marketing--which brings me to the next crucial lesson that I learned.

4. Email Marketing = Money

If you have an email 'list', then you have an advantage to someone who doesn't. It's quite magical, really. At the push of a button (literally), you can make sales. Whether you want to sell your services or products, you can instantly do it to hundreds, if not thousands of people at a time. I usually push my Twitter Course every 2-3 months. It brings in $1,200+ every time. (And it only takes 15 minutes to write the email.) Just remember, like good ole' Uncle Ben from Spiderman 1 used to say: with-great-power-comes-great-responsibility Don't sell your products or services on a regular basis. Send them relevant stories and offer great content (refer to #3), so when you do swing that right hook, you land it every time. Recommended Read: 13 List Building Strategies (You Haven't Thought Of)

5. Create Recurring Services or Products

This is the most profitable lesson I learned. One-off services are great; they boost sales quickly. But recurring revenue is better. It helps eliminate doubt as to 'where the next project is coming from' and allows you to focus on establishing great relationships with your current customers to maximize retention and referrals. Something to keep in mind: Invoicing is different than Billing. One is guaranteed on a certain date and the other is upon payment. We used to invoice on the 1st of every month, but would receive invoice payments scattered throughout the month. Now, with PaySimple, our clients are invoiced the first time, but automatically get debited on the 1st of each month after that--no late payments. Here's what one of our PaySimple dashboards looks like: PaySimple Recurring Example Note: We just recently began using PaySimple and have loved it. We're now switching to Infusionsoft for it's advanced marketing and billing capabilities. PaySimple is ~$35 and Infusionsoft is ~$299.

6. Scalability Requires Preparation

Scaling Flight Media to a large company has been a vision from Day 1. I figured it was as easy as booking enough work to fill my 40-hour week, then hiring someone to handle those clients while I handled sales, and so on. Boy, was I wrong.  Duplicating your skill and passion is close to impossible. In the 1st quarter of 2014, I went through 5 different team members. In the last 6 months, I've only hired 2. (Finally..) 8-) I used to start searching for someone as soon as the work came--proving to be a huge mistake. In order to scale your team, you need to begin preparing for them ahead of time, so when the work comes, you're ready for it. Creating lists of tasks they would handle, estimating training time, and calculating new costs (email, CRM, equipment, etc.) is essential. It helps minimize stress and allows for a smoother transition.

7. Cultivate Happy Employees 

In terms of Flight Media's success, I'm going to greatly attribute it to our team. Without the people behind the scenes, we wouldn't be here. I made it my #1 priority to cultivate a positive environment for Flight Media's employees from the start--which paid off. In fact, our team often Skypes & emails on weekends and evenings just to discuss things we're working on. Team Meeting 2014 Side-Note: During our 2015 planning session in December, our goal for all new employees is for 'everyone to love Mondays.' Surrounded by a culture of people who dread Mondays, we figured that if we could cultivate an environment where people>do love them, then we've succeeded. So far, so good.

8. Don’t Gain 15 Pounds

Sadly, I gained 15 pounds in 2014. It was the year that I've done the most 'sitting' in my life. I've always been a pretty active guy, but sitting in a computer chair all day was strenuous on my health. Luckily, I came up with these 21 fitness hacks and have started losing weight. I learned that being inactive is not only bad for your health, but it makes you feel horrible about yourself--affecting your mindset throughout the day. I recommend getting a Fitbit. They work wonders for your motivation.

9. Travel More Often

As a business owner, 40-hour weeks are a thing of the past. There is no 9-5. There is only what needs to be done-completion. We start early and work late. It excels our business growth, but it stunts our livelihood.  That's why it's important to travel. To experience life outside of work, to enjoy the world, to refresh our always-stressed minds. Last year, I made it my goal to take mini-vacations, outside of our typical vacation. Simple 2-3 nighter trips with my wife. In doing so, I was able to travel the entire US for 2 weeks with my brothers, enjoy Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, spend 7 days in Panama, backpack Seneca Rocks in West Virginia, surprise my wife with a weekend trip to Nashville, Tennessee, and spend 3 days in New York around Christmas time.

10-Mile Climb. Sitting on cliff of Zion National Park. 10-Mile Climb. Sitting on cliff of Zion National Park.
Those trips refreshed me and gave me well-needed rest from Flight Media. Chances are, you need one now. Take it.

10. Get a CRM

A CRM is a Customer Relationship Management tool. It's basically a software that allows you to interconnect all your clients and leads with associated projects, files, notes, etc. We got our first CRM, Insightly, back in October. I wish we had sooner. In the first month of using Insightly, it helped us get so organized that our sales tripled. (We even have a case-study on their website about it here.) Insightly helps us organize leads, followup to make sales, create sales funnels, and many more things that we would forget to do if we didn't have it. Here's a great video on it:

11. Focus Your Services (Don’t Broaden)

While it's nice to be an 'all-in-on stop' for clients, it's not worth it. In the last 12 months, our services consisted of social marketing, PPC management, email marketing, inbound writing, web design, graphic design, logo design, sales training, consulting, and a whole ton more. I learned that when you do everything, you're known for nothing. When you focus, you become known for your core focus. (Plus, when you're known for something, you can charge a lot more for it!) Flight Media's focus in 2015 is to build a stronger social marketing reputation.  Click here to contact us with your social marketing needs. ;)

12. Referrals = Gold

The final lesson I learned in the last 12 months is that selling to cold leads sucks. It's a massive waste of time, especially if you could be selling your services or products to referrals. On average, I would close 2/10 calls with people requesting free consultations. (Cold) For referrals, I close 9/10 people on the phone--every time. That said, I spent the last 4 months of 2014 focusing on building a strong, grateful clientele base who would refer people to us on a daily basis. By doing that, Flight Media began growing at a pace that was hard to keep up with. (A good problem to have!) We would send BOUQs (flowers) to people, hand-write letters, send business cards & Starbucks gift cards, and schedule monthly checkup calls to build great relationships.

Referral Mailing Setup Referral Mailing Setup
Referrals are gold, if you do it right.

Conclusion

Despite the many failures in the first 12 months of being in business, I came out a stronger individual and businessman. While you look back on the previous year, what did you overcome? What's a crucial lesson you learned? Leave it in the comments. :-)

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Josh Coffy

Josh has an exhaustive understanding of technology and a creative marketing approach that drives client results. In his free time, Josh does CrossFit and travels with his wife.