Celebrating a Decade of Lessons Learned

By Melanie Wilt

Ten years ago today, I woke up the owner of brand new public relations business and a dream. The week before, I had walked away from my six figure job with a small contract. Ten days after setting up my home based office, the stock market crashed. Given a decade of challenges and rewards, I can say focusing my energy on building a business of my own was a decision I would make all over again.

Here are a few valuable business lessons I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Working with friends is the best part of owning your own business. There’s nothing better than being surrounded by people you like. I’ve been able to work with some of my favorite people in the world, a cousin-by-marriage, my former 4-H camp counselor (and teen idol), and interns we corrupted-er-molded from an early age. During this decade, my friends were by my side as I grieved the loss of two young family members and my marriage. I can’t imagine having gone through that without them by my side. Not only have my co-workers been great friends, but we get to do work for some people I’d hang out with even without a contract!
  2. Working with friends is the worst part of owning your own business. Business is sometimes about feelings, but often it’s about numbers on the page. Emotions can sometimes blur what would otherwise be simple business decisions. I admit to being a softy when it comes to my friends; they matter more than the numbers on the page.
  3. It doesn’t pay to delay making the difficult decisions. Delaying the inevitable costs everyone more in the long run. I’ve learned that the boss has to be the “bad guy” to protect everyone else sometimes.
  4. When you can be choosy about your clients, you’ve reached a new level! It is possible to get to a point where you don’t have to take every opportunity that comes along. Sometimes it’s a good fit, and sometimes it’s not.  
  5. Paydays don’t look quite like they used to. I’ve never missed payroll in 10 years. Although, one time, I had to delay it by a single day. That doesn’t mean that I’ve personally been part of every payroll, but that’s part of owning a business.
  6. What’s a tax refund?  When everybody else is spending their big tax refund on updated kitchen appliances or a new mattress, business owners are over here like, well, I made money this year, so I have the privilege of paying the IRS. A tax refund is a bit of consolation prize when you’re a business owner.
  7. Success is watching others win. When our clients win, we win. When our employees go on to do bigger and better things, we win. When our interns take cool jobs at places like Facebook, we will. When our team comes together to solve a problem and create something unique, we all win.
  8. Solving problems is what pays. Communication is not about making things look purty or being a “people person.” It’s about solving problems by reaching the right audiences with the right message to influence their opinions, attitudes and ideas. Agencies like ours that solve real business problems with communication processes are gems in a field of shiny gimmicks.
  9. Creativity and common sense are not mutually exclusive. This was one of our original corporate values, and it has stuck. Science, data and common sense are critical to informing the creative process. Unfortunately, the more I observe, the more uncommon it seems.
  10. I still believe in the “power of nice.” Yep. Enough said.

Stay tuned for my next post where I will share the story of a crazy mom with a 2-year-old and 4-month-old who decided to quit her six-figure job and start her own PR firm.