Eight lessons learned from eight years of Good Work
1. Don’t rush into specialization
As I reflect back on our very first year of business, we avoided niching down. Or, as I said when we celebrated One year of Good Work, “the focus was to have no focus.” I wanted our specialization to happen organically, as we discovered what projects were the most enjoyable and where we were doing our best work.
We said yes to anything with a reasonable budget, which gave us the ability to experiment and have a strong opinion about what type of work we were best suited for. This helped us be more confident when we did specialize.
2. Don't be scared to take on money
Business growth isn’t always linear. There are certain times when growth would mean a very costly or unprofitable season. Not all businesses can afford to ride out that season without help.
We took advantage of a bridge loan early on to help with cash flow as we made investments for the future of the company. It was a bit scary to commit to a loan, but we ran the numbers (a few times!) to ensure the ROI was worth it.
Don’t feel like you always have to bootstrap the hard parts. A strategic loan can be a really great way to get to the next level of business.
3. Stay flexible
There is always a tension in business between focus and flexibility. At Good Work, I have loved our ability to evolve quickly and efficiently without getting distracted by shiny objects. We have continued to learn from both our wins and failures, and adjust accordingly.
A one-time example of this was the decision to hire all developers as full-time employees. We used contractors early on to help meet the ‘less predictable’ client needs. But it quickly became clear that to serve clients with the Good Work Way, we needed to have everyone in-house.
A more on-going example is how we approach goals. We set goals each year, but evaluate along the way. We flex with the twists and turns on the road that come along.
4. Delegate early and often
As many founders know, just because you have the vision and leadership, doesn’t mean that you will be good at all the things in a business. The sooner you practice delegating, the better off you’ll be.
You can easily be busy all day without doing any of the right stuff. You only have so much time in a day, so make sure you’re prioritizing everything that you need to do. What are the things that only you can do for your business? If it’s not something you need to do, hand it off.
5. Hire smart
Of course, to be able to delegate a task, you need people to delegate to. I see too many founders who falsely believe that they need to be the smartest person in the room. I hired for my areas of weakness, ensuring that I was not the smartest person in many areas. Everyone on the team is better at their jobs than I would be at them. And Good Work is better for that.
6. Be generous with your trust
Once you have good people to delegate aspects of the business, make sure you actually trust them to do it. Letting go of control is a big deal, but it’s necessary for growth. And unless you enjoy working 80-100 hours a week, it’s necessary for your sanity.
Be generous with your trust. Let your team try things (and maybe even fail a few times). We have high standards for our work, and being excellent at our Craft is a must. But what we do and how we get there is not life or death. We let people experiment and grow.
7. Document everything
In the early days, I knew that it would be faster to just do things myself than to teach others or document processes. I also knew that I couldn’t keep everything in my head. I knew that if I wanted to grow and scale, documentation was non-negotiable.
Before we could document our process, we had to actually learn what our process was. Now it’s almost effortless as it is maintained by our team. In fact, it saves us time and effort and prevents mistakes.
Bonus: it has become a major differentiator for us in the business, and does not rely on any one person to make happen.
8. Embrace new skills
There are a lot of uncomfortable things about being “in charge.” I have to regularly practice developing skills that are not part of my personality for the good of the company.
For instance, I’m wired to run away in the face of conflict. But as the leader of a company, that’s just not an option. I don’t have the luxury of hiding from difficult situations or hard conversations. If I don’t address things head on, they won’t simply go away. They will fester.
Left to my own tendencies, my communication skills would be a hindrance to the company. At my core, I’m the opposite of the Good Work Way. But I’ve put in the work to become a better leader and communicator.
BONUS: Have fun on the ride!
We’re serious about work but we’re also serious about keeping it light. Even with good boundaries, work is a large chunk of life. We spend a lot of time together as the Good Work team, and we think that time should be as enjoyable as possible.
One small example from our development team. After their weekly team meetings, they play one round of Bomberman on Zoom. They love it, and I think it’s great.
Of course not every day is a party, but I really believe that if you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.
(This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.)
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