by Molly Kramer, Founder & Creative Director of Model Content
Some lessons landed cheerfully on my shoulder. Some I swallowed like a bitter pill. From financial statements to mental models, here are the top six new things I know.
1. Lesson Learned: LLCs file annual reports. Businesses pay quarterly taxes. Depreciation may need to be included in Cost of Goods Sold. And on and on…
This year has been an MBA program. I’ve learned so much about bookkeeping, compliance, contracting, budgeting, and planning. Frankly, I’m looking forward to a year where the learning curve is not quite so steep.
Some resources that helped a great deal:
2. Lesson Learned: I can’t do everything myself.
Without trying, I proved the concept of a content marketing company. I got so overwhelmed with client services that I abandoned my own content. This is my first blog since June! That’s the hole that Model Content’s clients fall into before hiring us to dig them out.
But I can’t hire myself. So, I’m hiring more freelancers. I post jobs on Upwork and ProductionHub, but to be on the list of freelancers I contact proactively, get in touch! I hope to hire my first account management and sales staff from my freelancer pool.
And in a similar vein, I learned I love subcontracting. Some of my favorite projects have provided additional capacity to larger firms. So, I guess it’s not just that I can’t do everything myself. I also just don’t want to.
3. Lesson Learned: Storytelling is a valuable business skill.
Model Content generates revenue by helping businesses tell their stories. But this year, I learned that telling my own story can help me succeed as a vendor and manager.
During Model Content’s first annual retreat, I read Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity. In it, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charles Duhigg explains how nurses, pilots, and others rely on narrative to do their job well. Studies show that people who “build robust mental models” (aka tell stories) perform better at all kinds of work—largely by avoiding cognitive tunneling and reactive thinking.
“Mental models help us by providing a scaffold for the torrent of information that constantly surrounds us. Models help us choose where to direct our attention, so we can make decisions, rather than just react.”
But you don’t have to be a professional storyteller. Duhigg explains that anyone can learn this practice:
“These storytelling moments can be as small as trying to envision a coming meeting while driving to work—forcing yourself to imagine how the meeting will start, what points you will raise if the boss asks for comments, what objections your coworkers are likely to bring up—or they can be as big as a nurse telling herself stories about what infants ought to look like as she walks through a NICU.”
Needless to say, I recommend the book.
4. Lesson Learned: This is about more than money.
While taking a break from staff positions, I started taking on clients. A slow drip grew organically into a full-time endeavor, which I named Model Content. Recently, two very wise people inspired me to acknowledge the values guiding this venture.
At New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, I told mission-aligned finance expert Jenny Kassan that I was in this to generate revenue, and she called me on that. She challenged me to dig deeper to find the principles guiding my business. And she was right.
During the anniversary retreat, Model Content’s core values emerged:
The very next day, at the American Business Women’s Association conference, I heard Microsoft security and IT executive Diane Boettcher give an amazing talk about leadership. She said that not only should you articulate your values, but also refer to these values in times of crisis. Research shows that it clarifies your decision making.
I feel better armed to face the challenges in my second year. Jenny and Diane, thank you to you both!
5. Lesson Learned: A detailed project scope is essential.
I’ve always been a perfectionist. The newsroom forces you to let go because deadlines come fast and frequently. But in client service, projects have a longer cycle. Especially on strategy projects, I found myself chasing every trail until the bitter end, collecting so much data that I couldn’t stop.
It’s a nerdy luxury to hang out in the research phase for an extended period—finding cool insights, one after another. But the client needs recommendations. Eventually you must start writing.
So now I hammer out more details on the front end. How many companies should I include in your market analysis? I generally limit data collection to about 30 metrics, so what’s the priority—social, web, print, or events? Based on your goals and your sales funnel, how many marketing personas would I recommend?
I used to think of parameters as limits. In reality, parameters support forward momentum, increasing value for the client.
6. Lesson Learned: Any time is a good time to start a business.
Here’s an uncropped shot from my business shoot. I was five months pregnant!
It was stressful wrapping up projects before my due date. I lost a lot of sleep. On the other hand, nobody was around to judge when I turned off my time tracker and took a nap.
My world has literally expanded this year. It’s been hard. But it’s also been amazing.
Are you an entrepreneur? What hard lessons did you learn in your first year?
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