These are the 10 most important business lessons I learned in the first half of 2011.

Size (of Your Goals) Matters
Up until 2010 I felt I was doing just fine, but I wasn’t aiming high enough. I learned that growing 100% is not much harder than growing 10%; you just need a different approach and bigger dreams. I don’t know how to prove this, but in my experience the size of your business has a lot to do with the size of your goals.

When You Don’t Try to Sell, You Sell More
I thought I was a good salesman. But at the beginning of the year something really cool happened. We were fully booked and we couldn’t take any more clients for a while. I kept meeting with prospects but because we couldn’t accept clients, I changed my focus from selling to helping them find a solution to their problem.
Suddenly everyone wanted to work with us. I think it’s because when you don’t try to sell anything, people lower their guard. Also, when you help others without trying to get anything in return, you create a lot of goodwill. I learned this by accident and I’m so glad I did.

Free-Writing Rocks!
Free-writing is a technique to unlock great ideas hidden in your mind. All you have to do is write. What about? It doesn’t matter. Just start writing and write a lot. Go with the flow. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ll learn about yourself and how many ideas you get by doing this.

It’s Not How Much You Make; It’s How Much You Keep
I think I’ve been pretty successful at making money, but I’ve also been pretty stupid as to how to spend our company funds. Just recently we’ve started working with a CPA and a bookkeeper. They’ve been great at saving us money. They re-negotiated a lot of contracts with our vendors, bundled services to get discounts and got rid of a bunch of things we didn’t need.
If you’re not cheap, find someone who’s cheap and loves saving money. This is especially true during good times, because during bad times it’s pretty easy to cut costs, but when thinks look good, we tend to relax about cost-cutting. Remember: it’s not how much you make; it’s how much you keep.

There’s Nothing Like a Face to Face Meeting
There was a time in my life when all I wanted was to be behind a computer all day. The fewer people I talked to, the better. Not surprisingly, I always had a hard time growing my business.
This year I decided that I was going to meet more people. I now meet about 10 people a week. It has helped me create a much wider network and get more clients, but more importantly, I’ve had the time of my life doing this. I’ve met some of the most interesting people in the world in the past six months.

Pay Yourself What You’re Worth in the Market
I used to pay myself a really low salary and whenever I needed more money, I would just take it from the company funds. This is a terrible way to run a business.
What’s even worse is that I thought the company was doing well because our cash reserves were growing every month. But this was mostly because I was paying myself way less than what I’d have to pay someone with similar skills to replace me.
Let me give you an example: let’s say you pay yourself $5,000/month and your company profits are $3,000/month. Each month your bank account is $3,000 bigger. But the question is, “could you find someone to replace you for $5,000?” Probably not. If replacing you costs $10,000/month, then your company is losing $2,000 every month. Pay yourself a market salary. If you can’t afford it yet, that’s OK. Just keep in mind that you need to increase your profits, or you won’t have a business, you’ll have a job.

Ask For Help More Often
In the past six months I’ve started asking for help a lot more. I was facing some growing pains with one of my businesses and I asked some of the most successful business owners in Oregon for advice. Out of the six people I asked for help, five agreed to help me. I was astonished. They were incredibly generous with their time.
I think that acknowledging our limitations and asking for help makes us stronger.

Join an Accountability Group
A few months ago I joined Entrepreneurs Organization Accelerator Program, a community of very successful and smart entrepreneurs. Every month we get together and we share what our goals for the next 30 days are. Then, the next time we meet, we talk about what goals we accomplished and which ones we didn’t.
This is so powerful! You can do this with other business owners in your area. When other entrepreneurs hold us accountable we become a lot more motivated to reach our goals.

Systems Are Extremely Important
A few months ago I was very discouraged by how inefficient we used to be. I’m a creative person, so creating systems is not something I’m very good at, so I asked a guy I have a lot of respect for to help me with this task.
He made everyone at our company keep a log of everything we did for an entire week. Then he broke down the tasks by category, wrote job descriptions and created a 5-page manual for each of us. Not only that, but he also created a one-page cheat sheet that we keep next to our desks. It’s an awesome checklist and it ensures that nothing falls between cracks.
Whether you like it or not, in order to scale up your company needs systems.

Don’t Discard Ideas Just Because You Don’t Want to Implement Them
If you’re like me, you come up with ideas for your business all the time. And if you’re like me, some of your best ideas never get executed because you don’t have the energy or time to take care of them.
A few months ago I decided to let my team members implement the good ideas I didn’t have time for. It was amazing! I tend to be a control freak, but every time I decide to let go of my control issues and empower my employees, great things happen. I’m trying to do more and more of this.
So, let me ask you: What business lessons have YOU learned in 2011?