These are three very important business lessons I learned in 2011. I hope they help you with your own business.
Everything Happens for a Reason
I discovered that all the bad things that happened to my business in the last 10 years made my business stronger. Here are a few examples:

  • Problem: We screwed up three web design projects in a week and made three clients very mad.
    Lesson Learned: We realized that we’re an Internet marketing agency; we shouldn’t be doing websites. We should leave that to web designers. We weren’t set up to take care of those kind of projects. Screwing up made us re-think our focus.
  • Problem: A marketing consultant that used to send us two-thirds of our new clients went out of business.
    Lesson Learned: We realized that it wasn’t smart to depend so much on one referral source. We started a few new marketing campaigns that helped us triple our size in two years.
  • Problem: Our #1 salesman quit without giving notice.
    Lesson Learned: Although at first I thought we wouldn’t survive this one, I put some of my other projects on hold and took over sales for a while. I realized that the sales process we were using wasn’t very effective and spent four weeks improving it. When we hired a new salesperson, we had an amazing system and she was much more qualified than our previous salesman.
  • Problem: A client went out of business and failed to pay a $22,500 invoice.
    Lesson Learned: Charge upfront!

I think it’s impossible not to feel feel bad when your business takes a hit, but keep in mind that:

  1. It’s not as bad as you think it is
  2. You’ll overcome the obstacle
  3. You’ll be stronger than you were before

Say “No” More Often
I want to believe that I’m a nice guy. I try to help people every time they ask for help. However, there are two problems with this:

  1. Some people aren’t respectful of my time
  2. I only have 24 hours per day and if helping others puts my own projects at risk, it’s not a very smart thing to do

So this is what I learned:

  1. Before helping someone, I make sure that they want to help themselves. A few weeks ago a lady asked me how she could use social media to get a new job. We grabbed coffee and I spent a whole hour giving her ideas. She then said it was too much work and she wasn’t going to do it. I felt like a complete idiot. I could’ve done so many amazing things with that hour!
  2. I learned not to book every single hour of my time. I now leave a lot of free time in my schedule to work on projects I enjoy, catch up with work that take longer than expected and rest when I’m tired and need to recharge my energy levels.

Saying no often keeps you sane and energetic so when you do say yes, you do a great job at that.
Work-Life Balance Is a Myth
For the past five years I’ve been trying to find the perfect balance between work and life. I finally gave up but found a much better approach. I no longer seek balance. I now seek passion. I work on what makes me happy.
When I have a lot of energy and inspiration I work 14-hour days, but I have so much fun that it doesn’t feel like work at all. But when I’m tired and unproductive, I go for a run, hang out with friends or take my wife out.
Doing work when I don’t feel like working is just a bad idea. Nobody benefits from it: I don’t enjoy it, my employees don’t enjoy having me around and my clients aren’t happy with the quality of my work.
Maybe that’s just the way I’m wired. How do you feel about work-life balance? Do you think it’s possible?