Milestones force you to reflect whether you want to or not. And although many milestones are widely acknowledged (those nasty decade birthdays) and even celebrated (the misplaced sense of accomplishment when the odometer hits 100,000 miles), others fly under the radar—and rightly so. A ninth anniversary would be a perfect example: the suggested gift is pottery, and it’s really just opening up for the headliner the following year.
All the same, these milestones—especially for a small business—are noteworthy because they are reminders that you’re still in the game and, with any luck, continuing to build on what you’ve learned. Leff celebrated its ninth anniversary a few days ago, so I wanted to share a few of the things we’ve learned along the way as well as some principles that continue to guide us.
Every situation—good or bad—is a learning experience. While we have continually gotten better at serving our clients, the projects that go sideways are where the most growth occurs. Even the most thankless endeavors for difficult teams have value because they point to where we can improve. Which naturally leads to . . .
It all makes more sense in the rearview mirror. We try to undertake postmortems for the difficult projects, and it’s rarely a mystery after the fact how and why things went wrong. So the challenge for our team is recognizing the telltale signs of trouble ahead and taking action quickly.
The answer is never simply “no.” Any small-business owner knows that when you’re starting out, the answer is always “yes” when you’re starting out—and then you figure it out. After nine years, we think of ourselves as problem solvers; if we aren’t the ones to take on a project, we make sure to point clients in the direction of a proven resource.
Response time is everything. Whenever a request comes in for our services, we reply as soon as possible. Many times, clients will thank us for getting back to them so quickly. It sets the right tone at the outset and demonstrates that their priority is our priority.
Empathy is a powerful thing. When a client is curt or perfunctory or frazzled, we don’t take it personally. Instead, we try to put ourselves in their shoes so that we can interpret what they’re telling us. Although we can’t possibly know everything that a client is experiencing—multiple stakeholders weighing in, sometimes with contradictory direction; finite time and resources to work with; and intense pressure to get it right—after nine years we have a pretty good idea.
Bailing a client out of an impossible situation is gold. We realize that a fair amount of time, clients are reaching out because they’re in a bind. Deadline bearing down like a freight train? Check. Lack of clarity for how to move forward? Check. Searching for a team to sign up for an impossible mission? Check. It’s incredibly satisfying to help a client get across the finish line against all odds.
Work doesn’t have to be a root canal. Our company is filled with hardworking, creative people who are also a lot of fun to be around. When we sign up to serve a client, we understand that doing high-quality work is just part of it. Frequently, our clients will tell us their call with us was the best one they had all day. Sharing a laugh, commiserating about a difficult project, or just connecting on a personal level—all of these interactions have immense value.
Any milestone is a good reason for a party. A couple nights ago, we celebrated our anniversary with colleagues, clients, and friends. As one of my mentors commented, “These milestones should be commemorated.” With custom cocktails, bites from the Publican, incense and 45s as gifts, and music courtesy of my old friend DJ INC, we put on a party that encapsulated who we are as a company. And we even got our colleague Brittany, currently on maternity leave, to join us for a night out.
A heartfelt thanks to the clients we’ve been fortunate to serve, the sages who have helped us navigate this path (you know who you are), and the friends we’ve made along the way. Looking forward to many more milestones in the future.