In looking back at 2020, I feel an immense sense of relief to have made it this far. I’m impatient to turn the page; I’m already looking forward to rediscovering the small pleasures and reasons to celebrate that got swallowed up in this uniquely awful year. And I’m hoping for rapid and orderly vaccine distribution and a quick economic rebound so those who have suffered so much this year can find some relief.
Before we welcome 2021, I want to note a couple of milestones our company hit this year that, in a normal year, would have been worth celebrating: reaching 10 years of existence and adding our 20th, and then our 21st, employee. For the former, we had a blowout planned for the spring that never came to pass; for the latter, we’ve been too busy and preoccupied to step back and acknowledge it. In the spirit of reflection and gratitude, I’d like to share a few lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Everything works perfectly—until it doesn’t
At various points in our growth, structures and processes that served us well suddenly proved inadequate. We’ve had this realization a number of times; what works when you have six people can be a recipe for chaos with eight people. In the past 10 years, we went from a completely flat organization in which colleagues gained knowledge through osmosis to one with a more traditional structure and mentorship. We’ve developed and refined processes. We’ve integrated new tools. It’s been an ongoing effort to try to stay ahead of our growth; just when you ease off the pedal, the wheels come off. So we’ve learned to stay vigilant.
Companies build institution muscle over time
The first time we did anything—hired someone, put together a pitch deck, articulated our company mission and principles—it always took longer than we expected. As with most things in life, the more you do it, the faster you can move because you’re drawing on a foundation of knowledge. That’s what made it so much easier for us to grow from 13 at the beginning of the year to 21 by the end: the novel became routine, and all the things we collectively learned helped us move along.
Collective wisdom is our secret weapon
I have never believed that any one person in the company has all the answers—myself and my business partner, Heather, included. There’s too much to learn. Every day, every client, every interaction offers a learning experience. I’m regularly humbled by what I don’t know and the mistakes we make. But I’m also reassured that we have been careful not to make the same mistakes on a recurring basis. That’s a testament to everyone in the company. We fail, we learn, we share, and we get a little smarter because of it. We try to strike a tricky balance: recognizing that we are really good at what we do while acknowledging what we don’t know and when we need help.
We don’t work for companies—we work for people
When I look back at all the clients we have served over the past decade, I don’t think of companies—I immediately picture the people we have worked with and supported. We are in the client-service business; what that really means is we help people do their jobs better. The longer we work with a client, the more invested we get in their success. The trust we build by becoming a field-tested resource and partner is the foundation of that relationship. And when deadlines get tight and the hours get long, our commitment to the people at these companies is what makes us dig a little deeper.
I want to end by sending gratitude to my mentors, colleagues, and clients. No one succeeds on their own, and we never would have made it this far without the patience, creativity, wisdom, and support of so many.
Here’s hoping that 2021 gives all of us something to celebrate.