So, you’re CEO now?
If you’re anything like me, your CEO-ship (CEO-ness?) started off with an idea. Mirolus has been many things before it officially became an IT consulting company. And, for what it’s worth, anybody can go online and order business cards and slap on a CEO title. But there’s something that happens eventually. A defining moment where your idea becomes a real thing. Your Pinocchio (your idea of your business) becomes a real boy. When that happens and how long it takes is as unique as your idea itself. I don’t know the secret sauce to expediting that process. I do know the journey to get there can be long and a little (ok, a lot) uncomfortable.
And for a while, you were also like Pinocchio. You could say you’re CEO – you’re leading this company you created. But nothing is happening, and it doesn’t feel real. There’s a hint of feeling like an imposter. It’s true that you’re leading a business and turning an idea into an actuality but in the infancy, there are days when you feel more like you’re glamorizing unemployment than doing something that makes a difference.
Many businesses and their leaders don’t make it out of this step. There are a lot of reasons for that. Some needed to go out on their own with an idea, spending time with it in the “desert” before realizing the idea is better served in a different function – either as part of something that already exists or as something that needs tweaking with a lot of help. Or maybe you don’t work well on your own because unstructured time is your kryptonite. I relate to that one entirely and if it weren’t for my other (better) half driving things forward when I felt lost, Mirolus would probably have always stayed an infant idea. Or maybe you ran out of time, money, or both, and you had to shelve your idea to make ends meet.
Lucky for Mirolus, we did make it out into the world, and we are a real company that employs real people, and we have real customers with life-size problems for us to solve. And while there is no formula that I can think of that can take your business from an idea into actuality, there are things I can remember doing along the way that helped. I’ll share some of the big ones:
Get an accountant.
Do your research and look for someone with experience and good reviews. You don’t have to stick with them forever but having the books be correct from day one totally helps.
Ask your accountant if you should be an LLC, S-Corp, etc. You’re probably the best person to make that decision based on your goals but a good accountant can help you understand the risks and benefits from a tax and money perspective.
Keep track of your growth and understand the value of your day down to the minute.
Basically, you need to find that break even point. Are you spinning your wheels too much? What would happen if you brought on more people to do tasks for you – are you freed to be more productive and bring in more money?
Get yourself a mentor.
Even if you’re the best person in the world to do the “thing” that your industry does, it doesn’t mean you’re an expert on all the nuances of running a business too. There are plenty of ways to go about finding a mentor. You could reach out to people that you admire, or if you die a little on the inside like me anytime you ask for help from somebody that you look up to then know there are actual companies you can hire to give you mentorship and “what’s the next step?” type help.
Somewhere early in the process figure out what are your values, what is your mission, and what is “on brand” for you?
Do this early so that when you start bringing in your first new hires you have some authority. It protects you so that you don’t feel like your company is being taken in a direction you don’t want it to go. The good news is mission and value can change. And somewhere along the line you’ll bring in people who challenge you in all the right ways and take you and your idea in places you never imagined. But having it in writing and communicating that to your team from the beginning helps set the tone for the voyage.
Subscriptions are your friend (and your enemy)
You need basic productivity software, and you need a reliable working computer and internet subscription. Research not only the bare minimum but what is the next step beyond the bare minimum and how much of that can you swing?
Research how often you get charged, what is the discount if you pay for the year in full, and how do you cancel if it’s not working for you?
As your budget expands continue to build on necessities but know it’s ok to sometimes to for those “nice to have” options. Just make sure the juice is worth the squeeze. Nothing is worse than stretching the budget for something that doesn’t at least break even for you. In an idea world, everything you buy would help your productivity so that the item in question not only pays for itself but brings you extra cash, but in the beginning when the budget is tight it’s probably not a good idea to drop a ton of cash on something that has little value for you in the name of a tax write off.
Know that something happens to your decision making.
You’ll make a lot of decisions in a short time out of necessity. Those decisions will have a lasting impact, but it doesn’t mean you’re always stuck with what you chose.
Have an answer for everything, even if you aren’t sure. You can change your mind later, but you need to get comfortable with planning without enough time to think about it.
As things develop, you’ll learn how to prioritize decision making and one day be lucky enough to have something come across your desk and you’ll have the luxury of saying “I need to think about this, and I’ll come back to it at a later date”.
Advocate for yourself and know your limits.
There are things that come across my desk that bottom line, I don’t know what to do with. I still regularly must swallow my pride and let my team know that I’m not sure if I’m expected to take an action on that item. My team is supportive, and I think even appreciates my honesty. We’ve found a way to communicate with each other in a way that is respectful and lets the others know if things coming in are action items or informational items.
I don’t try to be in the weeds. Yes, we are a technology company and I know the technology we work with quite well. But I serve my team better as a leader. From where I sit, I can see if someone needs help, if we need to re-evaluate a partnership, or if we have necessary improvements to make. I’m a leader and a teammate. I know my place, I try to help when I can, and most importantly, I try to make sure my teammates have what they need to feel that they are succeeding and making a difference.
If you’re finding yourself launched (or splatted) onto the leadership path, I want to hear from you. What are things you learned early on that helped you in the long term? If you’re in the beginning stages, just know that things are hard and there are a lot of challenges that are going to block your path. It’s normal to sometimes feel defeated but it’s important to not give up. It’s also ok if you’ve been on this path for a while and you’re deciding it isn’t the right path for you. Wherever you are in your journey enjoy where you are at and celebrate your accomplishments. Hopefully the short (but in no way exhaustive) list I’ve shared helps you just a little bit.