While 8 years isn’t exactly a decade, or really that much time in the grand scheme of things, it’s plenty of time to learn a thing or two.

1. It’s not supposed to be easy.

After consuming a number of business and personal development books in the past 8 years, I’m learning more and more that a sentence on a page never quite captures the realities of owning a business, being an entrepreneur, and leading a team.

Whatever the advice is, it’s always easier to read than actually do. Even if the author is 100% honest about the struggles or challenges they have faced, the paragraph you’re reading is written with the benefit of hindsight. I assure you it was not easy in real-time. Solutions were not always obvious. Leaders weren’t always perfectly leading.

At least that’s been my experience.

But the lemons make the lemonade. The same things that make operating a business difficult, are the things that make it abundantly rewarding.

You can throw in the towel, or you can use it to wipe the sweat off your face.

2. The answers aren’t always out there.

When things were hard early on (and as they often are even now), all I wanted was for someone to come in and tell me what to do. I was always looking for someone smarter, older, wiser who could show me the way forward.

I can’t tell you how to make all of your decisions easier or stress-free. I will however encourage the use of a 4 step approach (which I fail to follow often):

  1. Discern – ask the questions that need asking and understanding the problem.
  2. Pray – recognize you don’t have the wisdom or omniscience needed to perfectly decide.
  3. Sleep – don’t make rash decisions where the consequences could be huge.
  4. Decide – move forward with confidence. Own the consequences and share the victory.

To be honest, when I look back at the missteps I’ve made over the years, they’re always because I skipped a step or two…or three…or four.

3. Celebrate.

I fell victim early on to the mindset that “we don’t have time to celebrate. There’s too much work to do!”

Don’t do that.

Nothing is sweeter than sharing the joy of big wins with those around you.

We had a vision day earlier this year, where we spent the day driving around past TwoTone locations, including a stop at the home I lived in when the first TwoTone employees worked alongside me in the basement.

We played games, told stories, laughed, and cried a bunch of happy tears. It was some of the best money we’ve ever spent as a company.

When we signed our biggest client to date, my team bought champagne and gifts.

When someone gets engaged at TwoTone, we have an impromptu mimosa brunch the next business day and hear all about the proposal.

Don’t forget to have fun.

4. Your support system matters.

I couldn’t do any of this without my family, friends, team, and fellow business leaders (shoutout to all our clients and my amazing group at C12).

And I don’t mean a support system where you share all your wins and hide all your failings.

Find the people that tell you not to do a thing, watch you do said thing and see it fail, and are still there to pick up the pieces. (And never utter “I told you so.”)

I’m no athlete, but I’ve learned firsthand that business isn’t a solo sport. It’s a team game, and the better and more supportive team you have around you, the more goals you’ll hit or score or whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing in sports. *Go Team!*

5. Debt-free is the way to be.

In my circle of business friends, this one makes me look pretty weird.

I have plenty of friends who I respect highly and don’t fault them whatsoever for carrying some debt in their business. You’d be hard-pressed to even start some types of businesses without a lot of capital up front for inventory, equipment, etc.

My advice to anyone who would listen is that your peace and your decision-making is different when you choose to take debt off the table. When you’re always working with your own money and not the banks, you simply make different choices.

I want to know that I can continue to pay my team long-term if the market turns upside down. They’re trusting me to take care of them and their families, and that’s something I don’t take lightly.

Honestly, as I look back on 8 years in business, I’m thankful I haven’t always had enough money to do everything I wanted. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a new business idea, product, service, or goal to chase down every other second.

I’m glad I didn’t give myself the option to use someone else’s money to pursue all of my craziest ideas.

6. Bigger goals.

When it comes to SMART goals, I’m probably not following the rules with the “Achievable” requirement.

I like goals that are almost impossible. I.E. Jim Collins’ BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals)

Big goals are the ones that matter. Just make sure you take time to do the little things needed to reach your big goal. Either that or procrastinate all of your efforts until the very end and work as hard as humanly possible. Whatever works for you.

7. People first.

That classic line “it’s just business” gets thrown around as an excuse to be unkind and impersonal. It softens the tough parts of the job so people can sleep at night.

For me, watching clients and especially team members leave is hard. I haven’t had a dry eye seeing a team member go, whether by my choice or theirs.

Sometimes I feel bad for making those moments more personal than they “should” be. “It’s just business,” after all. But I’m thankful for those tears. They are a reminder that this business is more than just the deliverables and value we provide. It’s all about the real-life relationships that make all of this possible.

Putting people first and caring deeply isn’t bad business.

8. I’m not finished yet and you aren’t either.

In the course of any given day, I am too short with people, set my expectations too high, think the worst of a particular situation, and simply don’t show up the way I want to in the majority of interactions I have.

I want so badly to be more like the people I admire most in the world. I want to be more patient, more generous with encouragement and apologies, and most of all a better example of what a Christ-follower should look like.

Leading a business really forces you to look in the mirror and decide if you are content with your shortcomings, or if you’re going to get up every day and try to be better for the people who are counting on you.

And that’s a lesson in and of itself. I’m not finished yet and I won’t stop trying until I am.

I hope you won’t either.

-Jenny Cross

PS. At the beginning of the year, my husband and I fell in love with this song by Luke Combs. It captures much of how I feel about doing what I do. When I look back on these 8 years, I can’t help but think, “I’d still be doin’ this if I wasn’t doin’ this.”

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