Wendy and I launched Q4intelligence 15 years ago this month. It has been an amazing ride that is getting more exciting by the day. Of course, you can't make it this far without countless lessons along the way.

Here are some of the most significant lessons that we learned.

1. Building a business requires building stuff.

Having been on the side of the table of the clients we now serve, we know how hard it is to create the resources necessary to remain relevant. We're no exception to that rule. There were legitimate gaps that required us to build shit to fit our needs. In the short term, it's easy to avoid the heavy lifting of creating what you need, but it makes long-term relevance and growth all but impossible.

2. Be your true self.

Life is too short to pretend to be anyone other than yourself. It's impossible to be liked and align with everyone. We learned early to intentionally seek clients who identified with who we are at our core. The greatest compliment we hear, and we hear it regularly, from someone meeting us for the first time is, "You are exactly who I expected you to be."

3. Communication is EVERYTHING.

One of our biggest pet peeves is the sorry state of communication in the business world. Our frustrations range from lack of presence to inability to write coherently to ghosting. The bar to stand out from a communication standpoint is so low that every business should use this as a meaningful differentiator.

4. Repetition is critical.

Like many entrepreneurs, we’re prone to falling in love with new ideas. Don't get us wrong—we are, and always will be, looking for and creating new ideas. However, the basic building blocks form the strongest foundation and must be done repeatedly, even if they may not be exciting or splashy.

5. Marketing is freakin' hard but SO necessary.

Creating awareness of your brand and what you offer takes a LOT of work. Whether it's a new category like we provide or if you're in a more crowded and competitive space, you must show up regularly. When writing our blogs early on, we used to joke that we would "push it into the black hole" because it often felt like nobody saw and read what we created. Slowly, we started getting feedback and echoes from the black hole from people who said they found our content impactful. Marketing requires stamina and an almost blind faith commitment.

6. Simple isn't simple.

We often paraphrase a quote credited to many, "I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn't have time." Whether it's a blog, tool, script, or process, it's a lot of work to make your content concise and easy for your audience to consume. But, if you want them to use it, you must work hard to make it simple.

7. Our biggest competition is indecision driven by fear.

It isn't that we don't have traditional competition, but there are clear differences between us and anyone we're compared against. Our biggest challenge in earning a new client is the discretionary spend we represent. We're not alone in this. You must help your buyers understand the cost of not working with you to help them appreciate the value of investing in working with you.

8. If we had known everything we needed to build, you may have never heard of Q4i.

We have come to appreciate that we are a content creation company, and the need to create new content for our clients is never-ending. One of our earliest and most successful clients later commented that "the bananas were pretty green when we started." We're beyond proud of the mature banana grove we have grown and continue to plant and nurture.

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9. Running a business is HARD.

It takes more time, attention, and effort than you likely anticipated. You must be prepared and committed to putting in both money and time. Don't bother spending the money if you're unwilling to commit the time. Lack of commitment is likely why most businesses don't make it past the first year or the five and ten-year marks. Entrepreneurship is not for the mildly committed.

10. Going it alone is significantly harder than asking for help.

A lone wolf mentality may be great to get you started, but you'll never hit your potential if you don't seek the guidance of others. As the African proverb so sagely advises, "If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together." Having a great business partner and group of peers is invaluable.

11. Embrace technology or embrace irrelevance.

We often say that technology isn't the answer; it helps automate the answer. You cannot succeed today without being a business that embraces and runs on technology. But it's a fool's chase to think there is a technical answer you can simply buy to fix your problem (see the time and money lesson in #9). If you don't have someone on your team keeping an eye on technology, be sure someone in your peer group does.

12. Toxic behaviors destroy your culture.

Hiring the right people and building a healthy culture is the key to sustaining a growing business. No level of production or results justifies the retention of a toxic team member. The longer you allow unhealthy behaviors on your team, the less respect your existing team members feel toward you. Identify the problem, and either the bad behavior goes, or they go.

13. Lack of processes makes your job harder.

Anything you do repeatedly in your business must be driven by a clearly defined, documented, and consistently executed process. If not, team members' inevitable inefficiency and helpless behaviors will rob you of your potential.

14. Everyone exits the business.

At some point, every business owner will sell their business. You can do it with a plan and prepare for your ideal scenario, or you can ignore it and accept the roll of the dice. If you plan ahead, you may make more money on exit because your business is more valuable, you may leave your employees in a better place because you took time to cultivate the next phase, and you may leave yourself in a better position to enjoy your path to retirement.

15. Be an engaged member of your professional community.

This is an amazing industry we all work in. We’re afforded unimaginable opportunities that wouldn't exist if not for the hard work performed by so many. With opportunities comes responsibilities. You owe it to those who came before you and those who come behind to be an active member. Give back your time and energy, collaborate, and be a model citizen who strengthens the community. The adage that the more you give, the more you receive couldn't be more accurate.

So, there are fifteen lessons learned over our first fifteen years. And just like every birthday cake needs that extra candle, here's one more to grow on.

16. Be curious.

If you ever feel you can relax and coast as a business owner, step aside quickly because you're about to get run over. You must wake up every day questioning everything you think you know and move through the day with an insatiable curiosity about how to improve everything. Curiosity doesn't kill cats; it builds successful businesses.


Content provided by Q4intelligence

Photo by Tyler Polani