Fight Early and Fail Fast: 15 Business Lessons in 15 Years

The company I co-founded, HB Agency, is celebrating 15 years in business. As a business owner and organizational leader, I've had to make critical business decisions and personal choices over the years. Some have worked, others have not.
In the spirit of celebration, here are 15 important business values I've learned along the way -- and sometimes the hard way -- that have value for business owners, entrepreneurs and CEOs.

1. Choose a great business partner. 

So many partnerships end in a mushroom cloud. I have had the good fortune of sharing ownership of HB with Nicolas Boillot, the smartest person I know and someone I trust with my life in his hands. At the start of our business relationship, we defined clear organizational roles for each other. While those have shifted over time, the clarity with which we define and execute our responsibilities has not.

2. If you have to cut, cut to the bone and cut quickly.

We learned this lesson the hard way in 2001 and we almost lost everything. It might sound harsh but this philosophy is all about keeping the entity strong. And a strong entity means future opportunities and stability. Running a business is an investment, and you must treat it with the same long-term perspective.
Related: 9 Lessons You Won't Learn in Business School

3. If you're going to fight, fight early.

Too many times I've seen prospects gloss over trouble spots and other agencies skirt reality in order to win business. Then everyone wants to poke their eyes out when all of those issues surface mid-project. Deal with the difficult stuff at the start, even if it means you don't win the work. And continue to deal with it as issues emerge. Clients and staff appreciate honest conversation.

4. Invest in sales training.

Choose an approach, learn it and keep practicing. Winging it is for the JV squad. You're a varsity player so put the work and the investment in. It will pay you back tenfold.

5. Fail fast and often.

Don't be afraid of failure. Lots of little failures will make you stronger. Every failure delivers a valuable lesson. Embrace it.

6. Small problems can become big challenges.

When you know something isn't right, address it immediately. Letting a snide comment slip is like overlooking broken windows or graffiti. Over time, those problems grow into much bigger problems. Nip it in the bud as soon as possible.
Related: Leadership Lessons From Apple CEO Tim Cook

7. It's all about customer service.

HB is a professional services organization. That means that our clients look to us to solve their problems. And our creative and strategic acumen aside, it's our behavior and attitude that makes the difference. Life is too short to be an ego maniacal, self-centered dink.
Bend over backwards to make the client experience consistently great. For us, that's defined by the HB Way. Come to our lobby and give it a read.  Read More