Hard Work

There is no school or online course that can teach you to be a CEO. Sure, you can get your MBA or better yet shadow a real CEO in action, but nothing trains you for being a CEO more than being one.

I started my own company six years ago and today manage a team of 19 people. The road from the past six years is paved with mistakes, bumps, and turns, and the journey is nowhere near complete. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned as an Under 30 CEO.

1. Be grateful

Through good times and bad, it’s important to take the time to notice that you are supported by others. While the CEO always shines in the spotlight and gets the glory, it isn’t without the hard work and help from team members, mentors, vendors and your family. Make sure never to lose sight of this truth.

2. Embrace hurdles

Your company will not always be up and to the right. Climbing a mountain seems to be a better analogy. If you’re not ready for some hurdles, get off the ride now.

3. Don’t try to be everything to everyone

The biggest lesson I learned when starting my second company was to – choose a niche. Be the best in one area and don’t adjust every time someone asks you to do something. How do you do this?

4. Say no

This is the entrepreneurs special weapon. Saying no today means you can say yes tomorrow to something that matters.

5. Invest in people

In essence every business involves people. If you hire the best people, you’ll have a chance to develop a successful business. Invest in great people to grow your company.

6. Praise your team

Be sure to pass on all praise to them. To be a successful CEO, you need to take the fall for mistakes and deflect the praise to others.

7. Make mistakes

You’ll often hear the adage “fail fast”. I don’t like the popular idea of putting failure on a pedestal. It’s not my goal to fail, but you will make mistakes. Expect it. The important part…

8. Don’t make them again

Mistakes happen. Learn from them.

9. Take risks

If you’re not making mistakes then you’re not taking risks. Push yourself to take large leaps instead of small steps. Shoot big and take risks. You’ll learn a ton and end up further along than you could have ever imagined.

10. Ask your customers

They fuel your business, so if you’re not talking to them you are out of touch. Whether they are customers, users, clients or partners – your job as a CEO is to talk to them.

11. Hire an accountant

It’s great for a CEO to know how to do every job in your company, but when I tried to manage the books for way too long, it was the most stressful thing I did. Hire an accountant who can both do the dirty work and be a valuable advisor.

12. Know your numbers

You still need to know how your business is doing. Work with your accountant to identify four or five Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that really drive your business. Know these numbers at all time and have a plan for how you’re going to improve on them.

13. Plan your day

To me, this is a vital practice. Spend time every morning to really plan your day. This will help you prioritize what’s important while fending off distractions. You might want to try my method that will take you less than 20 minutes to get started with.

 14. Take a vacation

Have you taken one since you started your business? Trust me. You need to. It’s essential to recharge your batteries, and you’ll return with a new outlook on the problems you’re tackling.

15. Limit your tools

It’s fun to try new tools and apps to improve your productivity, but define your tool belt so you’re using what actually works. If I want to add a new tool to Lemonly I try to find something we can get rid of. One for one.

16. Walk around the block

Step away from the desk and go outside. This gets the blood going, reduces stress, and gives fresh perspective.

17. Get an accountability partner

Do this today if you don’t already have one. Meet monthly and tell them what you’re going to do this month and how you’re going to get it done. Be accountable to each other and push each other to be better.

18. Handshakes over hangouts

The Internet has allowed us to work wherever and whenever. It’s great, but don’t underestimate the power of a handshake. Get off Google Hangout and Skype and go meet people in person.

19. Do things that don’t scale as long as you can

Thank you notes and personalized videos are part of my arsenal. Does this scale? Hell no. Is it memorable? You betcha.

20. Take care of yourself

How’s your health? Are you eating lunch? Take inventory of your lifestyle and fitness. This must come first.

21. Use “we” instead of “me”

The language you use as a CEO is tremendously important. Check the personal, inclusive pronouns like I and me at the door. It takes a village.

22. Continually evolve

Are you working on developing a new skill? Have you read a book lately? Don’t get stale or think you know it all. You must evolve.

23. Gather advisors

It doesn’t have to be a formal board that meets quarterly, but do you have advisors for your business? I have a group of four people I try to meet with quarterly either for coffee or a phone call. These conversations always prove to be extremely valuable.

24. Document your thoughts

Make sure you’re not keeping your ideas and thoughts in a vault. Document them through notes, dictation, or other people, but make sure you pass them along so they can be discussed or acted upon.

25. Don’t drink your own Kool Aid

The press has been rolling in. The media, your friends, and an uptick in Facebook likes are all telling you how awesome you and your company is.

Danger ahead! Make sure you don’t drink your own Kool Aid and become complacent. There is always work to do and room for improvement.

26. You have competition, but be sure not to care about it

If you don’t think you have competition, you’re an idiot. If you worry about your competition you’re distracted. Know the competition exists, but don’t spend any energy on them.

27. Look at your business from 30K feet

Back away from the business. Taking a look at your company from a distance can give a different perspective. Try an offsite team meeting to think about the future and get everyone’s insight into what’s working and what needs to be fixed.

28. Integrate work and life

As an entrepreneur, work-life balance is nearly impossible. I strive to integrate the two together. The lines have been completely blurred today so you can’t keep the two separate. Instead, try to integrate the two harmoniously.

29. Create a legacy

Have you ever asked yourself the legacy question? What will you leave behind? How will people remember you? You can’t think about legacy at the end. Start thinking about your body of work and how it will define you legacy. Only do things that matter.

30. The journey always beats the destination

These are 30 lessons I’ve learned just six months before my 30th birthday, but I’m not done learning. The most important lesson I’ve learned is to enjoy the journey. Embrace the climb to the top and appreciate all the people along the way that climb with you.

John T. Meyer believes that less is more. He’s on a mission to make the world easier to understand with infographics and help people focus through his writing. John is the CEO/Co-Founder of Lemonly, author of a weekly newsletter call Point Letter, and a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council. In 2013, John was named to Entrepreneur Magazine’s Top 10 Emerging Entrepreneurs and in 2010 was one of Bloomberg Businessweek’s Top 25 Entrepreneurs Under 25. John loves to cheer on the Minnesota Twins, spend time with his wife, and is proud to be a South Dakotan.

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