Lessons Learned From Seven Years of Stout Heart
May 12, 2022
Stout Heart celebrates seven years in business this week and, though every anniversary has been meaningful in its own way, this year has felt especially worth of celebration. Saying “it’s a journey” is an understatement. In seven years of business ownership, I have born two children, survived a traumatic brain injury, and navigated a pandemic, among other challenges (that pale in comparison to those big ones).
There have been some white-knuckle times to say the least. There have been days when I’ve been inches from giving up (I’m looking at you, 2020). Would I change it? No. All those lessons learned and all that work has amounted to so much good. This by no means covers all of them but is my attempt to document the most important of these lessons in entrepreneurship (and life).
When you are brave enough to verbalize what you really want your business to be and are able to say it out loud (truly) confidently without feeling like an imposter, you have reached a defining moment.
I remember this day well. It was two years in and a few of us sat around our conference table in our first tiny office space. I started Stout Heart because I wanted to sleep at night and work in marketing. I had written in my first Stout Heart business plan that I wanted us to be a mission-driven, values-driven business that worked with brands who do good in the world. But I was scared to say it too loudly because we were in startup mode living hand-to-mouth and saying no to any project meant I was sweating. We had gotten a call from a vape company that wanted a whole lot of work and, while the money looked good, I realized that it was time for Stout Heart to practice what it preached and say no. From that point on, we wore our mission on our sleeve. We’ve been loud and proud about it ever since and somehow, the Universe (call it what you want) heard us and has returned the favor, sending the right clients our way.
If you operate your business out of a place of uncertainty and doubt, you will miss important things and override your own intuition.
It’s easy to say this in hindsight but, in the moment, when you’re trying to get a business on its feet and times are scary, it’s hard to trust your instincts. I blame imposter syndrome for this. Every year of business has chipped away at it but fear and self-doubt were a huge part of my mindset in Stout Heart’s startup years. I ran into this quote in 2020 has lockdown was just lifting and I was unsure of how Stout Heart would fare as the world opened back up and it has been taped to my desk ever since:
“Let me light my lamp”, says the star, “And never debate if it will help to remove the darkness.” -Rabindranath Tagore
You cannot be all things to all people.
This is true for everyone but a good reminder as a business owner who often thinks the world is on your shoulders, that it’s really not. And shouldn’t be. You can only do your best in as kind a way possible. Interestingly, this is also true for a business. It’s important to accept that you aren’t the right fit for everyone. Play to your strengths. Nix the projects that won’t fall in your wheelhouse. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Yada, yada, yada.
You do not have all the answers. But you can find them with the right support.
So many people told me this when I was starting the business but when I started actually doing it, I kicked myself for not listening sooner. Bookkeeping not your thing? Outsource it. Paid media not your thing? Find a great partner. You will waste your time trying to learn the things that will take someone else two seconds to do. And you’ll be frustrated and cranky when you’re done. Find the partners who will lift this burden from you and focus on what you (and your business) are good at.
Positive workplace culture is not created by ping pong tables and beer on tap in your office.
Birthday lunches don’t make positive workplace culture. That branded sweatshirt doesn’t do it either (although, not gonna lie, I love my Stout Heart sweatshirt). Positive work culture is created by the way you treat your people deep down at the core of your business. By the genuine respect that you give them and the recognition and acknowledgement that your business is not (and should not be) their life. But for the part of their life they do choose to spend with you, your people should feel valued, heard, and esteemed, whether they’re wearing that sweatshirt or not.
You do not have to allow clients to dictate timelines, process, or the way your staff is treated. If you set boundaries, they will respect them and if they don’t they shouldn’t be your client.
How many people in the proverbial room have worked at an agency where poor behavior is tolerated in a client because they pay the bills? (Raises hand.) Earlier in my career, I had a boss who saw me with tears in my eyes in a conference room after a client had berated me for something that wasn’t my (or the agency’s) fault. I will never forget it. He called me into his office, asked me what happened, and when he heard the story called that client and told them that their behavior was not acceptable and that if it happened again we would respectfully complete the project we’d been tasked with and that would be the end of the working relationship. Not only did I receive an apology but the client was well-behaved and respectful from that point forward. I vowed, from the day forward, to pay my boss’ kindness forward. An agency can set the tone for the working relationship. It should not allow direct or indirect dis
respect for its process or its people. Stout Heart has let clients go for being rude and unkind to our team. We have passed on projects where a timeline required is disrespectful to what we believe is an important process. Life is too short for nonsense and we have opted out.
If you are a business owner, you cannot expect your employees to work harder than you or be as devoted to your business as you are. But…
…you can find good people who are good at what they do. And when you find those foundational people, hang onto them with all your might. Enough said there.
After seven years, am I an expert? Nope. Just a business owner entering a different chapter with new lessons to learn. But I’m incredibly grateful for the people I’ve crossed paths with along the way (and, in particular, the Stout Heart team which is simply my favorite group of humans who walk the earth and aren’t my blood relations), the clients we’ve worked with who do such amazing things, and the work we’ve created. It’s been a beautiful learning experience and I look forward to what comes next.
I have a fortune from a Pink Bamboo order taped to my monitor (right next to that Rabindranath Tagore quote) that says “Be patient! The Great Wall didn’t got build in one day.” It makes me smile every time I look at it because it’s such a good reminder of the imperfection in all of this hard work- business ownership and just… life. But you’ve gotta laugh along the way, right? It doesn’t got build in one day.
Want to chat? We do too. Get in touch.