Lessons Learned

Anniversaries and other milestones often prompt reflection on changes and accomplishments. This week I celebrated the birthday of Buoyancy PR.

It’s not a story that matters much to anyone else but me, but one nice summer day I was having lunch at an outdoor café on Cincinnati’s Hyde Park Square with a friend. It was there I said out loud for the first time, “I think I’m going to start my own business, and, I think I’m going to call it Buoyancy PR.” I had stayed up until the wee hours one night not too long before that making sure no one else already had that name, so I was pretty sure it was unique.

Amy V., with whom I had worked at Standard Publishing, is a great encourager. She was thrilled for me and one of the first people who believed in me and helped me believe in myself.

Sometime later when I went to register the name with Ohio, they asked what the founding date was. Gee, that seemed kind of grand for my little business, but I decided that declaration at lunch that day was as official as it was going to get. I went back to my calendar for the date of that lunch. July 25.

And so it began. A project here, a discussion there. I was trying to learn and aim at something but the target seemed a bit elusive and I was often getting tangled up in my own feet. For a number of years, I did a lot of it the wrong way, and floundered around, to be honest. I listened and tried to act on advice received, but a lot of it didn’t make sense to me so I hesitated.

Here are a few lessons I learned that may save you some time and lost revenue. I’m not suggesting these are the most important things to know about having a business, I’m just willing to share a couple of things I learned. And even if you don’t own a business, there’s a strong argument to be made that each of us is our own brand and organization, and this certainly is also true for authors.

Here goes:  

1. Say no to some work opportunities — go small to go bigger. At first I tried to work with any organization, business, nonprofit or author who wanted my help. I kept having to research and learn about the new area, spending many too many hours of unbillable time and even then not always winning the client. It wasn’t until I acted on advice to narrow my focus and who I was going to serve that I started to grow. I was having the most success and satisfaction working with Christian authors, so I began specializing there and discovered I was doing a better job and getting more business once I found my niche and embraced it.

2. Jump off out where you can’t see the landing pad. One of my friends has a very successful career leading a university-affiliated nonprofit that serves children. She moved from classroom teacher back to academia to get her PhD, then into innovative leadership in an important area. We shared many laughs and adventures in high school and college, and I have great admiration for her.

But I wish I had heard her say this at least two decades sooner. She said she tries to do something every year that scares her. Put another way from a sermon, If your dream doesn’t scare you, it’s too small. Maybe it doesn’t have to be every year, but certainly in every season of life.

3. Get comfortable admitting what you don’t know and hiring help, in the form of a consultant or a staff person, to fill in the gaps. For me hiring a business coach as well as an assistant who knows more than I do about databases both fit that category, and both have helped me move past stuck places. Do it before you think you can afford it.

4. And here’s one more from Sandra Yancey, founder of the eWomen Network, that continues to be an aspirational and not quite attainable goal for me, and many other people in my world:

As a business owner, seek to do only the things that only you can do.

What does that mean?

Focus on the things that you uniquely do for the business of you. If you are a writer, do the writing.  You might be good with numbers, but you only have so many hours in the day. If your business is writing, don’t do your own accounting, because only you can do your writing. Only you can represent you at a sales presentation. Only you can dream up that event. Lots of other people can handle your administration or even clean your house.

I did get a couple of things right, at least in intention, though not of course always in execution. In certain situations I describe myself as a business owner, but I carry the title of Managing Director. That’s a job title I know of mostly from British and Scottish companies, but it means you are only the visible one in charge, not really the head honcho. And that title choice is deliberate; I refer to God only sort of kiddingly as my CUO – Chief Universe Officer. And the little room in my Ohio home that’s next to my office, that I call my conference room—not coincidentally it’s also where I have devotions.

Because I try to keep my business planning and work precisely in God’s lap. Many many days all I can say is God, you need to take this and make it work. Of course, I don’t always remember to do that, but needless to say, it goes a lot better when I do.

And here’s one final thing to mention that I am still working on. I quite often try to do too many things, that’s a recurring theme in my life. But right now I’ve made a grown-up decision I wanted to mention.

We are getting ready to put our house on the market, the kind of preparation where you basically bring in the movers and move out before you list it. Since that’s happening in my life right now, I need to focus on that for a bit, so I’m taking a little two-week break from these missives. Then I’m heading to the Christian Product Expo (August 15-17, 2021 in the St. Louis area). After my return to regular office hours, I will be back with photos and updates from CPE for the next Buoyancy PR community email.

Originally sent as an email to the Buoyancy community on July 29, 2021.
Joni Sullivan Baker
jbaker@buoyancypr.com