Eight things I’ve learned in our first eight years

My dissatisfaction with the corporate norm and my passion for doing good collided in July 2008.

I was in Haiti, on a mission trip with The Global Orphan Project, when I found myself standing beside an orphan kid named Daniel. Daniel and his buddies had nothing, and yet they worshipped and played with fervor. It was there that this company was born, and I decided to name this marketing agency, Fervor — so we’ll never forget what is truly important: impacting lives. This month marks eight years into the journey. As my team and I celebrate eight years of Fervor, it’s time to reflect on what I’ve learned along the way.

the Fervor office

1. Live beneath your means.

Building a business will mean some form of sacrifice. Perhaps you need to buy a smaller house. Drive an older car. Bring your lunch. Do whatever it takes personally to get your business started and financially healthy. When you live beneath your means, you won’t have to skimp where your business needs it. The flashy stuff can wait. Living on less at home makes all those hard business decisions easier. Even better? It keeps marriages (and relationships) stronger.

2. Don’t take on debt.

Counter-cultural? Sure. But hear me out. Dave Ramsey and I agree on a few things, and this is one of them. Don’t keep a credit card if you can’t pay it off each month. Don’t ask for investors in your company or take on partners that you don’t need to help run the business. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. When you have debt in a business, you make different decisions — decisions that usually aren’t smart for the business long-term.

3. Build your company with team members you trust (and like).

Winning inside your organization is the most important thing you can do. This isn’t about finding the best deal, the cheapest option or anything of the sort. People are your greatest investment. It’s about finding common ground and identifying people who will charge up the hill alongside you, willingly and gladly. Those people make work way more fun and business way more fruitful. And they will ultimately make you better.

4. Choose clients carefully.

I love beating this drum: we were built to walk alongside each other in every aspect of life, business included. When you’re committed to real partnerships, you have to choose clients carefully. If you take just anyone who walks through the door, how on earth can you serve them all well? The short answer is, you really won’t. Choose clients you’re willing to stand with when the going gets tough. Choose clients you’re excited to celebrate with when there’s a big win. Choose clients you want to grab a beer with. Choose clients with intentionality, with thoughtfulness and with discretion.

5. Overcommunicate.

People can’t read your mind. We all know it, but this is so easy to forget. Your business won’t thrive unless everyone’s on the same page — clients and team members alike. Especially in a world full of constant distractions, overcommunication is key. Even if you think you’ve said something before, it bears repeating.

6. Take time to breathe.

I love my business, don’t get me wrong. It takes a lot of my energy, though, and so recharging is huge. I love to hike, I love to spend time with my wife and with my little girl. We go somewhere once a quarter, even if it’s close. We take weekend hikes. Even if it’s the same trail we’ve done over and over. Even if we’re still talking business on the hike. I need to breathe fresh air, to be outside, to be with my family. The crazier business gets, the more important this is.

7. Be who you are — as a business and as a person.

Some people call it being authentic, transparent or genuine. What you call it doesn’t matter; how you live it does. Choose who you are and be that. Decide what you believe and stand by it. And when it gets hard? Don’t budge. Doing things on your own is freakin hard. And as far as pivoting goes? I hear the term “pivot” these days and I want to throw something. Anybody can pivot — it takes real strength to stand firm. Just be you and don’t expect overnight results.

8. Be willing to put in the work.

My friend Danny O’Neill once told me, “Mike, I’m a 19-year overnight success.” Success happens when you put in the time, and even more. Danny didn’t expect to “scale” overnight — and I hate scale about as much as I hate pivot. Focus less on trying to scale and more on doing good business. Run a business that provides for you, your staff and your clients, then be content. Building a business that’s meant to last will take some time and won’t be done in a few years. It’s work, hard work. But it’s work that’s worth doing.