One of the greatest challenges of starting a new company is convincing employees, vendors, clients and talent to entrust their futures to an organization with an untested track record. A good leader will steer the company in the right direction, while bestowing confidence in people they work with and hope to work with, making that leap of faith a little less daunting.
When I founded Polis Books, I faced the challenge of attracting distribution, vendors and talent to an unproven organization. So I looked at the most successful independent publishers in our industry and found there was a common thread: They had leaders with a clear vision, strength in their convictions, yet open-minded enough to not only hear but learn from their employees.
These six tips will help you be an effective leader, able to communicate to prospective clients, vendors and talent that they should trust their futures to your capable hands.
1. Get your hands dirty.
When you’re starting a company, you may run the show but sometimes you need to take on a supporting part. You don’t always have the leeway of delegating every task, and taking part in the less-rewarding parts of running a business shows others that the little things matter to you. Help out with mailings. Run errands. Man social-media feeds. Show everyone in your organization that you don’t mind the gruntwork.
2. Maximize your energy output.
Early on, I hired a designer whose aesthetic fit matched what we were looked for. But it soon became clear that his aesthetic was more important than our needs, and I ended up having to fight him tooth and nail to get the simplest things done to our specifications.
When you’re starting out, nearly every joule of energy you expend needs to be maximized. And if you find yourself expending energy just to get to zero, then it’s not worth your energy, time or money. Don’t worry, you’ll find someone else who is.
3. Fire can be your fuel.
Not everyone has an obstacle-free climb up the ladder to success, attaining more money and responsibility on every rung. At some point in our careers, most of us get laid off, fired, quit, change jobs or professions, or find ourselves overworked or undervalued. And some people hold onto this anger as they launch a new venture. Here’s the thing: Anger is not always a negative emotion when it comes to ambition. It can be a valuable asset -- if harnessed correctly. Use it correctly, and you’ll prove that you can succeed in the face of adversity. That a bump in the road couldn’t stop you, that even though you’ve been knocked down you got back up stronger than before. But don’t allow it to coerce you to act impulsively, to make rash decisions or run a company on emotion rather than pragmatic ideas. Keep it as a weapon in your holster. Just don’t keep it loaded and aimed at all times.
4. Foster a communal atmosphere.
One of the most rewarding aspects of founding Polis Books has been seeing how our clients interact with each other -- everything from conversations on Twitter to thanking a designer who created a particularly good cover and sharing photos of events on their Facebook page.
A good leader will make a company feel like a community -- and that will make others want to work with your organization.
5. Personal means more than digital.
One of the greatest moments about starting a company is seeing people you work with being lauded for their contributions. When our authors have an event, no matter how small or large, I do my best to attend as many events as possible to show my support and appreciation for our authors and clients.
When your company is new, building your reputation, trust and word of mouth are invaluable. Being there in person matters infinitely more than being there via email or tweet. In world connected digitally, personal interaction can still matter most.
6. The devil is in the details.
Nobody starts a company in the hopes of treading water: You want to cross oceans. But one of the reasons many new organizations are able to stay afloat is attention to detail. It’s those details which can be ignored or overlooked if you grow faster than you can keep up. Having loyal employees and clients who feel their needs are being met satisfactorily are a key to building a stable business. Grow, but not at the expense of maintaining the quality of your interactions.