The Top 5 Lessons I learned My First Year in Business

Maureen Leif, President, Grays Peak Strategies

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Having a new business is somewhat like having a new baby. I don’t mean to undermine the significance of having a baby, I have had three and two are teenagers now. But like having a baby, starting a business sometimes keeps you up at night, it needs constant supervision, it’s hard, sometimes you feel overwhelmed and feel like you are doing it all wrong. However, when it looks up and smiles, you burst with pride and love. We became incorporated in 2015, but it took me another year to jump off the cliff and leave my beloved position at the Colorado Judicial Branch. I launched Grays Peak Strategies in June 2016 at the National Council of Child Support Director’s conference in Iowa. I left that conference feeling so supported and confident that I had made the right choice. I have been asked many times since Iowa how it is going and my frequent response is to be honest and say some days I feel like I am standing on top of Grays Peak yelling (in a very dramatic voice) “I am on top of the world!” and then other days I have pondered, “What have I done”. As I write this almost one year since Iowa, I am so excited about the future and proud of what my team has accomplished. I have reflected and here are my top 5 lessons of the first year in business.

Be Brave

“Greatness, in the last analysis, is largely bravery- courage in escaping from old ideas and old standards and respectable ways of doing things”
— James Harvey Robinson

Everyone wants to think of themselves as brave. There have been times however, when I felt scared and unsure. I have occasionally missed the comfort of knowing my job inside and out. By finding the courage to acknowledge my fear, I feel like I could overcome some of it and move forward to build the confidence I needed to take on daily challenges. This uncomfortableness in not always knowing what I am doing, is turning out to be the best part of the job! It has brought about some unique business offerings and creative business solutions. I thrive on trying to think outside of the box, but sometimes you must be brave to do that. If you surround yourself in life with people that are true supporters they will give you the strength to find you’re brave. I could not do this alone, I have a team and they give me the strength I need.

Be Patient

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I admit that I am not always the most patient person and in business I have had to learn that patience is a virtue. Most of the work we do is in support of State and Local agencies. The people we get to work with are amazing, but the path to getting the work can be long and winding. From figuring out the different registration requirements for each opportunity, to working through proposal requirements and crafting a response that makes sense, there can be a lot of time passed between the idea and showing up for work. If we are fortunate to be awarded the work, we need to often fit our project priorities in with many other competing projects demanding the attention of the people we are there to serve. It’s hard sometimes as we all like to keep things moving and see results fast. But I find that patience is derived from keeping the focus on the end goal, and trying to end each day knowing we have done our best work.

Be Resilient

There are some serious road blocks for small companies to get started. There are Request for Proposal requirements requiring years and years of company experience, there are requirements for references that are difficult to obtain when you are a new business, there is bureaucracy in obtaining Women Owned Business status, and the list goes on. Harvard Business Review described resiliency as the “ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity”[1] Call it stubbornness or call it resiliency, but our team refuses to believe that there is not a way to overcome these barriers. 

We have had to be adaptable and flexible in our approach. We are fortunate that we have partnered with some amazing people and companies who believe in us and our mission. Owning your own business takes a mental toughness I did not know I had. The experience has also given me resiliency in my personal life and modeling resiliency to my three daughters.

I have said something a million times over the last year and that is, “I learn something every day.” I have made mistakes. I have had accomplishments. I have learned from both. I know that my skill sets are not all encompassing, and that my number one job as President is to surround myself with smart and passionate people that do not all think like I do and then listen.

Be yourself

This is the most important lesson. It does not take owning a business to learn or know this, but what an important reminder that in everything, including entrepreneurship, we must just be ourselves. The whole reason I wanted to go into business is that I can bring a creative and fresh perspective to agencies and courts in reaching their goals. So, to try and mold my business approach to look like other businesses in the industry did not feel right. It took a long time to even name the company Grays Peak Strategies. For me, it had to reflect what I am passionate about and what I want to accomplish in my work. I want everyone I work with to feel that feeling of amazement of standing on top of their personal mountain peak. The story of how we came up with the name can be found at this link.

Have fun

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When I left a job I really loved at the Judicial Department to start Grays Peak Strategies, I did not want to just do any type of work to stay in business, I committed to ensuring that I stayed true to doing work I am passionate about and with people that inspire me. There is nothing more inspiring than working with people that are passionate about what they are doing and do not mind having a little fun in the process. I like the idea that our work, although hard, can bring great joy. We can have serious goals and objectives, and yet find ways to make the work fun, creative and exciting. As leaders, it is our job to inspire and I may be biased, but I tend to be inspired by people that don’t take themselves too seriously. That is one reason that Grays Peak Strategies is hosting a 1st Annual Trek to the Top on August 19th where we will guide and assist friends and family on a hike to the top of Grays Peak with a BBQ cookout to follow. Check out this link for more information and to sign up! It’s going to be a challenge, but trust me it will be fun and there is nothing better than standing on top of a 14,270-foot peak overlooking the Colorado Rocky Mountains!

So, rather than an article titled, “The 365 Lessons I have Learned in my First Year of Business” which only my mother would read all the way through, I am focusing on my top 5 lessons: be brave, be patient, be resilient, be yourself, and have fun. I think whether you own your own business, run an agency, lead a team, or are an individual contributor these are good reminders for us all.

[1] Andrea Ovans, “What Resilience Means, and Why it Matters” Harvard Business Review, January 5, 2005, https://hbr.org/2015/01/what-resilience-means-and-why-it-matters