Do you remember what you were doing 20 years ago?

Generally, unless there is a significant or memorable event, time pushes forward without remembering what we did or how we felt after a period of time.

But, for me, this day 20 years ago was significant – a day I will always remember. I was in the attorney’s office trying to come up with the name of the company I wanted to create (of course, everything inventive or cool I had thought of was taken). After substantial paper work, signatures, and nervous excitement, Edwards Industries was born!

So what now? I had my home office as our ‘corporate headquarters,’ a shared family desktop PC, and an early version of QuickBooks that I didn’t really know how to use. No clients, no pipeline of potential work, an extremely basic business plan, and capital in the form of a small cashed in IRA – but I was ready to make it work.

If I could chat with my former self, I would definitely have some serious knowledge and lessons learned to impart. And while business trends and conditions have changed, the journey has left me with standing business lessons. I am proud to have experienced and lived through them all; learning the entire time. As we celebrate 20 years of business, it felt like a good time to share my top 3 lessons in entrepreneurship.

Drive, Motivation, and Hard Work

This seems like a given. You need the motivation to succeed, a willingness to work (often around the clock), and a passion for what you’re doing. But, what entrepreneurs don’t realize is hard work often trumps talent and money alone does not ensure success. It means being willing to give it your all and finding extra inspiration to push forward when situations are less than ideal.  Also, remembering money does not fix all problems. Investments and strong cash flow makes day to day operations easier, but it’s also easy to let the money become the sole measure of your success.

Find Focus, but be Willing to Adjust

When I began Edwards, I understood systems engineering and program management from my work with two major Baltimore based hospitals and a mid-sized defense engineering firm. That is what I knew, so Edwards would provide systems engineering support services – differentiating ourselves by incorporating disciplined and transparent program management processes. Little did I know market trends would have us focus on program management while systems engineering became a thing of the past (for us).

I had to be willing to align my solutions to the market; adjusting my initial road map. But that doesn’t mean you try to accommodate every market need. Focus on what you do well and how you can make your skills stand out in the market. I also quickly realized I was not going to be the expert on everything the company offered. I needed to admit my shortcomings, focus on my strengths, and hire those with the skills the company needed to remain successful. Admitting you are not able to do everything shows employees and customers, you are committed to them, not your ego. Do what you do best and surround yourself with a strong team to tackle the rest.

Commitment to Relationships is Key

Drive, focus, and skills are the initial recipe for success, but without a foundation of ethics, morals, and commitment to relationships you probably won’t remain successful for long. Trust and dedication to both your customers and your employees will take you far. If your people know you to be a person of your word, it means something. Be authentic – don’t force or fake it. Customers are willing to return to a company they can trust and whose employees are motivated because the company invests in them.

Although customers provide us with the work, employees are the reason we succeed. I have always tried to approach our employee programs from the perspective of the employee, making Edwards the best place to work. Investing in your employees through training, events, and making them feel like they have a voice, goes a long way in their career and ultimately your success. A happy employee is willing to give more to the customer, benefiting the organization as a whole.

I am extremely proud of the work we do, the clients we support, and the employees who share our vision. We have come a long way since the first days in my home office and realistically I could share a laundry list of lessons learned. But, I’ve found no matter what, the message is tied to drive, motivation, focus, and commitment. Timeless lessons we can all apply.

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