What we learned in 2019
Blue Sky Partners’ co-founders share their individual learnings about what it takes to build a sustainable company and sustainable partnerships in what was a whirlwind of a year.
In 2019, Blue Sky Partners worked with 24 clients and almost doubled our revenue. We signed our first out of state clients in New York and Maryland, had the opportunity to work with some of Austin’s best and brightest subject matter experts to help facilitate and consult on projects, and we formalized a partnership with Honeycomb Creative, expanding our services to include basic marketing and branding services in addition to the operations, leadership, and cultural consulting we’ve focused on since the beginning.
BSP doesn’t operate like a standard business, and we like it that way. We don’t have an office because we work out of our clients’ offices so frequently, and in 2019 we didn’t really have standing meetings.
We have very specific things we regularly check in on between each other, everybody has visibility into everybody else’s calendar but each partner or consultant also has individual control over how they spend their time. We trust each other, we communicate frequently, and our clients know that if we say we’ll get something done it’s going to get done — as a result, our clients get a lot more done. A win for them is a win for us.
Blue Sky is a partnership and our work culture is built on transparency, mutual trust and admiration for each other — all of these values and practices extend to our clients and the vendors we contract out, too. We don’t bullshit, and we don’t take any. We act as a pure idea meritocracy among each other, our partners, and our clients in order to produce the best work and execute the strongest ideas.
As part of our corporate 2019 review, each of our three founding partners did a bit of self reflection and came up with a list of things we learned as we rough and tumbled our way through our second year in business. What was so enlightening about this is, while we obviously worked on projects together, we weren’t in the same room all that often. So, for each of us, these lists are a glimpse into what the others pulled out of experiences that we shared together, separately.
We’re excited to put what we’ve learned to use in 2020.
Manage your cash flow every day, down to the dollar. Blue Sky Partners has never taken any investment— we’ve been revenue-focused from day one. So my biggest goal at the beginning of our second year was to take our average cash flow runway of 45 days and get that to 90. So Tim and I worked really hard to rework our financial model, payment terms, and invoicing schedules to make that happen and… we did. Couldn’t have done it without this really cool financial planning tool Tim put together, though. We’ll be releasing that this year so more people can benefit from what we learned.
So much of modern work is just busywork. This is one of those things I knew, but something I didn’t know, you know? In 2019 if I didn’t see the immediate or long-term value in doing something, I didn’t put pressure on myself to get it done. That’s not to say I didn’t do it. I did a lot of things I didn’t want to do. I just took the pressure off and tried my best to cut out anything I considered superfluous.
Sign a contract with really clear terms. I’m an optimist, so I tend to believe the best about people. The purpose of a contract, if we’re honest though, is basically to protect yourself in case somebody wants to break a promise or wriggle their way out of something — a contract is fundamentally a pessimist’s document. I don’t really like them. But contracts are so important, not because people are bad or come to the table with any kind of ill-will, but because circumstances change. As circumstances change, expectations change, and as expectations change, previous definitions and assumptions often change too. So it serves you well to talk through scenarios and define those circumstances, assumptions and expectations, and agree on very clear terms inside a contract with any client or customer—up front. You hope a relationship never goes south, you hope you never have to reference your contract, but if you need to, you’ll be glad you defined terms early.
Get really, really real with your business partners and team members. I feel really blessed to work alongside Callie, Tim, Matt, and our other consulting partners. Not only because they’re ridiculously talented and I learn from them every day but because — even though we’re not always in the same room — I feel like we actually go through things together. Running and scaling a business is hard, irrespective of what’s going on in somebody’s personal life, but what’s happening in somebody’s personal life when you’re a team of three to five people is really important. It affects everything. So we prioritize the personal and get really, really real with each other — no question and no topic is off limits if it’s affecting somebody’s mental health and they’re open to discussing it. If somebody on the team has a problem with somebody else on the team we don’t pull punches, we address it directly, respectfully, thoroughly, and we move on with a better understanding of each other. We give each other mental health days, no questions asked, we take an afternoon every once and a while to just take a walk as a team and talk about what’s on everybody’s mind. All the work still gets done, and our relationships are stronger because we take this approach.
Don’t overthink the process when expertise is the product. In previous years, BSP tried to create a distinctly unique process or method for the work we provided, ultimately over complicating the work and end-product. Our knowledge base, expertise and experience is what the client was and is attracted to so trying to produce a process that ended up being overly complex for the sake of being “unique” simply got in the way.
Be willing to take time off. A day won’t make or break your productivity. Starting a company can be overwhelming, and an obvious yet incorrect solution to this stress is to work through the grind. Sometimes taking a moment to breathe, remember why you are doing what you’re doing, and resetting is exactly what you need to keep moving forward.
Don’t silo yourself, but also don’t believe everyone should be a part of everything. In a small team, you need to segment responsibilities in order to succeed. There is a desire to include everyone for the sake of brainstorming and reinforcement of ideas, but there is simply too much to do on any given day for everything to be done as a group, or for everybody to be in every loop.
Say no a lot. It is appealing to be invited to an event. It feels great to be asked to join something. It is amazing when someone wants your opinions or insights on a problem or solution. We all have the same 24 hours in a day though. If you sleep eight hours (you should) and unplug when you eat (please do that) and you take care of yourself (let’s call that two hours, you have 13 hours to spend on work, loved ones, hobbies, and everything else. We have one time around in this life. Are you using those 13 hours for yourself or others? Are you pursuing your passions or having an impact the way you want? If not, it is okay to say no to create the space to do what lights you up.
Put the mask on yourself first. Part of saying no means making time for self care. Self care creates longevity. The most important thing is to do good work for a long time. It is okay to skip an event to take care of yourself mentally and physically. It is wonderful to block out time for heads down work or personal development. People rely on you and you need to be here for them.
Most things that feel urgent are imaginary. To do my best work, I learned to turn off email,notifications, unplug from social media, and ask people to text me if they need me. Why? Because most urgent things are self-imposed and figments of our imagination. The real work is being present in the moment to do the facilitation, hear a client’s needs and wants, and rolling up your sleeves to accomplish something together. That might mean taking small steps to big outcomes or carving out time to tackle one big thing in a day.
Knowing how, when, and where to work is critical. As an introvert, it is important to know when I need to be in a coffee shop, office, or home. It is critical to figure out when you need a person to help solve a problem or be a sounding board. Having principles and a structure to know what projects constitute the type of work environment I need has helped me execute the quality work I believe in and my partners, co-workers, and clients deserve
Getting a compliment from your partners, coworkers, and clients feels amazing. Getting told “good job” feels good. When someone really likes the work you did, that feels really, really good. Since that is how I feel, I try and share my gratitudes and appreciation with others, not to fish for compliments, but because if it makes me feel that good, I hope it makes an impact in their lives too.
Recognition is more important than I thought. Look, it just feels good to see your name in the lights and be recognized. I used to run from it. Now I see the value for myself and others. A surprise to me is, sometimes you have to ask for it. That’s okay. Ask for it. Apply for it. No shame in being nominated for an award, seeing your name in an email, or on a big board and a big event. Don’t do the work just for that moment, and there is nothing wrong with a well earned moment of recognition because of the work you do.
Relying on habits is essential. If it were not for my habits, I wouldn’t have the time or ability to do a lot of the work I do. I rely on a morning and evening routine to learn new skills, meditate, read, run, prepare for the next day, week, month, and year. Small habits make big differences.
Blue Sky Partners is a business consulting company that helps leaders and their teams burn through their backburner and put systems in place so they can scale. Since 2017, we’ve helped more than 30 companies launch more than 70 departments, initiatives, projects, and products.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if we can be helpful or if you’d just like to say hello.