Celebrating 3 Years in Business

6 Lessons I’ve Learned as a Business Owner

On February 1st, 2017, I incorporated ML6 Search + Talent Advisory. It was a time filled with mixed emotions, both positive and negative. I was afraid! Afraid to fail, afraid to leave the corporate world behind, but mostly afraid of not having a steady paycheck. Starting a new business of any kind is daunting at the best of times, but for me, it was a little more so as the sole breadwinner of a family of six. Yes, your math is correct, I have four kids and together, we form the six in ML6. This serves as a reminder to me every day why I do what I do.

As the founder of ML6, my experience in these first three years has been incredible. I have learned so much about myself, not only regarding my strengths but also, let’s be blunt, my weaknesses. On the anniversary of my third year in business, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share six key takeaways since opening the doors of ML6. I hope some of these resonate with fellow entrepreneurs who took the chance to go out on their own, and those considering launching a start-up.

1. Fear is good – lean into it. If you aren’t scared, you aren’t challenging yourself or allowing room for growth. 

Let’s talk “Fear.” When I reference fear, I don’t mean going ahead blindly without a plan and hoping for the best outcome. No, when I talk “fear,” I mean that feeling you get when you have a well-thought-out idea, something you have researched in-depth but despite all your due diligence, you still worry that you might fail. That is the fear you need to lean into! That fear of failing even though you know you have a solid plan. Early on in this entrepreneurial journey, despite having extensive knowledge of the industry, I was still scared, terrified even, much more than I am today. Having said that, I still find myself awake at night thinking about all the things that could go wrong with my plans. A past boss and extremely successful entrepreneur once told me that “being scared is good and it means you are on the right track.” I look forward to being scared a lot more in this coming year as we continue to expand our service offering and grow our business.

2. Hire for fit. Each hire you make has a significant impact on the culture you are building. 

This is even truer when you are starting from one person and hiring your first, second and third employee. Every team member plays a crucial role. When you have only a handful of people in the office, having the correct personalities on your team goes a long way to creating a functional and enthusiastic environment in which to work. I have experienced much success hiring for cultural fit – it’s always been something I have taken great pride in. In my past experiences, I had always hired to fit into an existing culture. With my own business, I find that while it may be difficult to hire for a culture I am still creating, I’ve learned it is best to part ways quickly once we realized we missed the mark. While the adage of “hire slow and fire fast” might not be a popular one, sometimes despite the best of intentions, it just doesn’t work out and it is the best course of action.

3. Take advantage of the advice passed on by the small business community.

Contrary to what people may think, the small business community is amazing and will be more than willing to help you out. For me, they did more than I would have expected. In the first few weeks of contemplating my business plan, I reached out to so many individuals who had embarked on this journey before me. I reached out not only to those in my close circle but also in my extended network. Most were incredibly responsive and helped me with several of my questions. They were all aware of what I was embarking on, going as far as sharing legal documents and templates to help reduce some of my start-up costs and early stresses. Some were even competitors, yet they were still happy to help! An informal mentorship with a more experienced entrepreneur that you look up to can make the journey a lot less daunting. I hope to do the same for others starting out in business in the years to come. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice from others who have traveled the road you are setting off on.

4. Don’t chase every dollar. Be selective in your projects and partnerships. 

There are clients and/or projects that are just not worth your time or energy. While I will admit that we could have done a better job of this in the earlier days, we are constantly evolving our business practices and leverage the learnings from each experience. Trust your gut instinct – as you explore partnerships with a business or individual, if it doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t the right partner. You don’t want to associate yourself with any individual or entity that doesn’t line up with your core values. If a client doesn’t respect you, your team, provide you with a level of common courtesy or reciprocate business acumen, then it may be time to walk away and not invest your time and energy. It will lead to a poor portrayal of you and your business. Unfortunately, not everyone is going to value your time and efforts as much as you do and if they make that clear early in the relationship, then it is best to part ways before committing too many of your resources.

5. Don’t try to do everything yourself – leverage appropriate experts. 

This is a key part of the process. Not only will it save you time and energy, but it will allow you to focus on your core competencies. In my case, leveraging the strengths of others on my team allowed me to develop a relationship with clients, build talent acquisition strategies and headhunt for key leadership roles. You need to see your time for what it is worth. Why spend hours trying to figure out accounting, tax or legal issues yourself when you would see a much more significant return on your time doing what you are good at? While I have outsourced these tasks right from the start, I also have the good fortune of having a business partner who balances me out incredibly well. He compliments my skill set and vice versa. If you can find a partnership like this, it will make your days so much easier and your output so much greater. Don’t try to do it all on your own!

6. In-person meetings. Don’t underestimate the power of eye contact or a firm handshake. 

In a world ruled predominantly by technology, people want to build connections with other people. I find there is no better way to do that than interacting with someone over a coffee or a meal. Nothing replaces face-to-face meetings. For me personally, taking the time to meet potential candidates and clients in person shows that I have placed importance in them personally. This is a crucial step towards building rapport, trust and a relationship with someone. It gives others the opportunity to get to know you better, feel confident and comfortable giving you their business. Taking the time to get out there and build relationships with others is an investment in your business. Don’t approach every interaction as an opportunity for a sale – if it leads to a deal, great, but focus on creating relationships for the future, not just the here and now. The world is full of amazing people with great ideas that lead to incredible opportunities. Treat people well, work hard and you will see a return on your efforts.

Despite the highs and lows, these last three years have been the best three years of my working life. I look forward to the next three and beyond as my company continues to grow. I hope sharing my own perspectives about the lessons I’ve learned helps you in some way recognize you are not alone, and that if you put yourself out there, you’ll find your trusted community, stretch yourself and continue to find success and happiness.

Michael Lemmer


ML6 Search + Talent Advisory

Building extraordinary employer communities

ML6 is a talent advisory and recruitment firm providing customized talent solutions to support our clients’ visions for long-term, sustainable results. We help our clients manage change and drive growth through people – from advising on people processes and practices to hiring. To learn more about our talent solutions, visit www.ml6.ca.