I started planning for Lightning AI more than three years ago. I was working as a marketing manager, and every day I was repeating the same tasks over and over again. I knew that AI could help, and with a background in data science, I knew I could write code that would solve genuine problems and save so much time for marketers.
I was on my first sales call, and my future client asked how he could run the program himself. I’d honestly never even thought about it, I assumed that I would run everything for him.
I needed to make a web application with a frontend interface so that the client would be able to upload data and make decisions. It didn’t need to be pretty, but it needed to work.
As I started thinking about how to give this client what he wanted, I interviewed a number of different agencies who design and build web apps. They gave me crazy quotes: 6 months of time and $60k+ to build out the app. I bootstrapped the company myself, and there was no way I could spend that type of money.
So I did what I had to — I found and leveraged tools (like Anvil.works), I signed up for an online class to learn how to code, and I built a web app in three weeks.
By taking the time to invest in myself, I built this company from the ground up. It can be hard to stop, take a breath, and choose to focus on what matters. But when you do, you can be rewarded many times over.
Remember, investing in yourself is in turn investing in your business.
How to invest in yourself professionally as a CEO
It might seem like common sense to invest in yourself personally, but what about professionally? As a CEO or busy entrepreneur, investing in yourself professionally is key. And although this can also look differently depending on what type of industry you’re in, some of the common ways to invest in yourself professionally include:
- Attending business/industry conferences
- Networking locally in groups
- Speaking and sharing your knowledge at events and virtually
- Joining organizations that align with your mission
- Taking a course or enrolling in a new program
- Be an avid researcher
Throughout the past few years as a startup CEO, I’ve realized one thing: you should always be learning. Never stop learning. I personally choose to engage in thought leadership via social media, attend conferences, and speak for various companies to keep myself up to date with industry trends. I test out new software and technology regularly. Not only does this keep my knowledge relevant, but it helps me stay on my toes professionally. I also get to meet so many new people and expand my network.
If you don’t push yourself to learn and evolve, you’re failing to invest in yourself and your business.
How to invest in your business
Every business is unique. Whether you have two employees or fifty, there are numerous ways to invest in your business and your people.
When operating a startup, cash-flow is often tight. However, cash-flow being tight isn’t a permission slip to not invest in your business. In order to increase your revenue, build a brand and manage your team efficiently, there are a few core areas that are almost always worth the investment.
Let’s talk about the basics:
For my business, I personally always invest in good marketing, strong systems, and my team. We have someone handle all of our content, social media and inbound marketing. Because here’s the thing, as a business owner you already have a hefty to-do list. There’s no reason to add to it with tasks that are outside your scope.
When it comes to systems, you should always invest in strong systems that help organize your workflows and processes. Sure, the free version of that project management tool might suffice and “get the job done” but just remember, the initial framework you set-up is crucial to your long-term success. It’s better to over-organize and over-deliver.
Lastly, your team should be one of your main priorities as a business owner. This goes without saying because without your team, you could be out of business. Even if you operate a small business, there are always different pieces to the puzzle. Reward those pieces, respect them and invest in them.
To invest in your team you can do things such as pay for conferences or courses to help them expand their knowledge. Maybe you could implement “Free Lunch Fridays” in the office to show your appreciation for their hard work and dedication. Perhaps you start doing monthly company happy hours to create comradery.
Whatever it might be, you’re only as strong as your team. You can only do so much alone, so when in doubt, always invest in your team first and foremost.
Great businesses have at least:
- Good marketing
- Strong systems
- Solid team
If you don’t know where to invest in your business, these three areas are a good place to start.
How to invest in your business: the strategics
Once you have all of the above in place, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty. I’m a data person, and the numbers simply don’t lie.
One of the most strategic ways I’ve invested in my business was when I chose to go down market. What do I mean by that?
In January 2019, we created a self-serve app that changed our entire direction as a company. It was a huge shift strategically for Lightning AI. Instead of targeting the top of the market, we began targeting the bottom of the market.
By creating a self-serve app, our new business model was infinitely scalable which was a huge plus. We learned that by changing our target from big to small companies, our total addressable market moved from 3,000 companies to 650,000+.
There are tons of strategic ways you can invest in your business, and it usually starts with looking at the data and seeing where there’s room for improvement or new opportunity.
I’ve taken a lot of risks over the past few years but wouldn’t be where I am today without investing in both myself and my company.