Impact Insights Blog

Difficult Lessons Learned From the First Four Years

April 3, 2018

For those of you in the early stages of starting a new business and coping with the emotional rush that comes with it, whether it relates to those thrilling, exhilarating and exhausting days, or thoughts about if you’re in good company as you build upon your brilliant entrepreneurial idea, I’ll come right out and say it: those first business missteps hurt.

The good news is mistakes are ripe with opportunities to learn, analyze and change a business’ course for the better. How do I know? I’ve seen the upside of those downside moments and haven’t even celebrated my firm’s fourth anniversary yet.

Leading up to that April 2018 milestone – yes, I am totally celebrating with cake and a glass of something really, really good – here are insights from some of the tough lessons I’ve learned along the way.

It’s bad enough that losing a major client can cause a serious financial hit but it also can be a real sock in the gut to a new business owner. Losing solid income is tough, but letting an unsuitable client go allows business owners to make room for the right clients who understand the firm’s value, respect its fees and give it the breathing room it needs to grow and expand. What at first might seem like a major loss, can turn out to be one of the best ways for a business to break into the next level of growth.

The first time I attended a Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Counselors Academy meeting, it became apparent that in order to have a thriving business and be able to expand it, I as the owner needed to step back — way back — from it. I came to see that an owner’s chief role was not as the doer, problem solver and main point of client contact. It was to create a vision and inspire the firm’s staff to walk ahead of him or her, with the owner behind the team, providing guidance and support. Owners have to let other members of the company grow into their roles in order to grow into theirs.

This one is a bit ugly, but in my third year of business, the day came where I hit a wall. With an overbooked calendar and lack of systems and processes in place to make sure everything needed was on hand for me to do my job, it became clear that the structure I had resisted had to be put in place. It’s critical for business owners to embrace the left side of their brain for everything to run on all cylinders. If needed, bring in an outside consultant, that is somebody with experience listening to others and guiding them to leadership solutions. The process can lead to the discovery of stumbling blocks and stress points, both internal and external, allowing a firm to map out what needs to happen to best deal with the issues. While everything won’t be solved in a day, the process is sure to inspire meaningful conversations.

The first time an employee departed from my firm, I was devastated. After all, our team had been together for years and shared in all those crazy startup moments and initial wins. How could anybody leave all that goodness? Even worse, was that the departure left a void in my firm that put a strain on the business’ operations, and that an employee resignation agreement wasn’t in place. Eventually, my takeaway was the realization that even the best team member won’t have the same, intense passion and love affair with my business that I do and that employees move on, as their needs and wants dictate. Business owners need to protect their firms for when employees leave by having the right legal agreements in place and maintaining a healthy recruiting pipeline. If you’re a CEO, add talent scout to your list of duties. It is your job to look out for the best people in advance of any position being available and let those who are ready to move on
do so with grace.

In conclusion, new business owners should remember that fit matters and it’s best to walk away from clients who are “not that into you” or who you are “not so into.” Proclaim your firm’s value with pride and set healthy boundaries with your clients and one another and enforce them. Learn to appreciate structure, process and procedure and realize that even on the craziest or most challenging days, if you can’t laugh and let it go, you’re doing something wrong. Most of all, accept that, like in life, the only constant in business is change.

To quote one of my all-time favorite poems, “After a While” by Veronica A. Shoffstall, “And you learn. And you learn. And with every goodbye, you learn.”

Filomena Fanelli is the CEO and founder of Impact PR & Communications Ltd. (, an award-winning public relations firm based in New York’s Hudson Valley region and serving clients throughout the tristate area. Fanelli can be reached at 845-462-4979 or at

This article originally appeared on Westchester County Business Journal.