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Celebrating 10 Years

In January, I celebrated my 10-year work anniversary with integrateIT. Depending on how you look at things, 10 years is either a very short or very long amount of time. To me, the past 10 years have at times dragged on or passed by in a blink of an eye. Since 2006, I have gotten married, welcomed 3 amazing children, and built several lasting memories. I believe that I have matured and grown in so many ways, and at the same time my wife would tell you that at my worst I am still stuck in 1999. The evolution of David Baldini would make an amazing documentary, except for the fact that nobody would watch it.   That said, over the past ten years, I have partaken in a myriad of experiences ranging the gamut of emotions. Unfortunately for the rest of this post, I just exhausted all of the $100 words that I know. With that said, in reflection of my ten years with integrateIT, I bring you my top 10 lessons learned:

 

  1. You’re on all the time. As a business owner, there truly are no days off. Evenings, weekends, holidays, and vacations are all part of the “normal” work week. It’s not a complaint, it’s just a fact. You learn quickly that every email you receive is the most important thing to someone: an employee has a question about insurance, a prime contractor has a question about an invoice, or a teammate needs an imminent response to a data call. Fortunately the advances in technology have been conducive to rapid responses from anywhere at any time. Unfortunately, the advances in technology have also made it difficult to say that you were unable to respond to an email.
  2. Time management is critical. Since you are always on, you’d better make really good use of your time. In addition to my regular work week, I coach sports three nights a week, and games on the weekends. I have responsibilities as a husband, parent, and friend. There isn’t much time for screwing around, and there certainly is no time to “recover” from a long night or weekend. Additionally, there is always the unforeseen emergent situation to tend to. Poor time management leads me to producing low quality deliverables and leaves me open to making mistakes…and no one has time for that.
  3. Find people you can trust at all levels. I am so lucky to have a business partner that I trust to share in the responsibility of growing and maintaining this business. I know that we can lean on one another, encourage one another, commiserate with one another, or kick each other in the ass if needed.  A business partnership truly is a professional marriage. You have to share a vision and a common goal.  You have to be equal partners.  I can tell you first hand how toxic it can be to have a business partner that doesn’t share the same workload, drive or core values.  It filters down to every level of your organization, and it ruins your day to day experience.  Fortunately, for the past seven years, I can honestly say that my “business marriage” has been a blessing.  On a related note, one of the most difficult things for my business partner and me to do is delegate responsibility. At the end of the day, as a business owner, it doesn’t matter if someone else screws up- it is your name on the marquee and no one else. That said, it is impossible to do everything yourself. There are too many meetings to attend, too many proposals to deliver, and too many contracts to manage. If you try to do everything, you will spread yourself thin, and you will ultimately burn out.   Geoff and I are fortunate to have identified teammates that share in our vision, and have been thirsty to take on responsibility in the realms of talent management, business development, marketing, and recruiting.  Without these teammates, we would be unable to grow or sustain our business.
  4. Say Thank You. It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice. Saying thank you to those around you isn’t difficult, but it is often forgotten. I have found that most people feel as if their contributions are not fully appreciated or properly acknowledged. Showing your appreciation for your employees, coworkers, and business partners goes a long way to building morale and strengthening bonds.
  5. It’s a Marathon, not a Sprint. You hope so at least, because if it was a sprint, chances are you’d be out of business. Something that I learn time and time again, and sometimes the hard way, is that every decision you make today can come back to impact you tomorrow. Chances are the first time that you meet someone- whether it is a prospective teaming partner, employee, or customer- will definitely not be the last. Every impression you make can be lasting, and every interaction can be critical. Often the efforts you put in today may not come to fruition for years- if ever. It can be a long and humbling process, but you have to play the game if you want to have a chance to win. More times than I can count I have seen someone down the road that I interacted with earlier in my career. Memories tend to be long in business, and first impressions are often difficult to erase.
  6. Sometimes you are the Dog, but mostly you are the Fire Hydrant. Vince McMahon (great American) once said, “In this business you need to learn to eat shit. You’ll never like the taste, but you’ll get used to it.” Whether you are a big company or a small business, an employer or an employee, you will often find yourself of the business end of a beat down, fairly or not. If you are a subcontractor, you will ALWAYS find yourself taking it on the chin. All you can do is all you can do, and continue to do things the right way. If you work hard, work smart, and treat people the right way, things have a way of working out in the end.
  7. It’s Not that Bad. There are a lot of difficult situations you must address as a business owner. Difficulties with primes, customers, employees, and vendors can certainly fill many a work day. We have had contracts end unexpectedly, employees find themselves dealing with hardships, and massive expenses appear out of nowhere. And when you go through a few days, weeks, or even months where it feels like you are encountering one bad situation after another, you can tend to get very down on yourself. But you are alive; you are healthy; you are solvent. You have a wonderful family and great friends. You are healthy. There are a lot of people in this world that would gladly trade their situation for yours. It is important to keep that in perspective.
  8. Celebrate Success. Too often, as mentioned above, we get bogged down by the negatives that we don’t take the proper time to reflect on the positive. For me, this is one of my greatest faults as a business owner. I allow myself to get beaten down by the day to say swings and I don’t take the time to acknowledge all of the positives that have occurred. integrateIT has been in business for 12 years. That is pretty damn good, considering most startups don’t make it past a year. Our company has been voted one of the best places to work in Washington DC for three years running. That means that we have built a company and an environment that people are proud to work for, which not many companies can say. Our company has won Prime contracts, has been awarded several subcontracts, and has diversified into new agencies. We have built a great team full of diverse and unique employees. We are making a difference at work and in the community. All of this should be celebrated.
  9. Find an Outlet. Everyone needs a way to escape their daily stresses, and everyone needs a break. For me, it is very important to exercise. It allows me time to think, time to vent, and time to literally work out my emotions. It also breaks me away from my phone and computer long enough to remember that I have other things going on in life besides work.
  10. Find a Jenny. All of the above would not have been possible without my wife Jenny. Dealing with me on a day to day basis is not easy. As we are managing our growing family, the consistent reply of “I need 5 minutes to send this extremely important email” or “I’m going to need the next three nights to knock out this proposal” tend to get repetitive and trite. That, coupled with my weekly (daily?) reply of “I’m sorry I’m in a bad mood, but there is a crisis right now”, you can imagine that dealing with me can be a bit trying. I can honestly say that without Jenny, there would be no integrateIT….at least not an integrateIT that involves me. I have a serious (pathetic) dream that one day, when I retire, there will be a celebration all about me. After several celebrities acknowledge my contributions to industry, and following a once in a lifetime acoustic collaboration of Jon Bon Jovi and Scott Stapp singing a duet in my honor, I will hit the stage to accept my well-deserved accolades. And after 10 minutes of amazing banter, I will acknowledge my wife as matriarch of my family, and my saving grace. And it will be selling her short.
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Looking Back….and Ahead

When it comes to work, I have a general rule that I only allow myself one day to react to an outcome, whether it is good or bad. I believe that reflection is a key for personal and professional growth. After all, integrateIT’s trademarked portfolio management solution, iSPINE (cheap plug!) will tell you that documenting lessons learned is a key component to project closeout. However, if I allow myself to get too high or too low, I have come to realize that it stunts my productivity. Get excited about a new hire? Take the day and enjoy it, because just as quickly a position will be cut. Add a new teaming partner? Enjoy, because tomorrow a teammate may wish you your best in your future endeavors.

Just like in blackjack, the business cards have no memory. Whether you won or lost a hand, or several in a row (I’ve heard…), each day brings a new deck of cards. 2014 was a successful year for the Company. integrateIT met approximately 90 percent of our corporate goals. We added six new employees, we contributed time and financial resources to several outstanding charities, we added new teaming partners, and Geoff and I ended our ninth year in a row where we are still speaking to one another. The year was not without its challenges. Two of our contracts ended and were not renewed (thanks for the 3 days notice US Government! I kid. Kind of.), the affordable health care act proved to be anything but (for more information on this, read my self-help blog from October, available via the Google), training budgets and award fees were cannibalized, and Scott Stapp still hasn’t found the criminal who stole $30 million from his bank account.

As soon as the year ended, Geoff and I set forth to plan our way forward in 2015. Almost immediately, we found ourselves saying what we have said each year for the past 9 years- that 2015 will be our most challenging year yet. This time, however, I definitely believe it. Our two Prime contracts are up for re-compete this year. Both face uncertainty of renewal. If the contracts go away, approximately 1/4th of the jobs in our company would be cut. That is an impact to our employees, their families, and our company. Not a day goes by that Geoff and I don’t take that very seriously. It literally keeps us up at night. But so much of the future of these contracts is out of our hands, as turnover in Government personnel, business reorganization, and federal funding will all play a part. What can we control? Simply our performance on site. Is it scary that we could receive a 100 percent award fee and still not receive an extension? Absolutely. But this is what we signed up for as business owners, and this is the hand we will play. We can only hope that we will flop an Ace and a King.

Apart from our Prime contracts, industry is facing many challenges. Award fee pools are being cut, contracts are being consolidated, escalation of rates has been eliminated, and training budgets have been decimated. For some reason, no one explained this to our vendors, as their prices continue to escalate. So what can we do? I suppose we could hold our cards, and hope the 2015 dealer busts. But the book will tell you, it’s better to play your hand and give yourself a shot, as opposed to hoping someone else wins or loses on your behalf. We will continue to build the infrastructure of our company. To me, that means participating on as many proposals as possible, no matter the win probability. It means getting creative with training. integrateIT will implement various Communities of Practice, where our staff will teach one another industry best practices. We will save money wherever possible, so that in the event a contract is lost, we can support our staff for as long as possible.

I am a big fan of cliches and quotes. I’m a bigger fan of plagiarizing them and claiming them as my own. My current favorite quote is courtesy of Henry Ford, who surprisingly wasn’t a professional wrestler or a lead singer of a rock band. “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” For 2015, I think we can do anything. And if we can’t? It isn’t because I didn’t believe we could.

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Put Your Phone Down

Over the last few years, I have learned that time management is of the utmost importance.  Being a father, a husband, and a business owner are all full time jobs.  When you add in my ridiculous social calendar (it’s tough being so cool and having so many friends), monthly WWE pay per view events, semi regular hilarious Facebook postings, and bi-weekly golf outings, there isn’t much time left for…..anything.  And oh yeah, Jen and I are welcoming our second child next week.

Father. Husband. Business Owner.  Three full time jobs, each listed in descending order of importance.  The issue is at times (and if you ask my wife, WAY too many times) I prioritize running the company at the expense of being present for family time.  The key word there is present- as in- not checking my email at Chuck-E-Cheese or while we are relaxing in front of a family movie. 

It is very difficult for me to detach from the company.  Every email to me demands immediate response and is THE most important email of all time.  I’ve found myself telling my wife more times than I can count that I will “come back” to the present just as soon as I finish another email.   If I don’t reply to an employee concern immediately I cannot shake the guilt.  What will they think if I don’t get back to them within 5 minutes?  Will they think I don’t care about them?  Will a potential teaming partner rescind an offer if I don’t get back to them ASAP? 

The answer is….it can wait. 

Unless one of my kids starts the next One Direction, chances are I’m going to be working for the next 30 years.  This means 30 more years of employee emails, customer complaints, and proposal data calls.  Unfortunately, Jake is only going to be 4 years old for another 6 months.  I have roughly 3 years left before he realizes I am not as awesome as I think I am. Our new son is going to have so many “firsts” over the next year…moments I don’t want to miss because I am preoccupied with another email.

I won’t change overnight, but I will try. It will make me a better Father, a better Husband…and ultimately a better Business Owner.

 

 

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