A.J. Lawrence_Key Learnings from 2023

Key Learnings from 2023 with A.J. Lawrence of JAR Group

January 3, 2024

As we prepare and set goals for the upcoming year, reflecting on how far you’ve come and where you want to go next as an entrepreneur is important. Join our host, A.J. Lawrence, in this special episode as he shares his top 5 business learnings from the brilliant guests in 2023. Let’s set the tone for a successful 2024.

About A.J. Lawrence:

A.J. Lawrence is the Founder and CEO of the award-winning JAR Group, a global growth strategy and management agency. You probably also know him as the host of Beyond 8 Figures. A.J. is a dedicated mentor, growth strategist, and angel investor. He calls himself a “journeyman entrepreneur” because he finds great joy in learning from accomplished experts and finding ways to apply these insights to his life and business.

Having led his award-winning digital marketing agency into the INC. 500 twice and having several 7-figure exits, he knows exactly what it takes to get where he is today. Apart from providing consulting services to his clients, he also gives back and shares his expertise with the community by hosting Beyond 8 Figures and welcoming other inspiring entrepreneurs to the show.

Craft your own entrepreneurial journey in 2024

With the new year just around the corner, ask yourself, ‘Where do I want to be this time next year?’ More precisely, ‘What kind of entrepreneur do I want to be?’ 

Before you write any resolutions and business goals this year, take the time to reflect on lessons, achievements, and failures from 2023. Identify the highs and lows, the opportunities you seized, and the challenges you successfully overcame. Acknowledge the overall progress you’ve made both personally and professionally. This is the perfect time of the year for introspection and past year reflection. Take some rest from hard work and give yourself a pat on the back. And then, it’s time to get to work!

2024 has the potential to be your best year so far, but it’s all up to you. Embrace the learnings from 2023 and stick with us at Beyond 8 Figures – we’re here to share insights, guide, and inspire you with every new episode.

Key Insights:

  • Believe in possibilities. Believe you can and you will. As A.J. puts it in this episode, a can-do attitude can weather any storm. So, start consistently working on the belief that you will succeed in your business goals. That’s how you will be able to take the necessary actions to achieve them and overcome any challenges. (02:09)
  • Define what success means for you. Success means different things for different people. Defining your version of success is important to set clear goals and priorities. When you have a clear idea of where you’re going, you can better decide on the next steps and build a business that aligns with your values and mission. (04:13)
  • Communicate your vision consistently. Setting goals is not enough. You also need to consistently communicate them with your team as you move toward them together. Consistently communicating your vision will encourage your team to keep going and help recognize and celebrate the progress you’re making together, ultimately fostering a resilient team culture. (06:05)
  • Invest in your people, and they’ll invest in your vision. It’s no secret that growing your team means growing your company. When you invest in your team’s development, you practically invest in your company’s future. Skilled people deliver better results; that’s a fact. But this kind of leadership goes beyond mere numbers. It inspires and motivates people to drive innovation, work more productively, and ultimately push together toward a shared vision. (08:40)
  • Take small steps to achieve big goals. There’s a reason we say ‘slow and steady wins the race.’ Achieving big wins involves setting up the right foundation and making consistent, incremental progress toward your goals. So, take the time to build a strong foundation and a resilient team. Then, maintain your pace; when the right opportunity comes, you’ll be fully prepared to seize it. (12:24)

A.J.’s best advice for entrepreneurs:

“A can-do attitude can weather any storm. […] Just consistently work on the belief that you will succeed. That doesn’t make it that you will succeed, but it will help when problems come up.” (02:24)

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Still looking to acquire a company. I may have some good news in the new year, a few things in the fire. But really what’s been exciting has been the opportunity to talk with you in the audience.

While I’ve had so many amazing guests, getting to actually chat and meet with some of you that have reached out, it’s been a lot of fun. And it really has helped me think about the type of entrepreneur I want to be.

So as the year winds down, let’s reflect on the incredible journey we’ve been on this year. We’ve heard from some really brilliant minds in entrepreneurship discussing success, leadership and everything in between.

Today, let’s talk about what I think are the five key learnings that have resonated with me. I hope they’ll spark your own year end reflections.

Mindset is everything.
I’ve learned this the hard way. I, for a long time, have treated mindset as kind of a woo woo thing. But when I reflect back on the difficulties I had on my own last company that I sold, I’ve talked about how I feel like I was very lucky I was able to sell because I had been really successful and then had a lot of problems, fell and had to restructure and sell, sort of, because I was burnt out. We’ll talk about that.

I lost focus. I know that now in hindsight. Hindsight being a wonderful, beautiful thing. Let’s just think about like what Bakari Akil remind us. He’s such a cool entrepreneur. He’s doing so many cool, amazing things. But he said mindset is everything.

Sounds silly, sounds a little too simple. But I think even as we look at this economy and we look at what’s happening in businesses around the world, a can do attitude can weather a storm, any storm.

And it’s that ability to kind of continuously focus and build your resilience to handle things it’s not that, oh, I can do this, so therefore I will. It is this ability to kind of incrementally, and again, you’ll hear some themes kind of come through this, but just consistently work on the belief that you will succeed.

That doesn’t make it that you will succeed, but it will help when problems come up. Unexpected detours are just something that happens no matter what we do. It is part of life. And it’s not just about telling yourself you’re going to exceed or putting your shoulder to the grindstone, as I used to call carrying all the weight on your back.

Billie Simmons, when she was on the show, beautifully shared how embracing the unknown can lead to unexpected joy and success.

Billie’s gone through a lot. Silicon Valley bank really impacted her company and led to it going bankrupt. But what she’s been able to do as she continues on her journey is really inspiring. And I think that’s the point.

It’s like, look, there are things that are outside. Think about stoicism. You can only control yourself and what you do. You can’t control everything out there. So taking unexpected joy and embracing it, that helps. Remember, the more you work on your mindset, it’s not that you will just believe it into things, but you will take the actions necessary to achieve your realities. And that is believing in the possibilities.

But that comes to the next thing, how we define what success is.

I’ve talked repeatedly about how so little of what I did back when I had my own company felt successful. We made the INC 500. We were a fastest growing company in the country multiple times. We achieved great things. I had customers who loved us. I had team that were building and did some great things. And they’ve gone on.

So many people that have worked for me have gone on to create their own companies or be successful or just live great lives. And it was so hard for me at the time to take joy in that.

And that’s wrong, because as we talk about mindset, being able to look at what success is, not just these big, huge peaks, entrepreneurism is a roller coaster. I don’t know any other way of saying it. It is the ups and the downs. And when we shoot for the stars and land on the moon.

Yeah, that sounds cool. And it does kind of directionally how we should go for it. But the reality is, if we don’t find ways to be happy with landing on the moon, we’re never going to be happy. And it’s hard.

It’s also really important to realize success is more than just the dollar sign, the numbers that we create. Ben Kelly, when he came on the show, really challenged us to break free from the numbers only definition of success. It’s not just the exit price we achieve, the annual revenue goals, the profits, the money we put in our pocket. It’s what else truly fuels our entrepreneurial journey.

Mackenzie Drazan emphasized clear, consistent communication of your vision. Now, this is kind of a cool thing because in listening to Mackenzie, what I realized was I’ve heard a thousand times like, oh, you got to consistently repeat your vision and for your team to understand everything.

What McKinsey was kind of talking is also important for yourself. And that’s a cool thing because I’m someone who, like a few other entrepreneurs I know, every time I talk about what I’m trying to achieve, I’m micro-adjusting it based upon what’s happening and also who I’m talking to.

But it is this understanding that by consistently discussing our vision and our goals and not just – it’s fine to change them on one thing but acknowledge its changes. That’s a little bit of difference there. Not just change them on the go but acknowledge the changes.

What I found by working with my team in the past, but now consistently with my team now, is that by consistently describing what we’re trying to achieve, I’m recognizing the progress we’re making. And it’s kind of resonating more with me than if I know I fall into the thing like, oh yeah, the water is a little warmer. So therefore, I’m going to describe things a little bit more here. And then I’m never really feeling like we’re achieving because I’m constantly moving the goalposts. As usual, I’m massacring a few metaphors here.

So look, use that consistent communication not only to encourage and grow your team’s understanding of what you’re trying to achieve, but also to recognize what you’re doing and how things are moving forward.

And then what a great guest, Amit Garg reminded us that building a meaningful legacy, not just profits, defines a truly successful business. And he’s not just talking, as we’ve talked about before, your name on a building, statues erected in your name. But really just about working towards these goals that you think are worthwhile to work on in this world.

It can be as simple as just providing good value for yourself, your family, your team and your customers. That is a great thing, but it is what is important for you. So as Amit shared, don’t be afraid to redefine success in your own terms.

Part of this, and as I have talked about repeatedly, you need to have a team that is growing. What we’re doing and the time we’re in right now, technology is changing greatly. AI, in a year, just over a year ago, we were all playing with 3.5, and it finally went from like, oh, these are kind of a cute little toy, to like, November of 22, all of a sudden was like, oh there may be something.

And I think in the past year, it has gone so much farther. And that’s just AI, let alone all other types of technology, are advancing and what it means we can do as entrepreneurs. So as we kind of look to what we’re trying to achieve, work on future proofing your team. It’s about having the leadership to build a team that thrives, not just a team that does and executes what you’re trying to do, but actually is thriving as individuals and as a team.

Maxwell Reed, when he came on, really kind of very subtle discussion around the wisdom of finding that boss to friend balance and how to find it. That resonated a lot with me, because part of the reason why I’m an entrepreneur is I had so many bad bosses early on in my career, and I just always wanted to do a better job.

And I think early on in a lot of my efforts, I went too far to the friend zone. But now, in looking at it, yes. You can develop friendships and you can have relationships with your employees, but you’ve got to remember there is that thing of you’re trying to build a business and finding that sort of balance point between growing your business and growing your team. Kind of what makes being an entrepreneur special because it’s one of the few roles where we get to actually wrestle with tension between two different concepts repeatedly. Or not just two, but multiple concepts.

And that boss-friend balance is a really cool one. Do it because building a good, supportive, growing team allows you to do so much more, but too much emphasis, or not enough emphasis onto the business growth all of a sudden doesn’t allow you to then continue growing your team because you don’t have the fuel, the revenue to continue that. So that’s a cool tension. And it was very subtle and kind of fun how Maxwell described it.

Getting into the concept of being a good leader who motivates, inspires and focuses on the business and not micromanaging and lower cost structure. Just worth another listen to.

Leon Winkes when he came on, remind us that valuing employees and building a supportive culture is key to unlocking their potential.

Sid Pandiya’s insight is about creating a safe space and nurturing managers was eye opening. He wasn’t talking about creating a woke culture, but really creating a place where your employees want to grow, about where they’re finding ways that actually helps them build the type of lives they’re looking to achieve, and aligning it with your own goals and vision. It’s a balancing point.

Once again, it is that tension doing it. But as I’ve learned, by putting more emphasis in helping my team grow, I’m getting more results and more interesting, deeper capabilities out of my team. So invest in your team and they’ll invest in your vision.

Now, one of my favorite pieces that kind of just kept coming up again and again is the power of incremental growth. We all want to hit home runs, we all want to have these outsized growth, we want to hit these huge wins. But creating the right foundation and then consistently, incrementally moving our success, just focusing on the next step, getting the next piece, there’s so much that comes from that process.

So, Mackenzie Drazan, her advice was setting a small, achievable goal. It’s not about perfect routine, but consistent progress. Because from there is where you get that better understanding of where those huge wings are. Kind of really encapsulates that concept of the overnight success, 10 years in the making.

And we’ve had a lot of guests who, like burst into the scene, but when we talk with them, they’ve been 10-15 years pounding away at their business, incrementally growing, having teeny small companies that just sort of allowed them to grow and learn, to all of a sudden finding an opportunity where they’re able to leap forward.

Sean Si really kind of plays into that and emphasizes how building consistency resonates as well. It’s small steps every day that leads to giant leaps over time. Because you start having the right foundation, when these opportunities come, you can take advantage of them.

Remember, big goals are built on a foundation of teeny wins. And this all kind of comes to the concept that the more we work on our business and our own entrepreneurial journey, the more resilient we can become. As I said earlier, and I’ll keep saying, I became fragile with my last business.

I got very lucky that I was able to sell. I didn’t grow my infrastructure with the growth of the company. I didn’t pay attention to my health, my sleeping, my weight, my relationships. I was fragile. Let’s just go with that.

Building a resilient business really helps us focus on what we can do. And it also kind of helps grow our belief in our own capabilities, not just that we have built a resilient business.

Sorry, folks, on the podcast, I’m doing a lot of air quotes here and hand gestures. Yes, I did spend a lot of time in Italy when I was a university student.

Putting the effort into doing these things consistently, incrementally, on the foundation, the team building, our own mindset, all this helps build the company to be more resilient for when these moments of impact that can really not just move our company forward, but really take us back and hurt our efforts. It’s important.

Philip Blackett talks about all the difficulties he had because of COVID, how much he went and how he literally took an extra job just so he could pay his own employees. He is a Harvard business grad working at a Chick-fil-A.

We also had Elliott Holland talk about how during his search, before he ended up starting Guardian Due Diligence, how he was a Lyft driver because Harvard business grad should be working in big company, all this stuff. But he had struck it on his own, and he wasn’t finding the opportunities that he believed in, so he did it.

Philip Blackett kind of reminded us that entrepreneurship is a long game. It’s not about this one time, one business we’re in. It’s about what we’re going to do over a long period of time. And it’s hard.

I’m the first one to admit that I have repeatedly fallen into the concept that the business that I’m running and my life are the same. You got to work on moving those two. Can’t get lost in the daily grind. While the importance of daily effort is so impactful, you can’t get lost in it.

You got to lay the groundwork. You got to keep your head looking forward and just start building in all the pieces that allow your business to weather any storm. Doesn’t mean you won’t get impacted. Doesn’t mean you won’t lose clients. It doesn’t mean you won’t have drops in revenue. But the number one thing you can do is just do the things you know that are going to keep you moving forward, keep you in business. The longer you stay in business, the better the chances are in the long term for success.

Ray Titus definitely is a great example of this. He calls for keeping things simple. And this is really neat because he tied that simplicity, that focus on having simple directional focus as part of what made his efforts so resilient. And he’s someone who created one business, turned it into a huge franchise, and then incrementally built his whole portfolio of franchise businesses to the franchise university, to helping other people develop their own franchises.

I mean, just such a great concept. But it was about going simple, using the process of how he can create simplicity in his business rather than sort of chasing bright, shiny objects as I have been known to do multiple times in different businesses over my career and using that to then build forward. Simplicity to growth helps create a more resilient business and it helps bring in the other things we’ve been talking about that help you in your own journey. Patience and clear vision are keys to building a resilient enterprise.

So as we wrap up this year, let these learnings be your compass. Remember, your mindset matters not just woo woo. Really, just spend time with what’s important to you. Redefine success in your own terms.

Money is a great thing. Going beyond 8 figures can be looked at as just going beyond eight figures of money. But for me it is going beyond just the concepts of making money, but having a strong, resilient, entrepreneurial career. Build a team that thrives. The more effort you put into that, the more you’ll get back.

Celebrate incremental growth. It is truly the foundation to success and prioritize building a resilient business. At the end of the day, the longer you are in business, the more likely you are to have success. So go forth Beyond 8 Figures family and make the next year your most extraordinary yet.

Thank you so much for listening to me. I really appreciate every week when I get to talk to these great entrepreneurs or I get to share what I’m learning or what I’m doing, it’s some of the most fun I have.

I appreciate everyone who listens. I appreciate everyone who reaches out to me. It really does matter that we have an opportunity to talk about being an entrepreneur, not just about
success or what we do to make our businesses better, but how to be a stronger, better entrepreneur. So I look forward to what we’re going to talk about and do next year. And hopefully we’ll have a lot more fun and more interesting, more impactful things to help you on your own journey.

So please, if you enjoyed this and you think there’s another entrepreneur who would gain something from this, share this with them. Suggest they go subscribe on the podcast listening of their choice – iTunes, Spotify, Google. There seems to be another one every week. But just suggest they go listen to it and subscribe. Because the more subscribers we hav e, the easier it is to get cooler and more interesting entrepreneurs to come on the show.

But this year, I think we did a great job. We had some amazing entrepreneurs. So thank you so much. And I can’t wait to talk to you again. Bye-bye.

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