How My First Job (14 Years Ago!) Made Me a Better Business Owner Today

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Let's talk about our first jobs! Mine was when I was 16 and I was hired at the McDonald's within walking distance from my parents' house. I had the red polo shirt, black pants, black hat that said, "I'm Lovin' It" and a t-shirt to replace the red polo on the weekends. Once I was tenured, of course.

I spent a little over two years working at McDonald's and learned quickly that I would need to get out of my comfort zone, and often, in order to be successful at my job. And, even though it was my first job, and we would all crack jokes about how terrible it was to work there, I truly wanted to do a really good job. If I was going to spend my time there, I was going to make sure I put my best foot forward. You know, between my choreographed dances with the mop bucket, my "creative" recipes for my break food, and every so often breaking out "the worm" just because.

So, what could I have learned while also asking, "Do you want fries with that?" - which, by the way, we NEVER SAID. Don't believe the hype. ;)

Here are 5 things that I learned back then that still hold true today:
 

1.  Show up on time and don't complain about sometimes having to "stay late".

I couldn't tell you how many times that I was asked to come in early, stay late, or stay until closing time because other people called off or things were unexpectedly crazy.

Business Tip:  Sometimes projects can take longer than initially anticipated. It's something that should be factored in to your business life and schedule because there's always risk of it happening. While you may have a process for "everyone", sometimes it's harder for some to adjust their way of working to yours. This is normal. For example, I have a few clients that have preferred phone calls over email to explain their thoughts. And the reason they preferred this was CLEAR when I would receive their email feedback vs. what I would hear them explain on the phone. That being said, don't set yourself on fire to keep other people warm. When I say "sometimes" having to stay late, that doesn't mean that you should be spending double/triple time with clients simply to make them happy. Make sure you account for your time, even financially, and make sure your client doesn't "scope creep" past what was contractually obligated. Finding that balance is crucial in making sure you don't feel taken advantage of by your client and you set boundaries in your business relationships. 

2.  Don't tiptoe. Just dive in!

I remember we were SUPER slammed at McDonald's one night after the local rivelry football game. We had three people call off and it was me, my manager, and one other co-worker running the whole show. When my manager asked me if I knew 'kitchen' (cooking, prepping, wrapping the food) I instantly wanted to say no. Because that was the truth - I didn't! But, I knew that by me saying no, it could potentially cause even more chaos. I told him, "I've never been in kitchen before, but if you help me out on what goes on what, I'll find a way to make it work!" Sure enough, by the end of the night, I knew more sandwich orders than I even knew existed on the menu! By following some charts, asking questions when I needed to, and even asking for a bit of help when I got backed up, I made it work. And, I learned a new skill that allowed me to pick up more hours!

Business Tip:  Sometimes you just gotta dive in. Life, especially in business, will always throw you unexpected curveballs. For example, two months ago, I had a branding designer (the incredible Alyssa Gordon from Alyssa Joy Co) ask me if I knew how to design in ProPhoto. The truth? Heck no, I didn't! But... I was honest with her and instead of saying no and end of conversation, I said, "I've never done it before... but I'd love to learn it, as long as you understand that I'm jumping in with 0 knowledge of it!" She understood and she took a risk on me. That risk paid off with a BEAUTIFUL new website on ProPhoto for Brittani Elizabeth Photography
 

3.  Set Expectations and Keep On Setting Expectations

Have you ever had to tell someone that you couldn't get them a milkshake because the shake machine was shut down and your co-worker wasn't aware and had them pay already? Have you ever had someone throw a Hi-C Orange drink at you because you were the bearer of that news, even though you offered them their money back? No? Well, I have. And, trust me, it sucked. All because the wrong expectations were set. Now, was this the nicest thing to do to a 16 year old girl working a Friday night at 9:30PM? No way. But, it happened because they were pissed (and immature), but pissed because the wrong expectations were set. They were told they would receive something that they could not receive after they paid for it. 

Business Tip:  Set expectations from the get go. Whether it be pricing, timeline, scope creep, everything. Always keep your customer informed and make sure if things begin to change, for any reason, you give them a heads up. Be honest with them and give them your expert opinion if things start heading down a path you're not feeling. And, if you set the WRONG expectation, be HONEST with them and correct it. Remember, you're human. Just make sure you have a change of clothes, in case they throw some juice your way. ;)
 

4.  Lean on Others

I literally had THE best co-workers at McDonald's. Not just the other high school kids, but a few college kids and even a few people as old as my parents.  I actually vividly remember running in to work (when I wasn't even scheduled to work) with excitement when I left the hospital after my first nephew was born. I literally screamed it down the aisle and got hugs from everyone on my way to the break room. I also remember when my first boyfriend (who also worked there) broke my heart (cue the 'awwwwww') and I got even more hugs and shoulders to cry on than I could count. And, he also got yelled at by everyone, so that helped, too! ;)

Business Tip:  Warning. Warning. Warning. Do not do this business thing alone. Yes, it's totally fine to "own" your "own" business, but break up your day-to-day (or night-to-night) with socializing with others. Even if those others only live online. There should be a freakin' warning label when you file your business legally with the state. Something that clearly says DO NOT DO THIS ALONE. Network with people. Lean on shoulders. Cry to people. Laugh with people. Share your successes with people. Share your failures with people. And, most importantly, LISTEN to theirs and learn from it all. Did you know that OVER HALF of my January 2017 income came in as a result of partnerships with other creatives?
 

5.  Learn to SMILE... AND LEARN TO DO IT often.

Even though you're working, it's okay to do it with a smile on your face. I was always told when I worked drive-thru that I had a smile in my voice. I even had a few people ask me when they pulled up to the window, "How are you so happy working?". Was I truly happy to be spending my weekends working? Of course not. I would've absolutely rather been with friends and family. However, like I said before, when I'm dedicated to something, I put my best foot forward. What would it have solved if I was a jerk to my customers, my co-workers, and constantly complained? Absolutely nothing. Now, don't get me wrong, I had some CRAPPY days. I still do. But, it's all about attitude.

Business Tip:  If you're feeling it's tough to smile and keep a positive attitude when working, dig deep. Why do you feel that way? If you're working on your own business, it should be a dream job for you! Now, again, that's not to say that bad days won't happen. But, hopefully they're the exception, not the rule. Do you need a day off to breathe? Do you need to raise your prices because the hours you're spending don't equal out to the price you're charging? Do you need to refine some processes or contracts to draw clearer lines for your customers? Do you need to better define your ideal client, so you can better attract them? Make a step forward today for your happiness. It's SO worth it.


Thinking back, even through the fancy schmancy corporate jobs I've had since then, this was one of the jobs that I truly found my work personality. I realized just how dedicated I am to my work, no matter what work is put in front of me. I found out how much I truly love working with other people, especially when they were light-hearted, laid back, and also dedicated to their work. And, most importantly now, I truly feel I found my passion for making my customers happy. 

What was your first job? Do you feel like you learned anything about yourself then that applies in your business now?

Share in the comments below!