Today, I earned my black belt in karate. Yes, it’s true, and I have the pictures to prove it.

I have had a few starts and stops over the years, but these are lessons I’ve learned from this experience that I find equally true in business.

LESSON #1 – THE HARDEST PART IS GETTING ON THE MAT

My journey started about nine years ago when my kids were enrolled in karate, and I envied the fun I saw them having on the mat, living out a dream of mine from when I was a kid myself. When I noticed other parents training in an adult class, I instantly knew I wanted to be there. Like most humans, I was scared. I didn’t doubt that I could do it… I just thought I would look stupid or I was too old or whatever. I mean, what was I trying to prove anyway? And then I decided, screw it. I’ve only got one life. It’s now or never. So I told my brain to shut up, and I got on the frickin’ mat.

I remember going through a similar hesitation when Scott and I first decided to start Catching Clouds. Each of us grabbed separate notebooks and sat down to write out our absolute worst-case scenario of what could happen if we started up this business and ended up falling flat on our faces. We compared the risk of the unknown to the status quo, and the next day, we started shaking up the accounting world and haven’t looked back since.

Neither ventures have been easy, but they’ve both been worth it. Don’t let fear hold you back, and don’t waste one more minute. Just start.

“It’s ok to lose to opponent, must not lose to fear.”
— Mr. Miyagi

LESSON #2 – REFINE YOUR TECHNIQUE (AKA SPECIALIZE!)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done a jab-cross-hook-cross-uppercut. I also can’t tell you how many times I’ve done “green form” (a specific arrangement of martial arts moves (kata)). But in both cases, it’s a boatload. I’ve done them so many times that once I get started, my body takes over and just knows what to do because of muscle memory. It doesn’t mean I’ve perfected the technique, but it does mean that when I do them, my focus is on fine-tuning each and every detail.

The same is true in business. Instead of working with every industry in existence and doing every possible type of accounting (taxes, auditing, etc.), we have limited our company to serving only ecommerce retailers making at least $50k/month and offering only outsourced accounting department services. We don’t try to be all things to all people, and because of that, we can focus on fine-tuning our business. Our clients seek us out because they know we are experts at what we do.

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.
— Bruce Lee

LESSON #3 – YOUR COMPETITION IS NOT YOUR ENEMY

The people you might imagine as my “competition” in karate have in reality been key partners in my development. Every day they challenge me to be better than I was the day before. And every once in awhile, if I’m not paying close enough attention, they clock me in the head. As well they should.

Similarly, I love the newest trend in business of “coopetition.” In my mind, there are plenty of customers to go around, and by helping our peers improve their game, we get the benefit of improving ourselves as well. Specialization plays into this trend as our business can share knowledge, and even clients, with other accountants while each firm focuses on what they do best.

“Because she competes with no one, no one can compete with her.”
— Lao Tzu

LESSON #4 – FOLLOW YOUR OWN PATH

If you were paying attention, you might’ve noticed me say that it took me nearly nine years to get my black belt. This is about two or three times longer than most (at my school, at least). I had a several year break in the middle as we started up Catching Clouds (which made me have to relive that whole “Getting on the Mat” thing all over again) as well as spotty attendance during particularly heavy-duty growth phases of our business.

But here’s the deal – regardless of martial arts, business, or life. Your journey is your own. You may have ambitious goals and dreams and an amazing plan of how to get there. But the trick is not to build an infallible plan. The trick is to to be flexible enough to adapt to reality and to never give up.

“A black belt is a white belt that never quit.”
— Anonymous

LESSON #5 – BLACK IS THE NEW WHITE

It’s always funny to me how goals that seem so far away have a tendency to sneak up on you. Suddenly what was so far in the distance is just ahead (or just behind!). But here’s the secret most people don’t tell you (but most black belts will)… black belt is just the beginning. Black belt is where you finally know enough to do your *real* training and become who you were intended to be.

The same is true in business. After you’ve made your first sale or hired your first employee or made your first million, the business doesn’t stop. On the contrary, now it’s time to really get to work and build the business you’ve always dreamed of.

(Huge thanks to all my amazing teachers and partners at 5280 Martial Arts. Couldn’t have done it without you. Really.)

“I didn’t come this far to only come this far.”
— Anonymous

Know Your Numbers, Know Your Business