When you’re a business owner, your best lessons often come from two places: failure or wise words from owners who have been there. There are going to be inevitable ups and downs in every enterprise. Taking advice from executives who have already learned some lessons the hard way can help you avoid their mistakes and accelerate your success.
Read on for 15 pieces of the best advice our business owners have ever received.
1. Trust is Key to Any Relationship
I have come to appreciate how central trust is in any relationship. That trust is equal to one's reliability, plus credibility, plus intimacy divided by one's self-interest. The best advice I was ever given in this regard is that "No one cares how much you know as much as they want to know how much you care!"
2. Invest in Culture
Working with a large number of manufacturing companies, I saw many of them invest heavily in safety, quality, and productivity improvement initiatives. One of the best business leaders I have worked with is currently overseeing five manufacturing facilities. He told me that he had found that safety, quality, and productivity are all outcomes of the right culture. He showed me that improvements in all other areas become better exponentially when you focus on having the right people in the right seats. Even when it seems there is no time to work on culture, it can be the best time and money investment for your operation.
Steve Drury, President/Owner at TAB Focused Directions and Colorado Springs
3. Adapt and Align
My software startup moves fast. Our velocity in moving from idea to concept to market is one of our biggest strengths. It allows us to implement more quickly than our competition. However, in remote environments such as the one we're operating in with COVID, we failed to adjust methodologies. We found ourselves working to different end goals and overlapping work. After a coaching session with TAB, I realized I needed to refocus and align our department heads to ensure we're operating at full potential in our new environment. Several assessments and responsibilities discussions later, we walked away working together towards the same milestones and deliverables by understanding each department's role in achieving them. We would have lost weeks of productivity without jumping into this alignment project when we did. Thanks, TAB!
4. Restructuring Your Marketing Budget
During a TAB meeting early last year, one of our new members talked about her marketing budget. To my surprise, she included a line item for networking groups. This inclusion got me thinking, and ever since, I have broken my own marketing budget up a bit differently. Realistically there should be three subcategories to "marketing" for most businesses:
1) Memberships/Networking: This is for Rotary clubs, local chambers of commerce, and other organizations. This spend IS marketing, even if it is one of the less flashy ways to do it.
2) Advertising Spend: This needs to be a separate section of your marketing budget and not the entire budget since this money should be explicitly earmarked for ad buys – whether traditional or digital. This money goes solely into Facebook, Google, and other vendors to show your ad to your potential customers.
3) Professional Services: You might be thinking "of course the marketing agency owner thinks I should have a specific line item for him" – well, you are right! It makes our lives a lot easier when a client knows they are going to have to pay to get our services and is ready for that with a specific budget. I am not just looking out for Z3 when I say that, however. Very few if any organizations have all of the skills needed for a modern-day marketing strategy inside of their company. It would be virtually impossible for a marketing director or team of one or two to have the required skill sets, experience, connections, and technologies needed to complete a full marketing strategy. Consequently, you may need to hire outside talent for at least some aspects of your marketing every year.
5. Be A Lifelong Learner
Nearly 40 years ago, as a young co-op student, I worked for a wise and experienced business leader who once shared, "there's a big difference between twenty years of experience and one year repeated nineteen times."
We discussed two take-aways from that advice that have served me ever since:
- Be a lifelong learner. Know your fundamentals and principles but remain open-minded for opportunities that may lead to a better or more valuable perspective. No matter what your job, you avoid having the same experience every year that way.
- When speaking with or taking advice from others, discern whether you are receiving twenty years of experience or one year repeated nineteen times.
Both takeaways have served me well.
6. Establish a Sounding Board
Thirty years ago, I was about to head off for my first assignment overseas. Before I left, a Navy buddy told me, "you will have better success if you establish a group of trusted peers that you can go to for a sounding board when you have tough decisions to make." I took his advice. When I look back on the most challenging roles I've had, I recognize that I was successful because I established a group of peers that gave me perspective when I had a high dollar or high risk or difficult HR situation and had to make tough decisions.
7. Cashflow is Key
I'd run my business for several years and believed in knowing my numbers. I'd run the P&Ls every month and compare my results to my goals and past performance. I was proud of how I ran my business and thought I was a "really good" business owner (so important for my type-A personality). Then I was in a webinar early in the COVID crisis, and someone started talking about cash flow projections. I'd heard of this before but didn't understand what it meant and why it was necessary. After that call, I dug in to learn more. Cash flow is something I'd been completely missing. I tried it out for my business and saw how essential it was to understand where the cash is now and to project where it will be in the coming months. As a business owner, I can now see when cash flow will be tight (or a big problem). I can plan in advance for it (by accelerating deals, increasing my sales efforts, or using my credit). This effort is so much better than being surprised by a cash crunch!
Laura Drury, CEO/Owner at TAB Focused Directions and Colorado Springs
8. Embrace Change
When I asked my friend Martin about his business success, he told me that the constant of all successful businesses is change.
You have to continually adapt to new needs and new market players. We are verifying this need in the last months with the pandemic.
9. Employees Aren’t Family
After being in the restaurant business as a Chef & partner, I became a CPA and a CVA. When I opened my CPA and Business Valuation firm, the president of the IT company I selected gave me the following unsolicited advice, which I live to this day:
Employees are not family. Don't make your employee's problems your own. Help them when you can but hold them accountable for their problems. If their difficulties interfere in your business, it is time to consider parting ways.
10. Don’t Get Greedy
I have received so much great advice over the years, but some of the best has come from my father. When I was in my 20's, he said, "don't get greedy, you can't lose by taking a profit" (this was shared with me as I was going through my first IPO). The obvious interpretation of this has to do with money. Still, it also applies to much more such as giving back or taking care of the important people in your life. I am forever grateful to my Dad for this sage advice.
11. Focus on Value and Revenue will Follow
Business is a game, and like any other game, it has rules. One mandatory rule in the game of business is the universal law of cause and effect. This relationship is something that we, as business owners, frequently either forget or take for granted. Revenues are a side effect or a consequence of creating value for someone. Value creation happens when our business uses its work and resources to create something that a customer will buy. So, before thinking about making money, begin by designing and executing a value proposition that is unique, worthwhile, and appealing for your market. Then, and only then, will revenue and profits follow.
12. Never Be Complacent
You may have a successful product or business now, but don't ever forget that markets, tastes, and competitors change. A company that isn't looking for new or better ways of doing things is a business that runs the risk of not being here in fifteen, ten, or even five years. Never be complacent.
13. Trust Can Always Be Built (and Manipulated)
Trust is an emotion; it is not rational. Without trust, a sale cannot happen. The good news is that emotions can be manipulated. You can’t build better facts for your sale, but you can always build trust.
14. Never Stop Networking
Current world events have demonstrated how quickly things can change. To help maintain your business's health and guard against unpredictable events, it's crucial to network on behalf of your business continually. Be part of a business or networking group; never stop. Interacting with your network provides your business lifelines and sounding boards for when change does happen.
A member from Mackellar Electrical
15. Leadership Determines the Success of the Business
There's a saying, "The fish rots from the head." This saying means a company can have the best employees, processes, and even products. Still, if the leadership is rotten, then the culture will be too. The best advice I ever received was actually in a book, "It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy” by D. Michael Abrashoff. The book focuses on top-down change that can improve your business productivity by starting with change at the leadership level.
Daniel Wong (TAB)