There are fundamental commonalities among all masters of business.
I’ve broken these ingredients down into two categories: the first – innate. Nature. These are characteristics, beliefs, ways of being. This is who you are and how you are. If you do not have this, I cannot help you. If this first list doesn’t inspire, trigger, move something in you to cause you to nod saying, “YES THAT’S ME”, then we need to revisit your career aspirations. Perhaps entrepreneurship is not your calling. That is 100% ok. It’s not for everyone. Or perhaps, it’s just not your time yet.
The second category can be learned. Nurture. These are the techniques, the strategies you apply to make your business thrive. These are the areas that you can read up on, hire someone for, or educate yourself in. Sometimes ideas come naturally. Sometimes it’s trial and error. Rarely do you get it right the first time. Many wonderful products or ideas fail because of lack of development of these ingredients. Think of the perfect chocolate chip cookie. You need flour, sugar, eggs, baking powder, and chocolate chips to make a chocolate chip cookie. I don’t care how creative you are, you ain’t making a chocolate chip cookie without chocolate chips. It’s impossible. But on the other hand, it’s the technique that makes it delicious and perfect. The baking time, the baking temperature, the size of your dollops.
Characteristics of Successful Entrepreneurs
Many of these are related but I hope you can see that these are all still separate, individual ingredients.
1. Drive. Willingness to sweat, get your hands dirty, do whatever it takes to make it work. Not being afraid to work long hours. Not being afraid to go back to the drawing board.
2. Commitment. Not to be confused with drive. Willingness to take a leap and know that you are now committed to the jump. Willingness to put time, money and energy into your goal. Knowing that no attempt is better than a half-assed attempt. Pardonez-moi.
3. Vision. Ability to think big. Ability to look past the obstacles and the challenges and all the million things that need to be done. The ability to see the end goal. Steven Covey calls this “starting with the end in mind”. Well said.
4. Risk. Not to be confused with any of the above. This means not caring that the result may be failure. Or that obstacles will come. It’s understanding that there may be a possibility for an undesirable outcome and knowing that the possible return is much greater than the possible loss. It does not mean being fearless, but moving forth despite your fear.
5. Integrity. Some may argue with me here. There are businesspeople who do well with little to no integrity. So if you disagree that this is a key ingredient, then we will probably disagree on the definition of “successful”. If that is the case, then please leave my website because there is nothing for you here. I will not define what integrity means, because if you have it, you know what it means.
6. Core. Your core is what drives you, turns you, moves you, determines your response and reaction to everything. It is your guiding principles, your core values, your philosophy. People of integrity can have differing core values. Some operate under principles of harmony and compassion. Others on fairness and equality. Yet others on discipline and structure. None are right or wrong. But not everyone has even one. You must have one because when it comes to difficult decisions, you must refer to your core to lead you in the right direction.
7. Passion. Loving what you do. Believing in what you do.
8. Responsibility. Knowing that you alone are in control of your own destiny. Willingness to take responsibility for your dreams and goals. Accepting that if you have not been successful, you must take action to improve your situation. You will not blame the economy, the competition, the weather or the president. You will accept challenges for what they are and look for the solution to overcome.
9. Patience. Understanding that you will not get it perfect the first time. Willingness to be molded and to learn. Understanding that seeds planted today become sycamores tomorrow.
10. Ability. Enough said.
Business Strategy: Elements of a Successful Business
Again, all too often, I see an amazing product fail because of lack of a business strategy. Or a terrible product succeed because of a well-developed, well-executed business strategy. If you’ve got both, sky’s the limit.
Before you start thinking about how to go about building your strategy, let me underscore the importance of productive strategy sessions, AKA white-boarding sessions. Bring your partners, trusted advisors, a Box o’ Joe, a white board, markers, grid paper, pencils, laptops, a good night’s sleep, and the ten characteristics above and prepare for several hours or days of brainstorming.
1. Strong product offering. Forget what you know you can offer clients, how are you going to do it? You need to have researched, strategized, surveyed until you hurt. You need to know exactly what you’re offering, to whom, when, where, and how… with what you know is the right service offering, package, and pricing structure. If not, get back in there.
2. Value proposition. Sometimes you have an entire website to articulate your value proposition. Sometimes you have 5 seconds to introduce yourself in a networking seminar. You should have a passionate, well-constructed, well articulated VP for each one of these scenarios. What is the value of your services/ product? Why should a client sign with you? What sets you apart from your competitors? Maximize every venue of communication you are afforded with an explosive value proposition in that space. Remember price is only an objection in the absence of value.
3. Branding and marketing strategy. Understand who you are marketing to. Who is your niche? Study the needs and wants of those folks. Study what makes them stop to look at something. Study the colors and smells they like. Find out what they do for fun. Find out where they work. Research. Research. Define your niche. Create a marketing strategy that gets you in front of this niche. Create a brand that appeals to this niche once you’re in front of them.
4. Acquisition strategy. When it comes down to it, this is engine of your business. All other elements like marketing, value prop, branding and product offering are pieces to the puzzle, but your acquisition strategy is the glue to combines all pieces into a well-oiled machine. This is the blueprint within which all other plans will fall. These are the pipes into your business and if not properly constructed, your business will eventually die.
5. Closing technique. Some have natural closing ability. Others need help. It is important to understand the buying process to be able to complete a deal. Whether you’re product is medical equipment or piano lessons, there is a technique to prospecting and closing (for lack of a better word) a deal. I hesitate to use the word sell, because people don’t want to be sold, they want to buy. There are four steps to the efficient execution, which includes a confidence to say “client, it does not sound like I can help you meet your needs. This might not be the right relationship for you.” There are many different types of personalities and it’s important to understand the psychology of each to be able to effectively understand needs and over-deliver on expectations.
6. Success metrics. An acquisition strategy is nothing without success metrics, as is your entire operation. Quantify and measure your success. Identify the variables to your business’s outcomes down to the smallest units and create methods of measurement around those units. You must understand the levers to these units. You must understand what is controllable vs. uncontrollable. Set realistic and stretch goals. Contact rate, conversation rate, conversion rate, attrition rate, etc. are all examples of critical success metrics. There are thousands more and you must define and build the ones that help your business thrive. If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.
7. Client experience plan. From the moment your client begins a relationship with you to the apex of her engagement curve, decide what this experience will look and feel like from her point of view. When you build a client experience plan around your client’s perspective, dividends will pay through and through. This is the root of all referrals, return business, and client retention. If you have an awesome client experience plan, there will be no need for an attrition plan! Be proactive, not reactive!
8. Technology and infrastructure. In this day and age, you must keep up. Better yet, be ahead. Efficient systems, technology and tools are critical to a strong business. This will apply to you at varying levels depending on what you do. There’s nothing worse than a technology company that works off of DOS. On the other spectrum, if you are in the contracting business; good client management systems, payment systems, and proposal-development programs will catapult you to the next level.
9. Financial Operating Plan. Closely tied to your success metrics, this commitment to your annual revenue and expense goals is marked by a documented and trackable operating plan. FOP is accounting with a brain. Better to proactively plan, set goals, and identify opportunities to enhance efficiency than to merely account for debits and credits.
10. Ongoing education and training. Be it for yourself or for your employees, you must stay abreast of your industry and market. Seminars, certifications, and other educational methods ensure you are always offering the most updated and valuable services. Strong entrepreneurs are constantly working to make sure nobody meets their niche’s needs better than they do. Be the first to know about upcoming legislation that may impact your industry, the latest technological advancements, etc.
11. Good faith and other goodies. Trustworthy employees. Strong mission statement. Pervasive culture. Legal and regulatory advice. Strong leadership and management. Efficient administration. The list goes on and on.
Please check out the “war room” for more ideas on business strategy and personal effectiveness. And send comments, suggestions and requests!