On October 5, I celebrated 32 years as an entrepreneur. Yes, that’s a big accomplishment and what most stands out for me is how much I’ve learned – and continue to learn – every day. Owning and running a business is about constantly acquiring and embracing new skills and ideas. It’s also about recognizing the key elements of success and staying true to them each and every day.
So this year, as my business anniversary aligned with Canada’s federal election, I found myself talking out loud (well, yelling really) to news broadcasts and social feeds. It astonished me that political leaders would ignore the basics, the bits of wisdom that, when ignored by business owners, result in lost revenue and unhappy customers.
What are these basics? And why are they so vital to business success?
- Keep Your Word: My first day as an entrepreneur was October 5, 1987. My business partner and I spent the day reorganizing my living and dining rooms to create workspaces that could easily be folded up and put away when our workday ended at 6 pm. These early days were exhilarating and tough; enthusiasm and optimism were tested continually. But the one thing I learned very quickly was that creating revenue was tightly aligned with making – and keeping – promises. If I said I’d follow up, and I did, I could hear the beginnings of trust. Trust grew with each promise made and kept. And this became revenue, which became loyalty, which became a business with office space and staff and growth.
- Own Your Mistakes: Of course, there are times I mess up. I forget, misinterpret or assume something which results in a client being disappointed. And while these cringe-worthy moments make me want to embrace my inner child who easily pointed a finger at a sibling and said “They did it” … that doesn’t work in business. What’s absolutely necessary is a genuine and direct apology with, perhaps, an explanation. Everyone wants to work with someone who is honest and can admit their mistakes.
- Don’t Bash Your Competition: My first business created first-time competition for a well-established supplier. As our reputation grew and our client list expanded, things got nasty. Among the emotionally-charged events was a letter sent to all our clients, containing a list of things that were devious about our business. What I remember most about this time were the phone calls I received, the support of not only clients but prospects, as well, that let me know they had withdrawn their business from this supplier due to unprofessional behaviour. It’s important to focus on our own actions and allow our competitors to speak for themselves.
- Be Prepared: Every political campaign involves phone calls. A recent call from a local candidate’s office was … disappointing. I’m politically aware and always interested in talking about issues; I welcome debate. The individual who contacted me wasn’t able to have a wide-ranging conversation, so I asked: “Are there local debates I can attend?” Their response was, “I don’t have those dates.” What? Building relationships and loyalty is a process, and for each and every encounter we want to be prepared to answer all possible questions and continually inspire conversation. The result is loyalty and longevity – the best possible end result for both politicians and business owners.
What about you? What are the key elements of success you embrace each day?