It’s exciting to see Trainer Communications turn 17 this month! As I look at my 17-year-old son, whose birth spawned my transition to being an entrepreneur, I’m reminded how quickly time has flown. This blog is dedicated to all entrepreneurs who are asking, “What’s the secret to sustaining business over the long haul?” Below are the maxims that helped me sustain and grow a business; their first letters also just happen to spell “seventeen!”
Say less; listen more. The longer I’m in business, the more I realize how important it is to listen. Good sales people have always known this secret – yet I don’t see it emphasized nearly enough in entrepreneurial books. Prospects, customers, employees, partners, and vendors are excellent sources of intelligence that can make the difference between a profitable and a not-so-profitable year.
Economize as appropriate. Bigger is not necessarily better; better is better. About a decade ago, the technology industry was flooded with entrepreneurs who were focused more on expansion than on building a sustainable business. They made silly mistakes, like investing in excessive infrastructure or committing to office space that was far too big and expensive for their revenues. Evaluating investment options and ensuring that you make a habit of building in a healthy profit margin is the only way to guarantee that you’ll be around in the coming years.
Value is in the eye of the beholder. I’ve fallen into the trap of offering the “perfect” solution without first checking with my prospect and customer base. It’s shocking and disheartening to realize that the only one who sees the genius in your idea is you! Formal and informal audits on pricing, packaging, and marketing of your solutions and products are a must for the long-term entrepreneur.
Education is not an option. Those in the technology industry can thank their lucky stars that innovation is a constant and is impossible to ignore. Without this constant reminder of how quickly things move and change, it would be tempting to get comfortable with a business model that is decidedly “old school.” Our largest budget (after payroll) is for education, training, and improving operations.
Never say never. Flexibility is a standard attribute in the DNA of an entrepreneur, but it still is worth mentioning that change is inevitable. The pragmatic entrepreneur is constantly evaluating his or her options, doing their best to leave bias aside when making critical decisions.
Teamwork takes you to the top. Many entrepreneurs started their business because they were good at a trade; they stayed in business because they are especially good at spotting and nurturing talent, building and inspiring teams, creating a culture of teamwork and trust, and trusting talented teams to carry out their missions. I’ve watched too many talented entrepreneurs drive themselves out of business by refusing to delegate or trust their teams.
Engage to stay relevant. Occasionally I meet entrepreneurs who believe that starting their company is an invitation to stop working so hard. That’s a retirement strategy, not a sound strategy for an entrepreneur. I’ve also met some who have no problem working hard but they become reclusive; they sequester themselves in their offices, only engaging with their direct reports, avoiding the opportunity and the necessity to inspire and learn from the teams and the individuals who are so vital to their own success. The reality TV show “Undercover Boss” continually documents the revelations that CEOs experience when they have the opportunity to spend a little time in the real world of their operations, teams, and individual employees.
Execution never goes out of style. Frequently our clients ask whether we are strategists or we are better at implementation. I like to say “yes” – as both are important. With that said the best laid plans mean nothing if they’re not executed.
Navigate your future with a strategic plan. The best execution means nothing if it’s not according to plan. My all time favorite quote is “failure to plan is a plan to fail.” Create a yearly one-page business plan for yourself and for each aspect of your operations. Have all employees create one-page business plans for themselves and for their departments. Create plans for projects. Everyone will benefit from defining and refining their visions, identifying and mapping the steps to transform their visions into realities. Execution will have context and likelihood of fulfillment and success when it stems from and is graded by a plan. Make sure your plan is reviewed and as much as possible accepted by all stakeholders; otherwise the resistance or resentment will be palpable. However, John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” While it’s important to plan and execute accordingly, never say never to listening, learning, engaging, refining, and modifying along the way. Routinely considering options, changes in your industry, partnership possibilities, new services and products is the habit that every successful entrepreneur not only engages in, but enjoys!
Thank you to the Trainer team members, clients, and partners that have made the last 17 years possible!