Last month, my business hurdled across the thirteen-year mark. Business is fantastic. Revenue and profit are at record levels. Lately, other people have begun noticing my prosperous little business and started asking questions.
“What is your secret?” They ask. “How have you built your business from nothing to something? ”
These questions made think about the fundamental principles I used to build my business. Here are the six I came up with.
1. Listen to your customers.
It’s not what you want to sell; it’s what your customers want to buy. The best ideas (if you are listening carefully) come from your best customers. I have a leadership development program that I conduct for my clients across the country. One day, I got a call from a training director.
He said, “This may sound crazy, but would you be willing to license your program to us so we can conduct it on our own?”
Fast forward to eighteen months later, and I have two large clients on multi-year licensing agreements for my products, and I have several more we are talking to now. Translation: generate additional revenue without having to be present. I don’t know if I ever would have thought of this on my own.
2. Do your homework.
When I work with a client, I do my homework in advance on their industry, company, issues and challenges. In the internet age, information is available at your fingertips. During a recent training session in Charlotte, a participant complimented me on my knowledge of their business. After, they asked me to do an additional 15 days of training for them this fall.
Preparation is the mark of a professional. Some people still don’t prepare, and this can be one of your distinctions.
A few months ago, I flew from Philly to Portland to facilitate full-day training for a client. Every connecting flight was delayed and delayed and delayed. I finally landed at 3:30 a.m., got to the hotel at 4:30 a.m. and fell asleep at 5:30.
I was back up at 6:30 and started training at 8:00. I did a full-day training session for 40 people on a one-hour nap.
Did they know it? Nope.
Perform no matter what. No excuses. No whining. When you deliver despite the challenges and difficulties, it is also a chance reinforce and enhance your reputation.
4. Control overhead.
Sheryl Crow once said, “This ain’t no country club: This is L.A.”
Similarly, a business isn’t a social club. I don’t have an expensive office lease or tons of overhead. I run lean. If you can’t be disciplined with expenses and overhead, then maybe you shouldn’t be in business.
5. Stay sharp.
I belong to and participate in three industry groups, and I invest in attending two to three conferences each year. This kind of activity keeps me sharp and in the loop on what is going on in my industry. In the last three years, some of the ideas I have gained at these conferences have had a huge influence on how I operate my business.
If you go and keep an open mind, a new idea or two will jump start your thinking. The investment in staying sharp can pay off ten fold. It has for me.
6. Pick a niche.
Ok, let’s face it: You can’t be all things all people. Your marketing budget isn’t big enough, and it’s too difficult. I decided a few years ago to specialize in training and speaking about leadership. The response to this approach has been incredible, and I now have dozens of clients on multi-year contracts.
Most people would rather hire a specialist than a generalist.
My goal is to become the training and coaching resource for leadership. I am currently developing a website and several products just for that. Pick a niche small enough to own but large enough to be profitable.
Those are the six biggest lessons I’ve learned in business so far. I am sure I will learn much more in the next thirteen. It is an exciting place to be, owning a growing and dynamic business. Some nights, I am so fired up, I can’t sleep (in a good way). As Oprah Winfrey once said, “When I think about the future, the future is so bright it burns my eyes.”
It’s how I feel right now. I hope the same for your future.
Now make something happen.