Over the past few weeks, our esteemed panel of entrepreneurial experts have provided advice on how to build brand awareness, how to offer top-notch customer service, how to develop a product, how to be an expert, how to hire the best and how to manage cash flow.
For this, our final “Secrets of Growth” column, we ask our know-it-alls: What’s your best advice for starting and growing a business?
Pay careful attention to what they say. You might just be on the road to success if you do. (We suggest bookmarking this page, or printing it out and taping to your desk!)
Over the last nine years, I’ve interviewed hundreds of small-business owners and I’ve never heard the words “This is easy.” Every single person, when asked, shared stories with me of failure, of being up at two in the morning worried about something, of having moments of thinking they should throw in the towel. So, my advice is, when you have those moments yourself, know that you are not alone. It may seem like it’s so simple for other people, but I promise you, it’s not.
On a more tactical level, this has been said before, but it cannot be stressed enough. Surround yourself with good people. If you have people you can trust, whose opinions you value, whose work you admire working with you, it makes all the difference.
My first piece of advice: Focus on a few things and do them well. Don’t try to be everything to everyone; instead, be something to someone. As your business grows, it’s easy to get pulled into many different areas but stay true to your mission and stay on your course. Too many companies lose that special factor because they get caught up in expansion mode and focus on the wrong things.
Second, leverage technology to scale your business. My Wander Beauty co-founder, Lindsay Ellingson, and I have different ethnic backgrounds and skin tones, yet we struggled with the same issue when buying color cosmetics online. We could never figure out what shade would look like on our skin. For the launch of our first item, On-the-Glow Blush and Illuminator, she assembled models of different ethnicities and we digitally showed how it looks on each person. Now, as we roll out new items, we simply use our technology to show how each shade looks on our original set of models (rather than paying for photo shoots, makeup artists, more models, etc.).
My advice for growing a business is to identify the needs of a customer (or client) and work voraciously to satisfy those needs. Please keep in mind that the customer does not always know its needs. For example, who would have thought that any of us needed an iPod (or similar device) until Steve Jobs created it? The customer will gravitate to those who fill a need in a way that others can’t. The focus should be in fulfilling the need in a way that others can’t or won’t. Each of us is unique and has the ability to focus on a specific need to make a customer happy. This is one of the secrets of success for entrepreneurs.
My advice? Lose your ego. I could say, “Do your homework, keep your receipts, do competitive analyses, stay on top of your market.” But running a business takes more than hard work. It takes a thick skin. It’s so on-trend to be an “entrepreneur” that many forget the tears, stress, headaches, sleepless nights, rejection and loss of income that come with growing a business. As one very wise buyer told me when I started my handbag brand years ago: “You are not Van Gogh. Your bag is meant to be worn and thrown out. Don’t treat it like art — no one will buy it.” That was the “cold shower” I needed to remind me that the customer dictates everything. It’s never about you, your feelings or how much time, effort and money went into making your product. And that amazing idea that you were able to create? It means nothing if no one wants to buy it. So suit up, put a smile on your face and just keep pressing on.
For many of us, there are so many voices swirling around in our head. The challenge is to learn to amplify the one that is betting completely on YOU!
My tip: Trust your gut instincts. Every business is different, and no two journeys to success are the same. Expert advice (like this) can be an awesome resource, but develop a filter that will enable you to figure out what best applies to you, and file the rest away. Determine your WHYs: Why are you in business? Why is your business important to the world? Why do you get up every morning and do whatever it is you do to make your impact on the world?
Remember the HOWs are plentiful and may vary from season to season, but your WHYs — your core values and belief — will seldom, if ever, change. Experts share their experiences and expertise to offer options of HOW you can execute your WHYs. However, at the end of the day, YOU must be the expert on your business. Now amplify the voice in your head that is completely betting on YOU. You got this!
Ask yourself this question: Is the product or service you are making and selling some powerful combination of NEW, BETTER and/or DIFFERENT? Write out how your business is new. Spell out and know that there is nothing exactly like your business on the market. If you are establishing a new sector, category or combination of elements — say so clearly. Know how it is better than your competitors or any experience or product available. Keep reviewing those statements until you can unequivocally say that you are selling a product, experience or service that is new, better and/or different.
Have clearly stated realistic stretch financial goals daily, monthly or quarterly, depending on what you are selling. Plan accordingly to meet those goals and make adjustments.
Be crystal clear about what you are best at, and surround yourself with folks who are best at the things you are not. Listen to each other and then be a decisive CEO. If you do all these things, you will have a deeply rewarding experience and a good chance at sustainable success.
What would you do if you weren’t afraid? Building a business is a scary adventure. I know this personally — I just resigned a partnership at a big law firm to launch my own firm. I’d wanted to have my own law firm for many years, but I always had a lot of “what ifs.” What if the clients don’t come? What if there’s not enough business to support my family? What if the market turns? Other people were eager to share their “what ifs” with me. So many “what ifs”…all reflecting fear of the unknown. So, I asked myself a better question that I learned from a great little book called “Who Moved my Cheese” — what would I do if I weren’t afraid? My answer: I’d launch my own firm. And I did. Last October, I resigned from my former law firm. All the clients came along. And so many others have come on board — many more than would ever have retained me at my former firm. I just hired my second associate. So, my advice: Ask yourself what you would do if you weren’t afraid. Then do it. Make sure that it’s something that you’re passionate about because if you love what you’re doing, then you’ll figure out how to navigate the inevitable challenges of being an entrepreneur. One other piece of advice: Remember to enjoy the journey.
Sometimes, growing your business can be more stressful than raising teenagers so make sure you have a strategy, plan and have fun. My first tip: Hire only the best talent. Pay them, stretch them, take care of them and then let them execute. Make sure you show them appreciation. Next, make it a habit to under promise and over deliver. It’s a cliché for a reason. Another tip: Be visible in your community. Whether it’s sponsoring a high school team, your local food bank or the symphony, that goodwill usually creates goodwill. Lastly, be the BEST at what you do: One of the most important ways to grow your business is to be worthy of referrals. By offering exceptional service, or excellent products at a fair price, or by really serving the customer, you will ensure that people will want to refer others to.
My best advice for growing a business is simple:
If you have a $1 million business and want to grow it to $10 million, find a mentor that has built a $10 million business.
If you have a $10 million business and want to grow it to $100 million, surround yourself with people that have built $100 million businesses!
Pick a metric and make it go up. Often we chase so many different “next big things” that we miss the most important part of growing a business — consistency. Look at your P&Ls and choose a metric that really drives revenue and growth and will set you up for a sustainable business over time. If that’s new bookings, revenue per customer or cost to acquire customers, live and die by this metric. Tell everyone in your organization what the key metric is and make sure everyone in the company has goals that roll up into this metric. Focus on doing one thing insanely well and success will follow.