As a business owner and entrepreneur for the past 18 years, I’d like to think that what I do is different from everyone else. I’d like to think that the services I offer are unlike any other, and that what I do is “best in class”. But is it really? I was recently with a colleague that works for a fast growing company and asked why he thinks business has been so good for them the past few years. He told me that it’s because they “do things differently and are the best at what they do.” “With all due respect,” I told him, “any business could answer the same way.” Does Domino’s make the best pizza? Do Nike sneakers actually make you perform better than their competitors? Or is Seattle’s Best Coffee really Seattle’s best? I think Starbucks’s would argue that’s not the case.
So why do some businesses succeed, while others struggle in the same industry, with the same target audience? Keep in mind that most of these mega-businesses started as an idea in a basement or a garage. While it’s easy to say it’s because of luck, or money, or connections, I’d argue that it’s much more than that.
Be the Best
Let’s start with the most obvious one. While most businesses feel they are, it’s important to live up to that expectation. We should never go into business thinking that we can put out a mediocre product and succeed. While clearly there are industry leaders that do not offer the best product, the fastest way to success always starts with being passionate about what you offer and being great at what you do. This includes keeping up with the latest trends and changes in your industry, as well as keeping your staff well trained and educated.
Serve Your Customers
Again, this probably sounds fairly obvious, but often we get caught up in running our business and growing our business to focus on the client experience. We need to know what they expect in order to meet those expectations. Several months ago during a staff meeting we put together a document that outlines what we expect our “client experience” to be. The document goes into detail on how we should treat our customers and how important they are to our business. We make sure we are following these guidelines by sending out customer surveys on a regular basis. One thing we live by is that if a client ever has to ask us for a status on their project, we haven’t done our job of communicating properly. Don’t let your clients ever think you’ve forgotten about them, because it’s very easy for them to forget about you.
When we start our business, or when business is slow or steady, it’s not hard to function without processes in place. You will begin to see the real benefits of processes when your business starts to scale or grow rapidly. Many of the daily tasks we perform manually can be automated and tracked for better performance. I remember years ago when my previous company started to grow quickly and every new client that came in seemed like the first client we had ever done work for. We had no process to “onboard” a new client and no set way to engage with them, stay connected or manage their project. Each account manager had their own inefficient way of doing things, which was the expectation I inadvertently set as the business owner.
Today, we have a well-defined 8 step process that we follow for every new client, which includes systems such as Google Apps and Customer Relationship Management and Project Management Software. Every client, regardless of project type, is taken through the same initial set of procedures. When you’re process focused, the difference in efficiency and productivity is incredible. Successful companies place priority on process.
Define Your Culture
Having highly qualified, well trained staff is essential to any business, but having great individual workers isn’t enough. It’s important that your staff is part of a culture that promotes “team” and that your team shares in your company vision. It’s also important that everyone understands the role they play in your growth and that they are valued. Communication plays a vital role in building a successful culture. Equally as important is that your team is as passionate about your products, services and customers as you are. When your staff shares in your vision, and you create a culture of teamwork and inclusion, you increase the likelihood of high levels of performance and customer satisfaction.
Years ago, I remember staff sitting by the phone and answering calls all day with orders from new clients. Ah, those were the days! Customer acquisition has changed greatly over the years, and now in a digital age, marketing has changed as well. While being comfortable with the clients we have might be suitable for some business owners, we often need to take well thought out, well calculated risks in order to scale. Exploring new markets, launching a new product line, hiring new staff or developing a new ad campaign all come with some risk, but each may play a vital role in expanding our business. Remember, entrepreneurs are risk takers, and we need to take those chances in order to grow. Not all of our decisions work out, but the lessons we learn from our failures are often more valuable than those that come from success.
So whether you’re happy with the few dozen clients you have or the 3 locations you’ve opened or you’re looking to build a nationally recognized brand, always remember that it’s often what the customer doesn’t see that makes us different. The end result is a product or service that everyone wants.