Recently, I was asked to present to a group of business students on the lessons I’ve learned starting and sustaining a business and organized my thoughts into eight points. I hope they’re reminders of good, simple common sense and maybe they inspire you if you are thinking about starting a business or are an encouragement if you already run one.
1. America is still a land of opportunity: Most Americans don’t appreciate how great America is. What I love about this country is that if you work hard, do the right thing and have a good idea, you will be successful. There are many countries in the world where this is just not the case.
2. Love what you do: I can honestly say if there weren’t bills to pay and kids to get through college, I’d do what I do for nothing. I hope our love for staff training and leadership development shines through to our clients and the participants. My observation has been that can’t be said for most owners.
3. Understand numbers: Most small businesses fail due to a lack of financial intelligence. We have found that it’s vital to understand margin and that cash flow is king. We run our business frugally, which enables us to sustain the quieter months and reap the rewards from the busier ones.
4. It’s less crowded at the top: I remember a commercial for a product and its tagline was “re-assuringly expensive,” which I found intriguing. We’re not the most expensive, but we’re up there. We’ve found that clients will rarely negotiate on pricing if you can back it up with quality of service. I have also found that most of our competitors are either mid-priced or too cheap. I believe clients are wary of vendors that are too cheap.
5. Engage high-quality talent We pay our employees well, very well. In a service business, your people become your brand, and so if you’re shooting for high quality, you have to engage high-quality talent. Talented people have plenty of choices: Pay them well so they choose you.
6. Just focus on being of service: I remember my parents saying to me as a kid not to worry about making money but just to focus on being of service. We have found this to be so true — we don’t sell people. We just really listen to their needs and then try to explain clearly and concisely how we may be able to help solve their problem.
When we listen well, we serve well. When we serve well, we find the relationships moves from just being a transaction to becoming a partnership.
7. Focus your time: Time is a resource that has to be managed. We can either invest it or waste it. What I tend to do is keep track of how I allocate time in four areas: strategy, marketing, sales and delivery. I monitor this weekly and compare this year to the prior year. I have found that by focusing on it, I have changed my behavior to get better results.
8. Take time to refresh: My wife and I own our company, and we decided from day one — we’d run the business by three rules so that it didn’t run us. Firstly, we would never work on Sundays. Secondly, we would always leave work at work to help sustain home as home. Thirdly, we’d always take one day a month off (distinct from vacations) which we call “Celebrate Life Day” — during which we’d close everything down and just go out for the day and simply enjoy being together. I still find it amazing how the principle of rest and renewing today helps you do better tomorrow.
I hope these simple lessons we’ve learned and live by were of help.
Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia (newleaftd.com). The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Signal newspaper. For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]