In my last blog (here), I listed Common Reasons for Small Business Failure and What to Avoid. Today, I am addressing the opposite – Six Key Elements for Success, whether in your small business, your career or, for that matter, almost anywhere.
- Do What You Love
Bradbury’s “Love what you do and do what you love” is an axiom often repeated but less often followed. Actors, musicians and sports athletes are commonly seen as doing what they love. But businessmen and women less so: shame on us. If you do not love what you are doing, you can rarely generate enough passion to push through the tough times, of which there will be plenty. Early in my career, I was an international tax attorney. I was only moderately good in large part because I did not love it. Without that love, I did not put in the long hours necessary to be excellent. My peers and colleagues slept with the US Tax Code as their pillow, authored articles on obscure but profitable tax planning gambits, and married fellow LLMs in Taxation. For me, tax law was a 9 to 5 pay check. I got out because I didn’t love it. In contrast, Jobs, Zuckerberg, and Shark Tanks’ Cuban, all invest in passion. Find your passion.
- Work, Work, and then Work
In his book, Profits Aren’t Everything, They’re the Only Thing, Cloutier argues only hard workers win. Weekends off, forget about it! Holidays and vacations, not optional! Eat, drink and sleep work! he writes. And, Cloutier is not alone in his recommendation. Many others, from Enver Yucel to Oprah Winfrey concur. Yes, there are some get-rich-quick lotto winners but that is not the norm. The norm is the over-night success which took years to develop, through long hard hours working late into the night, month after month of effort. In their book, Great by Choice, Collins and Hansen, call it the “Twenty Mile March”, day in, day out, month in, month out. It is the worker bees who succeed: not the do-nothing drones.
- Patience and Perseverance
The Byrds 1965 hit song “Turn! Turn! Turn!” is apt. Everything has its season, including a business growth season. Overnight successes seem that way only because we weren’t paying attention. Business magazines are replete with overnight success stories which actually took years, sometimes decades, to development (see WSJ article on Snapple). Similarly, Collins and Hansen argue Intel’s success was built by consistently applying disciplined, hard work for decades. Other giants, such Microsoft, Google and Amazon, also took years and decades to be successful. While you might capture lightening in a bottle, that is extremely rare. Rather, you should expect years of hard, steady work. It is a marathon not a sprint.
- The Big Picture and the Little Details
Victory consists of two elements: seeing the big picture and focusing on the little details. Every coach enters a game with an overall game plan which changes as the game develops and individual plays are executed or not. It is a delicate balancing act – the big picture is needed for vision, passion and overall direction; similarly, attention to detail is required to achieve quality and on-time delivery, thus turning that vision into cash. Missing either is like trying to cross the Atlantic without a compass (for direction) or a mechanic (to keep the engines running) – you need both. Startups often get lost in one or another: strive for balance.
- Numbers, Numbers, Numbers
Peter Drucker argued, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t’ improve it”. Similarly, Dan Ariely wrote in the Harvard Business Review “we are what we measure”. Every professional athlete (and many amateurs one) has every step, hit, tackle, pitch and countless other stats measured, quantified, compared and contrasted. Yet, companies often fail to measure anything at all, or, worse, measure the wrong things. We can remember Ty Cobb’s 1910 batting average but sadly fail to recall meaningful metrics and business drivers in our own business. As Deming is attributed as saying, “In God we trust, all others must bring data.” Get the numbers that matter, especially leading indicators.
- Getting the Right People On the Bus
In a previous blog (here), I took on this subject. Well, in part, at least. In that blog, I argued that you should be very wary when hiring family, since they might not be the right fit or have the right attitude. Some pundits argue that attitude trumps all, especially in a startup. Perhaps, but you can’t build a nuclear power plant using a residential electrician, regardless how positive his or her attitude is. Experience is critical. But the pundits’ point is valid – one sour, poor attitude individual can wreck an entire team. How many times have we read about a disruptive although talented player or coach finally being let go much to everyone’s relief? See here for an example. Admittedly, it is hard to hire the right person, but as Jim Collins writes, getting the right person on the bus and in the right seat is critical. I agree.
There are other skills necessary for business success, which will be discussed in future blogs. But if you get these six fundamentals wrong, the chances for success are as likely as a snow ball fight in Cairo.
Brett R. Keenan is a CFO/General Counsel for Small Businesses, Business and Executive Coach, and author of “Small Business 101: From Start-up to Success”. Based in Chicago IL, BRKeenan & Associates has helped numerous companies, large and small, with Finance, Law, Operations and Strategy since 1999.
©BRKeenan & Associates, LLC. January 2015