This letter went to a young entrepreneurial friend of mine sometime back. He was struggling with a decision to try or not. There are some key points for anyone working on a change or transition. ……….
The life of a small business operator (change agent) is tough. You will make less per hour than if you worked at McDonald’s flipping burgers for the first few years. You will work for nothing but the love of work and the passion of your idea. If you cannot do that, quit and go to work for someone else. Over time, you can make millions of dollars. In the beginning you will live on beans and peanut butter and tuna fish and learn to like it. You will live in the junkiest apartments and drive old cars. You will put your money into your business and into giving to others. Later, you will have some money. Don’t count on it for the first five years. Everything should go back into the business in some form.
A small business operator (change agent) can make no excuses. There is no one to blame for any failure or lack of money but you. The economy is not to blame. The customer is not to blame. Ignorance is not to blame. Only you are to blame. Get over blaming others and circumstances. Get ready to face the mirror every morning and hold yourself accountable to your vision and your dream and your actions or lack of actions.
Opportunities multiply as they are seized. Sun Tzu. That is pure truth. Every time an opportunity is in front of you, you must answer yes or no quickly. Every one you let pass is gone. Quit whining about the fish you did not catch and go fishing for the next one. There is not time to whine about what did not work. Get over it and get moving forward.
Small business operators fail for lack of planning and lack of execution. That is about the whole of it. The longer you think about what you are going to do, the less you will succeed. Study, think, plan, and then do. Be decisive in your ways. Take knowledgeable action. It is better to fail while you are acting than to fail while you are sitting and thinking.
You will fail over and over and over. That is just the way life works. Failure is your teacher. Failure because you did not plan and did not work the plan is simply stupidity. There is no excuse for stupidity. God did not make you stupid. Sitting around and whining and blaming people and circumstances makes you stupid.
Every day you must study your profession and what affects success. Every day. You are a student forever from this point forward. Read magazines, trade journals, newsletters, and books. Read, read, and read. Blow up the television and the games and social media sites and read.
Go to school. Get as many meaningful certifications and degrees as possible in the next five years.
Sleep is a waste of time. Sleep the exact amount needed to stay healthy and alert.
So, if this is what drives you and makes your clock tick, DO IT! Quit thinking and whining. DO IT!
Over decades of assisting companies in healthcare, insurance, non-profit and retail, there are three essential adaptations that always play. For improvement to stick, you need the right stickem. Stickem? Remember the old glue sticks as a kid? We called any type of glue out of a pot or a stick, stickem when I was a kid.
That’s right. Start by adapting staff.
Raise Up Others. It is so easy to let folks down. Find a way to raise them up. You will grow when others grow around you. You stand on their shoulders.
Replace Yourself. It is essential that find others to replace your skills and expertise. Probably one of the most frightening activities of your career will be replacing yourself. What if “they” don’t need you anymore after you replace yourself? There is always someone looking for a new leg up, a new improvement, a new approach. There is a promotion waiting for the right person who is free because of great management development of others.
Visiting with one shop ten years after working with them was enlightening. One of my early hires during reengineering had risen to become the shop manager. We were visiting at a national conference over a cup of coffee. He looked me in the eye and said, “We still use the PAL method.” Puzzled, I asked him what he meant by the “PAL” method. He explained that I had initialed every new memo and organizational tip and note with “PAL”. Those are my initials. He and others had learned concepts of operations and improvement through those notes and continued using them ten years later. They did not need me, they had learned me.
Reinforce Service. Get that team to engage a full service mentality. In Plants and In House operations have bad reputations for service. Do whatever you can to find a new service mentality. Never rest on service. Years of acculturation can kill service. You find yourself not hearing what you really need to hear.
The same old tired product line is unexciting to your organizational customers. They want pizzazz and look and feel and different sizes and approaches. Sure, there is a penchant to live within the norm at every organization. Trust me, the norm is boring. You need some spice in your product line.
A recent in-plant manager talked to me about finding right support product for banner stands. A year ago, there was no capability to do banners. Now, the largest customer was demanding access to the new product line and they wanted it in volume repetitively. Foresight to acquire equipment and train staff had turned into a “have to” product line.
Find collateral services that accent what you already do so well. Can you add multi-channel support of email and landing pages to your direct mail? Can you add direct mail with variable impact to your brochure printing? Can you add online ordering and fulfillment on-demand to static box shipments of marketing collateral? What can you add that makes sense?
Customization is a must. Everything you do needs variable integration and segmentation design and capability.
Challengers in other departments, companies, other thought leaders, the market, all these need to be attended and addressed. Expect them and respond with wisdom and research and cooperation. Some of your biggest supporters will get mad when you launch a new product that helps another supporter. People just like to be in control and keep it all compartmentalized. That is, until they need something new that you don’t supply. You have to lead and laugh and remember they will come demanding more after getting upset that you grew.
Adapt Marketing Speak
Adapt your language and approach to each different audience. It is amazing how many sets of ears exist in our limited universe. Each has words they love to hear and ways they love to see information. Become an expert at telling the same story in multiple ways.
C Suite listens to different actions and words than your staff. These are results oriented, cost reducing, compliance happy, and culture protecting individuals. Speak the language. Make the emotional and logical connections with them. Help them see. They have seconds to assess new information, not hours. Be brief and positive.
When working with a client to add a product line, we had a C suite luncheon. Using new techniques of landing page survey, we acquired food and drink preferences. At the luncheon all the food and drink was ready and organized by name. C’s came into the room expecting a normal corporate cattle line. They received custom service. As the client presented the new information ears and eyes were open and ready for new input. The client took orders for that product line continually over the next year out of that one low cost personalization that touched the C suite ego. One top executive mentioned that luncheon a year later. To him, it was the most professional he had been treated in 30 years of leading his corporation.
Your customers don’t care what you do for others. They just want to know what you do for them personally. Find that one product line or service that is most meaningful to them and make notes. Find a way to make it appear easier at the right time on the right day. Find ways to customize and improve it.
Working with one client, we modified a “book of forms”. They were shipping these to each new customer. Through some simple cooperation with the IT web folks, we created a custom variable post card mailer using mainframe data feed. Everyone struggled with the concept. The forms went to online download. The cost went down over $120,000 a year. We kept the customer for the client. Other business that came into the shop from that customer more than made up for the $60,000 a year in print that went away.
Influencers are looking for ways to grow their contribution. Show them how you can help them do that. Help them move up in the eyes of their clients and customers. Find out the influencers in your organization and find ways to advance their cause. It is amazing how you can help someone in administration by simplifying business card ordering processes.
Whew! There you are. Here are three essential areas to adapt. Staff, Marketing, and Product all need adapting to move forward. Of course, there are more areas. But without these, the others are meaningless. Love your customers enough to talk to them in their language. Love your products enough to do them with excellence and continuing improvement. Love your staff enough to build them into a better body of service.