I learned my first business lesson very early as a young boy, watching the owner of a corner grocery store – my dad – cry when he didn’t have a deli item for one of his customers. He rode his bicycle across town in blistering heat to buy the specialty meat, went to the customer’s apartment building, walked up to the fourth floor, delivered the order and refused to accept payment. For a man who worked over sixteen hours a day to satisfy his customers, failing one client was emotionally devastating; even though my father knew that he couldn’t possibly make every customer happy, he never stopped trying.
Like most children, I did not understand my father’s motives, or the challenging reality of running a business surrounded by fierce competitors situated one block in each direction. Fast forward to 2016 where a highly connected world has given rise to an overwhelming amount of information. It has also created a dangerous illusion; that Google search results are equivalent to wisdom; that ‘likes’ are an indication of business success; that the overabundance of books, webinars and blogs about tricks, hacks and magic formulas for success can actually yield meaningful and sustained results.
And so, thirty plus years later armed with my Dad’s entrepreneurial survival skills and my own pre-to-post Internet journey from the trenches of small business, I have learned these 7 important lessons:
- While managing your finances is critical, the ‘Four Pillars of Business Growth’ for any business are culture (management), marketing, execution (sales) and delivery (customer service).
- Entrepreneurial passion is effective only when it is combined with hard work.
- Knowledge is worthless without results-driven action. Everything sound good and looks even better on a spreadsheet; you must have the courage to test and act on results.
- Exceptional customer service is the only base from which long-term relationships are formed and nurtured; “Never ever given them a reason to consider leaving you.”
- In a world dominated by a “3-second attention span” and “click-to-unsubscribe”, we must hone skills that enable us to notice, react and quickly adapt to change.
- Never take anything for granted. My father did not assume his customers would be loyal; he had to earn their business every time they stepped into his store. Likewise, I found success by always questioning and challenging conventional wisdom.
- The Japanese “Kaizen” philosophy isn’t just for car manufacturers. Having an insatiable thirst for self-improvement is key to differentiation and continued growth.
My latest book, “Are You Sure About That?” contains these principles. It's not a “how to” or “secret formula for success” kind of book. It is a diary of case studies, stories, and observations that challenge conventional wisdom and push small business owners to question the way they think about and manage their business.
The book’s chapters are organized per my ‘Four Pillars of Business Growth’:
- Management; creating a culture that unleashes employees’ talents and passion.
- Marketing; using marketing tools to define and connect with customers.
- Sales; converting marketing generated leads into long term customers.
- Customer service; the art of creating pre and post buying experience that never gives customers a reason to leave.
“Are You Sure About That?” is designed for you to jump around - each chapter’s case studies and observations challenge you to think and question. This is a highly personal book, not written by a celebrity but by someone who, just like many of you, knows that when it is all said and done, success in business is a culmination of integrity, hard work, grit, courage, humility and most importantly, an uncompromising devotion both customers and employees.