Today marks the fifth anniversary of my business, Ledaza, a company that helps small and family-owned businesses succeed in marketing and sales. I noticed lately that so many entrepreneurial stories begin with, "I left a very successful career…" Therefore, I decided to take a different approach: an open letter addressed to the clients I have served and to those who either said "no" or just stopped responding.
Dear Small Business Owner
I always wanted to be like you; to share years of hard work and experience and help you grow your business; I wanted the freedom to set my schedule, take off when I wanted, enjoy my tax deductions and most of all control my destiny. I couldn't imagine that you wouldn't hire me - who doesn't want to make more money?
But then it happened- you said no and more than once. In fact, you said no more often than you said yes. There were times I wished you just said no, but instead you came up with excuses - from, "I can't afford it" to "how do I know it'll work?" to "I'm busy let's talk next month." Then next month came around, and you ignored me.
They told me I should network more often, so I did. I met more people like me, struggling and desperate to hear "yes." I was told we had "synergy," "we can do a lot together;" they weren't ready to buy, they were selling.
And then I said "yes" to a few who told me they couldn't afford my services- I figured working for a small fee was better than thinking about going back to being employed. It was also the only way for me to kick-start my dream and it worked. One client turned to two, and the two turned to five. I was scared shitless the day I raised my monthly fee and petrified when I raised it again, but you said "yes."
I found out that I had so much more to learn, even for a businessman with decades of experiences; every day, each meeting or phone call showed me how much I didn’t know. It's tempting to think you've conquered what it takes to succeed, or that some self-made guru's formula for success is worth a penny, it isn't. In moments of desperation and depression, I too was chasing those quick-fix magic recipes for success; I read the same mile-long emails that showed up in my inbox every day, listened to free webinars, downloaded the free eBooks and even bought a thing or two. None worked, except for those six-figures-a-month experts.
It took over eighteen months for my business to take off; it was brutal, I kid you not. But here I am five years later, still standing and working harder than ever. Not much has changed; you still say "no" more often than you say "yes," and say you can't afford anything stepping into a brand-new SUV, but that's ok. I get it now, growing a business is about not letting the "no" get you down; it's about finding the right client; one that has the humility to admit she doesn't know it all and the courage to do something about improving and growing her business.
What I learned About Me and You After Five Years
- Stop chasing certainty. You know what they say about “death and taxes,” it’s true. You must try, risk, and experiment to find what is working and what is not.
- “There is no free lunch” is truer today than it has ever been. Free doesn’t work! Posting on social media or sending emails rarely yield results; “likes” don’t pay the bills. To compete, you must spend. Commit to a budget and use it until you get results. Then spend some more; that’s what your competitors are doing – “can’t afford it” means “I quit.”
- Referrals are great, but they can never replace smart marketing. None of your customers ever gets up in the morning saying, “I must find a new client for…” Your existing customer base is a goldmine, but there are other nuggets all around you, get them before your competitor does.
- Take nothing for granted. Being a business owner, especially a 2nd or 3rd generation family-owned business, does not mean, or comes close, to mastering entrepreneurship. Humble yourself and recognize that the business world is bigger, tougher, and more complicated than it has ever been – your customers have choices, many choices, and they don’t have to work hard to find your competitors.
- The Japanese auto industry invented Kaizen – the art of ‘continuous improvements.' It is a system, and culture, that minimizes failures and allows you to be better and different. Adopt it, and you’ll be amazed how far you can take your business.
- Share the wealth. You can’t do this on your own. Your employees hold the key to success; we’re in the H2H economy – Human to Human, not B2B or B2C. Each contact your customer service rep makes with an existing or potential client is crucial to staying in business. Develop a culture that allows employees to care about the business as much as you do and then reward them for caring.
- Question everything and stay on your toes, especially when everything is going great. It won’t last; it can’t – competitors are everywhere, and each one fights like hell for a slice. Analyze and don’t be afraid to ask tough questions like, “what have we done to ensure sales will continue to go up next month?”
- Humans are not wired to be objective – the Lizard Brain is alive and well. Get help, have an experienced and trusted advisor by your side; it’s that coach or consultant that holds a flashlight that shines a path you can both see. You can’t afford not to have one.
- When it’s all said, and done, I have found that nothing replaces integrity and hard work. It may take a while for clients to notice but when they do, they will pick a business and an owner that personifies both.