by Brenda Hall, CEO
I’ve often been asked, “How hard was it to start your company?” My answer continues to be, “It’s not hard to start a company; it’s hard to grow it!” Simply said, anyone can start a company as long as they desire to. It takes someone willing to take risk, believes they have something someone else is willing to buy, and believes passionately enough in their idea to push other, more ‘stable’ options aside such as working for someone else for a paycheck. Getting started isn’t difficult. There are endless examples of people baking their products at home and selling them through local outlets. Or, perhaps you know someone who has exceptional knowledge in a specific area (think software development) who is keen to develop that perfect app for our phones. A short cruise across the internet can provide the applications to fill out for the Secretary of State for your local state, open a business account at your bank, and without much more ado…you’re in business.
Growth, however, requires tenacity, dedication, gathering smart people around you and hard work day-in and day-out. There will be times when mistakes are made, and standing up to them to preserve your reputation while ensuring your clients don’t pay for them is paramount. You will never grow if you don’t have delighted clients. Here are a few, key lessons I’ve learned that will help any entrepreneur get off on the right foot.
- Make sure your company values are visible to all of your employees. Even more, try to hire employees who SHARE your values. Values are important because people need to work with other like-minded people. For example, you want people who not only respect your leadership and believe in the mission of your company, but also people who ACT on those same values especially when challenges enter the picture. Not every effort or client engagement will go smoothly or perfectly. You need to have people who will quickly work to fix errors and repair relationships. You need people you can count on to Do The Right Thing.
- Speaking of employees, I’ve learned it’s critical to hire well. Take your time to find the right person. It’s not always about whether you like someone, or assume someone is a good fit because they worked at a major company before landing in a chair in front of you for a job. WAIT…do your due diligence. Make sure you investigate their background thoroughly. Talk to people they worked with. Check them out on LinkedIn. Check them out on Facebook. I learned from a dear man who utilized LinkedIn to garner as much ‘intelligence’ about a potential employee he was planning to hire. Then, he went to Facebook to find out what kind of person he was planning to hire. Good advice.
- Surround yourself with people smarter than you. This is extremely important, and there is no room for ego to get in the way. Networking is essential in order to meet the kinds of people you would hire if you could…but necessarily can’t. For example, I’ve met several, extraordinary people through the years who have become trusted friends and mentors. They’ve guided me through tricky decisions, helped me sort through the noise and chatter to achieve specific goals, and continue to support my company’s growth in a way that brings efficiency as well as success.
- Listen, listen, listen to your clients. For me, the sales process is very personal. I’ve no professional sales experience, but I learned a long time ago that sales is truly about listening and keeping the lines of communication open and active. Once you make a ‘sale’…don’t forget that sale involved someone trusting you to deliver the goods. Make sure you deliver them. Make sure you follow through with your client to see if they have any questions. The world is ripe with people who feel let down after a sale was made. Don’t let that happen. If you want your company to grow, you’ll need strong referrals, testimonials and REPEAT business because you did well the first time around. You LISTENED to your client, you did what you said you were going to do for them, and you made sure they were delighted throughout the experience. This is a formula that should NEVER change.
- Enjoy the journey. This isn’t about how big, how much, how well known your company becomes. This is about making sure you recognize the achievements of your people, the successes they’ve brought with each client effort, and how well they’ve made your life — and kept the breath of life in your company. I don’t believe anyone gets very far on only the leadership of a few people at the top; it takes a team. I once went to the top of the mountain to visit Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany. The road is very steep and the wagons we rode were pulled by a team of strong (and beautiful) draft horses. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey, but I’ll also never forget the hard work those horses had to give to provide me that enjoyment. Enjoy the journey, but don’t forget your team that brings you success.
There is so much more to share, but I believe if you adhere to these 5 guidelines, you’re well on the way to building the solid foundation that gives your company all the growth potential you will need through the years.