The Secret to Success

The secret to success

Recently I was invited by a friend to speak at an entrepreneurship programme his organisation is running at a nearby prison. It's a skills development programme that strives to equip previous offenders with the necessary skills to re-enter the marketplace as businessmen.

I spoke about the things I'd learned in the ten years since starting my business. It was a very rewarding experience. 

As I was leaving one of the men from the programme came to chat to me. He asked me this: "If you had to sum up success in one word what would it be?" I stood there for a moment thinking. "Sustainability" I finally replied.

He looked at me a little confused. I explained myself like this: I believe that in business there are two 'economies'. You can choose to function in one or the other, but not both at the same time. 

The first one is a faith economy. It's an economy where what you believe drives your decisions. So if a solid business, a healthy marriage and well-rounded children are what you believe in then you make decisions based on those values. It's all about what you can give. 

The other is a fear economy. It's driven by outer workings, like peer pressure, insecurities and a general concern for not having enough or looking the part. These are the things that end up driving your decisions. This economy is all about what you can get. 

"So what?" You may say. The challenge comes in here: I think most people that start out in business world wanting what's in the first economy, the 'faith' one. 

The challenge comes when they have to make difficult business decisions, which put their values to the test. And that's where 'sustainability' comes in. 

Consider this: if you believe in a solid business, healthy family and well rounded children, do you sacrifice one for the sake of another? As in you work hard and late every day to provide for your wife and kids, but never see them. As a result your marriage falls apart and your kids don't want to know you. 

Then something else is driving you, it's not the 'faith' economy it's the 'fear' one. You're worried about having enough, looking the part or saying "no", but at the expense of your family. This is not sustainable. 

Or the opposite, you love your wife and kids, so you try see them all the time and work as little as possible. As a result you can't really afford to pay your bills, but you love each other. Once again, something else is driving you, and it's not the 'faith' economy it's the 'fear' one. You're afraid of failure, so you'll rather not try as hard in case you get rejected or fail, and so you take the easy road. And as a result your family suffers. This too is not sustainable. 

This brings me back to the question I was asked in the beginning. I think success is all about sustainably. You need to regularly ask yourself when key business decisions come your way: Is this sustainable? Or will it disrupt my values? Like a solid business, healthy marriage and well-rounded children? If the answer is no, have the faith to stay in the right economy because in the long run being successful in business is all about being sustainable.




On Fear of Failure


I once heard an interesting story about a varsity professor. I'm not completely sure if it's fact or fiction, but I've never forgotten the analogy. 

At the beginning of each year, the professor would split his students into two groups for a sideline project that he would do with them throughout the year. The objective: to design and make a lampshade. I'm assuming they were industrial design students. I just can't see a bunch of lawyers making lampshades. 

The first group was told they had the entire year in his class to design and build the ultimate lampshade. Just one version, but it had to be awesome! The second group had to build a lampshade too, but wait for it, they had to make one every single day. Ouch!  It didn't matter if it was perfect; it just needed to be a lampshade. At the end of the year, the two groups had to present their lampshades to the professor.

So the first group presented theirs. Their presentation consisted of a number of sketches and an unfinished lampshade. Eish! 

The professor asked them what happened. They said they had the ultimate lampshade in mind and they knew they had a year to make it. So each time they started to create one they'd change their minds and start again. Constantly finding a reason to improve, replan and start again. As a result, they got so hung up in planning that a completed execution never happened.

Plan, execute and learn

The second group presented their lampshade and it was awesome. It was simple, clever, constructed easily and innovative. It could be made in a day and with minimal training. 

The professor asked the second group how they had made such an incredibly simple lampshade. The students said they focused on making a lampshade every day. It was tough to start, as well as being stressful, but they finished one every day. The early versions were terrible, but as they sketched new ones and made them they constantly found smarter ways to make small improvements. 

The lesson here is a simple one. So often in business we want everything to be perfect because we are scared of failure. As a result, we plan and change, plan and change. Instead of planning, executing and learning from our mistakes. It's constant small improvements over time that make things awesome.

So to wrap things up I’m not saying don't plan, I'm saying know when you've done enough planning and then start executing. You'll learn a lot more from the outcome than you will from planning it to death. 

Remember these 5 lessons about failure when you’re scared to start that particular thing you’ve been planning for months:

1. It's seldom as bad as you imagined.
2. It allows you to learn from your mistakes.
3. It keeps you humble.
4. It stops you being a control freak.
5. It grows your capacity for taking risks.




The Value of Deeper Relationships in Business


 I've been going to a video store up the road from my house for years. They have a good selection of movies and TV series and the staff is super cool to deal with. I enjoy going there in the week to see what new or interesting selections have arrived. 

I recently questioned why I enjoy the experience so much. After all it's just a video store. And in this digital age of streaming media, things can be more easily accessed with a lot less hassle. I decided for me that it's a few things; firstly there's a sense of community. We share a common ground: films. So there is always banter around what's new or interesting. Coupled with that there is general chitchat around day-to-day life, which is often very amusing. And lastly I get great service, I'm told via SMS when new movies arrive. As a result of all these factors I've become loyal to my video store. 

I think the same can be said of relationships in your own business.  So often we let the digital age do all the work - emails, texts, Skype sessions, etc. - instead of real personal contact. Don't get me wrong, digital contact is beneficial and it gets things done. It's far easier to send a mail than make a call or to have a Skype session instead of meeting in person.

The trouble with functioning like this is your relationships often become paper thin, as digital can be very impersonal. And personal contact, much like the video store story I shared earlier, creates a shared experience. This makes you memorable to your clients. If you don't make an impression you'll never stand out from your competitors and you'll always be judged on price only.

At the same time ensure you add real value to your clients and don't just expect work because you've got a relationship. That is nepotism and we can clearly see what that does to the public sector where 'friends' win business but don't add the value. 

So how do you do this? Here are 5 simple things that will make a significant impact. 

1) Take a genuine interest in your clients. See the relationship, not just the money. 

2) Go the extra mile. Do small things above and beyond what's required. See the person not just the task. 

3) Say thank you for the opportunity to work with them. Good manners go a long way. 

4) Ask for feedback after a job. Look for areas you can improve on. 

5) Keep your word even if it hurts. This includes keeping them posted with possible delays or issues. 

I've no doubt that if you try these simple things consistently you'll develop deeper client relationships all round. And it will only be a matter of time before your business gets referred to other people your clients know. 

You see life would be very boring if it was just all business. Relationships form the core of good business not just a better deal.  




Positioning your Business


It's an old phrase used to say that if you want your business to be successful you need to be in the right location.

The reason for this is foot traffic and line of sight. If you are visible and people can access you easily they will inevitably buy from you sooner or later.

The crazy thing is that even an average business in the right location will inevitably do better than a business that is excellent, but in the wrong location. It's a crazy thought, but it's true.

Market positioning

So why am I telling you all this? I'm using the analogy of "location" to talk about "positioning" and the important role it plays in a businesses success. Not just in terms of where you are situated, but more specifically the position you occupy in the mind of the consumer.

You see, where you position yourself in the market determines how you think, and the kinds of business decisions you make with regards to the type of product or service you sell, the process you undertake to get there and ultimately the clientele you serve. 

Mind real estate

I'd go so far as to say you need to write a position statement for your business. It should be short, but should explain the area you occupy.
Remember you can't be all things to all men. That's a recipe for disaster.

Another powerful exercise is to take the two most relevant factors around your business and make a matrix from them from there plot where you sit in terms of positioning and then where your competitors do. Once you've done that print it out and stick it up where you can see it.

Not only that, but share it with your staff. It will help crystallise your decision making process moving forward. With that you'll occupy the right real estate in the mind of your target audience.