Getting an MBA from the school of hard knocks
by Kent Lewis
While I’ve never considered myself an entrepreneur per se, my experience with startup agencies has taught me a thing or two about building a successful business. That’s not to say I haven’t learned a tremendous amount from my time in-house as a corporate marketer and at other agencies servicing a wide variety of companies. I can distill my business philosophy based on my experiences at 10 different organizations into the 7Ps of a successful business, as outlined below.
The number one determining factor in the success of a business is the people involved. If you’ve ever read Good to Great, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s all about getting the right people “on the bus” in order to create a unique, lasting company. In a broader sense, the right people may also involve advisors, vendors, partners and customers. I’m talking about those special individuals that value the relationship and see the benefits of supporting the business. Without the right people on board, even the best ideas can get lost in the shuffle. In building your business, consider implementing a process and policies that identify, attract and retain “A talent” (i.e. Topgrading).
As best stated by marketing maven Seth Godin, in order for a product or service to succeed, it must be truly remarkable. Far too often, companies tend to build products they know, rather than meeting a real need or solving a specific problem. When building my agency, Anvil, I’ve taken the approach of identifying current or future problems clients may face that can be proactively addressed through search engine marketing strategies. As a result, my service mix has changed drastically in the last two years, due to rapidly evolving Internet technologies and shifts in consumer behavior. What problem is your company solving for customers today? What problems will your customers face tomorrow and how are you prepared to help?
All companies benefit from a highly developed process, whether in manufacturing or marketing. Companies (often startups) experiencing significant growth tend to lack the ability to evolve processes with the company. This leads to internal failures that eventually affect delivery of products and services to the customer. Spend enough time up front to create a scalable infrastructure, people and systems to anticipate and manage growth. Often times, technology is seen as a solution, when in fact, it can be a growth inhibitor. Make sure the operational and IT team has a clear understanding of the organizations infrastructure, processes and future potential to maximize operational efficiencies and minimize the negative impact of growth.
Having the right strategic partners on board can impact all aspects of business, from sales and marketing to customer support and operations. On the other hand, a non-strategic partner can inhibit growth and cripple a company. If you have a good idea of what you need in a partner, make sure the companies you align with can meet or exceed your expectations. More importantly, view your customers as partners as well. You’ll see meaningful impact to the bottom line when treating your customers as strategic customers instead of sales quotas. The mutual trust and respect gained in a high-level, high-impact engagement, leads to long-term profitability as those customers become an extended sales force. Dump all your low-performing, non-strategic clients, vendors and partners and watch your bottom line grow dramatically.
As your company matures, it’s easy to sit back and enjoy what appears to be a successful company. As Netscape and other former market juggernauts can attest, sitting on your laurels and counting your money is the quickest path to unemployment. Paranoid companies like Microsoft and Google have dominated their industries by constantly keeping one eye on competitors while looking to the future for new opportunities. All companies should be relentlessly refining all aspects of the business, including people, product, process and partners to look for additional opportunities to increase efficiencies. No business is ever 100 percent optimized in terms of productivity. Whether terminating B talent, obsolete products or deadbeat customers, regularly evaluate and make minor (or major) adjustments to your business and look for positive impact.
Many people believe in luck. Those people tend to spend more time in Vegas than growing their business. I don’t believe in luck. As a believer in good karma and keen intuition, I’ve found that success in business requires a combination of good ideas and even better timing. Microsoft was in the right place at the right time, as was Google, yet even lady luck can’t take credit for their amazing success over the years. Create your own karma by identifying, defining and monitoring emerging trends. Position your company to be at the right place at the right time, and you may become the next Google.
Every business owner, investor and employee wants to be part of a profitable organization. Unfortunately, too many companies are run by the bottom line, instead of the other way around. By focusing on the first six Ps outlined above, the seventh P (profitability) will naturally follow. Successful businesses rarely get that way by cutting costs and trimming fat alone. Successful companies have the right people building and supporting a product of service that meets the needs of their customers. Refined processes, strategic partners, improved productivity and a prophetic view of your industry will lead to sustained growth and profitability. So what are you waiting for?