When I talk with young entrepreneurs and new landscape business owners, the question I’m most often asked is: What are your secrets for success and how do I avoid failure? Or, given failure, how do I rebound when my big idea turns out to be a dud?
Here’s my list of the best things I ever learned about success:
1. It’s not about you.
People engage with your business because your values align with theirs. Back in the day, we called this “crawling behind your customers” eyes. Understanding your customers, creating a customer-centric culture and putting your customers’ needs first is the only marketing growth strategy you’ll ever need.
2. The best ideas come from anywhere, even your customers.
When we did a rebrand at Conserve, the company I co-owned, we didn’t ask ourselves what we thought our company should be in its next chapter. We asked our customers. When they told us how they thought we could be an even better version of an already great company, we reimagined our platform to their specs, not ours.
3. Leave your ego at the door.
Hire smarter people you can learn from and create teams that can run your business without you. Michael Dell admits to hiring smarter to drive his business to new heights. “Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, invite smarter people or find a different room.”
4. Build relationships outside the office.
Connect with your employees on a personal level. It sounds simple but feedback I get from visiting companies around the country suggest that it’s not that easy. A company is only as strong as its weakest link. Avoid being the CEO who is unapproachable.
5. Be kind.
Building and leading a business is stressful. There will be days that test your patience and your passion. If your company culture has core values around respect, trust and transparency, your internal team will be your most important ally during challenging times.
6. There’s no silver bullet.
Prepare your company for greater resiliency by creating a culture with a thirst for learning and change, and an action plan that puts customers and employees at the center of your strategy for growth. If you take care of your people, your people will take care of your business.
7. Be smart about money.
Anticipate worst-case scenarios and have a good backup plan. Get to know your balance sheet, have a clear set of financial goals and benchmark your performance. Budget for training, professional development, tools and technology, and allocate time for your team to become smarter at what they do. No matter how good you think you are as a financial manager, have a professional on speed dial to help you structure, assess and plan cash flows.
8. Run scared.
Bill Gates says that by the time you realize you’re in trouble, it’s too late to save yourself. Running scared is a lesson I learned at the beginning of my career about staying out in front. With success, be prepared for competitors to be hot on your heels. Maintain the same sense of urgency you had when you started your business and protect your turf, your customers and your talent.
9. Pay it forward.
Gratitude is a great motivating tool. Ignite the spirit of giving back, be a philanthropic partner and make other people’s lives and careers better. It not only promotes your brand and speaks to your sense of purpose; customers buy from you because of the way you make them feel, giving makes people feel good.
10. Learn from failure and move on.
Everyone who dreamed of building a company and has poured their heart into the endeavor knows what it feels like when the endeavor bombs. Push yourself through doubt, learn from the little mistakes to prevent making bigger ones and know that as a business owner starting out, you are not alone. Surround yourself with other entrepreneurs or CEOs in a peer group of like-minded people who can help you use the upsets as lessons learned.