I originally wrote this article in 2003 for business owners, founders, CEOs and leaders who are committed to extraordinary results through business. As I reread this in 2009, I feel that it is as applicable today as it was in 2003. If you are not a business owner or executive, please read this with an open mind and ask yourself “how can I apply that?”
This article is perfect for Passionate Revolutionaries who are focused on leading and inspiring others to create innovative products, services and business models that add meaning and purpose to peoples everyday lives.
IT’S ALL ABOUT LEADERSHIP
It may sound strange but if you want a quantum leap in your results — the first place to begin is to take a good look in the mirror. The focus of this article is on YOU and your relationship to your business.
Many people start a business to make money; others want to make a contribution or to express themselves. Whatever your reason is, you will find that the basic, fundamental rules of business have not changed for thousands of years.
The pace of change has increased; new technologies have changed the way we do business, increased our potential markets as well as our competitors. How fast you learn is now a competitive advantage…
Here are some of the most important, immutable rules of business:
YOUR BUSINESS IS A REFLECTION OF YOU
Your thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, values, goals, strengths, weaknesses, management style and philosophy all show up in your business. If you have a belief that you have to work 16-hour days in order to be successful, then you will end up working 16-hour days. And you may or may not be successful.
If your leadership style is disrespectful of team members and customers then the energy of the business will reflect this. Only second-rate team members will be attracted as you will only attract people who are OK being disrespected and not appreciated. Your company will only achieve a fraction of what is possible. The leaders style will set the tone for the entire organization through the multiplier effect. Everything is reflected back to you multiplied, exaggerated and often dramatized.
FOR THINGS TO CHANGE, FIRST YOU MUST CHANGE
That means, if you want the business to change, if you want your team to change, if you want your results to change… It all starts with you and what do you have to change?
Many, many people work on the business, on business development, training their team, building their sales… And leave out the most important factor in the entire equation.
The leader of the company is the key person whose vision is the vital element, élan vital (French for Lifeforce) the driving force behind the company and everything it does.
ALIGN THE TEAM TO THE VISION
The vision sets the tone and the agenda. The vision provides the team with a focus, a purpose, a guiding star to follow.
The number one function of the leader is to catalyze a clear and shared vision for the company and to secure commitment of the team to the vigorous pursuit of the vision. A clear sense of purpose comes directly from a clear vision of what it is supposed to look like in the end.
When a leader is not clear on the vision, and this vision isn’t clearly communicated to the team members, associates, suppliers and customers then the company languishes and is mediocre. The company struggles and the team works harder and harder.
WORKING HARDER ISN’T THE ANSWER
If you are like most people, you grew up with the work hard ethic. From the time we were young children, we were told by people that we loved, trusted and respected; “If you want to get ahead in life, you have got to work hard.” or “If you want to make lots of money, you have got to work hard.” And this is simply not true.
The gardener works harder than the company executive, he toils all day in the hot sun, he gets his hands dirty… However the executive works no more hours, but makes many, many times more than the gardener.
According to the Jan/Feb 2009 issue of Inc. Magazine, Markus Frind, the founder of the website Plenty of Fish, based in Vancouver, Canada works one hour a day and pays himself an annual income of $5 million. Clearly he is not working hard! The question I ask myself is; “if he is working 1 hour a day and making $5 million, how much could he make working 8 hours a day?”
I am sure you will agree that hard work alone is not going to solve anything (although it is a start). The key is to undo the training, programming and conditioning that tells us to work hard, and to replace it with a different philosophy of life and work that takes into account what you work hard at doing.
MY RESULTS ARE MY GURU (Teacher)
This means that we are responsible for our results. No one else is. If the economy is bad and your customers aren’t spending as much as they used to then you have got to do something different. Simply blaming your lower results on the economy wont do anything other than keep you stuck. Forget excuses, justifications or blaming anyone else.
Your results tell you how you are doing.
The key is to get more done in less time. To be ever more efficient and effective. To produce a better quality product for less cost to you, which you then pass on to your customers. What many companies do is lower their cost and instead of passing these savings onto their customers, keep it for themselves. This may work in the short term, however it increases the risk of your competition gaining an edge on you.
INNOVATION & ADDING VALUE
Because its purpose is to acquire and satisfy customers, your business has one and only one function. To add value through innovative products and services. If your product and service is the same as your competitor’s, how are you going to add value in a way that your customers will continue to buy from you?
To innovate, means to make changes, to bring in new methods, ideas and ways of doing things that benefit your customer — saving them time or money. This requires leadership and the constant pursuit of creative and imaginative solutions to both new and old problems.
MARKETING IS THE ENGINE OF EVERY BUSINESS
Marketing is all about attracting people to buy your product or service, getting them to come back again and again, and getting them to purchase more when they do come back.
It includes sales, advertising, product design, public relations, and many other ingredients that are less obvious. Without marketing you lose customers. Marketing can make the difference between the life and death of your business and yet it is one of the least understood and most under-utilized facets of business.
Most businesses have been reduced to a commodity. No one can buy their materials for that much less than anyone else. Advertising costs about the same. Even a second or third shift doesn’t give your business that much advantage.
However, if you make your salespeople out-produce your competitions salespeople by two or three times; if you can make every advertisement you run produce ten times more than your competitors’ do; if you can get a customer to buy 50% to 200% more “on average” from you than they do from your competitors…
…and if you can successfully figure out how to resell each customer numerous “additional” times a year and sell them multiple products or services with higher profit margins each time — your business will grow exponentially — even in a down economy.
YOU ARE NOT THE BUSINESS
A corporation is a legal entity that was incorporated to fulfill a specific purpose. As a legal entity, a corporation has the same rights as any other citizen of the country within which it is incorporated. A corporation can own property, buy and sell, manufacture products, and bring lawsuits as if its members were one person.
Ownership in the corporation is divided into a certain number of shares, and the corporation issues stockholders one or more stock certificates to show how many shares they hold. The stockholders own the company and elect a board of directors to manage it for them.
The board of directors determines basic company policies and appoints the executive officers. These officers include a chairman of the board, chief executive officer, a president, and a number of vice presidents. They are responsible for carrying out the decisions of the board of directors and the stockholders. The executive officers also select the managers of the various departments of the corporation.
Stockholders may sell their stock whenever they want to, unless the corporation has some special rule to prevent it. The price of the companies stock changes according to general business conditions and the earnings and future prospects of the company. If the business is doing well, stockholders may be able to sell their stock for a profit. If it is not, they may have to take a loss in order to exit.
When the corporation has made a profit, the directors may divide the profit among the stockholders as dividends, or they may decide to use it to expand the business. Dividends may be paid only out of the corporation’s profits. When profits are used to expand the business, the directors and stockholders may decide to issue more stock to show that there is more money invested in the business. This new stock will be divided among the stockholders as a stock dividend.
Stockholders in a corporation have limited liability. If the corporation fails, they can lose no more than their investment, because the corporation’s debts are not their debts.
The founder of a corporation may be a stockholder and a director — but this is not necessary. Any corporation may raise funds to establish the company or to increase the available capital for investment, growth or ongoing operations.
Funds may be raised by selling stock (these investors become stockholders,) acquiring debt or through revenue participation etc.
The challenge for most founders who are also stockholders and directors is that they can “over identify” with the corporation. They end up living vicariously through the success and failure of the corporation. In many cases the founder does not pay themselves a salary during the startup phase on the basis that they are the owner and are building an asset. This is a mistake as it undervalues the founder’s contribution and makes it more difficult to replace the founder by hiring an employee.
The key here is to understand that you are not the business and if you have an employee role within the corporation, that you pay yourself a fair market salary. To do this requires that you have enough capital to operate the business, cover all the expenses with some excess for unforeseeable circumstances — especially during start up or high-growth phases.
Nothing is more difficult to do than to grow a company on a limited capital base — using cash flow for a source of funds. And then if your personal success or failure is connected to how the company performs, you may be seduced into making personal guarantees, or to invest more of your personal money to keep the company going than you would like to.
While this may sound admirable, it is a recipe for a downward spiral, reduction in your personal wealth and an emotional roller coaster. You are not the business, so keep your personal finances separate from the business and respect it as an investment that MUST pay for itself.
PAY YOURSELF FIRST
This is a very controversial topic. Most founders operate from the opposite — pay yourself last. And this is exactly what happens, once all the expenses are covered there often isn’t anything left over. So you end up working for free and justifying it by saying that you are building a business.
Pay yourself first means to include yourself along with all the other salaries and to follow the advice of the “Richest Man in Babylon” — a part of all I earn is mine to keep. No matter how much money you are making, it is important to maintain regular investing habits. The amount isn’t important, but the habit is.
And when you make yourself important and commit to paying yourself no matter what, a mysterious thing happens — you end up creating enough cash flow to pay yourself.
If you are willing to work for free — you will end up working for free.
WHO IS ON YOUR TEAM?
The difference between the leader who struggles all the time, has no free time, is surrounded by drama solving crises after crises and the leader who appears to have lots of free time, makes more money each year and seems to have the golden touch… is the team that they are a part of.
You are only as good as your team!
And your team isn’t limited to your employees. Who is on your board of directors? Do you have a formal board of advisors? Do you have a personal mentor or coach? These are people who will tell you what you need to hear versus what you want to hear.
Unless you are willing to be surrounded by people who expect more of you than you do, you will have people telling you what you want to hear and confirming that you are right — when you may be wrong.
Your team can even include your suppliers and customers.
If you aren’t part of a winning team — then you are working too hard.
LABOR IS CAPITAL
Investing in the ongoing development and training of your team is one of the best investments you can make. If someone makes $50,000 a year and can generate $500,000 in value for you, why not take this person and increase their skill, ability, talent, attitude and education, so that they can add a million dollars in value?
A $50,000 investment that brings a $1 million return is a very, very valuable asset.
There is no better investment that companies can make than in the education and development of their own people.