Learning from the Pros  

Question: I hear lots of hints, tips and techniques from other businessmen and women at networking groups. What do the pros have to say?

Answer: Those entrepreneurs that have made it big and continue to make it big off the following:

Learn from others. What has worked and what hasn’t. Richard Branson – Continue what you are doing by attending networking events to share your experiences with other business owners who are experiencing the same challenges you are to learn how what they did to address them. Be a life-long learner. Read as much as you can either in periodicals (Business Week, Fortune, Inc., Wired, Fast Company), in books (eMyth, Selling the Invisible or Tribal Leadership), in newspapers (Wall Street Journal, Cape Cod Times Business section) or on-line (Linked In). You can even learn by watching TV (Shark Tank, or Your Business – Sunday at 7:30 am on MSNBC) Connect to as many as possible to continue to learn.

You have to be passionate about your business. Magic Johnson – to invest the resources – human and financial – you need to have a passion for the mission of your business. Starting and managing a small business is a 24/7 adventure and investment. Some part of everyday must be committed to the launch or growth of your business venture. To maintain the stamina that it takes to achieve your business objectives, you have to have passion. Deep, driving passion.

You need a well thought out a business plan that keeps you on track. Martha Stewart -Many small business owners don’t think they need a plan. They just start. They have a truck, a trailer two mowers, assorted tools and they are in the landscaping business. But, no plan. They don’t know who their target audience is. They don’t know how to reach them. They have not thought through where they are going to get their income and where the cash is going to go to support the business startup. Business plans don’t have to be voluminous documents. They can be one sheet as demonstrated by using the Business Model Canvas. It has nine blocks that represent the foundation of a well thought out plan. Don’t take step one, invest one dollar until you attempt to answer the nine questions that form the lean startup approach.

Your brand needs to be nurtured. What’s next? Stay a step ahead – Communicate your brand in an honest, straightforward way. Ben and Jerrys – What is a brand? It is the values that your customers and potential customers perceive that your business represents. It is a perception that becomes a fact in the mind of your buyers. It is what gives you a competitive advantage over others and drives customers to your door. Your brand needs to be well thought out, designed and tested so that it represents what you want it to communicate. You want your name to be the first name buyers think of when they think of filling a need.

Quality starts with your commitment. Your commitment will provide continuous improvement Jim Koch, Boston Beer – Quality is an overused word to describe a business offering, “We build quality products.” Everyone claims to offer quality service or build quality products. It is the job of the business owner to set the standard of quality so that everyone who comes into contact with the business feels the “gold standard” of quality. When you enter a restaurant and are greeted by the hostess and seated and the waiter or waitress starts by introducing themselves communicating they are here to assure you have a great experience — you just engaged in quality. If you engage a landscaper and before leaving after their weekly serve, they stop to inquire about your impression of the service or are asked if there anything else they can do for you, you experienced service.

Stick with your core knowledge. Wolfgang Puck – one the most important lessons all business owners learn is the “stick to your knitting.” Know what you are good at. Know what you are not good at. When you do that, your risk of taking on too much in areas for which you are not qualified is reduced. When you stick to your knitting, you stay focused and staying focused is critical not only in the startup phase of your business but throughout the life of the business.

When you take on tasks that are not in your mainstream, you are taking unnecessary risks and diverting your resources to areas that might not pay off in the end.

Ask for and take the advice of others. Jason Mraz – Somebody, someplace has gone down the same path you are going. Find them and keep them close to you. SCORE’s mission is to mentor small businesses through the expertise of its mentors who have decades of business experience. Having an Advisory Group made of the three or four business professionals is the best way to test your ideas. Business ownership can be very lonely since there are few people you can rely upon for advice and counsel. Contact SCORE to form an advisory group or find a mentor to address the issues you are facing.

Let others take the first step. If it works, improve upon it Gene Simmons – The one step many entrepreneurs fail to take is the first step. They over plan, over analyze, over scrutinize their business concept. Complete the Business Model Canvas plan. Try it. If it works, keep going. If it doesn’t figure out what didn’t work, adjust and try it again.

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