By Mike DuBose
Entrepreneurs differ on what makes their businesses successful, but no one-philosophy fits all. Most will correctly shout—“hard work.” Many elements, when combined, make organizations flourish. After reading more than 100 books on breeding successful, customer-driven companies, failing miserably at times, doing everything wrong possible, and learning from bold mentors, the secrets materialized. Now retired, after 40 years in business, I look back on what worked. While not trying to impress you, allow me to humbly share remarkable principles we implemented in six, different businesses.
I’ve tried them all but “servant leadership models” are extraordinarily effective. These professionals collaboratively work with others behind the scenes to guide their companies. Jim Collins’ research in the bestseller “Good to Great,” determined that employees desire enthusiastic leaders who are fair, trustworthy, consistent, caring, honest, and humble. Build great businesses horizontally—avoid vertical, my-way-or-the-highway approaches. Let teamwork, transparency, and inclusion radiate from everyone. Encourage people to respectfully speak their minds, challenge the status quo, and offer productive improvements without fear. Then, listen. Emphasize smart work—not long hours. Encourage balanced personal-work lives amongst leaders and staff to allow time for them to re-charge. Employ passionate and intelligent individuals with strong work ethics and place them in the “right positions they enjoy.” Hire tough, thorough, and slow for good-cultural-and-value fits. Provide excellent salaries, profit sharing, generous benefits, and liberal leave. Important. Create caring, fun, and stimulating work cultures where employees look forward coming to work. Carefully terminate the “wrong” staff in supportive ways w/severance pay. Unhappy, unproductive, and arrogant employees will frustrate and distract leaders and staff. Train, coach, and reward teamwork. Harmonious teams light success-fuses that create better products and services. Develop written, “employee-owned” strategic-plans driven with clearly-defined-missions. Outline the company’s future vision that includes specific steps to guide everyone. Strongly emphasize “The customer signs everyone’s paycheck.” While expecting perfection is unrealistic and harmful, instead, strive for excellence. According to Collins, “Good is the enemy of being great.” Ensure customers feel valued—likewise, only engage with organizations which appreciate your work and staff. Our happy client-base was the companies’ sales force—88% was word-of-mouth. To prevent unhappy clients from leaving, provide them with active voices and easy-to-complete evaluations that rapidly feed company performance results “directly” to leadership. Use responses to positively coach or reward employees—not punish them. Develop customized, factually-measured marketing plans. You might have the best products, staff, and services in the world, but if prospects aren’t aware of your offerings, you’re “dead-on-arrival.” Contrary to advertising sales reps, there’s no cookie-cutter-marketing-program that works effectively for all businesses. Quality-designed websites and social media with strong search-engine-attractions are growing marketing platforms. Construct detailed, closely-monitored budgets to prevent surprises. Estimate future revenues conservatively and expenses liberally. Build systems that keep your cash flowing and bills/invoices promptly paid. Evaluate budget-cost-centers to ensure “each” business-activity is profitable. Spend money like the IRS is watching. Analyze and learn from competitors—know what they’re doing, their products, and pricing structures. Stay one step ahead and build productive-alliances. Do what you do best—stop trying to be “everything to everyone.” Plan for “controlled growth.” Success and rapid expansion can kill companies. Build strong, understandable communications so all are “in-the-know.” Establish clear policies and simple business practices with everyone’s input to create reasonable structures and reduce confusion. Share employer expectations in well-defined job descriptions. Provide ongoing training to nurture and grow staff, build excitement, and reduce burnout. Small employee study groups were helpful in discussing bestselling books which stimulated learning. Generate new products and services as customers’ needs change. Don’t become stale—innovate with caution. What worked well yesterday with profits may suddenly evaporate tomorrow. Predict problems before they occur—”anticipate the unanticipated.” My philosophy has always been “Hope for the best and plan for the worse.” View mistakes and failures as valuable learning opportunities. Follow your passions. Lead your business as an exciting, challenging experiment. Seek guidance from human resource, technology, legal, insurance, and accounting experts. Prepare for nightmares to unexpectedly “fall out the sky” and ambush you. Build savings for rainy days. Secure bank credit lines before needing them. Live within your means and endeavor to be debt-free, corporately and personally.
Stay clear of divisive politics. Cautiously take calculated risks and ensure that everyone is on board. Be charitable—give back to the community. While being profitable is essential, know that employees and clients seek companies which support a “greater good”—financial gains will follow. Allow company-time-off for teams to volunteer with charities. Plan to die tonight. Implement operating agreements with succession plans and details how the company functions. Diversify your mission-driven revenues within your strengths—single, profitable revenue sources can suddenly vanish. Beware of your business consuming you. Being an entrepreneur is an exciting adventure, but it can totally entrap and own you. Take care of yourself and family regularly—stop and smell the roses and have fun along the way.
Always look for creative approaches to success—positively challenge everything for improvement. “Think outside the box.” Consistently “under-promise and over-deliver to everyone.” Follow Jack Welch’s advice he shared with me: “If you don’t feel good about something—don’t do it.” Learn from great business minds like Collins, Zigler, Peters, Welch, Drucker, Carnegie, Blanchard, Maxwell, and Covey. Visit www.mikedubose.com/resources for business leaders (and their bestselling books) who inspired me.
Pray for wisdom—Ask God to be your guide. Socrates determined “The key to attaining wisdom is to admit your ignorance.” After making significant personality changes, I realized “I know nothing.” It’s astonishing what you can learn when you think like this.
The bottom line: It’s been an incredible journey that benefited thousands of lives. I give all the credit to God, my wife, Debra, outstanding employees, and faithful customers.
Visit Mike’s nonprofit website www.mikedubose.com for free access to his books, including “The Art of Building Great Businesses,” and 100+ published articles on business, travel, and personal topics, in addition to health research with Surb Guram, MD. Write to him at [email protected]