Entrepreneurship – Start, Grow and Maintain a Successful Business
I was recently asked to do a blog on entrepreneurship, and honestly, I wasn’t sure where to begin. I’ve never considered myself an entrepreneur, but by definition, I have to admit I do qualify. It is a safe bet to say I’m not defined by the label and am surely not a serial entrepreneur or anything of that nature.
I have however, learned a series of lessons as a business owner and am delighted to be able to share those. None of these lessons are unique to me or my company; some of the lessons have been learned at the expense of others, some have been borrowed, and some have whacked me on the head like a 10-pound hammer.
The company I founded, BluSky Restoration Contractors, Inc., reached its 10th anniversary earlier this year and has seen unbelievable success. We have been on Inc. Magazine’s list of the Fastest Growing Private Companies in America five times. We have been recognized for our entrepreneurship and being a best company to work for by numerous publications – many years in a row. We grew and made money every year of the great recession, with our average annual revenue growth over the last 10 years in the double digits.
It is with that backdrop that I offer my humble thoughts on the top 5 components of what it takes to start, grow, and maintain a successful business.
Need vs. Want
First, you must identify whether you will provide a product or service to satisfy a need or want. I focused on providing a service to help people in need. There always has been and there always will be a need for restoration and reconstruction services, because disasters happen, whether man-made or natural. Sure there were other companies in the industry, but I knew there was an opportunity to provide better service.
When thinking about your business, your business model may include some other need, such as the need for medicine, automobile repairs, or the need for a product such as toothpaste. Other business opportunities satisfy what a customer wants: providing golf lessons, manicures, house cleaning, etc.
Once you have a product or service and believe you can build a business satisfying a need or want, you need to create a vision for your company. What type of organization do you want to create? How would you like the public to perceive your company? What kind of company culture do you want?
You can decide to be large or small; local, regional, national or even international. You can decide to work alone, build a family or small business, or be determined to grow, sell, and even go public.
What’s great about the vision side of business is that there is no right or wrong vision, because it’s yours.
I believe brand, brand identity and brand recognition are a critical piece of every company’s success.
When it comes to branding, I could be classified as obsessed. Even when our company was small, I was obsessed with our brand identity being the same location-to-location and department-to-department.
Although I’m obsessed, it’s not a concept I invented. All you have to do is look at the most successful companies, and you can see the powerful impact of their brand (i.e., Apple, the Home Depot, and McDonald’s). Everything at those businesses is about the strength of their brand, brand identity, and brand recognition.
I also believe what Simon Sinek says about the limbic brain and customer’s purchasing decisions – “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.”
At BluSky, customers don’t buy from us because we do restoration and reconstruction work; they buy from us because we make their lives easier by providing economical and dependable services when they need it. We strive to be a resource in any way that we can.
We also believe in the triple bottom line: our bottom line, the welfare of our customers and the welfare of our employees.
Once you have a product or service consumers want or need, you have a vision, and have created a brand, you need to identify a way to produce, market, and deliver it. The people in your business are how you differentiate yourself in the marketplace.
How will you recruit employees? How will you know when someone is a fit for your organization and culture? How will you train them? What about employee retention and benefits?
Employees reflect what the company stands for. In today’s environment, employees don’t stay with one employer as long as they used to, and that turnover proves costly to direct costs, rehiring, training, and company reputation. At BluSky, we believe in the following concept from Ownership Thinking by Brad Hams: “Remember that as business leaders, it is your obligation to have the right people on the bus, and in the right seats.” We hire for culture and our core values first, with the technical and industry knowledge and experience second. With the focus on our core values, we know our employees are committed to delivering the service we expect.
I also believe in open book management which means sharing your company’s success with your employees through stock opportunities, profit-sharing, and a solid benefits package.
BluSky was recently named (from a pool of 10,000 applicants) to the inaugural Build Magazine’s list of the 100 Most Successful Midmarket Businesses in the US. One of the statements in the article reveals that of the top 100 winners, 82.5% of all CEO’s believe that sharing the company’s good fortune with employees is a significant part of their success.
Okay, you’ve identified the type of business you want to be, created the brand and staffed your business, so what else is there? Customers.
All businesses need customers interested in their product or service. Not just customers, but relationships, raving fans, and repeat business. This is a concept that seems so basic to me, yet it’s not seen every day.
There’s an excellent book called The Ultimate Question by Fred Reicheld, which speaks about good profits and bad profits at the expense of your customer. The growth curve of companies who understand customer service far exceeds those that do not. An exceptional chart is available (online or at the end of the book), which shows the relationship between growth, profitability, and customer service.
There are many ways of measuring customer service from satisfaction levels to retention rates. The cost of acquiring new customers is drastically higher than the cost of retaining existing customers. Additionally, customers dissatisfied with their experience are more likely to spread negative reviews by word of mouth than satisfied customers, which has an immeasurable negative impact on future business. Since I founded BluSky, we have measured our customer’s response rate to the question of “Would You Hire BluSky again?” 96% of our customers say they would hire us again.
You need to create loyalty with your customers through dependability, quality, and by providing a value. If you can become more than a vendor and become a trusted advisor, your relationship can weather more bumps in the road long-term.
Obviously, the process is a lot more complicated than what I’ve shared above, but if you focus on these five pieces, you will be well on your way to running a fulfilling and successful business.