So much of small business ownership is self taught. We hear stories of billionaires such as Ralph Lauren and Richard Branson who have become self-made business icons and their stories are instructive and have a common theme.
I am no Polo hero or Virgin idol but I have owned several businesses over the course of the last decade or so. Some have failed, some have succeeded. Throughout these ups and downs I’ve collected 4 tips (or strategies) that have served me well and hopefully they can help you too.
1. Live outside of your comfort zone.
Helping people exit their comfort zones and discover the thrill of adventure has come naturally to me. Since 2009 when we opened Empower Leadership Sports & Adventure Center in Connecticut we have developed several new adventures and experiences that help our customers feel excitement and anxiety, stress and jubilation, courageousness and nervousness, fear, fun and all those emotions that creep into your mind and heart when you decide to go adventuring. For me, living outside my comfort zone has helped me grow my business. From networking events to forming strategic partnerships to piloting new programs, as a business owner, I’ve been forced to live outside my comfort zone at every turn. This has served me well and is a practice I believe is necessary to fulfilling one’s true potential.
2. Be afraid and be fearless at the same time.
Through the years of building Empower Adventures, I have had a great opportunity to succeed and fail on my own terms. I’ve failed at business more than I have succeeded in the 7 years I’ve been doing this. I have failed in selling certain types of products and programs, I have failed in concessions, I have failed in marketing and I have failed in expansion. But none of those failures discouraged me. In fact, I am grateful for the lessons I’ve learned from those failures and attribute much of our success to the lessons we’ve learned from those hard times. Conversely, there is a need for fear in business. For me, I fear losing even one customer because we did not provide the best experience that we could. I fear losing a sale because I failed to communicate the value of our experience to the client. I fear that someday our phone will stop ringing and sales will plummet because we took our situation for granted. These are fears that keep me awake at night and motivate me to provide the best possible leadership for our team day in and day out. This is why business ownership is not for everyone.
3. There is no such thing as too much communication.
This is one that I struggle with every day. From simple instructions to my team to company-wide mission and vision statements – communication must be a deliberate process up and down the chain of command. I regularly use the term “over-communicate” with my team. This term suggests that there is no detail too small to discuss and no happening or circumstance too insignificant to share. Additionally, I ask we do not assume or infer but rather ask and inquire. By being in inquiry mode and learning about an idea or perspective of a colleague, we do two things: 1.) Show respect to our teammate (thus earning respect) by allowing them the opportunity to explain their thought process, and 2.) Build trust with the teammate by not judging or concluding prematurely. Henry Winkler (the Fonz!) once said, “Assumptions are the termites of relationships.”
4. Givers Gain.
This is one that I have discovered more recently that has really helped me. Driving sales is a lifestyle and not something one can turn off and turn on. Selling is a part of my life every day. I sell myself more than I actually sell our products. If people can believe in me, then I can get them to buy into our programs and products. The best way I’ve learned to sell myself is to give. I give people my time, I give my knowledge, I give my friendship and I give my sincerity. I want people to know that I am a good person, good father and good husband. Selling my business is easy after that.
At the end of the day though, success only comes to those who work hard, sacrifice and never give up. As the old story goes, you must crave success as much as you crave air to breath. Do you know how that feels?