Tony Little: Marketing muscle

Tony Little, founder, president and CEO, Health International Corp.

Think of all the great successes in history: the American space program that landed men on the moon, the construction of the pyramids of Egypt and the triumph of the Allied forces during World War II to name a few. What do they all have in common? General MacArthur didn’t say, “Hey, let’s send a few boats over there and see what happens.” Nor did a handful of ancient Egyptians decide to drag a few stones in place to see how they would look. These and almost every significant achievement in this world came about because of meticulous planning.

When it’s time to get serious, you must have a master plan. And when you’re talking about business and the financial stakes are very high, it’s essential to give yourself every chance at success. As John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach once said, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

No matter what issues I’m dealing with — business, family, or my physical and mental health — it always comes down to goal setting. What that entails is being honest with myself and looking at my successes to see how I can capitalize on the things I did right and my failures, to determine what I need to change to avoid repeating them.

Whether it is quiet time on your porch, or during an evening walk, or an hour or two early in the morning before the kids are up, be sure to make time for yourself. If you don’t find a place to address the big issues of your life, including business, the months and years will tick away and nothing will ever happen. Start by writing down your goals, as well as your strategy. We can say to ourselves that we’re going to do something, but until it’s written down, it is not imprinted in our brains and you’re sure to lose momentum before you’ve even started. Remember that without a plan on how to actually achieve your goal, the goal itself becomes absolutely meaningless.

As you outline your plan of attack, make it a priority to be a leader, not a follower. Of course we’re all aware of the shaky economy the past few years and how it has taken more than its share of business casualties. But the truth is that even in good times, unless you make a concerted effort to stay current and relevant, it is very easy to get swept away in the tide of changing tastes, competition and new ways of conducting business.

In 2011, fitness equipment was among my top sellers, but I ran into a big problem when some of my suppliers informed me they were in imminent danger of closing their doors. They simply didn’t have enough business from others to keep going much longer. Because of the scale of their operations, I wasn’t able to keep them afloat by myself. I wound up in the ironic position of possibly losing the ability to deliver products that were in great demand. So what was I to do? I sat on my back porch and came up with new goals for my business.

First, I looked for new fitness equipment suppliers. Next, I looked to diversify, seeking out both new fitness products (from suppliers who could still assure delivery for me), as well as new product categories that could potentially make up the difference in my company’s revenues. In the end, I found a new supplier for one of my existing exercise chairs and also found a company that could deliver a new, high-end chair, thus expanding my reach into a different market sector altogether.

Opportunities are always there, but you have to proactively look for them or you’ll be left behind in the dust. Dare to dream big, then go out and draw up your best game strategy. While you are doing so, be mindful to learn from past mistakes, and be flexible enough to adjust on the fly, always having a contingency plan ready. You can’t avoid bumps and bruises along the way, but never accept failure. If 2011 was a good year for you, wonderful. Now plan for 2012 to be a great year.

Tony Little is the president, CEO and founder of Health International Corp. Known as “America’s personal trainer,” he has been a television icon for more than 20 years. After overcoming a near-fatal car accident that nearly took his life, Tony learned how to turn adversity into victory. Known for his wild enthusiasm, Tony is responsible for revolutionizing direct response marketing and television home shopping. Today his company has sold more than $3 billion dollars in products. Reach him at [email protected]