Tony Little

The customer is always king. It might sound like a cliché, but when you think about it, how long has it been since you actually heard somebody say it?

There was a time that customer service was a given. Remember the scene in “Back to the Future” when the lead character arrives in the 1950s to the bizarre sight of a team of gas station attendants descending upon a car? Audiences roared with laughter.

Most of us have probably noticed erosion in customer service. Perhaps your supermarket no longer offers to help you take your groceries to the car. Customer service is nearly dead in the airline industry — no pillows, blankets, meal service or checked luggage. Unless you’re willing to pay extra for it, of course.

The reality is that customer service has been going slowly downhill for years. As profit margins get thinner, companies look for ways to squeeze out every last penny. This means fewer employees under increasing pressure, doing more than ever before.

Protect your reputation

Despite this disturbing trend, neglecting customer satisfaction is a big mistake. It damages the one thing you can’t buy — reputation — and can even prove fatal to a company.
It’s a fiercely competitive environment out there and people won’t come flocking to you just because you make a fancy widget. Somewhere out there, somebody else is making a widget just as fancy as yours, plus he or she is offering great customer service.

While it’s true that we live in an increasingly bottom line-oriented business environment, never forget that your customers are human beings, not just commodities from which you derive revenue.

Give customers what they want

Customers yearn to be taken seriously, listened to, treated with respect and admired. In addition, they desire to be prosperous, happy and loved. To be successful, address these needs and make it your No. 1 priority.

Assume that customers are listening very carefully to what you say, both in one-on-one interactions with staff or by the overall attitude you convey as a company. If they feel you don’t really care, they’ll look for other alternatives.

The power of people

Money is tight in every business, but think twice before cutting back on things that affect customer service. One of my pet peeves is the inability to get a human being when calling a company. Automated attendants are fine, but if a customer wants to reach a person, that option should be made immediately available.

I work in the world of direct response shopping, in which customer service — including being able to get a friendly operator on the line — has always been a priority. This might explain why the industry has continued to do well, even as much of the retail sector has struggled. Even so, extra incentives, such as reduced or free shipping and money back guarantees, have come increasingly into play in order to attract and keep customers.

Running a business is tough and there are a million things that are out of your control. But as customer service continues to deteriorate, take advantage of the situation to differentiate your business. Remember how your mother probably told you to, “Treat others as you would like to be treated?” Success might not always be that simple, but it’s certainly a good place to start.

Tony Little is the founder, president and CEO of Health International Corp., and executive chairman of Positive Lifestyle International. Known as “America’s Personal Trainer,” he has
been a television icon for more than 20 years. After overcoming a car accident that nearly took his life, Little learned how to turn adversity into victory. Known for his wild enthusiasm, Little is responsible for revolutionizing direct-response marketing and television home shopping. He has sold more than $3 billion in products bearing his name. Reach him at guestbook@tonylittle.com.

Learn more about Tony Little at:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/TonyLittleFanPage

Twitter: @TonyLittleReal

 

We’ve all heard the saying “timing is everything.” But is it always true? 

And for that matter, what does “timing” really mean?

Frankly, I think many people allow the notion of timing to overly-influence their decision-making in every area of day-to-day life.

In business, it can absolutely paralyze you if you’re perpetually waiting for the right moment. This is not to say that one should make rash decisions based on nothing but whims. But over the years, I’ve seen many well-intentioned individuals take such a cautious approach to their businesses that nothing ever gets done. 

Brash moves get rewarded

The truth is there are always opportunities out there waiting to be grasped. Successful people who make decisions for themselves and their companies recognize this and are often hailed for making “bold moves.”

Timing, to a large extent, is really what you make it. I believe in pushing the envelope, because when you come right down to it, there’s never a perfect time to do anything. If you look for them, there will always be reasons for you to not do something.

In the business world, you only grow if you’re willing to go out on a limb and get the fruit — it’s not going to just drop onto your front lawn. Even if it does, someone will come along and snatch it before you can collect it.

Over the years, I became very successful with selling exercise and fitness products, but at a certain point I recognized that I needed to diversify my product line if I was going to stay relevant.

I did a lot of research and decided to expand organically. My thinking was if I could teach you how to exercise and get in shape, I could also sell other products that were healthy lifestyle related. Over time, I added products, but there was never a particular moment to signal me that it was the perfect time to expand.

I trusted my gut and had learned enough about the environment around me to devise a plan and then make informed decisions.

Because of this, I managed to survive and prosper even as many of my competitors disappeared because the world had changed, and they couldn’t keep up. Timing was a factor in my decisions, but mostly because I made the decision to adapt to the evolving business landscape.

Add the right attitude

Whatever you decide — and whenever you decide to do it — be sure to proceed with a positive attitude.

Making big decisions is more than just deciding to do something and then getting the mechanics going. How you go about it is just as important and makes a huge difference. I’ve built my career around being upbeat and excited. Enthusiasm is contagious.

There’s really no great mystery to being a master of timing. Just remember there are always business opportunities available for individuals and companies with the right idea, and who bring intelligence, a good work ethic and high energy to the table.

It just takes a little courage and the confidence in yourself to know you can deliver the goods. Today sounds like a good day to start! ●

Tony Little is the founder, president and CEO of Health International Corp., and executive chairman of Positive Lifestyle International. Known as “America’s Personal Trainer,” he has been a television icon for more than 20 years. After overcoming a car accident that nearly took his life, Little learned how to turn adversity into victory. Known for his wild enthusiasm, Little is responsible for revolutionizing direct-response marketing and television home shopping. He has sold more than 

$3 billion in products bearing his name. Reach him at guestbook@tonylittle.com.

 

In his autobiography, famed filmmaker Frank Capra wrote, “If you have to think about it, forget it.” The idea that one’s gut instincts were the best guide to success certainly served the man who made such timeless classics as “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

I’m a firm believer in that notion. Because I’m in the business of consumer products, I try to look at things from the customer’s perspective — from concept to delivery. What do they want or need? How will they use the product? What can make it more appealing or useful? What will differentiate my product from other similar products out there? 

Trust your gut

I’ve learned to always trust my gut. The bottom line is that if the customer doesn’t like my products, he or she isn’t going to be buying them. It’s that simple. And if they’re not buying from me, I’m not going to stay in business for very long!

A huge mistake people often make in business is to overthink things or make things too complicated. For example, you should make purchasing easy for your customer — buying from you shouldn’t be a chore. So if you have a product that your customer doesn’t understand right away or if you make them think too much about it, the intrinsic benefits of the product will evaporate. Either way, you’ll be doomed.

I thought about getting into the high tech watch business a few years ago. Everywhere I looked, I saw watches that would monitor your heart rate, check your workouts, interface with your computer, create a workout program and cook dinner too!

Yeah, it was revolutionary stuff, but for me, that wasn’t the direction I wanted to go. Because I’m also a consumer, I asked myself what I personally wanted in a watch.

First, I wanted to be able to actually read the dial without squinting at a tiny display.

Second, if there were too many buttons, or I needed three hands to get to the function I needed, that would be a big problem for me. Truthfully, most of the watches out there were not what I wanted to buy.

I figured there were other people out there just like me, so when I had the opportunity, I came up with a vastly simplified watch that was easy for the average person to use. It had a nice, big display and you didn’t need a phonebook-sized manual to figure out how to use it. The odds makers would have said to go high tech, but my gut said low tech. I followed my instincts, went with low tech and wound up with a huge hit. 

Still, do your homework

Bear in mind, I’m not saying you should ignore the world around you. Doing your homework and staying aware of business trends is always important. In fact, we have more resources at our disposal than ever before. Research studies, product test launches and focus group data can be invaluable.

Still, it’s easy to get caught up in all the information and have it cloud the big picture. All the data in the world doesn’t guarantee success — no matter what your marketing department tells you! — but it can help reinforce one’s decision-making.

Like everything else in our world, the science behind business has become increasingly complex over the years. But sometimes it’s wise to take a step back and evaluate your business or a new opportunity from a wider view. If you do so, you’ll often find that a broader perspective offers you a much clearer look at what you’re dealing with and the solutions will also be easier to spot.

As you move forward with your business, always remember what got you there. What did your customer or client like about you? New ideas and opportunities will continually come your way as you expand and you always should be open to them. At the same time, it’s important to follow your instincts. Stay grounded and never forget how you initially achieved success. The path to a bright future begins by believing in yourself to make wise decisions.

Tony Little is the founder, president and CEO of Health International Corp. and executive chairman of Positive Lifestyle International. Known as “America’s Personal Trainer,” he has been a television icon for more than 20 years. After overcoming a car accident that nearly took his life, Little learned how to turn adversity into victory. Known for his wild enthusiasm, Little is responsible for revolutionizing direct-response marketing and television home shopping. He has sold more than $3 billion in products bearing his name. Reach him at guestbook@tonylittle.com.

 

Egos are a big factor in business. Egos can cost companies a lot of money.

I learned this simple fact a long time ago, and to this day, it amazes me how much time, energy and resources are wasted by individuals unwilling to check their egos at the door and let their companies be successful. Believe me, I have an ego myself, and I have to remind myself that all the time.

We all know the type — the guy or gal who always has to be right and whose questionable judgment in business stems either from a sense of self-importance or is based upon what they feel others expect from them because of their position. This person can even be fairly pleasant and well-meaning. But when they turn out to be someone with whom you have a working relationship, things can go downhill very quickly, especially when they’re pushing ideas and making decisions for all the wrong reasons.

I sell a line of bison meat products, which is marketed as a healthful alternative to beef. One day, the company with which I was partnered hired a new marketing fellow who immediately wanted to change the packaging. It was clear that he wanted to make a big splash with his new bosses, but I was dumbfounded by his decision.

I argued, “We’ve been enjoying tremendous success, and our branding has been very clear. Why in the world would we want to change it when we have a winner?” I’m a pretty agreeable guy, but I also know when to dig in, especially when I’m fighting for something I believe in my heart is right.

After a brief internal debate, my partners agreed with my logic, and we happily continued on with our hit product.

In business, it is paramount that everyone looks for the perfect solution that works for everybody else. This isn’t about getting along with each other just for the sake of it but rather about learning to be successful together.

Ego, when it comes from a place of experience, confidence and wisdom, actually can be a tremendous asset if properly managed by the individual.

I’ve recently started working with a good friend of many years, and I totally respect his ego. He understands exactly what it takes to be successful and has the experience to enable him to accurately size up a situation and make sound business decisions. He also knows how to work with partners like me, creating a complementary relationship, not one in which there is constant bickering.

When you’re around people with healthy egos, they create an aura of chemistry and trust and can provide a nesting ground for others to be their best. These types of individuals don’t make radical changes on a whim, but they try to understand their business environment, then make decisions to either build upon existing success or fix what is not working. People like this aren’t afraid to make wrong decisions because they have the confidence — the ego — of knowing that eventually they will make the right decision.

In dealing with complicated business relationships, the most critical relationship is the one we have with ourselves. Always ask yourself the reasons behind your decisions, especially if you are challenged by peers, partners or others in trusted positions.

There is nothing wrong with standing up for what you truly believe in. But be sure you are guided by wisdom and a clear thought process with the intention of truly solving a problem or building upon previous achievements. If not, allow yourself to hear other voices and have a healthy enough ego to let them contribute to your success. ?

 

Tony Little is the founder, president and CEO of Health International Corp. and executive chairman of Positive Lifestyle International. Known as “America’s Personal Trainer,” he has been a television icon for more than 20 years. After overcoming a car accident that nearly took his life, Little learned how to turn adversity into victory. Known for his wild enthusiasm, Little is responsible for revolutionizing direct-response marketing and television home shopping. He has sold more than $3 billion in products bearing his name. Reach him at guestbook@tonylittle.com.

 

Egos are a big factor in business. Egos can cost companies a lot of money.

I learned this simple fact a long time ago, and to this day, it amazes me how much time, energy and resources are wasted by individuals unwilling to check their egos at the door and let their companies be successful. Believe me, I have an ego myself, and I have to remind myself that all the time.

We all know the type — the guy or gal who always has to be right and whose questionable judgment in business stems either from a sense of self-importance or is based upon what they feel others expect from them because of their position. This person can even be fairly pleasant and well-meaning. But when they turn out to be someone with whom you have a working relationship, things can go downhill very quickly, especially when they’re pushing ideas and making decisions for all the wrong reasons.

I sell a line of bison meat products, which is marketed as a healthful alternative to beef. One day, the company with which I was partnered hired a new marketing fellow who immediately wanted to change the packaging. It was clear that he wanted to make a big splash with his new bosses, but I was dumbfounded by his decision.

I argued, “We’ve been enjoying tremendous success, and our branding has been very clear. Why in the world would we want to change it when we have a winner?” I’m a pretty agreeable guy, but I also know when to dig in, especially when I’m fighting for something I believe in my heart is right.

After a brief internal debate, my partners agreed with my logic, and we happily continued on with our hit product.

In business, it is paramount that everyone looks for the perfect solution that works for everybody else. This isn’t about getting along with each other just for the sake of it but rather about learning to be successful together.

Ego, when it comes from a place of experience, confidence and wisdom, actually can be a tremendous asset if properly managed by the individual.

I’ve recently started working with a good friend of many years, and I totally respect his ego. He understands exactly what it takes to be successful and has the experience to enable him to accurately size up a situation and make sound business decisions. He also knows how to work with partners like me, creating a complementary relationship, not one in which there is constant bickering.

When you’re around people with healthy egos, they create an aura of chemistry and trust and can provide a nesting ground for others to be their best. These types of individuals don’t make radical changes on a whim, but they try to understand their business environment, then make decisions to either build upon existing success or fix what is not working. People like this aren’t afraid to make wrong decisions because they have the confidence — the ego — of knowing that eventually they will make the right decision.

In dealing with complicated business relationships, the most critical relationship is the one we have with ourselves. Always ask yourself the reasons behind your decisions, especially if you are challenged by peers, partners or others in trusted positions.

There is nothing wrong with standing up for what you truly believe in. But be sure you are guided by wisdom and a clear thought process with the intention of truly solving a problem or building upon previous achievements. If not, allow yourself to hear other voices and have a healthy enough ego to let them contribute to your success. ?

Tony Little is the founder, president and CEO of Health International Corp. and executive chairman of Positive Lifestyle International. Known as “America’s Personal Trainer,” he has been a television icon for more than 20 years. After overcoming a car accident that nearly took his life, Little learned how to turn adversity into victory. Known for his wild enthusiasm, Little is responsible for revolutionizing direct-response marketing and television home shopping. He has sold more than $3 billion in products bearing his name. Reach him at guestbook@tonylittle.com.

 

Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:46

Great partnerships = great success

Peanut butter and jelly. Nuts and bolts. Lennon and McCartney. Love and marriage. What do all these things have in common?  They represent great partnerships — things that go together, like, well, a hamburger and fries (when I’m not on a diet, of course).

Great partnerships epitomize the concept of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Vanilla ice cream is great, right? And who doesn’t love an ice cold glass of root beer? But put the two together and you’ve created an American classic: the root beer float.

Business can be like this, as well. Your company may be doing fine, but perhaps it can do even better with the help of a well-chosen partner.

After many years of being an independent businessman, I’ve followed my own advice and taken on a partner for the first time ever.

I’ve always felt that to be successful, I had to genuinely believe in my products, so it’s safe to say that my high hits-to-misses ratio was precisely because I considered them all to be labors of love. The Gazelle, Body-by-Bison, Cheeks footwear — they’re like my children in many respects. Still, there are limitations to what one individual can do.

Look to expand

I’ve wanted to expand the reach of my products for quite some time, and the financial resources that a new partner brings are certainly a critical component to achieving this goal. However, the scope of the endeavor also means the partner that I choose must be able to provide more than just cash; they must understand the business I’m in, backward and forward.

Look at what a partner can bring to the table to supplement your strengths. If I approach things intelligently, I can work with my partner to get the right buyers with negotiation skills so we can source products at the best possible prices in order to make a decent profit.

Of course, having a partner who is also willing to put the money up to buy the products is also key because of the importance of having an equity stake in what you sell beyond just collecting royalties.

What makes someone a good partner may vary depending on the business that you’re in, but it’s critical to understand that a true partner contributes more than just money to the venture.

Decide if a partner is a good fit

At the end of the day, the decision to take on a partner will hinge largely on what you determine to be your ultimate goal for your business.

For me, at this stage of my life, it’s about expanding the availability of my products internationally and to broaden my retail distribution channels.  Some of it is driven by my desire to be the best I can be — but it’s also fair to say that I’m looking at monetizing the value of my trademarks, copyrights and patents so that there’s a tangible value to the company that can be sold someday.

The thought of giving up 100 percent ownership and control of your business to have a lesser share might be difficult at first. I admit it, I like calling the shots. But I also know that I can’t do everything at that level. The key is to focus on the big picture and try not to let your emotions get in the way of success.

Don’t let anyone tell you differently — nobody wants to run a company forever. And if you can build your company up to the point where it’s functioning well and is highly desirable, there’s a great deal of satisfaction in that, not to mention a nice pay day, when you can relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor — especially if they’ve been labors of love.

Tony Little is the president, CEO and founder of Health International Corp., and executive chairman of Positive Lifestyle International. Known as “America’s Personal Trainer,” he has been a television icon for more than 20 years. After overcoming a car accident that nearly took his life, Little learned how to turn adversity into victory. Known for his wild enthusiasm, Little is responsible for revolutionizing direct-response marketing and television home shopping. He has sold more than $3 billion in products bearing his name. Reach him at guestbook@tonylittle.com.

Monday, 01 October 2012 14:07

Tony Little: Staying ahead of the pack

Branch Rickey, the Hall of Fame big league baseball executive of the 1940s and ’50s, famously coined the expression, “Luck is the residue of design.” This grand concept of cause and effect, which essentially says that good things don’t usually happen by themselves, stands as the cornerstone for anyone looking to build a successful business.

While it is possible to stumble into early success, if you’re in it for the long haul, you need to gain a thorough understanding of what it is you’re selling and how it relates to the needs of your potential customers before you act on it. It’s one thing to have a good idea and to make a few dollars at it, and quite another to duplicate that success on a larger scale or to sustain it for an extended period of time.

Get in the mainstream

Many years ago, I was brought in to be the public face of a protein bar that was successfully sold in health food stores and gyms, targeting body builders and active males. As popular as the bar was, it occupied a narrow niche, with limited potential for growth outside of its very specific market.

The company behind the protein bar wanted to get into the mainstream retail arena — big box stores and supermarket chains — but didn’t know how to do it. So I had a meeting with one of their executives in which he asked for my advice. He placed one of the jumbo-sized bars in front of me, and after thinking about it for a moment, I took out my pocket knife, cut the bar in two and slid it back toward him. He gave me a puzzled look.

“The original bar is designed for body builders — you need a smaller bar for everyday consumers,” I said. “You also need to make it fit a lower retail price point for the mass market. Oh, and put my picture on it, too.”

I went on to tell him that there were countless other protein bars out there, but if the average consumer sees my picture on the wrapper, they’d be far more likely to at least take a look at it because they recognize me.

The suggestions were simple but game-changing. The company implemented these changes, and in short order, we got the product into all the places we wanted, becoming the No. 1 protein bar in the U.S. Understanding the difference between what body builders and mainstream consumers wanted, while also taking steps to make our product stand out from the crowd, was critical to our success as we expanded.

Stay fresh and topical

It is also important for your business to stay fresh and relevant over time. Every day we hear about another well-known company filing for bankruptcy protection or folding altogether. The poor economy is partly to blame, of course, but if you look closer, it’s interesting to note how many businesses have struggled or failed to adapt to the changing marketplace.

Whether it’s a department store, a snack-food company or a company that specializes in photography, part of planning for continued success is being willing to do things differently than in the past. Simply saying, “This is the way we’ve always done it,” is a surefire path to disaster.

Because I’m pretty well-known, it surprises some people when I tell them that, by definition, I am still a small business owner. That is, I own my company, and I operate it independently. I partner with many large corporations, and together, we’ve enjoyed a number of great successes over the years.

Stay ahead of the pack

But I’m still always concerned about maintaining or improving my position in the market. For that reason, I take it seriously when I notice that someone I’ve worked with is not staying ahead of the curve. I may notice that I’m not seeing new products from them, not getting any new proposals or hearing about them moving ahead in innovation.

So as much as I may have enjoyed working with them in the past, I know that I need to take charge and develop products on my own or find other companies that are just as concerned as I am about staying relevant.

Staying ahead of the pack means meeting your customers’ demands by keeping up with innovative technologies, diversifying and introducing new products. And if you’re proactive and smart with your business, you just might wind up with a reputation as one of the luckiest people around. But, of course, you’ll know better.

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 guestbook@tonylittle.com.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012 20:15

Safeguard your success

It’s the big day. You’ve managed to score a meeting with one of the biggest companies in the world to talk about your brilliant, one-in-a-million business concept. You can’t wait to talk with their executives and share your vision for your ideas — ideas that are guaranteed to change the face of business forever, while earning billions of dollars in the process.

One problem. Unless you’ve been diligent in protecting yourself, you might well find yourself taken advantage of, or even have your ideas stolen altogether.

Sad to say, but there have always been people out there just itching to pick your brain and take your original thoughts without paying for them. Sometimes it’s inadvertent — they may not realize that your ideas have monetary value — and at other times it’s purposeful and with ill-intent. Either way, it’s important to recognize this reality and do everything you can to safeguard yourself.

Earlier in my career, I would often find myself in a meeting, and with my inherent enthusiasm (It’s for real, folks!), I’d elaborate on everything from product concepts to marketing and sales strategies. The next thing you know, the people I was meeting with would all be whipped into frenzy and we would verbally agree to continue the dialogue and develop our business plan in the weeks and months ahead. We’d have numerous phone calls and even some follow-up meetings.

And then suddenly … nothing. When I finally managed to get hold of them again, I’d be told they had changed their minds and were not going through with the project. Yet months later, I’d find they had actually gone ahead with the product without me — and using all the ideas I had given them in our meetings. Think I wasn’t royally peeved?

Because I knew that what I had to say was worth something, after this happened to me one time too many, I decided that I needed to start protecting myself. So here’s what I’ve learned to do now: If I’m coming to someone with an idea for a product I’ve developed, before I take the first meeting, I make sure I protect my ownership. I file for a patent, trademark or copyright — everything and anything that is appropriate for what I’m offering. I also ask the people that I’m meeting with to sign a nondisclosure agreement and make it very clear from the beginning that I’m prepared to protect myself.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that others won’t still try to take my idea without my permission — patents are worked around all the time — but it does mean that I have some leverage. Without it, I’d be dead in the water.

At the moment, I have a product line that I’ve been developing for several years, for which I have four or five patents, eight to 10 trademarks and 10 to 15 copyrights. These protections give my product value for a possible third party sale in the future. When you come right down to it, if I can’t protect the ownership of my product, it has absolutely zero value.

Besides my ideas for an invention or product are the thoughts I have for developing business strategies, which I present in a meeting or conference call. This is a more difficult situation because I can’t patent, trademark or copyright these ideas. Yet, the success or failure of the product or business idea will hinge to a large degree on how it is presented to potential customers.

These days I proceed with much greater caution that I ever did before. If I’m approached by a company that wants to meet with me because of my expertise in an area, I often charge an engagement fee upfront. I won’t share my best ideas until I know we have an agreement that protects me. Half of the money is paid up front with the balance paid out of royalties or perhaps as a straight licensing fee if we decide to go ahead with a product.

You’ll never be able to stop people from trying to take advantage of you. But whether you’re talking about your idea for a new product or the strategy for how to make it a success, keep in mind that what you have to offer carries genuine value, so never let your excitement override good judgment.

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 guestbook@tonylittle.com.

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 guestbook@tonylittle.com.

Tuesday, 01 November 2011 09:46

Tony Little: Step out to stand out

After a cold winter, a group of kids is lined up alongside the edge of a lake. One kid challenges the next to jump in, but he balks. So does the child next to him, and the one standing on the other side. Each one protests, afraid to jump in what could be icy water.

At last, one boy announces, “I’ll do it!” After taking a deep breath, in he goes. Emerging seconds later with a great big grin on his face, he tells the others, “Hey, it’s not bad at all!” And within moments, the rest of the group dives in after him.

Business is like that, especially business in a poor economy. It can be frightening to stick your neck out, even in the best of times. Yet the current economic environment can actually offer exceptional opportunities for those who are willing to step out, jump in and take on the challenge.

The courage to take on new challenges is one of the most important ingredients to success. Global empires have been built on the concept, and I can honestly say that I owe my own career to it. Furthermore, businesses and individuals are both attracted to a positive attitude. As a leader, if you can project your own energy and passion onto the people who work for you, I promise it will get passed along. It is absolutely contagious, yet something that cannot be faked. If you look at a company like Apple, you’ll see that Steve Jobs’ original vision has permeated into contemporary culture. Of any brand, consumers who purchase Apple products are among the most loyal and passionate.

Without courage and a can-do attitude, potential opportunities can easily be missed, as a leader becomes mired in fear and negativity. Let’s face it, there are always going to be downturns in life and in business. Who are the people and companies best equipped to handle it?  It’s not the ones who feel the storm will never pass, but those who look at it as a chance to do things differently and look at their lives or organizations in new ways.

One day, I was at the office of HoMedics, a company specializing in personal health products. It was in the midst of dealing with the return of 40,000 pillows from a retailer. There was nothing wrong with the product, but the retailer hadn’t struck upon a successful way to sell it. I played with a pillow for a bit and thought, “I can do something with this. I know I can.” I began bubbling with excitement and issued them a challenge: “Let me try selling it on HSN. If I can sell all 40,000 units, I get a percentage of ownership in the pillow.”

Giving up a piece of a product can be tough for any company. But the pillow was underperforming and the management team at HoMedics knew my reputation. My passionate willingness to commit sold them on the idea, and they decided to take a leap of faith along with me. The long and short of it? Both HoMedics and I wound up very happy with our arrangement. I sold out the pillow through my shopping channel appearance, and to date, I’ve succeeded in more than 4 million more.

Not that you should ever proceed recklessly, but it is one thing to be realistic about a given situation and quite another to allow yourself to be paralyzed by it. In any given business situation, you have to do your homework, examine all the facts you’re dealing with, identify all the positives and negatives and then make a decision. If you choose to go for it — whether it’s expanding your production line, buying that piece of property or opening new stores — do so with commitment and enthusiasm.

Yes, it can be frightening staring into the unknown, whether you’re the kid standing at the edge of the water or the businessperson contemplating a move with major financial consequences. But if you step out in faith, armed with a well-thought-out plan, a positive attitude and a focused determination to succeed, you may find that the water’s just perfect.

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 of product. Contact Tony via his website, www.tonylittle.com or by e-mail at GuestBook@tonylittle.com.

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