From the center of the learning curve of Northeast Ohios most successful entrepreneurs, here are the most important lessons Ive learned about business.
Debt drives growth
A fear of debt essentially translates into a fear of not being able to repay it. While I know people who could stand to be a bit more conscientious in that department, it points to a more serious problem: inability to achieve a return on investment.
An entrepreneur who cant lead his or her team to an acceptable ROI on any well-conceived project is like a NASCAR driver who has trouble with left-hand turns. Money is the fuel of growth, and if you refuse to borrow, the real issue isnt financial its personal.
You cant avoid The Wall
At some point, frenetic start-up energy and charismatic leadership must give way to repeatable processes and sustainable results.
Consider the wall of an obstacle course at those outdoorsy corporate retreats. Some people run up to it at full tilt and scramble right over. Most slow down, size it up, then start climbing and if they dont make it by the second or third try, each effort gets a little bit weaker. (In business, others never see the wall until they run into it, and some companies die from exhaustion while hanging onto the top by their fingernails though Ive never heard of either actually happening at a corporate retreat).
Climbing the wall demands different skills than running the sprint of a start-up. Dont fool yourself into thinking that you can avoid the climb.
The big boss only has one job: communication
If you dont make your ideas and visions clear, nothing else matters. You need to do it every minute of every day not just through memos and meetings, but through actions, questions and simple walks to the water cooler. If leading communications is the only thing you do, your business will be better off than if its the only thing you dont do.
Everybody needs a manager even you
You wouldnt hire a salesman or engineer without assigning someone to help assure that he or she is doing the right work at the right time.
Even CEOs can lose focus and perspective from time to time. But theres one critical difference: As the owner, you can choose not to be managed and nobody can do anything about it.
Even if you have an outside board of advisers or an internal executive committee, dont assume youre allowing yourself to be managed. If you win every argument, make every ruling and agree with every expenditure, odds are youre really running the show alone and making some costly mistakes.
Success is in the details
How many businesses really have a product or process that nobody else can duplicate? What makes one restaurant or insurance company or ad agency better than another?
Its the decisions they make, the priorities they set, the details they consider.
Success doesnt come from having one big idea that nobody else thought of. It comes from doing the same 100 things as everybody else but better.
Four years ago this month, I wrote my first editors column for SBN. This one is my last. I dont expect anyone to understand how I have personified and become friends with a collection of 30,000 readers; its the metaphysical part of being an editor. But I have enjoyed the experience and hope I have been of service.