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

Published in Columnist
Thursday, 06 October 2011 20:05

Providing solutions

Mike Ode had already been in the construction industry for 20 years when he recognized a niche that still wasn’t being served anywhere in the market. The issue was a lack of any specialized, effective payroll service for the construction industry, one that could help the countless contractors who struggled to process the complexities of construction payroll. The solution to the problem became

As chairman and CEO of Foundation Software Inc. at the time, Fred Ode, along with the company’s president, Mike Ode, decided to adapt the company’s award-winning Foundation for Windows payroll module to power an online payroll service specifically serving the construction industry. With payroll components in construction such as multiple states, localities, jobs and pay rates, Ode knew the demand for an industry-specific payroll service was there. But they also wanted to cover their bases. The two set in place a three-year plan to test the viability of the service with existing Foundation clients, research any issues and get the processes in place for growth.

By 2008, the company’s revenues were growing quickly. Having seen such promising success in the first three years, Mike Ode — the company’s president — officially opened to the market with an aggressive marketing campaign. The construction industry was highly receptive. This year, the business is on pace to see 100 percent growth both in clients and in revenue.

But the results have not just been limited to the company’s sales and customer base. While has seen impressive success since its inception, the company continues to undergo improvements and innovation to maintain the aggressive growth it has achieved to date. Since 2008, the construction payroll service company has grown from four employees to 12. With continuous improvement in mind, it is building its team of skilled professionals to deliver payroll services even more effectively for the construction industry as it evolves.

How to reach:, (800) 949-9620 or

Published in Akron/Canton
Thursday, 06 October 2011 20:02

Targeted solutions

For CEO Brian Deagan, the prospect of his company growing 50 percent in 2011 may seem like a lot to manage. But when you look at the last few years of growth for Knotice Ltd. — 64 percent, 54 percent and 41 percent growth year over year — his track record inspires the promise of the company’s continued success.

Developing all of its direct digital marketing services and software in-house, Knotice aims to provide value to digital marketers across a variety of industries by allowing them to communicate more effectively with customers and, therefore, grow their revenues, reduce costs and improve customer relationships. The company’s patent-pending software platform, Concentri, was designed to help marketers conduct highly targeted campaigns across Web, mobile and e-mail channels, maximizing ROI from interactive marketing initiatives.

Contributing to its double-digit growth over the last three years is the fact that Knotice invests heavily in building a strong, customer service-driven team of employees to sell and administer its products and services. Knotice prides itself on its employees’ commitment to going above and beyond for customers. Its account management and technical people are on call 24 hours a day to help a customer with a problem and deliver on the company’s service promise. This outstanding service is reflected in the company’s customer churn rate of less than 7 percent, although it operates in an industry where the norm is 15 percent or higher. Another significant achievement is that in the last three years, the company has landed eight Fortune 500 clients.

From 2006 to 2010, Knotice grew its revenue more than 140 percent, and in that same time period expanded its team of 12 people to 55. In 2010, the company was ranked 8th on the Weather head 100 list of fastest growing companies in Northeast Ohio. Today, Knotice has 79 employees on staff, and to accommodate continued growth, it plans to add 10 more this year.

How to reach: Knotice Ltd., (800) 801-4194 or

Published in Akron/Canton

Pierre Panos has created a new niche in dining. As the founder and CEO of QS America — short for Quality Service America — he oversees restaurant operations for Atlanta’s Brookwood Grill as well as more than 40 Papa John’s locations, but he also created the fine fast-dining segment in founding Fresh To Order restaurants.

While he strives to create a niche, he also aims to provide, as the name implies, the highest levels of service at all of his restaurants. His efforts combined have allowed the company to earn more than $40 million in sales last year and a 30 percent growth rate for the past 10 years, even during the recession.

Smart Business spoke with Panos about how to set your business apart from the competition.

How can leaders distinguish their businesses?

Don’t follow the pack. When everyone zigs, you zag. You’ve got to swim up river a little bit and do something different. You have to create a niche product. You have to find a niche that has not been developed yet or is just starting. If you’re not the first in the space, do it very, very well because the No. 1, 2, 3 guys can all do it well.

The No. 1 thing is find something you absolutely love doing, stay in it long enough to become the absolute best at it, and that’s when you make a lot of money. People tend to hop around too much today trying to find the next big thing.

How do you know if you’re doing the right thing or if you need to search for the next thing?

Something my dad told me a long time ago that’s an old cliché but it’s so right: The greatest mistake is to give up. With Fresh To Order, in the first year, we never made money. I knew we wouldn’t. We went through it because we had faith in the concept, faith in ourselves, and we knew the business well, and we knew at some point it would kick in and it has.

Sometimes you just beat your head against the wall and you’re not getting anywhere. Unless you’re in an industry that’s literally going away, if you’re very good at it or one of the best, the weaker players will go out of business. The market then is far bigger for far less players, and you can come back strong.

I wouldn’t try to get into something else you may not know as well because you’re not going to be as successful. If you’re an entrepreneur and you’ve tried something that’s not working and it’s a start-up, I wouldn’t tell you to keep on going, bashing your head. Look at what’s wrong. Try to figure out what the issue is. If you can’t figure out the issue, then move ahead. If not, go a little bit to the left and right in the same space and see where the next opening is. It is a hard thing, but don’t carry on forever. At some point you have to pull the plug.

How do you recognize opportunities that could move you forward?

If you know the industry that you’re in that well, you’ll see it. Read as much as you can. You have to be a voracious reader — see what everyone else is doing well and what they’re not doing well. If you have a good peer group of people to talk to in the industry, you’ll find that niche.

A lot of people don’t see it because they don’t read enough, they don’t network. If you do know your space, the niche will show itself, but you have to be aware and have your eyes open. A lot of people are [inwardly focused] — you have to work on your business, not in your business. You have to be out there. If you’re working day to day running the nuts and bolts, you’ll never see the niche. It will just never show itself. If you have people that take care of the nuts and bolts in any business and you’re out there working on your business seeing what the next river of cash will be, it’ll happen because not enough other business entrepreneurs out there are working on their business. They’re working too hard on the day-to-day and trying to find a way to save a few dollars here.

How to reach: QS America, (770) 594-8644 or

Published in Atlanta