Monday, November 8, 2010

How Badly Do You Want Success?
Are you fully committed?

By Jim Walton
CEO, Brand Acceleration, Inc.
Indianapolis and Charlotte

I recently had lunch with a young man who wanted advice about starting a business. He’s a very talented individual with a great work ethic. He has a job working for someone else but his long-time dream is to be self employed. Many have that same dream but few really understand what goes into starting and growing a business.

As a business owner, I am often approached for such advice. I’ve started, stopped, bought, and sold several companies. I’ve been self employed nearly half my career. I guess you could call me a habitual entrepreneur. It’s just in my blood and I love the process of creating and growing a business. I’ve made many mistakes and learned countless lessons along the way.

For the sake of clarity, when I talk about self employment, I am not referring to freelancing or projects taken on to fill a financial void while searching for a job. I’m talking about a real company – full-time self employment.

Today’s challenging economy has spat a large number of very talented people onto the job market and many have considered self employment as the next step in the career path. Before starting a business, there are several questions that must be answered. Only by clearly understanding where you stand on each should you move into the world of self employment.

Why do you want to be self employed?
People start companies for several reasons but the most common is the need for a job. Big mistake! Most new companies require at least 1 ½ to 2 years to become self-sustaining. If all the owner desires is a job, he or she had better have the patience, hustle, and resources to ride out this crucial startup period.

How far are you willing to bend?
There will be times, whether you’re self employed or work for someone else, when you will have to work with people you simply don’t like. As a business owner, you have the ability to decide which employees, vendors, and clients to allow into your circle.

We once had a series of meetings with a construction industry supply company which had expressed an interest in signing Brand Acceleration as its marketing communications agency. The discussions went well until the third meeting. As is often the case, when you allow someone to speak long enough, their true personality will eventually be revealed. At that point in time, the company owner/president became belligerent, not only with us but with virtually every one of his staffers. Now, we’ve worked with difficult people before but this guy was rude, condescending, and just downright abusive to every person in the room.

When I started Brand Acceleration, I vowed to myself that I would not work with any person I didn’t like, nor would I ask anyone on my team to work with such a person. At the end of that meeting, I politely declined the business, telling the owner that it just didn’t appear to be a good fit for us. As a business owner, you need to know how far you’re willing to be pushed, even if you desperately need the business.

Are you up to managing the details?
Companies often fail because they outgrow the ability of the owner to manage the details of running a business. For example, many restaurants are started by people who consider themselves great cooks, just to die because the owner is overwhelmed by the minutia of running a business. Staffing, accounting, taxes, insurance, leasing, equipment, and other details are more than some people can handle. At some point in time, it stops being fun and the business shuts down. If you’re not up to the daily grind of business ownership, don’t jump in. You’ll regret it.

Have a passion for excellence
As a business grows, the owner needs to remain committed to providing excellent products and/or service. You must be able to do this while managing the details and growing the company. The moment you turn your back on your clients and begin cutting corners, you’re doomed to fail.

Surround yourself with great people
Over the years, my most trusted mentors, some former employers, taught me to surround myself with great people and then get out of their way. This applies not only to employees but also to suppliers and vendors. I’ve found that they make me and my company look great by providing excellent deliverables to our clients. It’s also important to swiftly remove underperformers. Regardless of how great the team is, your customers will remember the poor service resulting from the actions of the one person who dropped the ball. As the business owner, you must build, monitor, and make changes in order to protect your company brand.

Always offer and demand loyalty
The glue that holds the Brand Acceleration team together is the loyalty and caring that we share for one another. Our clients, employees, and vendors are our friends, too. We care for one another and function much as a family.

How badly do you want success?
One of the biggest things that budding business owners fail to consider is the amount of work they’ll have to do. The idea that self employment means you won’t have to work as hard is pure fantasy. You’ll work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life. As a business owner, you can forget the concept of a 40-hour work week. Sixty or eighty hours may be more realistic, especially during the startup phase. You’re going to live and breathe that business during your every waking moment.

I recently saw a YouTube video of Mr. Eric Thomas, Advantage Director at Michigan State University. In his Secrets of Success video series, he asks the question, “How bad do you want your dream?” In it, he dramatically demonstrates the importance of the passion, desire, and commitment required to succeed at anything, including self employment. This is one of several of his speeches on YouTube.

Click here to take a look.

To my young friend, here’s what I said: If, after considering these very serious questions, you still have a burning desire to start your own company, then you may just have what it takes to succeed. Develop a well written business plan, establish a team of advisors, get your financing together, and then go for it.

I wish you much success and personal satisfaction.

Brand Acceleration is a full-service advertising, brand management and public relations firm operating from Indianapolis, Indiana and Charlotte, North Carolina. The agency’s focus is on economic development, architecture/engineering/construction, real estate and motorsports.

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