I could have chosen the easier path

In a recent article, “What does it take to succeed in business?” my CEDF colleague, Frederick Welk, compared five business disciplines related to measurement and management of results that, in his experience, were important for profitability to more mental characteristics. He asked:

But what about the business owners that seem to succeed despite their apparent aversion to current bookkeeping, budgets or performance gauges or interest in studying the others in their industry? And their relationship with their accountant seems only to consist of dropping off a grocery bag of receipts at the CPA’s office on the evening of April 15.

Here are my answers to his question, brought out in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce article he cited: 10 Essential Things Successful Businesses Have in Common. Does Yours?”

His assumption is correct, at least in my experience. I feel like I was once that business owner with a grocery bag full of receipts. But I succeeded anyway. Here’s why.

Willingness to Take Chances — I took the chance the minute I took the keys. I was aware of the consequences of my failure and the great impact it would have on my family and twenty staff members that became my responsibility.

Unique Value — Our main mission was to customize and adapt to what our customers were looking for in terms of value, quality and uniqueness. Continual adaptation is required to satisfy that.

Tenacity — Anyone who knows me can attest that this is a hands down yes. I am like a pit bull with a bone.

Customer-Centric Approach — Listening to your customers (and employees requests from customers) will keep you on this path naturally. Continual, but small adaptations and little customizations can go far to create a customer-focused feeling with a majority of clients. When they feel you are truly listening to their desires, wants and needs, and in small ways you try to accommodate them without changing your brand, the feeling is amplified.

Good Marketing — This is probably the only category I had a weakness in due to my lack of experience. However, our customer service, adaptability and awareness outweighed our marketing deficits. Had I written this article, I would have named the category Sales Instinct and in that I would have scored high.

Strong Vision — As a team we never sat down and created a “vision statement,” per se, however, the vision I carried in my mind never wavered: “Do your best always and walk away knowing you did.” Somehow, that trickle-down effect worked through the staff and we shared a vision of “Customer first always.”

Passionate Leaders — Rule 1. Never let them see you sweat. In more than ten years, I was confronted with many serious issues including power outages with a full restaurant, the walk-in cooler failing on a busy weekend, an employee stabbed with a diabetic needle, a customer breaking his leg in the parking lot, and three employee deaths (two without warning), thankfully not on the premises. Then, the often less serious issues: employee call-outs, disagreements, disgruntled employees or customers, vendor issues, small equipment failures and the multitude of lesser things business owners deal with daily. However, my employees knew my mantra: “I will go down as captain of the ship.” Every employee knew I took full ownership for piloting and my approach was “all for one and one for all.” I would be the last one standing and that mindset created a staff loyal and dedicated to a fault.

Empowered Employees — This process may take a little time to achieve due to that dynamics of the employee-employer relationship. It came naturally for me. During interactions with other restaurateurs, I did notice this practice is not as common as you would hope. My experience proved successful. I cannot speak for how or why others chose to lead differently. After developing trust and respect between the staff and management, a shift should take place — a mutual understanding of the greater good. This will not always work right away with all staffs, but you must act accordingly until it develops. Year later, I realized by implementing this process correctly my core group of employees developed “unspoken ownership” and spread it to part time employees as well. There is a fine dance between empowerment and control. As with riding a horse, you give enough rein so the animal feels it has the freedom it desires. But in truth, the rider is a thumb tug away and truly running the show.

Adaptability — Business or personal, every day a need for continual improvement. This little change is part of the success or failure in most things. Those who cannot adapt will not move forward.

Diversity — Being a diverse business employer can only enrich the experience for customers and staff alike. Welcoming all races, religions and cultures brings more benefits to the table, more opportunity, knowledge and growth, supplying a richer community experience.

Do I believe that a business can survive without what I call “back office knowledge,” of good bookkeeping and formal financial measurements? My answer is yes.

But would having that knowledge prior to entering business ownership have given me a leg up? Absolutely!

Could I have implemented a strategic, wider reaching, marketing plan? Would a monthly review of my P&L have helped to reduce expenses, trim fat and potentially put more money in my pocket? Would reviewing financial reports have benefited me in negotiations with my landlord or vendors creating more profit? Could reviewing my key performance indicators have created a menu with less waste? And could knowing and carefully reviewing my business financials have reduced the chance of a bookkeeper taking advantage of my lack of knowledge?

I now find myself answering “yes” to all of the above. Therefore, my advice as a seasoned business owner who learned the hard way is the path to success is much easier if you prepare. Relying on your inner strengths may take you far but it may not be enough.

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