It’s cocktail party cool to be an entrepreneur in today's business environment. I readily admit that I like the ego boost when I tell people I am the CEO of Creative Allies and outline our vision. However, there is a catch to the cachet, and it's called total accountability for winning outcomes. Most people struggle in the arena of the self employed because they fail to understand and embrace the truth about winning as a business owner. Building a great firm is more likely when you, as the leader, understand key success drivers. While I still have an operating role in building a firm, much of my time has transitioned to mentoring current and aspiring CEOs. The focus areas outlined have worked for me, but most encouraging is that this guidance has accelerated growth in CEOs I mentor. There is no single, perfect path to success but these nuggets will help you navigate your entrepreneurial journey.
Building a sales engine is the single biggest weakness that I see in companies that I work with. Most business owners create enough revenue to survive, but generally focus on the product or service delivery aligned with their personal expertise and don’t expand offerings. Sales is the oxygen required to survive and advance in business. The truth is hiring a sales leader that is capable of representing your brand, building a pipeline of opportunities and consistently meeting forecast goals is critical to scaling your firm. I am often asked what characteristics I are look for in a sales leader. While I could, and perhaps should, write an entire article on that topic, simply put: I want someone whose background shows they can endure struggle, overcome it and retain a positive outlook. With sales, I hire tough-minded people who are coachable.
When you have the sales engine working, it allows you time to work on the longer term durability of your business and that means a focus on the marketing and branding of your firm. I found that hiring an external digital agency is the best path forward for businesses under $10 million. By partnering with an external agency, you have access to branding expertise, content development, SEO, Web design and lead generation campaigns on tap. Hiring for all of these functions is both costly and distracting to most entrepreneurs. Find a firm that will create a performance-driven retainer that allows you cost containment while having access to the tools and talent you need. The truth is marketing matters and I feel so strongly about it that I use, invest in and am on the boards of digital agencies that serve SMB ( WalkWest) and Enterprise firms ( iCiDigital).
Related: 10 Behaviors of Real Leaders
A firm's success or failure is a clear reflection of the leadership capacity. The realm of leadership is littered with loneliness, criticism and daily challenges to build a great firm. We must use our network of contacts to gain quick and meaningful insights into challenges we face, and thus our professional network is a strategic advantage. However for me, the key was and remains a strong advisory board made up business veterans that can support my learning real time. Additionally, once I understood that I needed my team more than they needed me, I began to humble myself to those in my employ and seek them out as teachers. We typically hire people for their experience and expertise and then tell them exactly what to do versus allowing their talents and innovative thinking to shine. The truth is people perform better, stay longer and have more fun when they work for leaders that expect them to deliver great work and provide them the freedom to do so. Individual heroics do not scale, and our job as leaders is to grow people and let them grow the business.
As leaders, we love ideas and creativity. We often fall into the trap of creating rolling targets, changing focus areas, and generally confusing our team. Ever heard of the shiny object syndrome? Well it's likely you have the ability to see it in others, but fail to identify it in yourself. To create goal-achieving focus, we need to start with a real conversation about the things we can control and the things we cannot. We own our actions, attitudes and priorities. The truth is by focusing on things we can influence, we reduce the number of things that create worry and find more time for the things that drive progress. How many times do we get worked up over things that are not truly important and then we have a less motivation for big ticket items we need to work on? Having clear goals improves our productivity and prioritization across the organization. Clearly defined goals drive better choices.