I took my morning shower the other day. After the shocking realization that my body looked like I had swallowed a Thanksgiving turkey (in its entirety) was over, I began to think about what I wanted to write about in my column this month. And while the focus of this issue is technology (not my strong point), what came to me is what it really takes for someone to succeed as a business owner.
I have written several times that there is a big difference between owning a small business and making a living and building something that grows and has value when you get out of it.
I immediately came up with seven things that are not talked about enough – education, skills / knowledge of how to do or do something, faith that it is possible to really succeed, desire for full commitment, responsibility / discipline, flexibility / adaptability and knows how to treat people with empathy.
Here’s what I have to say about these seven points:
- Education. Business education is useful no matter what someone tells you. There is a lot to know about accounting, finance, human resources, organizational structure, information systems, management, marketing, etc. It is difficult to get all this knowledge in the discipline without a diploma. I feel sorry for those who are not in higher education, but I do not agree. This is valuable.
- Just because you have a business education doesn’t mean you know how to do or do something that people want or need. You have to have some skill. Do not underestimate the importance of this. It really is crucial.
- Belief that it is possible to really succeed. Knowing that you can do your own thing and make a living is one thing. But being able to imagine that you have a real company that hires people and grows into something with its own life is different. If you can’t see this clearly in your mind, it won’t happen.
- Willingness to make a full commitment. You need to be prepared to go “everything” and risk what it takes to make your business work. This means signing up for debt, investing all your money in your business, even if it means leaving your house or immersing yourself in your retirement fund, working the hours you need, and not being afraid to get involved.
Responsibility / discipline. You need to be responsible and do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. This means paying everyone on time, filing your taxes, and being diligent about every action and process that needs to be done to keep your business growing and profitable – all the time, not most of the time.
- Flexibility / adaptability. Sometimes things happen that make you want to change course. You need to know when to stick to your plan and when to get out of it. I’m not sure this can be learned. It helps you stay tuned to your customers, what’s going on in the world around you, and what’s going on with your industry. Make sure you do what it takes to keep up with these things.
- Know how to treat people with empathy. Again, this may not be taught. At least not in the classroom. But if you don’t know how to treat people well, you will lose your customers, suppliers and employees, and no business can survive without all three. You need to be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
I’m sure I could come up with 20 qualities on this list, but those seven seem to have been forgotten by those starting, buying, operating or investing in other businesses. And they are essential.
Mark Zweig is the founder of two Fayetteville-based Inc. 500/5000 companies. He is also a local entrepreneur who teaches entrepreneurship at Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas and chairs a group for Northwest Arkansas, head of Vistage International. The opinions expressed are those of the author.