Little Steps to Sweet Success

A friend of mine has a company he started several years ago and he’s on an unbelievable roll. If he’s not there already it won’t be long before his top line revenues exceed nine figures. When I first met him his business was grossing nearly $10 million. Not only has he seen a gigantic increase in his sales, but his profitability is off the charts. I fully expect to read about him in Forbes one of these days. How has he done it?

My friend is not a particularly flashy guy. He didn’t design fancy strategies or engage in crazy risks. Instead, he concentrated on taking little steps. You or I might see them individually as pretty mundane. But when viewed collectively these small steps have become giant leaps, propelling his organization to dizzying heights. What have I learned over the years about how my friend has built such a successful company?

In the early days my friend was the classic bootstrapper. He literally did everything. He and one key associate were the “executive” level management. They paid attention to the little details and obsessed over their customers. I remember urging my friend to spend more time working “on” his business than “in” it. Over time he took this to heart and began to be more strategic. But initially he was the chief cook and bottle washer as well as the CEO.

Also in the beginning, this man was allergic to debt. He re-invested his profits and made sacrifices to get through the leaner times. I suggested that he procure a line of credit to which he responded, “Why? I don’t need it.” I explained that at some point in the future he would need a lending relationship with a bank and that he should establish it sooner rather than later. He could borrow against it and then pay it right back if that would make him feel better. Ultimately he did obtain a line of credit and it was eventually quite helpful in accelerating his growth.

My friend was very particular about the business he would take. There were opportunities abound, but he showed great discipline in staying in his lane. He did not set out to be the biggest company in his industry, nor did he care if he developed a national footprint. By only taking assignments that he knew he could handle, he avoided the pitfalls that many entrepreneurs have made (including yours truly) by gobbling up every piece of business they could. At first I thought he might have an affliction of limited thinking. But I was wrong. Though it wasn’t articulated, it was obvious that he had a winning formula that was taking shape as a result of his intuition.

Over time, my friend learned how to scale his company. He gradually created the infrastructure necessary to meet the needs of more and more customers. Today he hires more than 50,000 people a year to staff the industrial operations of his customers. He attributes his continued growth to his ability to identify and value talent. The “value” part is especially intriguing. He genuinely cares about the team he has assembled. It would be easy to view 50,000 workers as a commodity. But he doesn’t. My friend goes to great lengths to make certain that everyone is treated fairly and with respect.

Above all, he’s played it straight as long as I’ve known him. He makes certain that he only hires team members who are legal and I’ve never seen him cut corners. Over many breakfast meetings and other encounters, I’ve observed this man to be grounded in principle and integrity. We’ve all heard about high-flying businesses that came crashing down when it was revealed that they had been involved in some form of cheating. My friend is Mr. Straight Arrow and has marched to that tune from Day One.

Overall, I think I can ascribe his level of success to his ability to execute. Some leaders are born to perform – my friend seems to do so effortlessly. I’m sure he’s stubbed his toe along the way. But I’m not aware that he’s made any major mistakes that would have jeopardized his future. I can’t say that he was studious about creating strategic plans and organizational charts or subscribed to the Harvard Business Review. Maybe he did. My guess is that he simply exercised a great deal of common sense and had an amazingly deep understanding of his industry.

My friend is a living example of how taking little steps can lead to sweet success. What he has done can be instructive for the rest of us as we grow and flourish as entrepreneurs.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 79 – The Disneyland Story.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Cocoons and Garlic Necklaces

How often have you encountered situations where you conclude that luck must have played a part in the outcome? Perhaps you barely escaped being involved in a horrific traffic accident. Or you walked into a meeting with a prospective customer with whom you’d never spoken and won a major account just by “being in the right place at the right time.” Is someone who seemingly sails through life without struggle just lucky? What about fate? Is our destination already mapped for us? Are some people pre-ordained to succeed and others to fail? Could it be that we use “luck” and “fate” as rationale for something we don’t understand or can’t explain?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and profess that I believe luck and fate are mostly myths. Since no one can prove or disprove this statement, I think I’m pretty safe. Notice I didn’t completely rule out either concept . . . because I can’t be totally certain. But I do think that how we live our lives has a lot to do with what we might otherwise perceive as luck or fate. While this may sound a bit New Age, stick with me on this.

I am totally committed to the notion that positive energy exists and when we live a positive life in every way possible, good things come to us. Does this mean that a positive lifestyle provides protection from bad things happening to us? I don’t know. I suppose it’s possible but I prefer to look at . . . yes, the positive side of this. Here’s what I know for sure. When I’m thinking positive thoughts my heart rate is lower, my head is clearer and I’m more often “in the zone.” I’m much less resistive to new ideas and my creativity is off the charts.

Successful outcomes are a combination of many things. It helps to have talent, skill, intelligence, hard work, determination and perseverance. Everyone has talent. Unfortunately many people don’t dig deeply enough to discover their true talent – but it’s there. Skill can be learned and developed. Almost everyone can learn and develop a skill. Intelligence is innate, but even those individuals with average or below-average IQs can be very successful by learning how to think. Yes, there are many who are allergic to hard work, but everyone has the opportunity to work hard. With the right mindset, anyone can possess enormous amounts of determination. And of course we all can persevere if we choose to be patient. Too often, people are willing to give up because they aren’t determined and patient enough. Are people who consistently enjoy high levels of success just lucky, or have they discovered their talent, honed their skill, learned how to think critically, worked hard, been doggedly determined and are supremely patient?

Who needs luck when we can wrap a cocoon of energy from a positive mindset around our talent, skill, intelligence, hard work, determination and perseverance? The universe works in amazing ways and perhaps we resist negativity and bad outcomes by living inside this cocoon? Suppose we’re competing for a contract and we lose. Some might say that our woo-woo positive approach didn’t work. But I choose to see it differently. Instead, I get very excited when I don’t win because it means that something better is in store for me. In the moment that may be hard to see. But I’ve experienced this concept countless times. There have actually been instances when I’ve later learned that what we “lost” would not necessarily have been right for us in the first place. I remember vying to acquire an apartment property in a small town but did not win the bid. A few months later the major employer in that town pulled up stakes and left – occupancy at the apartment property we had wanted to buy was devastated.

Luck and fate are abstractions that can allow us to rationalize our success or failure. Living the most positive lifestyle possible eliminates the need for carrying a rabbit’s foot or wearing a garlic necklace to ward off evil spirits.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

garlic necklace