There certainly is no shortage of business advice available for entrepreneurs, because believe me, I was an avid listener. I relied on those words of wisdom since my college education was not in business administration. What I learned was from the proverbial School of Hard Knocks: an education from negative experiences that translated into a level of knowledge.
According to the BLS (Bureau Labor of Statistics), approximately 20% of new businesses fail during the first two years of existence, 45% during the first five years, and 65% during the first 10 years. While there are many reasons why a young business will close its doors, what’s critical is owning a stable business model with financial preparedness to set the course on a healthy trajectory.
The following are a few lessons I’ve learned in the last 15 years of business success at Vive Marketing.
- What’s So Unique? – When you think about the plethora of businesses around us, what do you think stands out about each one? Not another hamburger restaurant, but maybe unique burgers from a food truck. Not another photography studio, but perhaps one that produces nothing but drone footage. Not another coffee shop, but maybe a mobile coffee stand with specialized drinks for parties. It’s a need with an amplified approach, and that’s where Vive has established creditability. I often say that there are tremendous choices when it comes to aligning your business with a marketing agency, but an agency that is specific and unique to manufacturers is what sets our brand apart. We don’t claim to be efficient in B2C marketing, but we excel because our expertise lies in B2B marketing on behalf of manufacturers because we understand the process, the network, and the vernacular that make the business model longstanding.
- Clients are Our Friends – A familiar statement you’ll hear from me. We build relationships with our clients at meaningful levels to where they’re treated like friends, not transactions, because friends don’t let down friends. When you take the time to learn about your audience, it’s easier to delight them. I realize this may seem assumed, but when you’re in the business of working with the same individuals with a cadence, it’s less work when you can look forward to talking with them the next time. Trust is a huge responsibility to undertake, but I believe respect is developed in this way. I take special consideration in remembering names, hobbies, and even annual events to make our clients feel appreciated and connected to the Vive brand.
- Sleep at Night with a Strong Cash Flow – Cash is the lifeblood of Vive. So many factors impact a business’s financial health, such as collecting receivables quickly, using business credit cards, managing expenses effectively, and – most judiciously, with the largest overhead – salaries. Not only was my college experience lacking business education, but I also know little about accounting outside of credits and debits. I’m certainly a better marketer than an accountant, therefore surrounding myself with people smarter than me was essential. Trusting that individuals with my best interests at heart builds over time but should not be a given. Strategic partners like a banker, lawyers, or accountants should be objectively evaluated over the years to ensure they’re growing with you. Change isn’t always easy since likeness becomes comfortable and customary, but transferring to a new partner presents a fresh set of eyes for tax planning, financial reporting, and CFO services. Another discipline for a healthy financial base is a steady sales effort. The buy-cycle is long in the manufacturing industry, sometimes multiple years. Neglecting sales for even a short time can severely impact the flow of cash. At Vive, I wear many hats, but a steady focus on sales is a priority.
- Top-Notch Employees Need Only Apply – The right teammates are the backbone of a successful business. As a small business owner, I know that hiring successful employees can be difficult. I’ve made some weak choices which have resulted in difficult conversations and higher turnover. Identifying a person who naturally demonstrates passion and diligence towards daily work and goes above what he/she is tasked to do can be challenging to identify in a matter of a couple of interviews. As a business grows, the focus should shift from securing ‘good teammates’ to ‘great teammates’ which often takes more time, resources, and flexibility. At Vive, we call ourselves ‘rowers’ because we observe the characteristics of a strong rowing team: synchronized, prepared, disciplined, unified, dedicated, and engaged. I’ve learned that finding the right rower for the team is all about skill fit, culture fit, and innate value fit. I once lost an employee who told me they loved working with us and our culture, but they no longer felt they were a fit for the growing organization. I realized that no matter how much I liked a teammate, the separation was better so that that person could grow somewhere else and Vive wouldn’t be suppressed for their lack of passion. At Vive, we have strong values that are made visible on the wall as soon as you enter the office. It’s significant in the hiring process and an expectation of how we deliver.
- Peaks and Obstacles Require Adaptation – Change in the business environment is inevitable. For me, staying modern with the times means I’m closely connected and present so that my leadership can be depended upon. However, I often have my team to thank for their contribution in providing thoughtful suggestions to keep Vive on top of new technologies and trends. In my opinion, change is good and leads to progress. Vive made two significant investments in our operation process this year which made us more efficient and knowledgeable for our clients. Fostering a culture where people not only accept but expect new innovations to be implemented – while adhering to the mission of the business – should be a core belief. Historically, towards the end of every year, I put myself in a ‘timeout’ where, for four to six hours, I go device-free in a quiet area to reflect on the peaks and valleys of the year while creating new goals for the next. My evaluation is not just business related. I self-reflect on how I can be a better leader, a better wife, a better Christian, and a better mom. The time I devote to this reflection forces me to identify new ways to adapt to the changing business landscape and my personal approaches.
- Not Afraid to Be a Doer – Some CEOs sustain the main role of simply being the visionary, but I believe the modern-day CEO pulls up their sleeves and participates in the day-to-day operations. Leading by example, I work alongside my team and with clients to best understand where success lies or where pivots need to occur. The vision for Vive is shared, therefore I don’t need to set marching orders. While being a tactical leader may be criticized for working ‘in’ the business vs. ‘on’ the business, I’m focused on supporting and encouraging those around me to get the job done for our clients. I work with a mental checklist every day to be results-driven, which I don’t translate into simply being ‘busy’. At Vive, I look for tangible outcomes for being a doer and measure my own productivity with standards for quality. Although I am a Packers fan, I revel in Tom Brady’s quote, ‘I don’t need exterior motivations, the ones inside me are enough.”
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the importance of my pseudo board of directors representing fellow small business owners that I trust and meet with on a monthly basis to share best practices and issue process challenges. The strongest insights I’ve gained are from hard work, failure, success, and determination. At Vive, I don’t ever feel that success is final. There’s always another obstacle to overcome that will help grow the business to the next level. I’m excited about where the next 15 years will take this company.
Looking to grow your bottom line? Contact Vive Marketing today to start a conversation with our team of experts.