7 Reflections From 30 Years in Business

confident female business broker at desk
⏱ Reading Time: 5 minutes

This week marks 30 years in business for me. Attending a business conference a few years back where John Maxwell was the keynote speaker, he said the following:

“Experience is not the best teacher. If it was older people would all become better.
Reflection turns experience into insight.
Evaluated experience is what matters”.

Here are 7 reflections from my 30 years in business. Although my business exists to serve the manufacturing community, these truths are applicable to every business.

1 – Continual Improvement

If we’re not growing and improving, we’re going backward. Continual improvement is a must. Many entrepreneurs want larger businesses, but they don’t want to BECOME the person with the wherewithal to run a larger enterprise. What works at one level of business does not work at a different level. Many manufacturers start in business because they’re passionate about product creation. But as a business grows, other hats need to be worn to handle growth. Leading a growing organization requires the leader to focus on macro issues, rather than micro-managing every detail. If we abdicate the visionary role, chaos ensues.

We should be seeking excellence in every area, and excellence is never an accident. It’s always the result of high intention, sincere and sustained effort, and intelligent execution.

2 – Pay Attention to Changes in Your Sector

You can’t assume that the markets you play in will remain the same. New technologies could wipe out or severely impact a sector that you rely on for income. As business leaders, our responsibility is to see more than what others see and to see before others see. Consider how new technologies forever altered certain sectors:

  • TV & Film – Traditional TV and movies in the cinema are in a steady decline in favor of streaming “on-demand” services.
  • The Internet and travel-related websites have eliminated the need to book travel through travel agencies.
  • E-commerce has been the demise of many brick-and-mortar retailers.
  • Subscriptions to newspapers in print have dramatically declined as most people get their news online.
  • The advent of online bill paying sharply decreased the revenue of the USPS.
  • 3-D Printing is changing how certain products or parts are manufactured.

We have to pay attention to what’s happening in the world around us. Risk and facts don’t cease to exist because we ignore them.

3 – Just Say NO

Success often comes from what we say no to. This is true of how we spend our time and the customers we choose to work with. I’ve seen manufacturers experience exponential growth by firing customers who were low-margin and high-maintenance. Saying “no” to unnecessary demands on our time as leaders means taking the time to invest in our own professional, spiritual, and emotional development. It also means staying focused on macro, rather than micro issues. Activity is not productivity. There’s a huge difference between “What should I do next” and “What is the real problem that needs to be solved, and how do I plan for it”.

Making time for critical and strategic thinking is a must to ensure your own, and your organization’s survival.

4 – Picking the Right Team

As an enterprise grows, teammates must be added to facilitate growth. Picking the right ones is the hard part. Picking or putting up with the wrong ones can have a devastating impact on your business. For more on this, you can read “The Exponential Cost of a Bad Employee”.

As business owners, we get what we tolerate.

Too many times manufacturers hire for skill level in machining, set-up, or design, while ignoring attitude, emotional health, and interpersonal skills. As business owners we need to hire not just smart people, but those with a humble and teachable spirit. If someone is right about everything, they can’t learn. Top “A” team players are humble enough to ask for coaching and welcome opportunities to learn.

A good team player will have the emotional intelligence to understand the reason why their idea might not work at the time, without taking it as a personal attack. They will also work well with other team members without constantly positioning themselves as superior, creating unnecessary drama. Allowing bad or emotionally unhealthy team members to remain hurts your business.

5 – Investing in Your Team

Once you have the right people you have to invest in their development. This means creating a culture of learning and capitalizing on every teachable moment. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to steward and develop the gifts and talents of those on the team. The business can only grow to the extent that we can leverage the team. The idea of developing leaders should always be with the goal that they can eventually teach others. The model should be KNOW, DO, TEACH. This prevents the owner from having to continually teach those coming into the organization.

As business owners, we need to move from working in the business to working on the business if it is to grow. We accomplish this by leveraging a good team of people who allow us to focus on broad-stroke vision and planning issues.

6 – Planning, Process, & Performance Tracking

Developing systems and processes for the business ensures that we’re actually aiming for the vision we’ve taken the time to plan for. It’s common for a company’s marketing material to tout its commitment to quality, customer service, and excellence. But how exactly do they accomplish these lofty goals? And how are they measuring up to the goal? The reality is that what gets tracked, gets done. Every organization should have key performance indicators and management should know at any given time how they’re tracking. Having full visibility into all aspects of the business provides the ability to make data-driven decisions.

Tracking should involve the entire team. Everyone should have responsibilities for which their performance is tracked. Standard Operating Procedures provide guidelines for all team members and make it easier to on-board new employees.

An Entrepreneurial Operating System like Traction ensures that the organization is focusing on what matters, and meeting weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual goals. It provides structure and rhythm to keep everyone on track.

7 – True Character, True Wisdom, True Grit

It takes true grit and courage to navigate the entrepreneurial journey. In my early 30’s all my friends worked for Fortune 500 companies. They argued that I had no security, while I argued that I had more than they did as an entrepreneur. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of scary times in 30 years. But I had faith, and that helped me navigate everything I would face.

To do much of what I describe in this article, one must have character. You have to think of someone other than yourself and care enough about a team member’s personal, professional, and spiritual development. You have to care enough to tell people the truth and provide the conditions under which they feel safe enough to say, “I need help to improve”. You need the courage to say no to the mediocre to make room for the great.

This takes wisdom. And True Wisdom comes through a relationship with God. His Spirit guides, teaches, and protects. He helps us navigate things we would otherwise be completely incapable of. True character and true grit, for me, involves not being afraid to share my faith. I remind every Christian business owner reading this, that for many employees, customers, suppliers, and stakeholders, you may be the only Jesus they ever see. Make it count. Be kind. Truly care about what’s happening in the lives of those within your sphere of influence. With a little kindness, money, and time, you can truly alter the course of someone’s life.

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