This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
As of June, I'll have officially been an entrepreneur for 14 years. And while it's great to celebrate achievements, I can get a little wistful at times like this. This happened to me recently when I was helping entrepreneurs ask and answer the big business questions that are essential for laying a solid foundation for any new enterprise.
I found myself thinking, "if I was starting my business all over again, is there anything I would do differently?" The answer was yes. Here are the five things I would change about my early decisions if I had a "do over."
I'd define my ideal customer more narrowly
When I began my business my target customer was anyone who would work with me. Most entrepreneurs I meet begin like this but there's a better path to success that seems counter-intuitive and feels scary – commit to serving a very specific customer. Rather than cutting yourself off from potential customers, taking this approach magically helps you become a magnet for your ideal customer. I wish I'd made this fearless declaration at the beginning of my entrepreneurship journey.
I'd figure out how to make my company stand out in a crowded marketplace
I'm in the strategy consulting business so I jumped into a crowded pool. The key to standing out in a saturated marketplace is offering a unique promise that catches the imagination of your customer because it delivers something that fulfills a deep, unfulfilled need.
When I started out I had some vague ideas about what made me different from "the other guys." I was lucky – my early clients were able to see through the fog and detect the value I offered. If I'd just been clearer about how I was different I know that life would have been much easier.
I wouldn't focus my business on my product or service
In the beginning, it was all about what my company did. What it should have been about was the outcomes I helped my clients achieve or, better still, the "why" behind my work. Here's the thing – while it looks like customers buy stuff (products or services), customers really work with or buy from companies that speak to and fulfill their deep-seated needs. Making your "why" the centrepiece of your work brings emotion into play, and emotion and passion are the keys to customer loyalty.
I'd sketch out how my business needs to work long-term right out of the gate.
Because so much can change so quickly, many people think it's a waste of effort to plan long-term – I get that. But there's one type of long-term business thinking that's never a waste – figuring out what the enduring business model that supports your "why" needs to look like. I wish that I'd done just this early on. If I had I wouldn't have forgotten to spend time every day doing the things that were crucial for the long-term term success of my company. It's important to remember that, in business, the goal is to both survive and thrive so, while you're hustling for today, be sure that you're planting the seeds for tomorrow.
I'd tap into the knowledge and support of experts
I'm an independent sort – I tend to do things alone. That's the way my company started out – just me, doing my thing, figuring out how to be successful all on my own. I don't know if it was my ego or just an unwillingness to get out of my comfort zone but I should have tapped into the knowledge of others right out of the gate. Be honest – unless you are doing something that's never been done before, someone has been there before you and has figured out how to make your type of business work. So, if you're serious about achieving success, get over yourself, leverage the knowledge and skills of experts, and get the support you need so that you can get where you want to go sooner.
Thankfully, entrepreneurship is a journey – the mistakes and missteps we make along the way are rarely fatal (they just make the journey to success longer than it has to be). One thing I really love about my entrepreneurship adventure is the opportunity to learn and use what I learn to innovate and build a better business. The good news is that you don't really need to wish for a "do over" – you can choose to rethink and change almost every business decision you've made any time you want.
All it takes is a little fearless entrepreneurship on your part.
Sandy Richardson (@JETrichardson) is president of strategy execution and strategic planning firm JETrichardson, and the author of Business Results Revolution.