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August 2, 2013 — A weekly look at Wyoming business questions from the Wyoming Small Business Development Center (WSBDC), part of WyomingEntrepreneur.Biz, a collection of business assistance programs at the University of Wyoming.
By Mike Lambert, Wyoming Market Research Center manager
“I am a new entrepreneur. What lessons have you learned during your career?” Manuel, Rock Springs
I have been around for a number of years and am coming up on 30 years of experience in marketing, sales and management. In thinking about this question, I came across an article in “Innovation Daily” (www.innovationamerica.us) that really struck a chord with me and matches with my experiences.
In the article, Jarred Cinman writes about “four things I wish I’d known about business 15 years ago.” These are:
-- Medium is beautiful. Having worked in large and small companies, I can tell you that innovation and drive seem to thrive more easily in smaller organizations. Cinman feels that the ideal size is 50 people or less because the systems and processes required are minimal and everyone knows one another, making it easier to keep a quality staff.
I would concur and add the sense of “family” that a small organization can and should foster helps it survive tough times and prosper when the economy turns better. Smaller organizations are inherently more flexible and can shift direction much more easily than larger companies.
-- Great people are (really) hard to find. If you live in Wyoming, you probably feel this even more than folks in other parts of the country. We are one of the most rural states, have a small population and, therefore, a small pool of candidates for any particular job.
Cinman notes that many business owners don’t understand how hard it is to find great people. Most of us end up settling for someone with “potential” and hoping that we can turn them into someone who is “great.” My experience would indicate that this seldom happens. It is vital to work hard at finding people who are great. After all, you will tend to spend more time with these people than you will with your own family. Make sure that when you hire, you are spending the time and resources to find great people.
-- Service is a verb. Remember that service is an action. Drill into everyone in your organization that great customer service is not optional, but absolutely essential. If you have an employee who can’t empathize with your customers and clients, then you need to ask yourself whether or not that person belongs in your organization.
Think about companies that are famous for service. My kids still talk about a Disney World trip where the maid left a Goofy doll in different positions each time we returned. Everyone in your organization should have customer service as the prime duty. In today’s social media world, poor service shows up immediately, but so does great service. Which would you rather be known for?
-- Everything has a solution. Cinman notes that, “There is no such thing as an unsolvable problem in business.” I would agree with this. Way back in my past, I was director of international marketing for a medium-sized company. With the easing of the Cold War, I started getting inquiries about our products from Eastern Europe.
My colleagues and my boss told me that there would never be a market for our products in such distressed areas. However, I worked closely with a number of start-ups, explained the concept of selling at a profit (unheard of in communist countries) and, within several years, we had offices in Moscow and Poland, and the second largest customer for our entire company, behind Wal-Mart, was my distributor in Moscow. The big problems require hard work and perseverance but, in my experience, most of them can be solved.
-- Have fun. This last one is not in Cinman’s article, but is one that I believe in wholeheartedly. If you aren’t having fun, if you don’t enjoy what you are doing, then why are you spending the biggest part of the week doing it? Find a business that you love, and you are always going to be the better for it.
A blog version of this article and an opportunity to post comments is available at http://www.wyomingentrepreneur.typepad.com/blog/.
The WSBDC is a partnership of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Wyoming Business Council and the University of Wyoming. To ask a question, call 1-800-348-5194, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write 1000 E. University Ave., Dept. 3922, Laramie, WY, 82071-3922.