The last few weeks we have explored the differences between creativity and innovation, the need to continually innovate the delivery of a product or service to the customer, and the value of “micro-Pivots” as a way of keeping the customer at the center of the business and improving profitability. All of these topics have roots in my reading of the Pursuit of Wow by Tom Peters, yet none of the concepts are explored explicitly in the book. The book itself is, as the back cover describes it, is a book that is “organized into more than 200 though- and action-provoking elements…” (Peters, 1994). There may be no more apt description of how it stimulates my thinking about business.
This week, though, I want to call out a particular three pages of the book—116-118, if you’re interested—where Peters’ calls out to entrepreneurs. Here he offers a few distinct ideas that resonate with me as a serial entrepreneur with a lifetime of work in a small business with other entrepreneurs. Here are a five of those ideas about how to beat the odds of failure (Peters, 1994):
- Be different. And make that difference easy to identify and understand. We have to be able to clearly and succinctly explain how our business offerings differ from those of our competitors. If one owns an auto repair shop, how is the different than the five other auto repair shops the same distance from my house or office? If the business cannot differentiate in some way, the default differentiation will likely be the price. And in my experience, competing on price can be one of the fastest ways to business failure.
- Have a soul. As Peters’ suggests, the soul is the things that can help a business differentiate (Peters, 1994). In short, it’s the things that make customers take notice.
A barber I used in the Chicago suburbs years ago gave a quick neck and shoulder massage at the end of my cut and never seated a new customer until all the hair from the previous customer was swept up and vacuumed from the chair. As a bonus, if you needed your shoes shined while you were getting your hair cut, it was done free of charge. The shop had six chairs, and they were always full even though there were three other barbers within walking distance. That’s soul.
- Success springs from the details. Pay attention to the tiny particulars of the day-to-day operations. From the cleanliness of the restrooms to the engagement with the customers. Everything matters. Everything must put forth a message that is consistent with the customer’s expectations and the brand the business wants to convey.
A few years ago I attended a sustainability summit. The basic premise of the summit was how to make a difference in the world by deploying sustainable measures in business. Some of America’s biggest companies known for sustainable measures were present, as were several of the world’s thought leaders on the topic of sustainability. Indeed, sustainability is a broad term that means different things to different people, yet the summit organizers missed the boat on some very basic items. For example, coffee was served in styro-paper cups, water was provided in plastic bottles, and the event was held in one the oldest, most power-inefficient venues in the country.
- Watch the money. A good accountant and accurate books are essential, as is the ability to understand the financial health of the business those books convey. It is also important to develop a good relationship with a banker and keep that banker abreast of the ups and downs of the business. A solid relationship with a bank, one that is built on honesty and trust, will be a lifesaver for the business.
- Talk about it. Being an entrepreneur can be terribly isolating and lonely. A trusted, fellow entrepreneur is a valuable asset to any business owner. It is invaluable to have someone to talk to who understands the ups and downs of entrepreneurial ventures. Honest, direct communication is key to effective counsel. Every entrepreneur needs advice from someone who has been in the trenches, too, but few seek it.
- Regularly reinvent. See Always be Pivoting.
I cannot say that employing these six ideas will unequivocally prevent failure of an entrepreneurial venture. But, I will say that if deployed consistently and with purpose, I believe these ideas will mitigate the possibility of failure. And when the odds are against entrepreneurial ventures, everything that can tip the scales for success should be used.
Do you use these ideas in your business? Do you believe they have or are contributing to your success?
Peters, T. (1994). The Pursuit of Wow! Every Person's Guide to Topsy-Turvy Times (1st ed.). New York: Vintage Books.
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David Harkins is a serial entrepreneur with significant experience in branding, strategy, licensing and marketing.
In his spare time, he consults, coaches, speaks, writes, hikes, explores, and creates art. Although, not necessarily in that order.
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