One of the most important things you can do to advance your business success is to find a mentor, someone whose success you admire and whose star outshines yours. It's good for the soul -- and to temper your ego -- to study at the feet of a master. Not only will you learn how to become more successful yourself, but you just may get a good dose of much-needed humility. After all, we must first accept that we need to learn before we actually can.
I was blessed last week to spend time with a great group of highly successful business owners -- folks who started out as entrepreneurs and went on to build multi-million dollar organizations. James and I joined David Goddard, Executive VP of IMS Local Search Authority, last week to attend the annual convention of the Association of Directory Publishers (David's keynote speech launched the convention with his 2012 Market Forecast).
Time after time, as James and I met each of the members, we were impressed with their success stories. Virtually every one had a rags-to-riches tale, punctuated with well-timed laughter and nods from their friends who surely knew the story by heart from many years of the re-telling. We were truly impressed by their cordial manner, gracious hospitality, and genuine joy for life. They told us about their families, many of them bragging about long-term marriages to a high school sweetheart or children off at college. They told us about their hobbies, which ranged from fly fishing to flying airplanes. Quite a few of them own horses and stables (though primarily for the enjoyment of wives and grandchildren).
As the week progressed, I noticed a few common themes from among the many stories, and a few common characteristics among these highly successful entrepreneurs. I pass them along here for your reflection as well.
What I Learned From Highly Successful Entrepreneurs
- Stay Focused. There are lots of things to distract you from your goals, don't let them. Know what business you are in, and don't lose your focus chasing the latest fads.
- Don't Be Afraid to Work Hard. Every one of the publishers we talked to last week started out somewhere near "the bottom" ... a few of them far below that. This did not appear to have any detrimental effect on their eventual success, though it did test their mettle. They were never "above" doing any job necessary to reach their goals -- and still are not. They will still lick stamps and stuff envelopes if they have to!
- Treat People Right. Last year when a tornado ripped through Joplin, MO destroying businesses in its path, Ken Brock (owner of Names & Numbers, the Joplin phone book) had some decisions to make. The first thing he did was write off the bills for every business affected. Then he sent (and paid) scores of his own staff members in to help with the clean-up. Then he started an online campaign, updating almost daily, to get information out for the businesses that remained, those who relocated, and those who reopened. Eventually, he started reprinting and distributing new books. Ken's story is not particularly unique nor surprising. Many of his colleagues had similar stories to tell. You see, there is a "right" and a "wrong" and it's not "just business." I was perhaps most impressed by their unwavering commitment to doing the right thing.
- Listen to New Ideas. The ADP refers to their vendor/ exhibitors as "Partners." The publishers took time to visit in the trade show with these partners. Whether they bought anything or not, they listened. They asked questions. You could see the wheels spinning in their minds as they considered whether this partner might be showing them a great business opportunity ... or not. They know their business can only grow if they are constantly implementing new ideas, and they will have to hear a new idea before they can decide whether it's a good one or not.
- Be Kind. Whether you call it graciousness, hospitality, or good manners -- just plain kindness goes a long way in business. Smile and shake someone's hand. Try to remember their name. All of these kindnesses show that you value the other person. When you refuse to make eye contact, scowl, or brush people off, you show that you simply do not value the other person. And, in business, the "other person" is your potential client or customer. Simple kindness -- it makes life better, and what do you know? It will make your practice more profitable too!