Small Business: Start With The Right Vision For What Your Business is About: The SINGLE Thing I Did To Launch 25 Years of Small Business Success

To celebrate my 25th anniversary in business, I’m sharing some of my stories and reflections on being successful for a quarter century.

I suspect that the decisions that make enduring impact on small business success are not the huge mega hairy ones that you know are important at the time.

I suspect it’s the smaller ones that, at the time, don’t seem significant at all.

Such is the case for me.

Here’s the decision I made that paved the way for 25 years of success.

The Starting Intent

When I left government to start my own “consulting and training” business, I’d envisioned being a specialist in what was called Total Quality Management. TQM had just been discovered by the USA, and people like Deming and Juran were popularizing it, and it became (sadly) one of those things that faded away into the background.

It became clear to me that that particular focus wasn’t going to get me where I needed to go with my client market.

While I envisioned being able to consult for large fees to governments looking to re-engineer themselves, it turned out that much larger, established and reputable companies moved in, and marketing budgets, something I lacked, would be essential.

That was my intent. I needed to change this focus, but I really needed to change my whole idea of what my company was to be about.

The Decision

THE Decision came about, or actually evolved somewhat by accident. While I was a “training and consulting” company, I found I had a great deal of spare time in the first year or two.

Meaning, I wasn’t getting enough gigs. Since I was never a wear out the shoes going to selling meetings guy or a cold call guy, I was a little bit stuck. Lots of time. No money.

So I wrote a thirty page white paper on human resource development for public sector managers. Then I wrote a longer one on why performance reviews don’t work.

I even sold a few through direct mailings.

But that didn’t constitute THE Decision.

I realized I should NOT be in the consulting business. That I should not be in the “training business”. I realized I shouldn’t be in the writing business either.

I decided that I was in the LEARNING business.

Why Was This Decision So Profound?

By defining myself as being in the business of learning, (or helping others learn), I stopped defining myself in terms of WHAT I did and started defining myself in terms of the results I wanted to achieve as a business.

Not only did this help me think outside the box of methods associated with a trainer, or a consultant, but it forced me to think in terms of what the customer was concerned with.

While clients vary in terms of their sophistication I wanted to work with those that were less interested in how I achieved results, and much more interested in the results. After all, they paid me to decide on the methods, the path, and the paid me for results.

What Actually Changed In Concrete Terms

First, I felt no longer stuck with the idea that I designed and delivered “courses”, that fit into standard formats. I realized I could do one hour lunch sessions, shorter formats, longer formats. That was a small step.

Second, I realized that written material – books, white papers, newsletters and so on could be other means to create learning in others, while at the same time allowing me to showcase my abilities.

Rather than spend time in marketing activities I hated, I could spend the time doing things I loved, which was writing and designing print material I could SELL. That was a HUGE step.

Third, it occurred to me that I could do public speaking; keynotes and short conference presentation in the service of creating learning, and that I could get paid well to do them.

Those presentations, of course, allowed me to showcase skills and knowledge and became part of the passive marketing that has taken me through twenty five years.

As time progressed and the Internet emerged, I jumped into that as an additional way to help others learn, plus an additional passive marketing method.

All of these new activities generated significant amounts of revenue – some of it passive royalties, which continue today.

Such A Simple No Brainer Decision? Not Really

I thought, and sometimes do think that this simple decision, into which I stumbled, was such an obvious one to make, and that I ought not to take credit for it.

What’s interesting is that a lot of my colleagues who started consulting and training businesses were defining themselves as trainers, or consultants, and trapped themselves into being “one thing”, and pursuing only one path to a more over-arching purpose.

A number of them failed rather quickly in the business world.

So maybe, I should take credit.

So What About You?

Here are a few things to consider with respect to YOUR new business:

  • Never define your business in terms of HOW you accomplish the goals your customers want to achieve.
  • Define you business in terms of outcomes, preferably those that can be understand by potential customers.
  • Stay constant to your purpose/definition, but look always to alternate ways to achieve the purpose.
  • Listen to your clients and customers about the how’s and what’s of your business. You will be amazed, when you ask, and listen, how your customers can be a valuable source of ideas for new ways of meeting their needs, new what’s and how’s.
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