Small business management is not for the faint of heart. When the inevitable struggles, scuffles and setbacks of starting a business get you down, remember that the greatest entrepreneurs of the last century have been where you stand, learned some hard lessons and succeeded. Refer back to this article as needed for advice to put you back on the road toward your business goals.
Mary Kay Ash, Founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics
Tired of working in a male-dominated culture, Mary Kay grabbed $5,000 out of her savings account, hired a handful of independent beauty consultants and opened a tiny store in Dallas in 1963. Today, the late Mary Kay's business is flourishing world-wide, with hundreds of thousands of beauty consultants and revenue in the billions. There are two tactics that Mary Kay started early on that were instrumental to her success, both involving how she managed people.
First, she started with a strong business plan based on her Christian faith and guided her employees and consultants to prioritize God, family and work, in that order. This business plan was the crux of her leadership philosophy throughout her career and was a consistency her consultants could count on. Second, she created a lucrative incentive program for her consultants that included her famous pink Cadillacs for top sellers. Mary Kay is frequently listed in surveys as a top business to work for.
He has been called a scam artist, a showman and a promoter of hoaxes. But there is one thing this founder of the traveling show that eventually became the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus will never be called and that's a poor salesman. Barnum understood that sales only worked when you could identify your prospect's needs or wants and then satisfy them. If his sales pitch was rejected, he simply modified his pitch to help his prospect solve an issue they were having and tried again. He knew that it wasn't just about getting the sale; he aimed to make each customer feel so good about their purchase and themselves that they came back for more.
Barnum also knew how vital risk-taking is to the growth of a business. He took chances in business, tried new sales tactics and wasn't afraid to fail. He once famously had a large, advertisement-wearing elephant grazing in his front yard, so that passing trains could clearly see it. His policy of giving customers a good value for their money was what he used to back-up all his wacky sales tactics.
If there's one thing Richard Branson knows, it's branding. The Virgin group brand he started building in the 70s as a mail-order record retailer is now an international power house that includes an airline, music stores, mobile phones, hotels, nonprofit organizations and so much more.
While Branson has his hands in many honey pots, each Virgin company follows the corporate philosophy that he developed when he started out more than 40 years ago. His brand values include sustainability, wellness, equality of people and embracement of change. Branson never waivers from these core values and they are felt in every aspect of his brand. Having a brand that provides value to the consumer and keeping that brand consistent is important to retaining customers as your business grows. As you move forward, never forget where you started.
One of the richest men in the world, Warren Buffet's shrewd investments have amassed him a fortune worth more than $60 billion. Buffet is not afraid to go against the grain and take a chance on investments that others might overlook. Throughout his life, he has eschewed the safe bets that the average investor went after and took a chance at becoming above average by listening to what he calls his "inner scorecard" and trusting his own judgment.
However, his risks have always been very calculated. Buffet believes in close monitoring of expenses and limiting the amount of money you borrow or charge to credit cards. He also advocates spelling out all aspects of a deal, in writing, before getting started. This is when your bargaining leverage is the strongest and you won't find yourself surprised later on.
The man who famously said "if you can dream it, you can do it," certainly lived those words. The Disney brand, for him, was the pursuit of a dream, created out of his own imagination. It was a creative outlet but, because he believed in it so greatly, it was a business success.
Because Disney's brand was so infused with his own heart and soul, customers over the decades have developed strong and lasting emotional ties to the Disney brand. Disney knew the responsibility he had to his audience and put a premium on their happiness and satisfaction. He had a relationship with his customers and it paid off in big dividends for his business.
Disney literally did what he loved and the money followed.
Bill Gates owes his success to two things: 1). His innate ability to read the market and forecast its needs and 2). His unabashed geekiness. What you can take away from his example is this: Follow your passion because there is a reason it was given to you.
Years before Microsoft was founded, Gates was a teenager obsessed with computers. He attempted to take the well-trodden path of so many others, half-heartedly attending Harvard, but his love of writing computer software wouldn't leave him alone and the entrepreneurial opportunities just kept presenting themselves. Everyone has a talent. This was Gates'. The only difference between him and everyone else is that he was willing to give everything in him to make his dream a reality. He took big risks and saw big rewards.
Business failures, lawsuits, threatening market shifts, accusations of monopoly and fallouts with business partners couldn't squelch Gates' passion for what he does. If something is gnawing at you day and night, don't ignore it. Almost everything can be successful with enough determination and a ton of hard work.
William Randolph Hearst
Perhaps one of the most hated entrepreneurs of the last century, there is no doubt that Hearst was a man of perseverance and resilience. While his tactics of unethical practices, questionable personal and political decisions and reputation of terrible treatment toward his associates would put a modern entrepreneur on the fast track toward business failure, one can learn quite a bit from the resilience he showed throughout his career.
Faced with one business or personal failure after the next, Hearst got back up, dusted himself off and jumped right into his next business pursuit. While he may not have had much faith in the world around him, Hearst believed in himself and that is vital to business success.
There are many things entrepreneurs can learn from the man who created the Apple dynasty but one of the biggest can be understood in this quote from Jobs: "It's not the customer's job to know what they want." Apple created loyal customers because he understood Apple's audience, knew what that audience needed and provided solutions to those needs. It's that simple.
Learn about your audience. What are their hopes, dreams, goals, problems, failures, insecurities and issues? Find out what they need from you, design a great product or provide a great service that gives them what they need. Then do this over and over again.
Another thing Jobs understood was the importance of hiring the best team possible. In fact, he believed that hiring a talented team is your most important job as a business leader. As a small business start-up, you are in a great position when you start hiring to create a dynamic team of the best professionals possible. They are the future of your business.
From the time she was a counter girl at Saks Fifth Avenue, selling her perfumes and cosmetics, until her death as a millionaire at the age of 97, Lauder's personal sales technique earned her a loyal following that is as rich as her skin creams.
As an entrepreneur, you are selling yourself as much as your product. Listening to your consumer and providing them a service from which they can really, truly benefit is the key to creating loyal customers. Estee Lauder's approach was that she wanted to make women feel beautiful and happy, not make a sale. With that approach she built her cosmetics empire.
Disney once said "we don't make films to make more money; we make money in order to make more films." Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, had the same sentiments when he said "we don't build services to make money; we make money to build better services." If you build a great product, and do what you love, they will come. It's a value shared by nearly all great entrepreneurs.
Through a lot of personal and professional turmoil, one of the world's youngest billionaires stays focused on his company and continuously strives for improvement. If you keep your head in the game, success will follow.
Are you a San Diego entrepreneur or business owner looking to take your business to the next level? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to see how my marketing writing expertise can help.
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