This weekend, I read The 80% Solution – a great e-book by famed business coach Dan Sullivan in which he makes the case that “perfectionism” is a misunderstood and under-reported “enemy” of successful entrepreneurship.
Per the title of his book, Sullivan's suggestion to combat this is simple yet profound - just work to get a task / a project / an idea to “80% done and out” and far more often than not that will be more than good enough.
Now, of course, the author makes the necessary disclaimers.
Like an “80% done right” heart surgery or an “80% safe” airplane, or products with 20% defect rates are obviously recipes for disaster.
But for the vast majority of us, cultivating this 80% mindset will do us a world of entrepreneurial good.
1. Most Stuff Doesn't Work. The sad reality is that most business initiatives - no matter how good our intentions or how brilliant we might think they are, and whether they be new products, new marketing strategies, new hires, process improvements - don't work.
The market greets new products with apathy (big yawns).
Process improvements don’t move the bottom line. The most likely return on a new hire…is exactly what you pay him or her.
For sure, some ideas are revolutionary and transformative, but everyone has to cycle through a lot of duds.
So the more we are able to increase our throughput - to throw spaghetti against the wall as fast and furiously as possible - far more often than not, we are the better for it.
2. Energy. Modern knowledge work, with its infinite distractions and always-on nature, is exhausting.
Maybe not so obviously as exhausting as hard physical labor, but exhausting nonetheless.
And, given that so much of it involves a series of virtual interactions with other knowledge workers facing similarly exhausting electronic loads, accelerating our “personal supply chain” via an “80% and out” mindset reduces insidious energy drains like long e-mail back-and-forths, projects extending beyond timelines and conference calls that just drone on and on.
Taking the “80% is Enough” mindset to all of it can free our energy and re-create a lightness and fluidity to our work like when it was fresh and new.
3. 80% is Fun. A great read in this same vein is Happy Brain Chemicals by Lorreta Breuning. Among its eye-opening findings as to the nature of our “mammalian brains,” Breuning talks about the power of the neurochemical dopamine and its influence on our wants and decision-making.
Dopamine can best be described as the neurochemical of anticipation and excitement.
It is that feeling one has right before one takes a bite of a chocolate cake, or the moment right before the kickoff of the Super Bowl (or for those Patriots fans of ours, the moment right when Malcolm Butler makes that interception!).
We all crave dopamine, and as such, we all crave excitement.
And excitement, because of dopamine, is dependent on “new stuff” - new projects, tasks, relationships, and the like.
“80% is Good Enough” frees up bandwidth for more new stuff to be anticipated and experienced.
And thus more fun.
So think “80% is Good Enough” and be more productive, and have more energy and more fun each and every day.
What beats that?
This week, Axial came out with a great report on the challenges and opportunities facing small and middle market businesses in 2015.
Compiled from interviews with over 100 CEOs, it is chalk full of great nuggets like:
The #1 Thing keeping CEOs up at night is "finding capital to grow their businesses." This challenge has many dimensions - from receivables and cash flow, to commercial banks (in spite of the strong economy) still mostly on the sidelines, to the availability of private equity and other forms of risk capital to fund growth initiatives.
Also ranked high on the list was properly "training, educating, and rewarding" employees.
A great white paper by AGC Partners sheds modern light on this challenge, specifically how technology innovations are “incentivizing and enabling individuals to monetize their skills, time, and possessions like never before.”
Companies like Odesk, 99Designs, and Guru are empowering skilled designers, coders, consultants, and marketers to offer their services to buyers directly, on an as needed, per project basis.
How does this relate to the talent challenges of small businesses?
First, by the simple fact that a lot of talented people - who 10 to 15 years ago would have been available for / interested in traditional W-2 employment - are now effectively out of the traditional work force.
Second, the ease with which buyers (business & consumer) can contract for services with providers and cut out “middlemen” companies that "hire and mark up" creates a whole other level of pricing and other competitive pressures.
Luckily, far outweighing these two challenges is the massive opportunity created by this “collaborative economy” for smaller businesses to access types and qualities of talent like never before.
As I have talked about previously, entrepreneurs and executives that master the art of finding and utilizing outsourced, "shared talent" from around the world - and that let go of fixed ideas of what a company is / should be - will have business model and market opportunities open to them like never before.
Finally, the Axial report shares the startling fact, even though the overall economic prognosis for 2015 is about as good as it can get, that 66% of the CEO’s surveyed rank "market forces” and the overall buoyancies of the US and abroad economies as a top worry.
To this, I would suggest a reading of Nobel Laureate psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s seminal work on negativity bias, where he found “that people regret mistakes twice as keenly as they relish successes.”
When it comes to growth planning, Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, summed it up best when he noted that "When you point out what can go wrong, you sound smart and sophisticated, and when you emphasize what might go right, you sound naive."
It all kind of fits together: exude and embody optimism (and fight the natural propensity we all have to the opposite), conceptualize and take chances on new business models, and the money will follow.
And this is what CEOs really want, isn't it?
The other day, my wife came home from a meditation class with a sheet of paper. On it was a verse written by Mother Teresa. Supposedly, these same words were written on the wall of Mother Teresa’s home for children in Calcutta, India. They were as follows:
While I believe these words to be true for all people, I find them especially relevant for entrepreneurs.
As entrepreneurs, we have elected to take on a challenging life, and a business life that is clearly harder than that of the average worker. We must constantly take risks, and success is never guaranteed.
As a result, to succeed as an entrepreneur takes a special mindset and commitment. Thinking and acting like an ordinary individual will get you ordinary results. And ordinary results just don’t cut it as an entrepreneur. Unless you act extraordinary, you can’t possibly achieve the success you desire.
This being said, below are my entrepreneurial comments and thoughts to Mother Teresa’s writings.
People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
These people may be your customers, your employees, your investors and/or your family (who I will hereafter call your “constituents”). Forgive such actions when you come across them. And try to surround yourself with people who don’t do them.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
Be kind to your constituents. If not, they will not follow you.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies.
Some of your current constituents will not want to see you succeed. Succeed anyway. And create a new group of constituents as needed (perhaps a peer group or Board of Advisors) of successful people you want to emulate and who DO want you to succeed.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you.
Be honest and frank anyway.
Be honest in all your dealings with your constituents. Entrepreneurs who cheat never win; it always catches up with them. If someone does cheat you, learn from it and don’t let it happen again (yet still be frank and honest).
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight.
As an entrepreneur, your job is to build, build, build. Build a great company. But while building, think about ways that others will NOT be able to “destroy” you. For example, a business model in which you have customers on a subscription plan (think mobile phone service providers) is very hard to destroy. Always think about ways in which you can “lock up” customers, employees and other constituents. How can you make it so that they’ll never want to leave you?
If you find serenity and happiness, others may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
Yes, when you achieve success as an entrepreneur, many others will be jealous. And many will call you “lucky.” Yes, you’re “lucky” because you have the right attitude and mindset that allowed you to work hard and persevere. And you’re “lucky” because you invested your time reading articles (like this one) and learning the skills you needed to become a successful entrepreneur.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Keep doing good to your constituents. Doing good once is not enough. Continue to astound your customers, employees and others so they follow you to the finish line.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough.
Give the world the best you've got anyway.
To succeed as an entrepreneur, you need to give 100%, and keep giving it. Never surrender. Never back down. Rather, persevere and make it happen. And if the best you have isn’t enough, then get others (advisors, peers, employees) who can give alongside you so collectively you ARE able to give enough.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.
Succeeding as an entrepreneur is more about you succeeding within yourself and less about you beating out a competitor. If you are thinking and acting the right way, you will naturally surpass your competition and achieve great success.
Right now is the time for you to “do it anyway” and become the successful entrepreneur you’re capable of becoming!
Especially this time of year - when so many of us are assembling and committing to our professional resolutions and goals, questions arise as how to best develop financial (growth, revenues, and profits) projections for our businesses.
Should projections be “realistic” – i.e. feel “doable” and in line with past results or…
…should they be “aspirational,” not hot air by any means but also representative of goals that make us feel more than a little anxious as to our ability to attain them?
What is the actual “projections-making” process? Is Microsoft Excel my only “tool” option? How much research into customers and competitors should I do?
And perhaps most poignantly, if there is not a regulatory or shareholder requirement, why even put them together in the first place?
A great way to think about the process and purpose of financial projections is via what I call the “HMCBW” approach, i.e. examining the Historical data, then the Market conditions, then the Competition, then the “Bottoms-Up” assumptions, and finally and most importantly what management Wants.
It looks like this:
5. Let History Be Our Guide. The first thing to do in assembling projections is to evaluate what was, and was not, financially accomplished by the business in the past.
While the previous period (most usually the previous year) is usually most indicative, there is also great wisdom to be had in looking back to more chronologically distant periods as well.
This is especially important in good economic conditions like we have currently (see here and here), where the more relevant historical period might be say - the 2006/2007 period – i.e. one of similarly “frothy” macro-economic conditions.
4. How Big is My Market? Undertaking a formal and comprehensive study of a business’ industry, market, and competition usually leads to one of two results - either the target market is much smaller and less lucrative than surmised or…
…it is defined so imprecisely and broadly as to uncover faulty strategic thinking / an unsound business model.
Either outcome, both painful, naturally lead to the kind of hard introspection and business model re-positioning upon which solid financial projections (and yes ultimate business success!) depend.
3. How is the Competition Doing? We live in this most amazing time where our competitors - as part and parcel of their sales and marketing strategies - just post to the Net their business models for all to see.
Additionally, amazing tools like CapIQ, Hoovers, IBIS World, LexusNexis, Statista, and Follow.net give us inexpensive access to often shockingly accurate financial data (even profits!) on even the smallest and most secretive of private companies.
Utilizing this data as benchmarks for our projections is incredibly powerful. We do not need to be wed to how our competitors do it, but we would be foolhardy to not study and learn from them.
2. Bottoms-up! The business analytics revolution - as represented by the dozens of SaaS business process applications and productivity tools (with their incredible reporting functionality) - allows for the assembly of Bottoms-Up financial projections with an “actual data” specificity like never before.
This might look like building revenue projections based on the conversion ratios of web traffic to inquiries (phone, e-mail, text, etc.) to proposals, to sales, to retention, to ongoing revenue.
These bottoms-up models, in addition to being powerfully predictive, are also highly insightful as to the performance of various aspects of an enterprise - its marketing, its salespeople, the quality and efficacy of its products and services, etc.
1. What Does Management Want? The fuzziest - but also by far the most important factor when developing projections is just asking what management and ownership want to see happen.
What kind of revenue and profit projections will inspire and embolden? Will force to the forefront the need for breakthrough business model thinking and doing?
Answering these “inspirational” questions is massively important in assembling projections that serve the objectives of managers and owners, and not the other way around.
Historicals. Market size. Comparables. Bottoms Up. Want.
Follow this five step model in building your growth, revenue, and profit projections and watch the Manna from Heaven flow!
The technology age has brought with it a long list of business related success stories. There are plenty of cases where a small startup has managed to grow into a billion-dollar company.
While most people will think of companies such as Facebook and Amazon, GoDaddy.com is actually one of the greatest successes in recent history. What started as a small company has since grown into an easily recognizable brand which owns a significant portion of its own market.
GoDaddy was created in 1997 as Jomax Technologies by Bob Parsons who had recently sold his other company, Parsons Technology Inc., to Intuit.
At the time, a company called Network Solutions was essentially the only place from which people could register domain names. That changed in 2001, however, and GoDaddy.com quickly grew.
In 2005, GoDaddy.com became the world’s largest ICANN-accredited registrar on the internet. In addition to being one of the most popular domain registrars in the world, it also offers website hosting and a whole range of business related technology solutions.
In 2011, 65% of the company was sold to a group of private equity firms for approximately $2.25 billion. GoDaddy’s rapid rise to prominence and continued success are due to a few key factors. Studying what they did right can help business owners of any type discover new ways to grow their own companies.
Lesson #1: User Friendly Innovation
Innovation has been at the heart of everything GoDaddy has done since its creation. What it has managed to do is take something which is ordinarily very technical, in this case domain registrations, and make it appeal to a wide range of customers.
It was not very long ago that most people were unfamiliar with the Internet. The idea of marketing domain registration and web hosting to everyday people was unheard of at the time. This is part of what has made them so successful. Their effort to bring these services to the average person effectively opened up a vast new market.
Lesson #2: Cutting Edge Branding
Part of what has made GoDaddy so successful is its ability to create a readily identifiable brand. Nearly every person on the Internet has heard of GoDaddy and a majority of sites are registered with the company.
The power of this brand has come from its extensive advertising. Buying up expensive advertising space during events like The Super Bowl, GoDaddy made a name for itself with racy and often controversial marketing efforts. Its commercials, utilizing seductive women and star athletes, brought a sexy and exciting feeling to what could otherwise be a dry and technical company.
Lesson #3: Soups-to-Nuts Offering
GoDaddy is far from just a domain registrar. It offers a number of services including website hosting and ecommerce solutions. This has helped make it successful because it essentially offers everything someone might need when starting a website.
The domain can be registered, the site hosted, the platform installed, and upgrades can be added as needed. When a customer comes to GoDaddy for domain registration they immediately have access to everything else. This allows the company to offer upsells and products with recurring payment options that are relevant to what customers have already purchased.
Lesson #4: Customer Service in Layman’s Terms
GoDaddy’s customers may not always be experts at information technology. There are a number of different problems that a customer might run into. GoDaddy has made a point of offering outstanding customer service that explains complex technology solutions in layman’s terms.
Due to its high level of customer service, in a way customers understand, GoDaddy.com has become one of the most trusted hosts and registrars around.
Lesson #5: Upfront, Competitive Pricing
Unlike make technology service providers who bury prices in obscure parts of their website or require a call for a quote, GoDaddy publishes its prices very visibly.
Furthermore, its pricing is competitive, and it has prepared numerous product bundles to make it easy for customers to find what they need.
Rather than demanding money for a number of different services, almost everything is optional and customers can spend as little or as much as they want. This competitive pricing, coupled with constant discounts and coupons, has made it difficult for other companies to compete.
What to Take from This
Owners of businesses of any type can learn a lot from the GoDaddy. Its rapid rise to the top is something which is enviable in any industry and implementing a few of its key strategies can help any business. While not every company will have a budget as large as GoDaddy, there are still several concepts, discussed below, which can be useful.
A. Challenge Accepted Notions
At a time when many people were still unfamiliar with the Internet, GoDaddy targeted their advertising towards regular, every day people. This was a risky move, at the time, but actually showed incredible foresight.
Look at your business model – where have you been playing safe? Are there bolder strategies you can test?
B. Invest in Marketing
Many of GoDaddy’s biggest critics claim they bought their market dominance through expensive advertising. While this is not entirely true, marketing has been a major source of success for it. GoDaddy advertised mainly through inexpensive online banners for years before it was big enough to implement sexy and eye-catching ads during The Super Bowl.
Dust off your branding and marketing plan and review it. Is it relevant in today’s market? Are you getting the results you want? If not, it may time to go back to the drawing board and perhaps invest in expert guidance.
C. Offer Everything You Can Do Well
Specialization can often be a good thing in business, but the possibility of branching out into related products and services should never be ignored. GoDaddy started as a domain registrar but soon included a variety of other services as well.
Offering related services can boost profits and avoid losing customers to competitors with a full-service solution. For example, a car repair shop that doesn’t replace tires can lose their regular oil change customers when those customers need new tires and find a full-service provider.
The caution is to only branch out if you can provide excellent service in all categories. Adding more services, but doing it poorly, will hurt rather than help you grow.
Father Knows Best
GoDaddy is a familiar name on the Internet and with good reason. Growing from a small start up to a multi-billion dollar company, it has proven it is expert at predicting future trends, understanding its intended audience, and delivering on what it promises.
Your job is to learn from GoDaddy. Take the time to review your business model using the concepts in this article. Outline steps you can take to promote your own growth, then take actions. Carefully track your results to learn what works best in your market.
Over time, you will have a proven recipe for strategies that generate growth for your business. How long before I write an article about you and your stellar success?
“Social proof” is a critical psychological principle that savvy business owners can use to dramatically increase sales and grow their businesses. The principle simply states that people are more likely to do something when they see others doing it. For example, after entering a new restaurant, customers are more prone to sit down and eat if they see others in the restaurant versus if it was completely empty.
Interestingly, there’s one famous example when the power of social proof caused unintended and negative results. The example was Nancy Reagan’s ‘Say No to Drugs’ campaign in the 1980s. While the campaign hoped to decrease drug use, the opposite actually happened. Yes, teen drug use actually increased in the 1980s as the campaign implied that many teens were using drugs. This social proof made other teens think it was ok if they tried drugs too.
On the other hand, there are countless examples of using social proof for benefit, such as the following:
1. Social Proof from Other Users/Customers
Showing other users and customers is the most common form of social proof. Here are some examples:
Even more powerful is when you get your customers to invite their friends to become customers. Hotmail did this extremely effectively by putting “join Hotmail” advertisements in the footer of all email messages. This prompted Hotmail to grow from 500,000 users at the start of 2007 to over 12 million users by year’s end. Likewise, allowing friends to invite friends to play through Facebook helped Zynga grow over 10 times, from 3 million to 41 million average daily users, in just one year.
2. Social Proof from Experts
This form of social proof is when you show approval of your product or service from credible experts.
I used this form of social proof when marketing my book, Start at the End. Specifically, I received, and subsequently promoted, reviews from several experts such as: Marshall Goldsmith, Kevin Harrington, John Jantsch and Brad Feld among others.
A similar example is Sensodyne toothpaste promoting that “9 out of 10 Dentists Recommend Sensodyne” for sensitive teeth.
3. Social Proof from Celebrities
An estimated 25% of television commercials in the US now use celebrities. For example, you’ve probably seen Catherine Zeta-Jones promote T-Mobile over the years. You may have also seen Beyonce promoting milk and William Shatner promoting PriceLine.com.
Even if you don’t have the funds to afford to big celebrity, you can use this form of social proof to your advantage. For example, when luxury pillow manufacturer Pillo1 received positive publicity from Oprah on Oprah.com, Pillo1 effectively showed this on their website.
4. Social Proof from Research and Past Results
Showing research and past results gives positive social proof to spur new customers to buy your offerings. Here are some examples:
5. Social Proof from “Borrowed Trust”
A final form of social proof is when you “borrow” trust from other brands. Examples of this include:
As you can see, there are numerous ways to use social proof to influence others to take the actions you want. Use these examples as a starting point in brainstorming ideas to leverage social proof in your business. And then use the other proven marketing tactics to take your business to the next level.
With a little luck, 2015 could go down as one of the best years ever for American business.
Here are seven reasons why:
7. Low Oil Prices. For both businesses and consumers, $50 per barrel oil and $3 per gallon gas have both strong real and psychological benefits.
Real, as in lower input costs for businesses and more disposable income for consumers, and psychological in removing that sense of scarcity and dread that high prices at the pump bring.
6. And It’s U.S. Oil. And, oh yes, as opposed to that oil coming mostly from a collection of unsavory, overseas actors (see Putin, Vladimir), now for the first time in decades the U.S. is poised to be a net oil exporter. These dollars staying home naturally multiply themselves - perking up manufacturing, construction, real estate, travel, tourism, etc.
5. Low Interest Rates. Predicting the direction of interest rates is one of the great fool’s errands, but it does certainly feel like we have made a long-term transition to permanently low rates.
A key factor driving this is Federal Reserve's Chair Janet Yellen’s political philosophy - well-documented over decades - that employment is the most important matter of monetary policy and any “tightening” that might lead to rising unemployment is to be avoided at all costs.
And then there is simple supply and demand -- all the “safe” world currencies (Euro, Yen, Pound) sport extraordinarily low rates too so there is no “currency flight” pressure to drive tightening.
4. U.S. Technology Leads the World. In so many of the growth industries of the 21st century - Mobile, BioTech, HealthcareIT, Robotics, Social Media, Internet of Things - U.S. companies continue to lead the way.
In addition to the massive flows of capital and wealth created and distributed by the top tech. companies (to employees, vendors, shareholders et al.), this leadership also attracts the best and the brightest scientists, engineers, and developers from around to the world to our shores.
And from this human capital new technologies and new companies are born. And new wealth created.
3. Record Exports. U.S. Exports reached $2.3 trillion in 2013, both a new record and up more than $700 billion since 2009. And the soon to be in 2014 numbers will show another record year.
Why? Well for one, U.S. companies, aided greatly by an English language and America-dominated Internet, every year become more and more effective in marketing and selling to global customers (while global customers in turn become far more comfortable in purchasing across the wires).
This powerful trend will only continue to accelerate in the years to come – opening new markets and profit opportunities for U.S companies big and small.
2. Cash Piles on Sidelines. With $1 trillion in cash sitting in the coffers of U.S. private equity firms and $515 billion on the balance sheets of leading tech. companies (try Microsoft with $88 billion, Google with $60 billion, and Cisco with $52 billion), and with this cash in our low interest rate environment earning only fractions of pennies of return, there is a high probability we will see a lot of it pour into growth opportunities this year.
And there are no better growth investments than U.S. entrepreneurial companies, especially the smaller, private ones, that over decades have consistently yielded double digit returns for those brave and foresighted enough to invest in them.
1. Momentum. Good times beget more good times. The solid, economic, political, and social news and results we have had for a few years running now are building themselves into a powerful crescendo for the new year.
Yes, more than a little luck is always needed - mostly in the form of no large, negative political or environmental shocks.
Barring that, on balance for entrepreneurs and executives out there seeking to make their mark, 2015 is looking nice and juicy.
Here's hoping we all make the most of it!
It was not very long ago that the United States Postal Service was the only means by which to ship physical packages in the US. While this service had been invaluable, its quality had progressively declined over the years. Letters were lost, packages were damaged and customer service was nearly non-existent. This opened the door for private corporations to pick up the slack.
FedEx was hardly the first private parcel delivery service but it quickly became the market leader. With regional, national and international services, FedEx has been filling the need for a reliable way to send packages. Over the years it has expanded its reach through acquisition of similar companies as well as adding retail locations.
FedEx’s success has been due to the satisfaction of both its customers and employees. When a customer hires FedEx, they know their package will be delivered on time. And the company’s competitive employee benefits and professional work environment have created an army of loyal employees that are fully dedicated to the company’s mission.
Combined with an intense focus on the quality of their work and a close relationship with customers, FedEx has become synonymous with quality and dependability.
The Big Screen
FedEx’s commitment to quality and excellence is typified by the movie Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks. This movie, released in 2000, tells the story of Chuck Nolan, a systems analyst for FedEx. His job of resolving problems and improving service sends him on a trip to Malaysia. During the flight, a storm hits and the plane goes down. Chuck finds himself washed up on the shore of a deserted island with nothing but a few damaged packages.
After four years on the island, Chuck resolves to make an escape. Building a raft from material he scavenged from the area, he is rescued by a passing cargo vessel. The only possession he manages to save is an unopened and, as yet, undelivered FedEx package. The final scene of the movie shows Chuck delivering that package, late but still intact.
The most surprising aspect of this movie is that FedEx paid absolutely nothing for the product placement. In fact, upon hearing of the plot of the movie, FedEx was reluctant to give its approval. After reading the script, however, the company realized what a great marketing opportunity this movie really was. FedEx had become so well known for its dedication to service and reliability that an entire movie was built around it.
Lesson #1: A Culture of Excellence
FedEx gained its reputation through a culture of excellence, from top to bottom. While there are multiple aspects to this company, they are all overseen by a main office that focuses on keeping the machine running smoothly.
Even the character portrayed by Tom Hanks had the responsibility of analyzing the entire system and improving its functionality. This dedication to excellence is part of why FedEx is as powerful as it is today.
FedEx strives to offer the best possible experience to all its constituents. From corporate employees to delivery personnel and even retail location customers, FedEx has become known as a corporation which never settles for mediocrity. This commitment to quality is so pervasive that it has become a part of the entire brand itself.
When a customer sees the FedEx logo, they know they are dealing with a company that will do what it promises, no matter what challenges it faces.
Lesson #2: Driven to Improvement
Here is another little known fact about FedEx: when the fax machine became a standard, FedEx’s business declined by 50%. FedEx had a choice: fold or evolve. It studied the market and made a simple realization – not everything can be faxed.
FedEx redesigned its model to focus on documents that required a live signature and packages. Then it catapulted itself to the top of the food chain by making deliveries fast and reliable.
FedEx has never stopped trying to improve what it does. Every step of the process is constantly analyzed and there are employees who exist only to refine and improve the way in which people send and receive packages.
One reason why FedEx has been so effective in accomplishing this is because it really listens to it customers. The company understands how important customer satisfaction is and strives to give customers exactly what they want. From its inception, FedEx saw a need and filled it, and then it kept working hard to fill that need in a better way.
Lesson 3: Checks and Balances
All of FedEx’s improvements, however, would do little good if they were not constantly monitored. Before it was rebranded as FedEx, the logistics of the company was overseen by FDX. Over time, it acquired a few more logistics companies and formed FedEx Global Logistics.
This portion of the company was created to oversee the vast operations of all the subsidiary organizations. Creating this allowed the company to consolidate the entire command infrastructure to better ensure that constant improvements were implemented correctly.
There are redundant processes in place to track even the smallest package. If a package is at risk of being misdirected, alarms go off. Think of your own business. If you were about to miss an appointment, what systems are in place to let you know and allow you to correct the problem?
The FedEx Test
Every business can learn a lot from FedEx. Nearly every business can be improved in many ways and there are a few simple questions that can help get a smart business owner on the path to FedEx’s level of success.
1. Is work delivered on time? Delivering packages on time is one of the most important elements in the success FedEx has enjoyed. When work is promised on a given deadline, customers and clients are relying on that promise.
No matter what it may be, all deadlines need to be followed as strictly as possible. This will help build a reputation for dependability and will create a group of loyal customers.
2. Is the quality consistent? Customers need to know that a company will always produce the same quality of work. It is imperative that quality be a main focus of any business.
Fluctuations in quality are the surest way to lose any loyal customers. If clients and customers cannot rely on consistent quality they will turn to a competitor who is more reliable.
3. Is improvement ongoing? Every business can be improved. Redundancies can be consolidated, procedures can be simplified and processes can be refined.
Constantly improving a business is an important aspect of long-term success. Markets will always change and customers will always want more. Improvement is something that should be a part of your daily operations and every employee needs to be engaged.
4. What do the customers think? The best barometer of success and satisfaction is your customers. If a business is not listening to its customers then all improvements are simply theoretical.
Offering incentives to encourage customers and clients to fill out surveys and questionnaires is one of the easiest ways to find out how they feel about your business and what they would like to see in the future.
Not up to writing a survey? Then pick up the phone and call your last 5 customers. Be friendly and ask them what they thought of your service. Avoid interrupting them. Listen, take notes, and do not argue. If you get a poor review, apologize and make it right.
Putting your business to the FedEx test is a great way to find out how to turn a good business into a great one. These simple questions will often reveal weaknesses in your company while offering suggestions for improvement.
By following the lessons of FedEx, smart business owners can set themselves up for long-term success based on a reputation for excellence and a solid base of loyal customers.
The ending of one year and the beginning of another is a natural time to take stock of all that was accomplished in the past 12 months, and more excitedly, to dream and plan on the great promise of the New Year.
In this spirit, below are a few of my favorite quotes regarding dreaming, planning, goal-setting, and "Going for It!”
"You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, 'Why not?'"
- George Bernard Shaw
(My comment: reflects the essence of the entrepreneurial spirit)
"What is not started today is never finished tomorrow."
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
(My comment: the "fierce urgency of now" must always inform and drive us. We live in too fast-moving a world, too merciless a marketplace, to in any way dawdle or delay.)
"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."
- Winston Churchill
(My comment: The most accomplished executives and entrepreneurs that I have worked with have impressed me as much with their fortitude and resiliency as they have with their “glamorous” attributes - brilliance, connections, salesmanship, etc.
"Really great people make you feel that you, too, can become great."
- Mark Twain
(My comment: This is the essence of leadership in modern, collaboration-driven organizations. The best managers build alignment and focused energy around shared goals and objectives.
"Goals are dreams with deadlines."
- Diana Scharf Hunt
(Our comment: The great ones dream it and do it NOW!)
Happy New Year, and may 2015 be the best year of all of our lives!
Today I thought it would be helpful if I detailed what I do at the end of December each year. This works very well for me, and I hope it will for you too.
1. Look back at the past year
The first thing I do is look back at the past year. I start with the annual goals that I set at the beginning of last year. Which goals did I accomplish? Which didn't I?
Next I go through each of my monthly goal documents. Fortunately my team and I create monthly goals each month. Seeing what our goals were in March 2013, for example, is very interesting. Perhaps more importantly, when I go through the monthly goal documents, I see just how much we accomplished this past year.
2. Be grateful
In viewing last year's annual and monthly goals, I'm never fully satisfied. That's just my personality, since I set aggressive goals that are hard to attain. So, chances are (and it's true again this year) that I didn't accomplish everything I had hoped for during the year.
But rather than focus on that, I always take a moment to be grateful for that which we DID accomplish. I think about all the hard work and all the great things we did do in 2013. I also like to think about how much better the company is now than it was 12 months ago.
3. Look ahead
Next I like to revisit my long-term goals. That is, where do I want my company to be in 5 years? Importantly, since I do this exercise annually, I simply pull up my answer to this question from last year. I decide whether my long-term goals have changed, and why. I then document my new 5-year goals.
I then work backwards to figure out what I must accomplish next year. I start by asking what I need to accomplish in 2014 to make it a great year and to put me on the path to achieving my long-term goals.
I think about financial metric goals such as the revenue and profits I'd like to generate in 2014. And I look at the business assets I must create in 2014. I think about what new products I must create in the coming year. I assess how many new clients I'd like to bring on. I document how many new employees I should recruit hire, and train in the next twelve months. And so on.
4. Plan out the year
I then start mapping my 2014 goals in a Gantt chart so I know exactly what has to be done and when. I document what I must accomplish in January, in February, and so on. Sure, I'll never get this exactly right, and during each month next year, I'll adjust my precise monthly goals. But this exercise gives me a great handle on what's possible to achieve in 2014.
A lot of what I've described herein is goal planning; setting goals, trying to achieve them, and then assessing your results. Importantly, goal planning takes practice. That is, the more often you set goals, try to achieve them, and then assess results, the better you get at setting goals that you actually can achieve.
As a result, every year I set and assess goals, I get better at planning out the next year, understanding what I can and cannot accomplish in 12 months, and maximizing my productivity so I build a great company. I hope you are able to do the same for your company. So plan out your long-term goals and 2014 goals now, and I wish you the best of success in achieving them!