Top Ten Lessons from 30 Years in Business / PromoJournal - From Good to Great

Top Ten Lessons from 30 Years in Business / PromoJournal - From Good to Great

I feel as if I started my business just a few years ago, but on July 7it will be 30 years since I hung out my Gossett Marketing shingle. It has been quite a good ride. Of course, I’ve experienced many ups and downs. Nothing beats winning a big contract seemingly against the odds. And nothing is worse than the tragedies of losing business due to world events.

Obviously, I and the business has changed over the years. I started out primarily producing custom designed promotional products. It is still my favorite thing to do. But it wasn’t a sustainable business plan so we’ve grown to being more comprehensive in our approach to helping companies brands stand out.

On the eve of my 30 business anniversary, I thought I might share what I think are the top 10 lessons I’ve learned. I share them with the hope that you may find one nugget that will help your business grow and have the longevity you want:

1.       Not Everyone is a Good Client

Over the years I have had to “weed” out clients that weren’t a good fit for us. Maybe they were too “needy”, or always wanted lots of samples or were always shopping us. It is hard to walk away from business, but if its not the right business it is costing you time and money in the long run. The first time I did it, my client list grew as well as my profits!

This one is one of the most important for any business.  It is scary to think how easily some people may take advantage of you, but they will given the chance. I hired a new bookkeeper many years ago. She came with good references. After a couple of months, I realized that our accounts were out of order and the reconciliations weren’t matching up. I gave her a week to straighten them out. However, before she came in again, the police knocked on the door. They were looking for her. She was due to come to work the next day. So, they came (parked their cars around the block) and camped out in my conference room. She showed up and they arrested her (my other employees were shocked as they handcuffed her). As it turns out, she had been working for a modeling agency in Miami Beach and had written checks to fake companies for more than $500,000. Luckily, I had noticed her changes and she hadn’t had an opportunity to do the same to me.

At the same time, a friend of mine with a small ad agency had an employee that set-up new “vendors” and was writing checks to them. Those vendors were just him. He went to jail but she was out over $100,000.

It is okay to have someone do your books, but always have checks and balances in your system that you know. For instance, the one writing the checks shouldn’t be the one doing the bank reconciliation. And be sure to know who your vendors are!

3.       Volunteer with an Organization that Feeds your Passion

We all need to feel connected and feed our souls. We need to get away from our day to day and do something that feeds the non-business side of ourselves.

4.       Get Involved with an Organization that will Feed your Business

I have been involved with many organizations over the last 30 years. The time spent was well worth it. I had members introduce me to people that turned into long time clients. I gained public speaking experience, made new friends and kept up with the changes to our business community that helped grow my business.

5.       Be a Partner with your Vendors

From the very beginning I sought out vendor partners that would help grow my business. I encouraged them to visit, kept me updated on new products and trends. I have my top 20 that I go to first because I know they have my back.

6.       You can Never be too Diversified

When 9/11 hit, the majority of my business was in travel & tourism. Many different companies, but all the same industry. I lost 80% of my business that day. It’s amazing I survived. Within a month I was seeking out new business in industries that were less effected. To this day, I am always looking to grow business in different industries.

This can be hard to do, but I highly recommend it. When 9/11 hit, I had a great team. We had worked together for over 3 years and were growing. I didn’t want to break up the team and felt business would come back quickly. Well, it wasn’t quick enough. I paid my employees and not me. Took me years to personally recover financially.

And make sure your business is being paid as well. You are a “for profit” business. You are entitled to make a reasonable profit. I’ve had clients call me about projects we didn’t win. Wanted us to quote again. Why? Because the business that won the project previously was out of business. They had cut their margins so much to win the business they forgot about running their business.

8.       Always be Filling your Business Pipeline

Network regularly. Ask for referrals. Don’t give up. I’ve had some “prospects” take years to become clients. I spend at least 1 hour per week on my pipeline.  

I am not a micro-manager. I have always expected my team to know what to do. I also trust their judgement. If a decision needs to be made, they know I will support that decision, even if it wasn’t the one I would make. They will do the best they can, always.

Find a mentor that gives you the opportunity to discuss issues that are affecting your business, your employees, your clients, your wellbeing. Join a mastermind group that can act as your “board of directors”. Let them be honest with you about your plans, processes and goals.

In looking back over the last 30 years, I realize I was naïve when I started my business. I learned many lessons the hard way and probably survived because I didn’t know any better. I hope that some of my lessons will help you in you with your business path.

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