There’s an ancient Chinese proverb that the ‘journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’. I was reminded of that well-known adage when reading that this week marks National Small Business Week.
Of course, every company regardless of its size, initially began as an entrepreneurial ‘journey’ of a single step that—through hard work, determination, innovation and perhaps a little good luck/timing—grew into an established business. It’s been almost 20 years since my father and I co-founded National Credit Center (NCC) based upon the idea of supplying technology and credit reporting products to the automotive industry; today, those first few ‘single steps’ of our long business journey have led to NCC becoming the nation’s second largest provider of credit data to the auto sector.
NCC’s success allowed us to expand into additional business sectors and today—in addition to the automotive sector–Sackett National Holdings’ subsidiaries SettlementOne, PeopleFacts and Sperian Energy are leaders in the financial services, employment screening and retail energy sectors, respectively.
As one does during the course of any long journey, I’ve learned a great many business lessons in the ensuing years since the founding of NCC. Growing a start-up business into a multi-state, multi-industry company takes a great deal of time and effort on the part of both management and our employees.
So to commemorate Small Business Week–and with thoughts of the thousands of American entrepreneurs with their own dreams of seeing their small start-up grow into a successful business such as SNH—I’d like to offer five of the top lessons I’ve learned about what it takes to take a start-up from ‘growing pains’ to capital gains:
- Be Determined…But Not Rigid: Any smart businessperson knows that building a successful business requires developing a detailed business plan. However, the old expression about how the ‘best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” holds true in the business world, and while it’s important not to let events re-shape your corporate ‘vision’, it’s also vital that entrepreneurs remain flexible enough to adapt that plan as changing events require.
- Don’t Just Hear, Listen: Business owners, especially those with new start-up businesses, are apt to receive a great deal of advice on how to succeed—some solicited, some not. But smart businesspeople know that there’s a great deal they don’t know about both operating and growing a business; that’s never truer than in the earliest years of operation. So it’s a wise move for entrepreneurs to actually listen to advice that is proffered, even if it’s sometimes unsolicited, and especially if it is from others with more experience than themselves. Even if you choose to ultimately not take the advice, you can still learn a great deal from the experiences of others.
- There’s No Place For Pride: Entrepreneurs, by their very nature, tend to be risk takers and individuals who take pride in their decision-making skills. The vast majority of the time, those are great and important qualities to have in business. But being too prideful—or unwilling to ask for advice or other assistance—can also hinder your start-up’s long-term chances to succeed. Everyone needs a helping hand now and then, especially in the early years of a business; don’t be afraid to temporarily put your pride aside if it will, ultimately, help you reach your long-term goals. Once you’re more established, you can then ‘pay it forward’ by helping out someone else who may be just beginning their journey.
- Hire Only The Best Available Staff (within your means to do so): When your company is just starting out, you’re likely working with limited resources, and thus hoping to save wherever possible. That’s reasonable and understandable. But one ‘cost’ you should not scrimp on is hiring the best available staff—within your budget. Sure, you may not be able to afford to hire someone with as much experience as you might like to; but young businesses are also the most vulnerable. As a new business owner, you’ll have enough to worry about without adding questions about the reliability and skills of your new hires to that list.
- Keep Your Eyes On ‘The Prize’: One of the few things you can be certain about when starting a small business is that there will be unforeseen problems and challenges early on. It’s easy—and only human—to sometimes get discouraged by the challenges, bureaucracies and disappointments that can and likely will arise. But the good news is that one of the most universal traits shared by entrepreneurs is perseverance; don’t let a few letdowns come between you and your dream to build a successful business. Keep your eyes on that prize!
Although it’s been several years since I was involved with operating what could be called a ‘small business’, I still remember all the challenges we faced in those early years and empathize with those who face similar challenges of their own today.
And so, during this Small Business Week, I offer not only advice but my best wishes for success to those entrepreneurial men and women risking it all in pursuit of their own American Dream.