The most successful business owners are true to themselves and their customers. They are clear about what they want out of life and business, and possess an incredibly honest and realistic view of their skills, strengths and weaknesses. They have a knack for making customers want them regardless of price and set high expectations for quality. Many people in business get lost in the chase. They forget who they are, what they are working for and what they’re good at. They chase any dollar and wind up behind rather than ahead, always stressed out and scrambling to make a buck.
When I see myself focusing on these much less important things, I stop and ask myself some important questions. Am I making decisions that truly drive my business? Is our work building the relationships we want? Do we have the financial strength to consistently capitalize on the right opportunities? Am I able to live the life I want? Are my employees able to live the lives they want?
Six years ago, I joined IDEAL Industries as president. It wasn’t an easy or simple decision. My head was into my growing career at Illinois Tool Works, while Dave Juday, chairman of the board of directors for IDEAL, was looking outside of the family for someone who could help grow the company for the next generation of owners.
As Dave and I talked, it became clear to both of us that we were coming from the same place. We both enjoyed hard work. We were both comfortable setting and meeting expectations. In the end, we both sought long-term success through building and sustaining an ideal company—one that did right by customers, employees and communities. We both liked to make decisions with the long term in mind. When we planned, we looked at the next generation of leadership, not just the next quarter.
During the last five years, we’ve more than doubled the value of the company, increased family participation in its guidance, bought several companies that make us more valuable and launched game-changing products and systems across the globe. More importantly, we have stewarded the continued development of a company culture that hardworking people want to be part of and find fulfillment in. Drive your company, don’t let it drive you. Listed below are some ways that have worked well for us.
1. Work Hard to Understand Your Unique Value Proposition
It is essential to understand who you are and what you can do for clients that will set you apart from competitors and other businesses. What do you do better than everyone else? Why do clients choose you above others? When you fully understand the true value you bring to clients and employees alike, you can make decisions that have the long term in mind and will be focused correctly.
2. Never Focus on Price
Placing price above value sends the message that your services aren’t as valuable as competitors. Not to mention, when you get in to the price-cutting or discounting game, it’s hard to get out, and you’ll never earn what you deserve for your work. Placing an emphasis on providing value to your customers will ensure you never go wrong.
3. Put a Premium on People
Although it seems self-explanatory, this tip is often overlooked. It’s not just about hiring quality people with integrity; you must take the time to seek out individuals who share your vision for the company. Being on the same page with your employees from day one saves everyone time and energy trying to meet in the middle on important projects. You need to be in harmony with all of your employees—their happiness is just as essential to the long-term success of your business as profits themselves.
4. Set Expectations Early and Often
This applies to employees and clients. Agreeing on a scope of work for each project, talking through communication styles, deadlines and more should be done before any actual work is started. Clients often are vague about what they want or need. It’s important to push them to be specific. This will avoid new requests or changes in the project that can be both costly and time-consuming.
5. Prepare a Contingency Plan
Taking time to think through how to manage a variety of different situations is always a good idea. Whether it’s your company’s response to bad weather delaying a project or how to handle turnover on your team, try to have next steps in place. Thinking ahead and preparing plans with actionable steps detailing how to handle each situation will ensure you’re equipped to deal with the inevitable challenges that come with running your own business.
With more than 25 years of experience across several industries, Jim James leads IDEAL Industries with a wealth of knowledge and visionary leadership. A graduate of Georgia State University (MBA) and the University of Wisconsin (B.S. in industrial technology), James also spent 16 years with Illinois Tool Works before joining IDEAL in 2008.