the 5 essential ingredients for building a successful business

quality ingredients are the recipe for successOne of the first businesses I helped launch appealed to a personal passion --  gastronomic delights.  I'm no culinary DaVinci, but learned early in life that at the core of every great dish is a blend of quality ingredients.  Creating a successful business is really no different, and here's my take on the 5 essential ingredients the business "chef" must incorporate into every masterpiece:

If people are hungry enough, they'll eat just about anything put in front of them.  Take away that hunger or lead them to a smorgaasbord, however, and they quickly gravitate to what they need and want most.  This behavior is very practical, and holds true for business.

The successful "business chef" understands this need to satisfy the practical, but gets his / her "dish" to stand out from all the others by being innovative or different in a meaningful way.  They get there from the passion they carry for what they do, by empowering their employees (instilling a sense of "ownership" in their roles) and never, never compromising on their standards.

A good chef understands you can't create a dish for 12 when you only have enough ingredients for 6.  A creative chef might be able to eke out an additional serving or 2, but if 12 is the number, he or she will head to market to get what's needed (or welcome that last minute cancellation).

Business is no different.   Effective bootstrapping is like the great chef eking out that extra serving or two.  In the end, it's no substitute for having enough ingredients on hand.

You're going to have to come up with the food analogy for this one!  Successful businesses understand that top-line revenue generation and customer focus go hand in hand.  The most difficult and expensive part of building a customer relationship lies in acquisition.  Successful businesses will "advertise" for impact.   They understand the distinction between "lowest cost" and "highest value."  They find ways to be memorable in the minds of their target customer.   This might mean being first, being different, or being daring.  

Once their customer is acquired, these businesses are expert at building repeat business.  They are expert at cross-selling other goods or services.  They are expert at leveraging the good will they have built up through these relationships to acquire more customers through word of mouth.  At the core of each is a customer-centric culture that naturally builds and sustains top-line revenues.

Even the Iron Chef can't do it all (you'll have to check out the Food Network if you don't understand this reference).

Successful organizations hire selectively.  Recruiting and retaining smart, reliable, coachable, and trustworthy individuals that "fit" into your culture is absolutely essential to your success.  On the flip side, nobody's perfect.  Being able to quickly recognize a hiring mistake and removing those who don't fit the bill is equally critical. 

Culinary masterpieces not only taste exquisite, but are often visual works of art.   Great dishes assault all the senses. 

Successful businesses pay similar attention to every detail.  They publish and enforce “Operations Manuals."  They operate under strict internal financial controls, monitoring and forecasting their cash flows religiously.  They never settle for "good enough" or compromise on their standards.

The specialty food store and café I helped launch contained all of these ingredients (some more than others).  We ultimately adapted our vision to respond to the needs of the marketplace, and successfully sold the operation to a new owner.  This new "master chef " should have been better suited to growing the business in the direction the market was taking it.  He stopped using several of these key ingredients, however, and recently ended his story on a less successful note.  The moral of the story?  My vote is "stick with the recipe."  What's yours?

technology disaster planning for small business :: the top 5 questions to answer for your “if I’m hit by a bus” file

Technology is a tool :: use it wiselyGood engineers  plan for failure.  So do good attorneys.  Perhaps this is why "disaster planning" is an area I tend to spend a lot of time on.   One planning approach I utilize to start businesses thinking about this topic involves an imaginary "hit by a bus" scenario.  Basically, the question asked is "how well positioned will the organization be if  [insert name here]  is hit by a bus tomorrow and everything they carry around inside their head is suddenly lost to the business?"  The real answer to this question can have a tremendous impact upon family members, employees, customers, investors, and many others.

Business owners and entrepreneurs work with us because they want to build and grow their business.  Disaster planning is rarely high on their priority list -- especially when most answer the "hit by a bus" question with platitudes such as "we'd be fine" or "all our key info is written down somewhere."   The more a business grows, however, the more important such planning becomes.  The earlier you can make "disaster planning" a part of normal operations, the better positioned you will be for sustainable success (not to mention the added value it provides should you ever wish to raise outside capital or sell your business -- good planning across all aspects of your business reflects overall competence and stability, both of which will positively influence prospective deals).

Technology is at the core of most critical business operations for just about every company (think point of sale system, accounting system, company website, customer contact information, work product, etc.).  It also tends to be taken for granted.  For this reason, it is a prime candidate for my "hit by a bus" list.   I know the headline promises the top 5 questions.  To paraphrase Captain Barbosa from "Pirates of the Caribbean," however, they're really more like guidelines.  It's all about embracing the process  🙂

  1. What do you own and use?   These days, many businesses use a combination of hosted services and purchased software to run their operations (not to mention the hardware and network connections that make it all accessible).  There should be a central place key players can reference to determine what all these "things" are, along with a general description of the unique configurations established for your business.
  2. Who do you rely upon?  Once you've identified what you've got and how it's used, you need to identify the vendors and service providers that help keep things going  (along with all their contact info, including any data access or security information needed to engage their services).  Access to copies of service agreements and similar contracts is also important.
  3. How do you take care of it?   Like a car, your technology infrastructure requires regular maintenance to be reliable.  Hopefully you've got an outside vendor or internal person (or both) taking care of things for you.  Daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual checklists that detail what's being done, how it's being done, when it's being done, and by whom are ideal.  It's also good practice to assure checks and balances are built into your procedures so this information is updated as your business grows and changes.
  4. How is access and security managed?   Federal and state regulations governing personal data privacy and protection are ever expanding.   External threats (such as viruses, spam and hackers) need to be guarded against, but so do the ones from inside your business.  For many small businesses, key administrative ids and passwords are kept by one person (if at all).   Losing this information, or failing to manage the level of data access provided to vendors and employees,  can compromise your business in more ways than one.
  5. Are we prepared to recover?  To answer this question adequately, you need to answer a number of related ones first :: Do you regularly back-up data (including all workstations and laptops -- information assets that usually get lost in the shuffle)?  Are your back-ups stored off-site?  Who can retrieve them and how?  What software and hardware is used to back up the data?  Is the same combination needed to restore your data?  Are regular attempts made to restore all or parts of your backed up data to assure your system is working as intended? 

As I recently mused on another topic, successful business leaders manage risk.   Each business needs to recognize and assess its key touch points in order to make intelligent choices about how to best manage risk within the context of available resources (time and money).   Hopefully, this short list can help move you further down that path.