I really have only one indulgence. I bought an expensive convertible a few years ago. It is not a midlife crisis car; I would call it a midlife celebration car. It is not red. It was a prerecession purchase.
In any case, I was driving to work one recent morning, sitting at a stoplight when a car pulled up next to me and the young man behind the wheel rolled down his window. He shouted over, “How can I be successful like you?”
I sensed he was serious. I appreciated his moxie, and I wanted to give him a great answer. I also knew that I had between five and 10 seconds for the pearls of wisdom to be hatched and delivered. I didn’t panic. I went with my two favorite standbys: make sure your customers are happy and make sure your employees are with the program. The light changed. He seemed pleased with his stoplight counseling. He thanked me, and we both drove off.
But I started thinking: Is that the best I could do? Did I give him enough to get him on his way? Should I have mentioned the “work hard and follow your passion” mantra? No. He certainly has heard that before. Still, I wished I’d had another chance. I feared this would haunt me forever — or at least until lunch. And then, voila! We were at the next stoplight, and he was again next to me, again with his window and mind open. Rebound. I get another shot!
He told me he was graduating from DePaul University, and he wanted to know what else I had for him. By this point, I’d realized that I couldn’t give him the secret to business success in 10 seconds. That would take at least a minute, but I was not prepared. It is an excellent question that requires some thought. I told him I’d post an answer on this blog. So, to you DePaul graduate with moxie, here is what I believe are the most important success factors in business:
1. Look for opportunities to do something better than just about everyone else.
2. Accept risk as a necessary evil. It makes for much less competition.
3. Act responsibly to customers, employees and vendors.
4. Goals aren’t enough. You need a plan. You need to execute the plan.
5. You need to fix the plan as you go. Learn from your mistakes. Most people don’t.
6. Do not reinvent the wheel. Learn from others — join a business group.
7. Make sure the math works. I know plenty of people who work hard and follow their passion but the math doesn’t work. If the math doesn’t work, neither does the business.
8. Make sure that every employee understands and works toward the mission.
9. There are going to difficult times and you need to be resilient; whining is a waste of time.
10. There will be sacrifices. Work to find a balance so that you don’t become a financially successful loser. It’s not about the income, it’s about the outcome.
That’s my Top 10 list. I’m sure there are more. What do you think is missing?
Jay Goltz owns five small businesses in Chicago.