Over the past 20 years, I’ve worked with a dozen Fortune 500 companies and over 10,000 small businesses — literally, some of the best companies in the world like Google, ADP, and Ford Motor Company.
And as much as I’ve helped all of them grow, they’ve in turn helped me grow. I’ve had the chance to learn from some of the best in business.
Those lessons influence everything I do and I want to share with you the top 3.
Lesson #1: Focus on profit
Do you remember the “Cash for Clunkers” program that rolled out in 2009 to help the car companies?
Well, I was working with Ford then and spent time in their home office.
I noticed that they had essentially unscrewed every other light bulb in the building. And it was then that I learned that creating a profitable business is not just about getting new customers.
It is a far more comprehensive mindset that looks at the entire business for profitability.
If you remember, Ford was the only US car manufacturer that didn’t accept a government bailout.
So many businesses focus all of their attention on growing revenue through new business that they miss all the ways they could increase their profits.
Just think, with more profit, you have more money to re-invest in the company, more money to develop a new product or service, more money to hire and train, more money for higher salaries, including your own.
Lesson #2: You must plan for success
Few people like to plan. Especially for anything more than a couple of days in the future.
When I worked at ADP, we spent three weeks generating a growth plan for the year, detailing exactly how we would grow from X to 2X. And then we spent 3 days presenting our plan to the Executive Board who would grill us with questions until we were very specific about exactly how we would reach the goals.
And what I realized is that the most successful companies leave nothing to chance.
They don’t hope things will turn out okay. They orchestrate their success.
Does the plan always work out exactly right? Of course not.
Every quarter we would have course correction meetings – were we above, below, or at our forecasted numbers? What did we need to change in the plan to get back on course?
But having a growth plan in place first made the growth predictable and sustainable. It guided everyone’s efforts.
But this, too, is something so few businesses are doing.
Either they skip planning altogether or they put some ideas for growth in a document that no one ever refers to again.
Lesson #3: Good is the enemy of Great
Coming out of college, I worked within the marketing team for Mohegan Sun, the largest casino in the country. One of the biggest projects I worked on was rebuilding their website.
Even back then, Mohegan Sun had a massive website so we not only designed and built the site, but I was tasked with writing all of the copy.
This meant all the copy for the casino, the hotel, all the attractions, and all the restaurants.
And because marketing was so critical, I was fortunate enough to have my desk literally outside the future CEO’s office door.
I was like 24 years old and I had daily access to the top executives of the company.
So I soaked up everything I could.
And the most important lesson I learned is that Good is the Enemy of Great.
Meaning, that being good at something will often hold you back from reaching for greatness.
They weren’t interested in creating a “good casino.” They wanted to create the greatest entertainment destination in the country, with a customer experience that elevates people, that has impact.
So in everything I do, my goal is to be great.
One Final Lesson: Choose
I learned this one in so many small ways throughout my career – to grow, you have to choose a direction.
And to change the direction of your growth, you have to choose something new.
I watch stagnant businesses do the same thing year after year, expecting different results. I listen to businesses who grow 1%-2% annually talk about doubling their business in the upcoming year, but without changing a single thing that they are doing except to spend more on advertising.
A business is not a slot machine. You can’t pull the lever and just hope for a winning jackpot.
To generate the type of life-changing growth we all want, you have to be willing to choose a brand new approach to growing your business.