Leading a small business can be more stressful than raising children or maintaining a healthy relationship with your spouse. Here are some basic principles to get you started on a sane journey toward growth.
When John Mackey  and his then-girlfriend Renee Lawson opened a vegetarian food store in their Austin, Texas home 34 years ago, nobody--including the couple themselves--would have dubbed him an entrepreneur. Today, a clean-shaven Mackey is most likely unrecognizable to patrons of the bearded college dropout’s first shop. He built his venture into the $15.5 billion Whole Foods empire, with more than 300 supermarkets that boast organic and grass-fed meats along with an array of vegetarian fare.
Few will ever rise to the ranks of Mackey, who made the cut for Fortune’s 12 greatest entrepreneurs of our time. Mackey created a repeatable process of selling high quality natural and organic products in communities with the right appetite for a brand that relies on customer affinity. It takes a combination of understanding market demand and market size and having repeatable processes to support that market to have a scalable business. And Mackey had to strive to sustain innovation in a world where even Walmart peddles organic foods.
So many business founders come up with a good idea, yet they are unable to scale their companies for growth. Through my own journey as an entrepreneur, I’ve learned that every business is unique, but there are certain key precepts to follow for success. The few that do succeed do so with unmatched focus, discipline, and unconventional thinking.
Although it takes more than just this to be a success in business, here are five essential principles that you can begin implementing right away as you begin your journey toward growing your business:
1. Timing is everything.
The timing of your product or service must be right in the marketplace. Mackey bit on the organic and natural food revolution just as the public’s palate for these products oozed into the mainstream, but if the market isn’t ready and you are way ahead of the market, then you must possess the drive and the willingness to sacrifice in order to make that product or service work.
You will need to choose to either wait for the market to catch up (requiring the resources to survive during that period, and accepting the risk of emerging competition), or you’ll need to adjust your offering to something more palatable to the market’s current readiness.
Smaller businesses have the advantage of being able to make choices and implement changes without the exhaustive process and conflicting points of view that slow down major corporations. You need to anticipate your market and customers’ needs and constantly innovate to stay ahead. This requires leadership with agility, resilience, and a willingness to fail--and to recognize that failure quickly enough to adapt and move forward.
2. Brand, brand, brand.
Today’s economy requires business leaders to create positive memories for customers and partners, like Mackey has, or customers will turn to a competitor in search of a better experience. Whole Foods shoppers are loyal and believe they are embracing a healthy and socially conscious lifestyle by shopping at the stores. If you want to create a scalable business, you have to understand just how crucial it is to build brand equity. The emotional attachment that links customers to your product, as opposed to any other, translates into sustainable growth.
Here are some basic rules to connect, shape, influence, and lead with your brand:
- Choose your target audience. The surest road to product failure is to try to be all things to all people.
- Connect with the public. Your objective is to make your audience feel an emotional attachment to your brand.
- Inspire and influence your audience. An inspirational brand message is far more influential than one that just highlights product feature functions.
- Reinforce the brand image within your company. Make sure employees at every level of your organization work and behave in a way that reinforces your brand image.
Creating a unique product and a unique brand isn’t enough. It takes repeatable sales processes to create a scalable business. It is one thing to sign up a few customers; it is another thing entirely to identify, design, and implement repeatable sales and customer delivery processes. You’ve created a repeatable and scalable sales model when:
- You can add new hires at the same productivity level as yourself or your sales leader.
- You can increase the sources of your customer leads on a consistent basis.
- Your sales conversion rate and revenue can be consistently forecasted.
- Your cost to acquire a new customer is significantly less than the amount you can earn from that customer over time.
- Your customers get the right product in the right place at the right time.
4. Embrace technology.
Nearly two thirds, or 64%, of the recent Bank of America (BofA) Small Business Owner Survey respondents said they wish they took better advantage of technology innovations to help manage their business. If a small business can identify a genuine need, technology likely exists to fulfill that need both locally and globally. There are few barriers to entry in an age where anyone with wireless can cheaply and quickly access the enabling technologies needed to execute their business model. It comes down to creating the right operating blueprint that connects the dots between your business model and the application of accessible technologies.
5. De-stress for success.
Most small business owners consider managing the ongoing success of their business to be twice as stressful as maintaining a healthy relationship with a spouse or partner, nearly three times as stressful as raising children, and more than four times as stressful as managing their own personal finances, according to the same Bank of America report mentioned earlier. The survey indicates that small business owners routinely forgo physical fitness and other personal priorities to keep up with business demands. Thirty-eight percent of small business owners maintain full or part-time jobs while running their own business.
The stressors can be relentless. But if you’re not happy, healthy, and motivated, you can’t create a business model that provides a positive market experience. You also set the tone for everyone who works with you. Nobody wants to do business with a grouchy, bitter, and exhausted owner. Therefore, investing the time and effort to adequately take care of your physical and mental well-being will further increase your chances for long-term success. Mental health is not just about going to the gym to let off steam. It’s about achieving a state of mental calmness to see you though the relentless challenges--but that’s another topic in itself!
--Faisal Hoque  is founder, chairman, and CEO at BTM Corporation  and founder of research think-tank BTM Institute . His newest book is The Power of Convergence . Copyright 2012 Faisal Hoque. Follow him on twitter @faisal_hoque .
[Image: 500px user Surya Suravarapu ]