Who is your hero? (In business, life, or both.)
For heroes in both business and life, I would say my father. He is a family man first and foremost. My father made sure my brother and I had everything we ever needed. He was that quiet, supportive father whom I now strive to model myself after.
In business, he held an important corporate job for over 30 years at one company. His sole goal was providing for his family. My father started as an electrical engineer and worked his way into a leadership role in that Fortune 500 company. I distinctly remember him sharing with us all of the good things that big companies did and the great people he worked with. Occasionally, he would share the really stupid things that big companies did. My father always cared tremendously for his employees and never, ever got used to having to let good people go.
What’s the single best piece of business advice (unorthodox tips welcome!) that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?
Stay far, far away from difficult and insensitive people. It’s our number two core value at Information Technology Professionals (ITP). We don’t hire them, and just as importantly, we don’t ever let them become our clients. This is a lesson we’ve learned a few times, and we have gotten much better at identifying them before they have a chance to impact our business.
Part two of this lesson is understanding that you don’t ever need a particular person or a customer. If they are bad, let them go as quickly as possible. You will only grow as a business if you surround yourself with good people and good clients. Keeping a toxic employee or customer will impact not only your bottom line, but team morale. No one wants to get on the phone with an asshole day after day. It’s best to purge these types of people as quickly as possible before they can do more damage.
What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?
The biggest mistake I’ve ever made was keeping employees that are not capable of positive growth for too long. When you know you have the wrong person on the bus, there is always this innate fear of making a change. Your biggest fear is not being prepared to make the necessary changes. You worry you are making a knee-jerk reaction. This is amplified at the small business level. Do you have someone ready to backfill this position? What items will fall off if you don’t have that person in that role? Whose workload will get overwhelming if they are tasked with these duties?
But at the end of the day, if it’s the wrong person, it’s the wrong person. Stop trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. It’s just not right, and no amount of training or investment is going to make it work. Keeping that wrong person in that role for too long hurts both your business and the individual’s career development. Part ways swiftly and professionally. The longer you wait, the bigger the impact.
What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?
During the first hour of my workday, I check in with my staff and catch up on the pile of emails that are waiting. I’ve recognized that it is incredibly important to not stay in my office all day because it’s the little conversations that happen organically that matter the most, and ultimately, drive change.
Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?
Find a local bank that really understands your business. If you run a service company, and they lend to real estate primarily, move on. A good local banker with local decision making is really important when you need the cash to grow.
What’s your definition of success? How will you know when you’ve finally “succeeded” in your business?
My definition of success is being happy and making a difference. We are a successful company already because we are striving towards both of those things every single day. I will be happy when the company is three times our current size (both customer base and team size). I am absolutely addicted to growth. And knowing myself, when I get to that level of growth, I most likely won’t accept that we are done yet, which can be a potentially dangerous state of mind. Remember that occasionally you have to pause, take a deep breath, and acknowledge those successes, big and small.