What better way to gain valuable advice about succeeding in small business than from those who are actually, well, succeeding? I recently met 10 such people.
Over 1,000 companies across the Kansas City region submitted applications for the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce's Small Business Awards. Judges narrowed the candidates to the Top 10. I was blown away by the leadership, passion and talent of the final 10 nominees. Each is noteworthy in that they demonstrate tremendous revenue generation, cultivate a strong employee culture, and are making a central impact in their respective communities.
Here are 10 key lessons every small business can learn from these luminaries:
1) "You can still be creative in a not-so-creative business"
Richard Wetzel, co-CEO of Centric Projects, provides general construction services. But even non-tech businesses need to be innovative, so the company moved to the arts-infused Kansas City Crossroads District to create an environment to stimulate inspired thinking.
2) "Creating new things and offering new solutions is a result of a solid work ethic and strong business culture"
Jay Kim, president of Data Locker, a provider of encryption solutions for governments, military and business around the world, puts his money where his mouth is. His company works hard to provide a tight-knit structure of motivated and hard-working team members. Employees are invited to team building lunches, kickboxing classes, and Data Locker matches the charitable contributions its people make.
3) "We Hate Sheep."
The culture of Sullivan Higdon Sink, a advertising company, is infused in it's motto, "We hate sheep." The agency's co-CEO, Ali Mahaffy, says that statement of philosophy is intended to remind clients that marketing should lead, not follow.
4) "Help your customer from cradle to grave."
CEO Lenora Payne of Technology Group Solutions, a minority- and women-owned systems integrator and supply chain solutions provider, believes serving customers end-to-end is critical to success. The company has built its business on being a one- stop shop for its clients.
5) "Own and operate by doing the right thing...regardless of what the contract says."
Northpoint Development, a K.C.-based commercial real estate development, management and leasing firm, has grown tremendously over the past few years. Despite this, the company's central cultural tenant is following the Golden Rule and "doing what is right" no matter what. That is one of the reasons employees own 30 percent of company. "It just seemed like the right thing to do," CEO Chad Meyer said.
6) Be "Psychotically in love with your company"
This is how Brian Frank describes his love affair with his business, Instore Design Display. He says being a small business owner gives him the freedom to pursue his passion to provide services from design to fulfillment. His "psychotic" love affair is a critical element to success.
7) "When you are considering pulling the plug, persevere anyway"
"There were periods in our company's history when times were bad," said Nilson Goes, CEO of Infinite Energy Construction, a provider of general construction management services. He believes when times are tough, the key is to not give up, and that day by day, things will eventually get better.
8) "If we are doing our job, when we walk around (our customers office), you won't even know we are here."
That's the word from Brand Sandt, CEO of K12itc, a company that delivers customized technology solutions and services for K-12 school districts. I love this quote because it embodies that of a servant leader. Basically, Sandt is saying that the emphasis is on making the customer look and be great, not us.
9) "Always deliver on promises made to your clients, associates, and community"
"At AdamsGabbert, this is at the heart of who we are and what we do," said CEO Denise Kruse. The company specializes in improving business and IT strategy and operations in the area of people, process and systems. "This isn't just a mission statement, but it is part of our DNA and drives decisions by our entire team," Kruse said.
10) "No one knows as much as...everyone."
This is the motto of Steve McDowell, principal of BNIM, a nationally known design and architecture firm. BMIN was named KC Chamber's Small Business of the Year. Speaking at the event, McDowell said "We encourage our employees to speak up, to put ideas forward." He continued "We have a saying, 'No one knows as much as everyone. We try to grow people, and a number of great firms have come out of BNIM. We're very proud of that.'"
What makes these companies so special is that they honor legendary entrepreneur Ewing Kauffman, who founded the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. "These companies embody the spirit of Mr. Kauffman and we are proud to support this award in Kansas City. Growth, valuing employees, and community contribution were values Mr. Kauffman held dear, " says Wendy Torrance, director of Entrepreneurship at Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
Jim Heeter, president and CEO of the KC Chamber sums it up well "We celebrate the entrepreneurs behind each of these companies, men and women who have certainly taken this advice from Mr. K to heart: 'It's your right to be uncommon if you can...You desire to take the calculated risk, to dream, to build, yes, even to fail, and succeed.'"