Fran Biderman-Gross, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member from New York, is the Founder and CEO of Advantages, a purpose-driven design, marketing and branding agency. Advantages works to build the powerful brand experiences that move people to act.
I was beyond delighted to see Advantages debut in the top 25% of this year's Inc. 5000 list. But even more thrilling was the response we received from our colleagues and clients, alike. Beyond the congratulations, so many people were eager to hear "our secret." Were we aiming for this? How did we do it? What's our advice to others who wish to achieve similar results?
First, the honest truth: I never set out to make the list. Yes, I'm passionately dedicated to continuing to grow my company and make it the best it can be. But the recognition is the happy by-product of the hard work put forth by the entire team. The acknowledgement is lovely, and being able to use it as a benchmark for our future efforts is helpful, but I believe that if you spend too much time looking for acclaim from outside sources, you're not serving your own company's true purpose. That is the true key to success.
What do I mean by that? Consider these key principles:
1. Finding Your Why: At Advantages, our purpose-- the very essence of our existence-- is to guide others to get noticed, by revealing their own true purpose and realizing their potential. That's our filter for everything we undertake. And the "we" is what makes it work. It's not just my personal mantra. Our entire team is intently focused on bringing our purpose to life and thus, as a company, we are truly aligned at the core. This streamlines our internal operations and provides us with a quick "values check" to assess action steps, if something does not go as expected. Bumps in the road are inevitable, but we see each one as a learning opportunity to improve our efforts and do even better in the future.
2. Say, "YES!": The bigger and riskier the project, the greater the temptation to see only potential problems. At Advantages, as long as a project aligns with our purpose, we say, "Yes" first and solve the problems later. Instead of living solely in our comfort zone, we embrace challenge and the opportunity to be bold and daring. Large opportunities don't present themselves every day, and it's important to seize the moment while you can. The same is true for advising our clients. Helping them dream bigger and then collaborating with them to realize those dreams is what we do.
3. Educate Yourself: No one can do it alone. Advantages' success owes a debt to a number of programs that have helped me unlock my fullest potential. In 2008, I graduated in the inaugural class of the Leadership Academy at the Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO), which helped me realize I am a leader and must accept the responsibility to lead by example. I wasn't "only" an entrepreneur, a wife and a mother. I needed to add "leader" to my rsum, as well. Then in 2011, I had another pivotal moment: a Spanish colleague in my EMP class, also through EO, observed that I needed to refocus. This was a huge turning point in my transformation and growth. With renewed concentration, I identified company programs that weren't aligned with our purpose and cut or eliminated them, as needed. I did the same with my work force, retaining those who were truly aligned with my purpose and dropping those who were not on board with our mission.
4. Leaders Don't Get A Day Off: Calling yourself a leader and being a leader are very different. Leadership is serious business and cannot be taken lightly. Demonstrating leadership is a daily responsibility and a constant challenge-- there are no days off. That very statement remains ever-present in my internal narrative.
5. Too Much Is Never Enough: a.k.a. "The 10% Rule." However hard you're working, however much time and effort you're giving, you can always give 10% more. It's one of the most important lessons I learned from my father. In the throes of my late husband's chemotherapy treatment, when hospital visits, doctor meetings, kids and work kept me running from dawn until after midnight, I recall falling into the bedside chair at the hospital with tears streaming down my face. My dad gently placed his hand on my shoulder and said, "Fran, you can give 10% more. You have it in you. It's there. Dig deeper, and you will find it." To this day, as I lead our Advantages team, I always start with the 10% request. After all, 10% isn't much, but it sure adds up.
6. Amplify Your Message: Forget the traditional sales funnel. Flip the funnel on its side, and make it a megaphone. With your purpose firmly established, amplify it to the world. You will find your true believers, those who will be devoted to you and who will, in turn, deliver your message to the untapped markets you were not reaching. That was our tipping point at Advantages. With our purpose driving all activities and communications, the change was monumental, the new opportunities unimaginable and the growth exponential. It got us noticed, and now this honor from Inc. is proof of that tremendous achievement.