My firm celebrated its 20th anniversary this past Sunday. Considering the average startup lasts three years, we've obviously done something right.

Here are my 20 tips to guarantee your firm will survive for two decades (and, hopefully, a lot longer).

1.) Fail and learn. Failure means you're pushing the boundaries and constantly testing new products, services and ideas. Most will bomb, but you'll learn how to succeed with the next big idea.

2.) Avoid the glamour boys. Steer clear of hiring industry high-flyers. Every one we hired flamed out for one of two reasons: they were all talk and no action or they copped a major attitude.

3.) Set yourself apart. There HAS to be one thing that separates you from every competitor. Figure out what it is and keep reinforcing it in everything you say and do.

4.) Forget the top-line. I'm thrilled we've grown to become an $18 million dollar business. But, we've always been laser-focused on profitable growth. Doing otherwise invites the wolf to the door.

5.) Find a great receptionist. We've been blessed with some superb receptionists over the years. These individuals are your shock troops. They're your front-line ambassadors. Arguably, the receptionist is your most important employee. Choose wisely.

6.) Be known for doing one thing better than anyone else. Apple owns design. Southwest owns customer service. Virgin owns brand extensions. What will you do better than anyone else?

7.) Spit out the rotten apples. People quit because of people, not because of companies. If you have a toxic manager, fire him ASAP.

8.) Don't be a lemming. Too many companies embrace the latest social or digital took du hour because everyone else does. Don't follow suit until you've answered the question, Why should I?

9.) Ask questions. You could fill a business book with all the things I don't know about business. But, I'm never afraid to ask our lawyer, accountant or vendor "dumb" questions. I also make a point of asking our youngest employees what's the hottest, new thing in their worlds.

10.) Befriend friendly competitors. I have a core group of friends who also happen to be competitors. We meet often and share problems and ideas. I've learned so much by letting down my hair and connecting with "enemy" CEOs who are cool with doing the same thing.

11.) Life's short. Avoid the Silicon Valley madness of a 24x7, seven days a week work ethic. You'll burn out and all the perks in the world won't prevent your team from going south as well.

12.) Laugh at yourself. Too many entrepreneurs take themselves far too seriously. The more vulnerability you show, the more likable you'll be to employees, clients and prospects.

13.) Divide and conquer. I know what I don't know. That's why I focus on branding, marketing and strategy while my business partner minds our operations, finances and operations.

14.) Embrace the media. Far too many entrepreneurs fear the media thinking, a la Sarah Palin, that every journalist will hit you with a "gotcha" question. Some might. But, you MUST keep telling your story, and customers/prospects trust editorial content far more than they do self-serving ads.

15.) Include everyone in your ideation. We hold an annual Dream Day to dream about how we can be better in the coming year. Every single employee attends and participates. The best ideas have always come from the least likely people.

16.) Treasure your stars. Your top performers expect to be highly compensated. That's a given. But, how else can you show them you care? Is it an unexpected gift, tickets to a Broadway show or an extra weekend of vacation? Nurture your stars.

17.) Smell the roses. The past 20 years have been a roller coaster ride of the highest highs and the lowest lows. Stop and smell the roses when you're flying high. Celebrate big wins. Hold a party to mark each and every anniversary. The more you enjoy the good times, the better prepared you'll be to endure the inevitable setbacks.

18.) Treat your hobby the same way you do your business. I love Peppercomm. I often refer to it as my third child. But, I also adore climbing and performing stand-up comedy. I pour the same amount of intensity and devotion into my hobbies as I do my business.

19.) Job swap. I've swapped jobs with my receptionist and my account managers in New York, London and San Francisco. I do so for two reasons: to better understand their worlds and, if possible, make improvements in their work life. Set aside a day and do the same thing.

20.) Be a fly-on-the-wall. My clients love the fact that I invest the time to tag along with their sales forces and listen to their pitches. I do so in order to better understand my customer's customers. And, I come up with many new ideas for my clients by simply listening.

Lest you think I'm an expert at successfully growing an entrepreneurial powerhouse, I intend to share the 20 biggest mistakes I've made in 20 years. Stay tuned.



Published on: Sep 10, 2015
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