The sour U.S. economy, the European Union's struggle to avert meltdown, and the world power shift to nations once sidelined is enough to make anyone duck for cover. Entrepreneurs, though, can use this time to assess the world stage, learn from mistakes made by once-powerful countries, and avert decline.
Like fledgling nations, entrepreneurs in the start-up stage have no problem boldly changing course, quickly abandoning ideas that don't work, and resolutely inventing new strategies that have never been done before. As we mature, entrepreneurs need to take stock of those traits that made our businesses successful, and be sure we're staying on track.
Since I know that innovation, vision, and gumption are the three keys to my small business success, this week I assessed how my business is doing on these crucial indicators.
Here is how I fared, on a scale of 1 to 10:
My company has built its reputation on innovation and I have always remained focused on it. I believe if we can dream it, it can be done--an idea that makes our production managers crazy, our salespeople proud, and our customers loyal. In our first six years in business, we came up with at least 10 truly jaw-dropping, entirely show-stopping products per year--to say nothing of the hundreds of others that were just pretty cool.
So, why do I dole out an innovation score of only 8? Because somewhere around 2010, our sixth year in business, we stopped innovating as much as we could have. We got comfortable with our position as a market leader, and while we still designed plenty of great products, the real "innovations" happened less often. At the beginning of year seven, we realized we could be doing more--and once again started to think like a young nation with nothing to lose. We have been steadily picking up speed in the creativity department again, and the results of those efforts are obvious, both in our catalogues and our sales figures. Almost a year later, we are back on track.
When we first opened our doors, our mission was crystal clear. We wanted to change the way customers were treated, and prove that doing business ethically could also be profitable.
The long days were hard but somehow glorious, the momentum of creating something lasting trumped the frustration of temporary setbacks, and the feeling of fighting the good fight was more motivation than any paycheck. Customers responded by pledging allegiance to our new world order, and our growth was exponential.
But fast development came with a price--a little chaos here, a few less rigorous decisions there, a few instances of resting on our laurels. As the leader of the team, I cannot deny that as the company grew, the vision became harder to communicate, and sometimes, even seemed to take a backseat to other more urgent matters. While I was aware of this in start-up mode, I know that as the company matures I must reclarify and evolve the vision, and make it known company-wide.
Historical actions can never be seen as future indicators, and no method or strategy should be exempt from scrutiny. Luckily, this little report card exercise gives me reason to remember the importance of vision if I intend to stay great. So while we may only get a vision score of six today, I've got 10 back in my line of sight.
Whether you are a nation trying to confirm your place in global politics, or a small business trying to carve out a niche in a particular industry, half the battle of rising to a respected position is having the gumption to stick it out in difficult situations.
As a new player, we knew we had everything to prove, and we went full force to do so. My company made its ascent to the upper echelon of the body jewelry industry largely on the wings of our unwavering will. In this section of our report card, I am happy to report nothing has changed.
We never stopped going to the mat on behalf of our customers--whether to make a special trip to a far away drop-off zone to get the last box shipped, or stay late to guarantee a customer who needs her order for the weekend can get it placed. Like a nation trying to make its mark, we are relentless in our pursuit of doing better, indefatigable when it comes to doing what it takes to move forward, and unabashed in our willingness to persevere.
As I complete this impromptu assessment, it feels a lot better to deliberately ask hard questions instead of wringing my hands or pulling on the blinders. Taking the time to get back into nation-building mode and honestly evaluate how your company is doing can move you away from complacency and put you back on the path to domination.