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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Accepting responsibility, respect,and open book business management

In searching for an image to go with this posting, I found this article about initiative: "A Message to Garcia" by Elbert Hubbard, written in the early 20th century and posted by Foundations Magazine.

We all have our own unique personality and business style. One of my good friends, for example, operated his business the old-fashioned way. He built up a successful local publishing company (with a few missteps and crises along the way) before selling out just at the right time and reaching semi-retirement while still in his 50s. I've probably got another decade to go before I reach true financial independence. My friend believed in controlling the business, in compartmentalizing operations, and certainly had no intention or plan to give his employees any more than the lowest salary he could get away with.

I've always taken a different view of things; of openness, respecting individuals, providing freedom and empowering others. Nice talk, of course, but these ideals backfired badly when my former employees, thinking as individuals, and without a cohesive or responsible leadership from me, started doing their own thing, too much. Ultimately, the business almost failed because everyone acted in their own personal self interest without seeing the overall direction and vision required for business success.

I survived the painful three year downturn in 2003-2006 by remembering the crucial life lesson I learned during my first business crisis, in 1990-91. Then, my new publishing company had hit the hard wall of the early 90s recession. I had burned through our small reserves, and a grant from my mother. Now, it looked like we were about to fail.

I recall returning to my modest apartment, at age 38, thinking all would collapse. Then, I had one of those insightful flashes -- recalled from a Brian Tracy motivational tape. "I am responsible for myself," I thought. "No one is to 'blame' for the problems I'm experiencing -- but I have my health, my self-will, and I'll do what I can to make good and make things right."

Simple concepts, of course, but at the time they were revolutionary to me. I vowed to practice affirmations, to speak out loud the expression of self-reliance, and began rebuilding my life -- and the business.

As the second crisis in 2003-2006 deepened, I also accepted responsibility -- and faced a crucial decision-point when I realized the only hope to survive would be a brutal personal salary cut and my taking on virtually all of the writing and editing of our (remaining) publications. This meant hours of roll-up-your-sleeves work, but proved to be successful, as I got closer to our markets, uncovered several deep problems in our business practices, and began hiring people who could capably take overall control of the business within the next decade.

Is my approach to business better or worse than my friend's? I cannot be sure, but believe it is -- if the goal is to build a business that will thrive and survive in future generations and operate in many markets, including cities many miles away from Ottawa. Some entrepreneurs, of course, hand their successful businesses to their children as they grow up -- but I sense Eric will be happiest using his probable relative financial freedom to do other things (as are my friend's sons.) I would rather the company's employees take on the ownership role after, over time, paying me fairly for their shares (while earning fair salaries for their work.)

So the employees are now seeing the books -- something my friend would think to be heresy --The employees even see when I use owners' prerogative for personal advantages (I explain the reason, show the financial implications, and offer examples of how these practices must be limited in an employee-owned business). Equally, despite this openness, I am increasingly involved in setting standards and requiring accountability, while actively contributing to sales, and writing.

How can you apply these concepts in relationship to construction marketing?

  • Consider your market, your relationships, and your own personality style -- I'm not sure there is one 'right way' but know the right way for you must be consistent with your own values and principals.

  • Then, as much as possible, see the world through the perception and mind-set of your current and potential clients. Respect them, and their perspectives.

  • Ensure your employees values are aligned with yours and your clients. The goal is to create harmony -- a situation where the natural comfort and relationships build without stress or artificiality.

  • Don't be afraid to lead, to say 'no' or to demand that employees do the right thing and your clients fulfill their part of the bargain (which may simply be paying you fairly for your work on time).
With these attitudes and practices, I think you'll find you retain your existing clients, attract new ones through word-of-mouth referrals, and use other marketing resources effectively including outbound 'push' marketing (such as canvassing and telemarketing), bidding on projects through RFPs/tenders and lead services, and advertising. And you will succeed in growing your business.

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