I started in the world of business when the Internet was taking its first tentative steps. Dial-up modems were the only way to get online (who can forget that sound?) and to search the internet you had to employ the help of the long-gone search engines, Alta-Vista and AlltheWeb. eBay and Amazon were in their infancy, Paypal was finding it’s feet and Yahoo filled our TV screens with their very catchy advertising campaign, all while the sound of bubbles popping punctuated the (online) air as swathes of businesses went under in the dot-com boom of the 2000s.
The world of business has evolved since these halcyon days, where patience was a virtue and you had to wait for the technology to catch up. We can now do business anywhere thanks to a multitude of smart devices, the world is connected in a diverse and global web with 42% of the worlds population online (source: Invespcro) and there is an app for everything eventually, from getting food delivered, hot and fresh directly to your door to finding your next husband or wife, with a swipe left or right. Everything is on demand, when and where we want it.
The question has to be what I have I learnt during my time in business, from where I started to where I find myself now? Have the fundamentals of business changed with technology or are there some aspects of business that never change, whatever the environment? After nearly 50,000 hours in business, I’ve become an expert in seeing a plethora of things, hearing oodles and doing plenty, what are the irrefutable lessons of business that I can share?
These are my four pillars of business, regardless of business size, type or offering. Every business needs these to operate and thrive; without these you have a wonky business. Afterall, all businesses need four solid wall foundations to be able to flourish and grow, upwards!
ADAPT: Change is uncomfortable but inevitable
No-one loves change. It’s annoying, uncomfortable and usually at the time, viewed as unnecessary but where would we be without change? Us as a species would be still trying to work out how to create fire, the world would be a smaller place without the invention of flight and you would not be able to read this if some clever people, all those years ago, hadn’t figured out how to record words and for people to read (and understand them).
Electricity, Medicines, Telephones, heck even the Internal Combustion Engines were all created through change, and the questioning of situations. Being comfortable is to stagnate and to eventually die, whereas change is to evolve, to thrive and ultimately thrive.
Look at your business and see what could change, and if it could change, what would happen?
For example, let’s take a bespoke tailor who creates luxurious made-to-measure suits. Their business has just celebrated it’s centenary from their little shop on a high street but they have run into the problem of finding new clientele. Everyone who walks into their shop already has a suit (or two!). The business owners are not technologically minded and the business does not have a website or online presence.
Imagine what would happen if that business took their business online, embraced what they didn’t know and asked someone to help create them a showcase website and social media channels. Instagram would become their online shop window! Orders would flood in from all over the globe. People would travel to visit the shop to order their bespoke purple crushed velvet with orange tassels suit. Change is uncomfortable but inevitable, if you want a business to adapt to survive.
NETWORK: No Business is an Island:
In any business is very easy to put up the fence and “repel all borders” (complete with pitchforks) for fear of any information leaking out or competitors getting in, but this does also create the problem of isolation, not only for people but for innovation, growth and entrepreneurism too.
An island needs bridges that can be dropped and lower when required, when they need assistance (help!), reinforcements (send in the catapults!) or to set off on adventures (to buy a bigger island). Bridges are created by finding your allies, your confidents, your support team. Network like crazy. It doesn’t matter if you have the weirdest business ever- my previous businesses include selling models of horses so I officially had the weirdest job title the world has ever seen- still network. You never know when you might need that contact or someone with a different point of view or outlook on things, who could be the key to solving a problem or helping your business turn a corner. Who you know will open doors, compared to what you know (well, unless you are a locksmith and then it’s the other way around!).
CELEBRATE: Embrace the positive in all it’s forms
Being a micro or small business is nothing to be embarrassed about; on the contrary it’s something to celebrate. Small means flexibility, to adapt and change with the situations as they happen without having to seek approval from a board or council. See small as an advantage and embrace it. Want to launch a new product? Go for it! Have an idea for a new social campaign? Test it out! Last minute slot for a sold out exhibition become available? Time to pack that van with all your goodies! Small means flexible not small and un-mighty.
Celebrate those victories too when they appear, however small they are. That moment you achieve your target, got a new client (or even your first one), won that business award. Honour the moment your new start-up launched its website, memorialize your first sale, commemorate your first employee joining your team. Remember to observe the little moments in your business as when riding the business rollercoaster, the ups are equalled by the downs and you will need to recall the highs to get you through the lows. I’m not going to sugar-coat it; business is hard but rewarding.
FIRM: Be Tough and Competent
Inspiration can come from anywhere and one place I found my fourth business pillar was from NASA. Gene Kranz, flight director for the Gemini and Apollo space programs, taught NASA two words: “Tough” and “Competent”. Known as the “Kranz Dictum” these two words were part of an address given to his flight control team after the Apollo 1 disaster in 1967 that killed three astronauts- Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, and personally, I think these words ring true for business as well. Here is the part of his speech:
“Spaceflight will never tolerate carelessness, incapacity, and neglect. Somewhere, somehow, we screwed up. It could have been in design, build, or test. Whatever it was, we should have caught it. We were too gung ho about the schedule and we locked out all of the problems we saw each day in our work. Every element of the program was in trouble and so were we. The simulators were not working, Mission Control was behind in virtually every area, and the flight and test procedures changed daily. Nothing we did had any shelf life. Not one of us stood up and said, "Dammit, stop!" I don't know what Thompson's committee will find as the cause, but I know what I find. We are the cause! We were not ready! We did not do our job. We were rolling the dice, hoping that things would come together by launch day, when in our hearts we knew it would take a miracle. We were pushing the schedule and betting that the Cape would slip before we did.
From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: "Tough" and "Competent". Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. Every time we walk into Mission Control we will know what we stand for. Competent means we will never take anything for granted. We will never be found short in our knowledge and in our skills. Mission Control will be perfect. When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write "Tough and Competent" on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control.”
How do the words “Tough” and “Competent” connect to business?
Tough means you are responsible and accountable for both your own actions and the actions of your business. You are the only one who can account for what your business does. You are the one that creates it’s actions, it’s words, it’s message. The business is you and you are the business, meaning you are it’s responsible adult.
Tough also means being tough, in the growing of a tough skin for when you are going against the grain and doing something you believe in. I also interpret the word “Tough” as to never compromise on your dream or vision and to quite literally aim for the stars. You have to grit your teeth and settle down for the long haul of hard work.
Competent means you have to know your business backwards, forwards and sideways, from all angles. Your products, services, customers, audiences, competitors, strengths, weaknesses, you need to know everything about them. Not knowing it all is simply not good enough. Knowledge is power and Information is key, and you need to know it all. Without competency, a business is weak and holes will start to appear in the foundations.
Being tough and competent, basically firm in all your actions, enables you to have the grit and determination to make your business a success. The two words are almost the engine to the business, the hub, it’s heart, it’s core.
My four pillars of business are ADAPT, NETWORK, CELEBRATE and FIRM. Four cornerstones upon any business empire can be created.
About the Author:
Becky Benfield-Humberstone started in the world of business aged just 16 and is passionate about entrepreneurship, especially young start-ups. Becky is a freelance consultant for other businesses using her extensive business wisdom gained in the world of retail and customer experience, in addition to providing professional business services through her company Field & Stone (www.fieldandstone.co.uk)
Over the years, she has accumulated over 20 national and regional business awards including 3 x Young Entrepreneur of the Year titles in 2014 alone.
“42% of the worlds population online”