"Who do you trust?" This isn't just a marketing phrase; it's a legitimate business question. It's a question you must ask when you select employees, when you choose customers, extend credit, choose subcontractors, and even business partners. The right choices and the wrong choices with each of these areas can have significant and even devastating results in business.
Every business struggles with balancing trust issues with the need to do business, and sometimes experience is the only teacher. I could dedicate an article to each one of these areas, share horror stories, and offer advice. And maybe that's what I'll do in the future. But for this article, let's focus on the emulation of trusted business practices.
By emulation, I mean copying. As you build your business, who are you trying to emulate and who do you want to make sure you don't become? As we grew up, we all had heroes, people we looked up to. Maybe it was a parent, sibling, teacher, the kid down the street, or even a television character that shaped our world view and established a vision of what we wanted to become. Some people say that we are coded with a DNA map of who we turn out to be, but I think, for the most part, we become the sum of our experiences and we emulate those we look up to. That's actually a pretty scary thought if you're a parent, teacher, or business leader. It means that possibly someone who looks up to us may become like us. The same rules apply to business.
Many years ago, a good friend in our industry spent a lot of time visiting contractors all over the country as a regional manager for a respected manufacturer. During that time, he became acquainted with integrators of all shapes, sizes, and levels of success. He took note of the things that worked and things that didn't, and over time developed a picture in his mind of the ideal integration business. He then started his own business and set out to become that ideal company. And it worked. He took the best ideas and made them his own, and he remembered the worst things and avoided them. In a matter of a few years, he had built an impressive business that has become a model for many others seeking to do the same thing.
I have often proclaimed that there are very few original ideas out there. But there are plenty of really good ideas that deserve to be copied. Like my friend, I've spent most of my years in business learning from the success of others and finding ways to make the best ideas work for me. I've also established a strong set of values in business that allow me to reject thoughts and courses of action that could damage the business, lower profits, and impact future growth. I've watched the mistakes of others and worked like crazy to avoid repeating them.
A mentor is a trusted advisor who has no stake in our success or failure, but is willing to share and advise as we move through life. Business mentors can have a profound impact on success, but most business leaders don't take the time to identify and elicit a mentor. A business mentor must be someone you can trust, someone who has already proven himself, someone who has the desire to share, and someone who doesn't have any stake in how your business turns out.
A mentor of mine was influential in helping me understand the pitfalls of rapid growth and sharpened my awareness of the road signs in business that will eventually lead to failure. Because of him, I have become an observer of businesses on the rise that have established a recipe for sustained growth and also of those who are practicing a recipe for disaster. These observations, combined with an understanding of my limitations and strengths, have helped me shape a picture of what is sustainable growth and what could result in ruin.
Organizations like TEC and YPO have evolved to bring business leaders together under a common set of objectives. Some charge large sums to pair you with like-minded business people. The problem is that most don't have a clue about what to do and are in no position to offer advice. Alternatives may include leveraging the relationships built through trade organizations like the NSCA and local contractor and business organizations. And pay attention to your competition. Make observations about how they do business and then copy the things you like and avoid the things you don't. The really good news is that successful business people are always flattered when asked for advice and seldom will turn down a thoughtful and respectful request.
It's not as hard as some think to succeed in business if you stick to a well-honed set of values and business plan. Start taking note of those around you who are making it work. Learn why it works, and if it will work for you, use it.