Some years ago, I attended a workshop for Veterans setting up small businesses. After careers in the Air Force and defense industry, I was starting my own consulting company. It was a big event at a local country club with a lot of government and business speakers. But one speaker was head and shoulders above the others: Congressman Donald S. Beyer Jr. Don Beyer could relate to his audience because his father was an Army officer who later in life became an automobile dealer. Don, aside from his work with the Beyer Automotive Group, was elected Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, appointed US Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, and elected US Representative for Virginia’s 8thcongressional district. But he spoke as a businessman at heart.
The reason Congressman Beyer’s presentation was so compelling had a lot to do with what he didn’t do. He didn’t use complex charts. He didn’t read from a script. He didn’t sell politics (or cars). He didn’t talk about himself unless it illustrated a point. And he didn’t have more than three main points to get across. I won’t repeat what he said because a lot of it was audience-specific, but I would like to pass on his three main points, which I’ll never forget. They are worth considering by any business owner wishing to succeed. Here are Don Beyer’s three big ideas for small businesses with comments of my own.
- Be Persistent
When we start our businesses, we’re full of adrenaline and optimism. Our prosperous futures are just over the horizon. Then come disappointments and lulls in the marketplace. Customers are not quickly lining up. A big and easy contract is followed by small and difficult ones. It’s like we’re swimming as fast as we can with our nostrils just above the water. We wake up in the middle of the night rethinking every decision. Our friends tell us that’s normal with small businesses, but it doesn’t seem normal. Normal is where we sell stuff, make money and have fun. Should we take the off ramp and move on to something else or keep at it and press forward? It’s a given that we can lose our companies by either decision, but if our business models are sound and we control our costs, persistence pays dividends. No business ever succeeded by backing off.
- Differentiate or Die
We believe we can help people with our solutions or else we wouldn’t be in business. We love our solutions. We want to change the world with them. The trouble is, customers can’t see the brilliance and usefulness of our solutions until we demonstrate how our solutions are different from our competitors. Customers can’t see what we see if we haven’t shown them anything worth looking at. Customers can’t read out minds, but they can read our value messages. The first thing to do before crafting value messages is to make sure we offer something so different from our competitors that it is unique to us. If we don’t, we’d better have lower prices and be prepared to eventually be squeezed out of the market. In our value messages, we should honestly and earnestly state how our solutions are better by their superior performance, simplicity of operation, high ROI, etc. We should tell the truth and tell it loudly.
- Make No Small Plans
It seems natural that small businesses should have small plans. Small plans are easy to deal with. They’re manageable. But small plans will not help us build bigger companies, if that’s our goal. Just as dreaming of having our own companies got us here, dreaming of bigger and better futures can get us there. That’s the magic of what we can do in business. We sell, they buy, and wealth is created. But there is no participant trophy in the sport of business. We win, we lose, we make money, we don’t make money. No matter what business sector we’re in or what we sell, if we want to win more and make more money we have to convert our dreams into actionable plans. Actionable and achievable plans. And we have to nourish them. Big dreams don’t survive the dawn unless we feed them breakfast.