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Ken Keller: Birth, growth and sustained business success

Brain food for business owners

Posted: June 26, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 26, 2011 1:55 a.m.

It starts as an idea, a passing thought that comes back around. A discussion ensues, usually in one brain but sometimes between two or more. What is being talked about is an idea for a new business.

Is it practical? Does it make sense? Is there a niche? What are the obstacles? How much money will it take? How much money can it make? What has to be given up in order for success to be guaranteed? How big is the leap? Is everyone on board? How soon can we start?

The business is launched; and it eats all available cash and more. The first order of business is to get more cash and at the same time, gain clients to pay the bills that have begun to pile up. 

Marketing and sales efforts bring in clients and people must be hired to handle the workload. At first family is drafted, then friends of every ilk.

The need for speed is paramount; the company survives on out-servicing the competition. Hiring practices are less than perfect; if a friend is breathing and wants a job they end up on the payroll doing something.

The client base grows and the people on the payroll increases; problems surface. Cash remains tight. People aren’t as productive as they used to be; chit chat and other unproductive behaviors become common. The sense of urgency that existed at the start is missing in action. Friends in positions of responsibility aren’t as responsible as needed.

As the organization grows, the owner becomes less visible and more time is spent behind closed doors: legal issues; contracts are negotiated and signed; strategic issues surface that will determine the future.

It dawns on the owner that the complexity of leading a growing organization becomes even more challenging when they are dealing with areas that are foreign to the experience and expertise that he or she has. 

To aid the owner, decisions are made to create a management team to better lead the employees; to establish more accountability, work standards and performance measures.

This move brings to the surface those who can make the leap to a professionally managed organization. It also magnifies those who wish to fight the transformation to a new company operating at a higher level.

The family feeling that signified the company culture at start-up and beyond disappears under the organizational chart. The start-up days become part of the lore of the company history.

The company is still relatively small and remains nimble; it continues to quickly respond to market needs and competitor’s activities in the sales and marketing arenas. Growth continues. 

Additional professionals from the outside are hired to take the company to the next level.

Usually arriving from larger companies, the professionals bring a high level of experience and expertise to the organization. This translates into policies, procedures and systems.

Unfortunately, these things tend to slow down decision-making and increase time spent in meetings, which often means less work gets done. All of these things, and more, have built a successful organization.

The owner, however, is now removed from the day to day operations of the organization;  usually not seeing beyond the first layer or two of managers.

Client contact is almost nonexistent except for discussions in sales and marketing strategy sessions. Vendors don’t even know who the owner is. Employees see a name on the paycheck and many might not recognize the owner.

There are many keys to the building of a successful organization; two stand above the others.

The first is that the owner must never forget that they inspired followers in the start-up days and through the tough times as the organization went through the turbulence of growth.

The second is that inspiration and confidence was transferred from ownership to employees, vendors and clients through the establishment and strengthening of personal relationships.

Owners: lead, but not from behind closed doors. Be visible. Continue to inspire through word, deed and explanation of what is taking place and what the future holds. Don’t stop the transfer of confidence.

Don’t forget what got your company to where it is; your leadership is still needed, wanted and desired by your followers.

Ken Keller is chief executive officer of STAR Business Consulting, Inc., a company that works with companies interested in growing top line revenue. He can be reached at (661) 645-7086 or at Mr. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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