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The Number One Key for Business Success in the 21st Century

Aug 17, 2007
OK, that first assumes you have a real business, one that has lasted at least five years. About ninety percent of the new businesses founded go broke before their fifth anniversary, so I am excluding them here. The companies who make it past their fifth anniversary have more than just potential!

They have proven that theirs is a viable business proposition, they had the money to out last the vast majority and they know a lot more than the average about running a business. Now it's time to really go to work - to build on what's working.

The number one key for business success in the 21st Century is the same as it was at the beginning of recorded business history, it's just easier to achieve now that information is more abundant than ever and high speed Internet connections make it accessible. But just because it's available and does not mean we all take advantage of it.

Since time began those who took advantage of current information outlived those who stuck to the old ways. The saber tooth tiger today is information knowledge. Either we tame it and use its power to help us or it will eat us alive. It is really that simple.

If knowledge, technology, planning strategies, etc. are available and we do not seek it out or do not act on it, whose fault is that and why? Remember the cartoon strip Pogo? He had the answer when he said, "We have met the enemy and he is us." But who is us? Us, means everyone, whether we're involved directly in the business as an owner or employee, a non-involved stakeholder, or a part of the advisory team.

When there is already more information than seems necessary it is often counterintuitive to ask for even more. In part because most of us equate new information with either new messengers bringing us more and more of what we already know (just a new take on it) or our current advisors and vendors bringing additional `new' advice.

Yet, access to help is just a click away, available anonymously so you get the knowledge in an unbiased format. Search engines such as Google and databases like our database of over 2,000 articles for family business. I have spoken to business owners who continually use public, private, and industry databases to protect their current position and look for new and better ways of doing things. They read magazines and newsletters too, reaching out for help without even having to identify themselves.

In addition, growing numbers of your contemporaries are online and easier to reach. These are the folks who may have already found the answers you are seeking. Even if you do not know them personally, you can reach out to them. Who better to ask for help than people just like you?

I am so impressed with the lengths to which some trade associations have gone to build an online community of their members. One association, working with a committee of its members, created a technology certification program. These members who participate win with better trained employees and so do their customers and potential customers.

Recently a trade association exec (who prefers to remain anonymous for reasons that will become obvious) made an interesting observation. When I asked him about the adoption of technology by their members (a bellwether activity in most industries) he said, "10% of our members are as close to the cutting edge as their Fortune 1000 counterparts. About 20% will never adequately adopt the strategies required to compete, and will therefore go out of business. The remaining 70% are the ones we are concerned about."

What did he mean? Seventy percent of the members wanted to take advantage of all that is available to them in order to compete, grow, and continue to succeed. The association was doing everything possible to help them. Access to ideas, vendors, techniques, and their fellow member were just the tip of the iceberg.

As a likely member of the 70% (the 20% are not reading this article) you attend industry events where members of the 10% take the platform to tell you their strategies and solutions. You make notes and think about how their ideas might apply to you. With notebook in hand you approach the front of the room only to be swept aside by others who are also eager to catch the speakers' ear. So, you go back home and try to reconstruct these incomplete ideas for your managers and employees.

Now, you can track the speaker down get his or her email address and contact them when you have a chance to put your thoughts in order. If they are like the industry leaders I have met, they will gladly share their knowledge with you. Email makes it possible for them to respond when it is convenient for them making their answers to your questions more thoughtful.

The relationship may grow into a powerful asset in the ongoing development of your business. When I take a minute to think about it, there are several business owners who are important to me personally a couple that I have never even met that I communicate with regularly. The value of these relationships makes all of my investments in technology worthwhile and will yours too.

Being willing to ask for help is the number one key, however it is your willingness to accept it and act on it - is what will have the impact. When your organization develops an environment where everyone - the owners, managers, and employees are looking outside the company for help taking advantage of the results that makes sense to everyone is human nature.

Successful companies have always looked both inside and outside the organization for tips, techniques, and strategies to help them grow and keep their successful business. Today the velocity of information is so great that "picking up a few ideas in the exhibit hall at next winter's annual meeting" just won't get it.

One way to systematically connect with people who can help you meet the challenges on being a family business in the 21st.Century is to form or become part of a virtual peer group. Virtual peer groups are made up of 4-6 business owners, usually from the same industry - who meet regularly over the phone.

The phone is the key, because it allows you to select other industry leaders located across the country - which means everyone is sharing ideas and experiences without fear of tipping off their competition. Virtual peer groups are the strategic planning circles of the future - available today.
About the Author
Wayne Messick's web site contains hundreds of articles full of actionable strategies. If you are a business owner who wants to maximize your company's potential, here is how we helping thousands of others achieve success in virtual B2B Peer Groups.
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