Discover new ways to build a successful business

By Marsha Friedman

This article originally appeared in the September issue of Business Review Canada

Small businesses have made a huge recovery since the economic crash in 2008, and that’s good news for everyone in the industry. Since the industry accounts for 63 per cent of new jobs, our success puts people back to work—and that, in turn, helps us even more, as people with paychecks buy stuff and help boost the economy.

And here’s more good news: The number of new businesses launching has increased year-over-year since hitting a low in 2009; in fact, just this year alone, one report estimates 540,000 new businesses were opened in one month.

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Hoping to contribute in my own small way, I would like to share my “5 C’s” for building a business. These are the guiding principles I’ve learned in the 24 years since I first founded EMSI Public Relations. Through the ups, downs and many mistakes, I’ve learned that by keeping my compass set on these 5 C’s, the company – and I – always make it through to smoother waters.

What are the C’s?

It starts with caring enough about yourself and your dreams to stay committed to achieving your goals. Giving up is never a good option! You have to care enough about yourself to firmly believe that you deserve success and the good things that come with it.

It’s just as important to care about your staff and to create a positive work environment for them. Protect their sanity from the clients who want to chew them up, as well as from new hires who don’t fit in and hurt morale. Be supportive when stressful situations arise in their lives outside of work. And ensure everyone has the knowledge and tools they need to be successful.

None of us gets far at all if we don’t care about our customers. Give them the best exchange possible for their money; define expectations so that they understand the end product you are delivering and for which they are paying. Always be willing to listen to their concerns, take responsibility for mistakes, and correct them.

Thirty years ago, I would never have said it takes courage to lead a small business. Now, I assure you that without courage, you’ll fail. There are dragons and quicksand and dark woods all around. You’ll find them in the day-to-day problems, the obstacles you didn’t see lying in wait, the risks you must take and the stresses involved with honoring your obligations to everyone working with and for you.

Trust me: your courage will grow every time you push your fear behind you and deal with what frightens you—which will also help you build confidence.

Think of the many challenges you’ve faced in your life and the many times you’ve overcome them. Bring that confidence to your business. Believing that you can reach for and achieve your short- and long-term goals is essential to getting you there.

Competence comes from knowledge and experience. Hone it by staying up on the trends and disruptions in your industry. One of the most important roles for a CEO is the visionary for his or her company. That means not taking on jobs within your company for which you’re not qualified. You’ll make yourself miserable and your business will suffer. Hire an accountant to handle the financials. Get marketing help if that’s not your thing.

As for employees, take the time to hire competent people that you’ll trust in their jobs—and then trust them!

Stay dedicated to your goals no matter how difficult that becomes. That may mean taking painful measures, as it did for me after the 9/11 terrorist attacks put the brakes on the economy. There came a point for my business when all hope looked lost. I had to make drastic cuts, including letting go of beloved employees. For more than a year, I ramped up marketing efforts, diversified our services and took other steps to get the business out of the red. In 2005, I succeeded—and it has been upward and onward ever since.

If you’ve recently launched a new business, know that you’ll encounter challenges. Don’t panic! Remember the 5 C’s and forge ahead with caring, courage, confidence, competence and commitment.

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