Discover new ways to build a successful business
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.
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.
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.
RELATED TOPIC: 3 tips to help boost company morale without much money
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.