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Three Tenets of an Enduring Business: A Lasting Love Affair

Maheen HamidBy Maheen Hamid, MBA '03

“A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts.” Richard Branson, British Virgin Group

More than 98% of all employer firms in the U.S. are small businesses, run by people like you and me. Being in business is much like being in a relationship. For long-term success, it has to have passion (love), understanding of fundamentals (accepting the differences between life partners) and results that are a labor of love (the joy of producing children … maybe!). There is no magic formula that works for all but these are essential pillars on which the relationship can stand.

The nature of any business is simple. You have something to sell, and someone is willing to pay for it. On its face, it is a willful exchange of assets. But the real fun begins much before this exchange — when you have to find a creative way to put your product in front of the desired consumer and convince them, no matter the price, they cannot live without it. A need is met on both ends, and everyone is happy. Simple, right?

The economy and other uncontrollable influences aside, the keys to unlock the potential of the business often lie in things as basic as the reason a business is established in the first place — foundations that get buried in the tireless effort to meet a bottom line. If you feel that you are working to live as opposed to living to work, you are experiencing the slow demise of your love affair with your business, the antithesis of the entrepreneurial spirit.

Enter stress. Exit passion.

Purpose-Driven Business

“Find something you love to do and you'll never have to work a day in your life" — Harvey MacKay

Remember or re-establish your vision, or simply, your purpose. The clearer your purpose, the clearer the path you need to take to get you there, as well the easier it is for your team and your customers to understand their purpose for being with you. Think Toms Shoes.

This is not to say that only socially conscious businesses have "purpose." My company, Breker, sells highly specialized verification software that improves the quality and efficiency of the design verification process, enabling chips to be built faster, cheaper and better. On the surface, there is nothing socially conscious about our business — we are not a "green" company, we are not alleviating the human suffering in a direct way. But a driving force behind Breker has been our philosophy to make a meaningful contribution to the evolution of technology, which, we believe, has improved the lives of masses of people in leaps and bounds over the past decades. It is this sense of purpose that propels us to keep bringing our best to the table even though we are yet to become a runaway financial success.

My point is: Whatever your purpose statement, let that purpose be the center that carries you through the interpersonal and economic storms that come with owning a business. Let it be the one thing that tells you to press on when the world says let go. Do it with passion and purpose, and the books will reflect the fruits of this single-minded focus.

Know Thy Customer

“The customer is the reason for being here” — Anonymous

What and how the customers will buy are the two answers that should drive product development. Without a customer to buy your product, you have no business. Without an easy way for them to purchase it, you cannot sell it.

“Supply creates its own demand,” Say's law in economics, is very likely responsible for the majority of 50% of small businesses that fail. Having a great idea for a product is wonderful — but every other person has one. Mapping it to a true need in the market requires skill and the desire to understand your customer base. Often the best business owners are those who can personally empathize with their customers. Steve Jobs will be etched in history as one of those visionaries who empathized with his fellow consumers of smartphones, and designed a product that is relevant, game-changing and user-friendly.

Understand every single possible touchstone with your customer and learn to create the least number of obstacles between them and purchasing your product/service.

Joy of Selling

“There is only one way ... to get anybody to do anything. And that is by making the other person want to do it.” Dale Carnegie

Selling is everything in a business. Brian Fetherstonhaugh, chairman and CEO of OligvyOne, an ad agency in New York, says selling is “less about intrusion and repetition and more about engagement and evangelizing” (The New York Times, March 28, 2010). This speaks to the necessity of enjoying the process of selling, being able to tell a good story and to elicit a personal connection with your customers.

If selling does not come to you naturally, find someone to do it for you. Find someone who believes in your product as much as you do and who understands why the product will improve your customer’s lives.

“I present myself to you in a form suitable to the relationship I wish to achieve with you.” Luigi Pirandello

In the end, successful sales are not unlike positive reinforcement, which is a necessary element of any long-term relationship. From your purpose to your customer’s joy in engaging with you, there is a whole continuum of touchstones that make the relationship more meaningful. Remember that you are your own destiny. Life happens to everyone and often the best laid plans will lead you awry. But, if you take the time to pause and recalibrate, the world is yours for the taking, with a business that endures and thrives. Simply make the choice to be the change. Once you do, a fellow business owner such as myself will say to you, “Congratulations on falling in love all over again, the kind that lasts forever.”

Maheen Hamid is an entrepreneur and a small business evangelist. She is a Bangladeshi American, raised in an entrepreneurial family. She was the youngest of her MBA class at The University of Texas at Austin, after which she co-founded Breker Verification Systems with her husband, Adnan — a fellow McCombs MBA. As the high-tech start-up grew, she co-founded Balanced Growth Consulting Partners to help bring her business acumen to the small business marketplace and help passionate individuals build sustainable business practices as they expand their organizations. Hamid sits on the boards of two non-profit organizations, ASHIC Foundation and SpaandanB Austin. For comments or questions, you can reach her at maheen@austin.rr.com. No part of this piece may be rewritten or redistributed without consent of the author.

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