Small business management is not for the faint of heart. When the inevitable struggles, scuffles and setbacks of starting a business get you down, remember that the greatest entrepreneurs of the last century have been where you stand, learned some hard lessons and succeeded.
Check out the stories behind their successful ventures:
Mary Kay Ash, Founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics
Tired of working in a male-dominated culture, Mary Kay grabbed $5,000 out of her savings account, a handful of independent beauty consultants and opened a tiny store in Dallas in 1963. Today, the late Mary Kay’s business is flourishing world-wide, with hundreds of thousands of beauty consultants and revenue in the billions. There are two tactics that Mary Kay started early on that were instrumental to her success, both involving how she managed people.
First, she started with a strong business plan and guided her employees and consultants to prioritize God, family and work, in that order. This business plan guided her leadership philosophy throughout her career. Second, she created a lucrative incentive program for her consultants that included her famous pink Cadillacs for top sellers. Mary Kay consistently is noted in surveys as a top business for which to work.
He has been called a scam artist, a showman and a promoter of hoaxes. But there is one thing this founder of the traveling show that eventually became the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus will never be called and that’s a poor salesman. Barnum understood that sales only worked when you could identify your prospect’s needs or wants and then satisfy them. If he received rejection as a sale’s man, he simply modified his pitch to help his prospect solve an issue they were having and tried again. He knew that it wasn’t just about getting the sale; he also aimed to make each customer feel so good about their purchase and themselves that they came back for more.
Barnum also knew how vital risk-taking is to the growth of a business. He took chances in business, tried new sales tactics and wasn’t afraid to fail. He once famously had a large, advertisement-wearing elephant grazing in his front yard, so that passing trains could clearly see it. His policy of giving customers a good value for their money was what he used to back-up all his wacky sales tactics.
If there’s one thing Richard Branson knows, it’s branding. The Virgin group brand he started building in the 70s as a mail-order record retailer is now an international power house that includes an airline, music stores, mobile phones, hotels, nonprofit organizations and so much more.
While Branson has his hands in so many honey pots, each Virgin company follows the corporate philosophy that he developed when he started out more than 40 years ago. His brand values include sustainability, wellness, equality of people and embracement of change. Branson never waivers from these core values and they are felt in every aspect of his brand. Having a brand that provides value to the consumer and keeping that brand consistent is important to retaining customers as your business grows. As you move forward, never forget where you started.
One of the richest men in the world, Warren Buffet’s shrewd investments have amassed him a fortune worth more than $60 billion. Buffet is not afraid to go against the grain and take a chance on investments that others might overlook. Throughout his life, he has eschewed the safe bets that the average investor went after and took a chance at becoming above average by listening to what he calls his “inner scorecard” and trusting his own judgment.
However, his risks have always been very calculated. Buffet believes in close monitoring of expenses and limiting the amount of money you borrow or charge to credit cards. He also advocates spelling out all aspects of a deal, in writing, before getting started. This is when your bargaining leverage is the strongest and you won’t find yourself surprised later on.
The man who famously said “if you can dream it, you can do it,” certainly lived those words. The Disney brand, for him, was the pursuit of a dream, created out of his own imagination. It was a creative outlet but, because he believed in it so greatly, it was a business success.
Because Disney’s brand was so infused with his own heart and soul, customers over the decades have developed strong and lasting emotional ties to the Disney brand. Disney knew the responsibility he had to his audience and put a premium on their happiness and satisfaction. He had a relationship with his customers and it paid off in big dividends for his business.
Disney did what he loved and the money followed. He not only became one of the most successful entrepreneurs in American history, but also one of the most imaginative.
These stories of successful entrepreneurs aren’t much different from your own story. When you feel like you can’t cut it as an entrepreneur, refer back to these stories for inspiration and keep going! Remember that strategy, action and perseverance will keep you and your business successful.