As a kid, I hated practicing the piano. My friends were all outside riding their bikes, exploring the neighborhood, enjoying their childhood, and I was stuck inside practicing. Listening to the metronome tick back and forth and watching the second hand of the clock as it slowly moved around the face was sheer torture. I couldn’t understand why my playing piano was so important to my mom.
As I got older, I finally convinced my mother to allow me to stop taking lessons; I’m sure she tired of the daily arguments and constant complaining and gave in. I was so happy and thought I had finally conquered this demon that was ruining my life. My mother, on the other hand, was in a position I would only understand when I had children of my own. I’m sure she felt defeated, wishing that not only the musical skills I had learned but the lessons about hard work and dedication would help me to be successful.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Little did she know that these experiences, as painful as they were at the time, became a bedrock, a baseline throughout my life. Forcing myself to practice gave me not only an understanding of the importance of a strong work ethic, doing what you should do even when you don’t want to, but also a love for music that would open doors and create relationships that would change and bless my life forever.
To this very day, I have a difficult time forcing myself to sit down with the piano or the guitar, both instruments I love playing, to practice—to do the hard and not-so-glamorous work that is required to master them. Because of my lack of dedication, I have lost much of the skills I once had and have become shy about sharing my musical ability with those around me. This is something I truly regret.
What does this have to do with business, or anything for that matter?
No, I am not a great musician; but my early life as a reluctant pianist taught me that success in any venture requires constant repetition of the basics, the stuff that is boring and gets very little recognition. It requires the dedication behind closed doors that few ever see.
So, how do we put this into action? If the foundation of success is constant practice of the basics, what are the next steps?
First, you must set an ultimate goal. What is the big picture? It needs to be grand—shoot for the stars because even if you miss, you might land on the moon.
Second, you need to create an action plan: a series of small, attainable goals that lead to the larger, big-picture goal. Say for example your overall goal is to generate a new $1,000,000 in sales over the next year. Let’s break it down into 12 smaller goals, one that can be reached every month. For example, you might decide to try to make 10 new contacts in a month. Then the next month, focus on a new goal. Maybe you need to improve your customer service or shorten your turnaround time. The successful accumulation of each month’s goal will result in achieving your overall goal. “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
Third, accountability. Your progress toward each small goal needs to be analyzed, and you need to take accountability for how you did. What did you do well? What can you do better? What’s working and what’s not working? Involve your customers in this process; they are always the best resource for knowing how your company is doing. Too often we want to look outside our own four walls for information when the reality is that the most accurate litmus test can be conducted from within.
Don’t be afraid to communicate with your customers, both the satisfied and the unsatisfied. Unsatisfied customers offer not only the best data for what you need to fix but also a great opportunity to create loyal customers as well as generate new ones. That may seem like a backward idea, but think about it. If you have a bad experience with a company, you may tell a few people that they’re terrible and not to work with them. However, when something goes wrong and a company goes above and beyond to correct the problem, it creates a positive experience that people can’t help but talk about.
Here’s an example. Several years ago, some problems came up with production of a product that we had promised to a customer in another state. The problems were nobody’s fault but existed nonetheless. Our customer was put in a difficult position because they were going to have to disappoint their own customer. I made the decision to work through the weekend, and once production was finished, I got on a plane and personally delivered the product to our customer so that their customer would not have to reschedule. Our client was floored. He could not believe what I had done; this had never happened before in his entire career. We took an unfortunate situation and turned it into a marketing opportunity. The customer told all his friends and associates what had happened and our business grew.
The champion boxer Joe Louis is often quoted as saying: “A champion doesn’t become a champion in the ring; he’s merely recognized in the ring. His becoming happens during his daily routine.” This is true in every aspect of life.
Relentlessly focus on the basics and hold yourself accountable, and you can find success in everything you do.