Imagine someone was building a single level shack in a underprivileged part of the world. What would the foundation for that building look like? I imagine that it wouldn’t be very sophisticated. There may be few measurements taken. The corners might not be quite square. The fact is on that kind of foundation—if you tried to build anything larger than a one story shack, it would most likely collapse. Unstable at best.
By contrast if you look at a skyscraper—the amount of work and meticulous attention to detail involved in building that foundation is incredible. But that intense level of scrutiny is absolutely necessary, because if the foundation for that building is off even a quarter of an inch—what does that look like at 100 stories in the air? At that height, the building would be off by yards. So in order for the skyscraper to remain standing, every aspect of its foundation has to be absolutely perfect.
When I see new entrepreneurs starting a business, they’re often so eager to just jump in—to get that business up and running and off the ground—that they forget to do the groundwork. But to have truly lasting success, I believe it’s essential for new businesses to take the time to build a meticulous framework for their company and set a firm foundation. Because just like constructing a building, the foundation you create for your company determines the potential your company will have for growth.
Here are six steps I believe are necessary to set the foundation for a company that is built to last:
1) Start with an extraordinary product or service.
Of course, the cornerstone of any great company is a fantastic product or service that meets the needs of its customer base. But in fact, your product or service doesn’t even need to be that extraordinary—it just needs to do what you say it can do.
The best product or service in a given market very rarely wins. In many cases an inferior product—matched with a stellar sales and marketing engine—can be more successful. That’s because even the best product on the market can’t sell itself. Every element of your company’s foundation must be in place for that product to succeed.
2) Treat your customers like they are rockstars… Because they are!
You can’t build a successful company without phenomenal customer support. It has to bleed out of every part of your organization. In every decision that you make, the customer has to win.
Who in your company is there to fight for what is best for the customer – in every meeting? In our company, that job belongs to Matt Newbill, our Chief of Customer Defense. At every meeting and in every decision we make, Matt’s job is to make sure that the best interest of the customer is always taken into account. Because we know that no matter how stellar our product is, if our customers don’t have a consistently great user experience, they won’t stay, and they won’t tell their friends about us!
3) Know why your company exists.
At TSheets, you’ll never hear anyone say “Oh, you know, we just do time tracking.” Every single member of our team will tell you with beaming passion that we are a time tracking system that employees actually love to use. We’ve established our vision as a company to become the #1 employee rated and requested time tracking system in the world.
Do you know what your company’s mission is? What is your passion? What is the special twist that makes you different from every other company in your market? You have to be able to clearly articulate what your company does and why. This may sound overly simple, but it’s shocking how many companies just don’t seem to know why they are in business.
4) Invest in yourself as the leader of your organization.
In every area of my life, I’m constantly seeking out the best people in the world who I can get mentorship from. As a CEO, I seek out individuals who have led bigger companies than me, and I learn from them. By learning how these people think and how they make decisions, I gain brilliant wisdom. I’ve even avoided mistakes by learning from their experiences.
One of the worst mistakes you can make as a leader is to make decisions in a vacuum. When you’re in the middle of a problem, it’s hard to gain insight because you don’t have an outside perspective. So whether it’s a formal board or an informal group of mentors and advisors, you have to surround yourself with people who will challenge you and show you another point of view.
5) Your company culture is your Ace of spades.
A challenging truth of the digital age is that it’s impossible to hide the atmosphere inside your company. That’s because corporate cultures are so transparent today. Everyone knows what it’s like to work for your company—customers, vendors, talent you may be trying to recruit. Everyone can see it, feel it, and taste it. And because the next generation of talent so highly prioritizes being part of a collaborative work environment, it’s impossible to recruit and retain a great team without a solid company culture.
As a result, culture has come to almost trump strategy in terms of its impact on the success of a company. You can have a poor strategy but a culture that is unbelievably strong, and you’ll still have potential for success. But even with a rock solid strategy, having a terrible company culture is a downfall to new businesses that may be impossible to overcome.
6) Find your echo chamber.
Remember the old adage from high school physics—for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction? The same should be true in marketing: everything you do needs to have a reaction from the market. That’s why having an echo chamber—or a defined target group of customers with whom you can test the effectiveness of your messages—is so important. You have to be able to hear your voice come back to you.
Finding your echo chamber starts with knowing who your customer is and where they are. As you do this, it’s important to be very specific about your target audience. If your echo chamber is too large, your voice gets lost, and you won’t know whether you are reaching the right folks who are truly interested in your product or service.
For entrepreneurs eager to just get going with a new startup, the process of setting each step of this framework can be a tedious one. But I’ve learned that taking that extra time to meticulously perfect every square inch of your company’s foundation is worth every ounce of additional effort. After all, you can’t build a skyscraper on the foundation of a shack.