by Kevin D. Glass, HAYSTACKID President & CEO
There might be no more challenging, rewarding, maddening, fulfilling, painstaking, or exciting profession in this world than being an entrepreneur. I remember the stress and strain that came with the sheer complexity of it all when I opened my first business like it was yesterday. At the same time, I can definitively say that I could not be happier with my decision to take this career path.
Since it is Small Business Week, I figured I would share some of the more valuable lessons I have learned throughout my career as an entrepreneur.
Here are my top four:
1. Know your strengths and build your brand around them
Your unique characteristics and traits are going to be the greatest fuel for your career as an entrepreneur, as well as your efforts to build a brand. Regardless of which target market you aim to enter, you need to have a significant differentiating factor to be successful. I have found that in diversified and crowded markets, the greatest differentiating factors originate in the entrepreneur who runs the show.
These strengths could be a keen eye for opportunities, perfect market forecasting aptitude, an uncanny ability to read people, stellar communication skills, or otherwise. The trick is to find which ones truly define you as a successful business owner, then incorporate your notable strengths into policy and the brand culture.
The more honest you are in establishing which strengths you are going to place at the foundation of your brand the better. That means you need to avoid both the bashful and arrogant perspectives when looking inside yourself. When you lead with your strengths and work to embed those fortes directly into the brand and company culture, strategic management will come far more naturally.
2. Identify a hole in your target market and fill it
This was arguably the most important lesson I learned, and the one that guided my company toward success in my industry. Before you can identify that hole in your target market, you are going to need to understand the industry in which you plan to compete inside and out, and front to back.
Since I had been working in this industry for so long, and saw exactly which pain points clients had that virtually no one was quelling, I had a head start in some ways. One example is the decision I made to make my company completely technology-neutral, meaning that we will use any and all of the best possible technologies to complete projects rather than being tied to a single piece of software like so many of our competitors.
Because the industry has been evolving so quickly since even before I launched HAYSTACKID, being tied down to one piece of software and trying to fit that into every demand of a client will, almost by definition, never yield the best outcomes. I cannot say that is the only hole we filled in the market, but it was certainly an important one. As you identify and close more gaps in your target market, customers will increasingly come looking for you rather than the other way around.
3. Be diligent with your hiring and staffing decisions
Although I was blessed to start my entrepreneurial career surrounded by the right people, I still had to learn plenty of lessons the hard way when it came to my staff. Especially when you are a small business owner, you need fighters with strong work ethic at every level. A few years into running a company, I found that every single hire can end up being a major make-or-break type of situation for the firm.
As my company grew, the staffing element became more challenging, but I made sure that each person being brought aboard had been vetted significantly beforehand. I also closely monitor all of my staff’s performances but am always more interested in work ethic and effort than any other qualities. Yes, you need highly skilled workers, but those who are motivated and exhibit a commitment to your company’s success as if it was their own will be more valuable than talented individuals who could not care less.
One thing that helps immensely in this department is having a strong foundation of managerial and executive staff from the start. Each hiring decision, notably in the early stages of your company’s launch, should be informed by your own opinions and insights, as well as those of the other leaders you trust the most. When you have people who will fight tooth-and-nail for your company’s success on a daily basis, you will inherently be a formidable force in your target market.
4. Bet on yourself, but do so intelligently
I will say that my business model, and maybe one of the more central drivers of HAYSTACKID’s success in our specific industry, was always centered around self-funding. In the eDiscovery, digital forensics, and litigation support markets, many of our competitors are truly driven by outside investors. Unfortunately, this had a severely negative impact on the quality of services that customers were receiving, and continues to do so to a certain degree.
Basically, this industry – like so many others today – demands immense agility and speed in the decision-making process. Had I faced that red tape from investors and external forces, my company would never have reached the peaks atop which we now reside.
Not all industries will demand that you place that particular bet, but business ownership requires confidence and conviction. You will undoubtedly face situations that require you to bet on yourself, and sometimes in a risky manner. However, so long as you do so in a highly intelligent, meticulous, and informed fashion, covering all of your bases every step of the way, the bet you place on yourself might be your defining moment as an entrepreneur down the road.
I want to take this opportunity to emphasize the immense respect and appreciation I have for every entrepreneur out there. This is one of the more challenging and risky career paths, but our country would be a much different place without the intrepid and fearless entrepreneurs who drive innovation, economic growth, and overall progress.
The final piece of advice I will give is to keep Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If-” bookmarked for when you need a little extra inspiration – it has always helped to reignite the entrepreneurial fire when I needed it the most.
Keep fighting the good fight and happy Small Business Week!
Kevin D. Glass is HAYSTACKID’s President & Chief Executive Officer