Why not follow an alreadyestablished blueprint for success

October 17, 2011
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Millions of books will tell you how to succeed at small business, but I don't think I've ever seen a book on why people fail at small business.

During World War II, the Air Force tried to determine what areas on the bottom of a bomber that were hit by antiaircraft shells would cause a crash. Suddenly, someone had the brilliant idea that when a bomber had been hit in a vital area, it did not make it back; if the airplane was retrieved, the undercarriage of the crashed plane could be examined to see where the fatal hit took place. Duh.

Let’s take a look at two successful small businesses: one that has been around a while and one that is new. Years ago, I asked Dick Czarniecki, owner of Alliance CNC, where he got the courage to borrow a substantial amount of money to start a business. His answer was to question my assessment of what was at risk. He said that he knew the product, the market, manufacturing equipment, the cost and the selling price. He had done his homework. So where was the risk? That conversation has stuck in my mind for 15 years.

Another example is Pier 33 on the Cheboygan River. A restaurant building and marina there was in the possession of a bank for several years. Suddenly last spring, there was a flurry of activity to open the restaurant before Memorial Day. Here's the scenario: You have a restaurant property not in use for years and one of the worst economies in decades. The competition is long-established. It would seem the last thing needed in the area was another restaurant. The restaurant opened before Memorial Day and getting a seat was no problem. By July and early August, it began to take a while to get a table. By Labor Day, the wait was half an hour. How did this happen?

It seems so simple. I talked to John Lindeman, the managing partner. He has an extensive background in club management. His family has owned Linde Furniture, which has a great reputation for quality, in downtown Cheboygan for several decades. So, John has a family background in retail excellence and a career background in the food service industry. Here's what makes Pier 33 a success under pretty difficult circumstances: The restaurant hired an executive chef and, rumor has it, pays him well. The menu is excellent. The wait staff is exceptional. The prices are high-moderate. Let's see: high-quality food, excellent wait staff, great chef, reasonable prices and a beautiful view of the Cheboygan River. Why doesn’t every restaurant have those qualities?

And here's the $64,000 question: I believe almost everyone knows the rules of success. Why don't they follow them?

If you are contemplating going into business or already own a business, one of the things you need to check is your attitude. Even if you are successful, don't ignore this question. You may be successful but still underachieving.

The reality of being a business owner is that you never reach a goal and stay there. Consider Steve Jobs: It would seem that several times in Jobs’ career, he could have stopped and said, “I am a success.” Think of what we would have lost if he had.

My suggestion would be that if you get that feeling of being successful enough, get out. There's nowhere to go from the top but down, and the competition is looking to take you there. If you're not improving, you’re falling behind, no matter how successful you are.

There are blueprints for success in almost every business. Every once in a while, an original idea comes along that makes someone rich, but chances are it won't be you who has that idea. Companies like Microsoft are a product of incredible luck as well as incredible intellect. What has puzzled me for 40 years in business is why people don't follow the blueprint for success established by their predecessors.

Both Dick Czarniecki of Alliance CNC and John Lindeman of Pier 33 grew up in family-owned businesses. Maybe their thought processes were honed to be business owners since they were the children of business owners. The question for people without a business background becomes: Can they learn to follow the logical blueprint laid out by past successful business owners in order to create their own successful business?

Regardless of where the thought process originates, it is necessary to have a winning attitude to succeed in the responsibility-heavy realm of owning a business. Do losers recognize that their thought process is that of a loser? If they don't, who is going to tell them? CPAs, attorneys, bankers and other financial professionals can listen to a person for a short period of time and determine whether or not that person has the potential to be a business owner.

Much is made of the “cowboy image” of American entrepreneurs. That is an image, not a reality. Billy Durant was a cowboy-type entrepreneur when he founded General Motors. Alfred P. Sloan was the man who took what a cowboy had started and developed it into the largest manufacturing company in the world. Cowboys have their uses, but it is the people who do the work and make systems function who create quality companies. Somebody has to follow the blueprint.

To me, the greatest mystery in life is why people don't make themselves happy. A large part of happiness is financial success. If you don’t believe that, go ask some poor people how they’re feeling. Financial success is a function of finding a working blueprint and following it to its logical conclusion.

I'm assuming the reader knows that sometimes a blueprint needs to be changed due to changed circumstances. Adjusting one’s course is not the same as being lost. A person with a map may make a wrong turn, but the map will show the way to the destination. A blueprint may contain an error, but at least with a pattern, you know when you need to make a decision contrary to the pattern. If you are not following a guideline, you have no way of knowing when you've gotten off course.

If anyone knows the answer as to why everyone doesn’t do the things successful people do, please let me know. It apparently is just the human condition. Try to read the playback on your thought patterns: If you change those thoughts, you can change your destiny. If you cling to your old thought patterns, you're going to continue to experience life as you already know it.

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