Five Keys to Achieving Entrepreneurial Excellence
Personal advice from some of EO’s most successful Members, on
what it takes to be the best
Presented by Entrepreneurs’ Organization, Canada
Five Rules of Better Business.............................................................................. 3
The Commandments of Business Growth ............................................................ 5
Learning to Embrace Change ............................................................................. 7
When the Rubber Hits the Road .......................................................................... 9
The Absent Entrepreneur ................................................................................. 11
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Five Rules of Better Business
By Carol Frank, EO Colorado
As a long-time entrepreneur, I’ve endured my share of highs and
lows in business. The analogy that running a business is a lot like
being on a rollercoaster is dead on, as you never really know what
direction work will take you. Throughout my topsy-turvy business
journey, I’ve discovered five critical things an entrepreneur should
1. Believe bigger is better. When selecting a public relations firm, it may seem natural
to assume that bigger firms with hefty fees and impressive client lists are a good bet for
entrepreneurs. But, you could make out better by selecting a smaller, hungrier firm that
will be as eager to have you as a client as you are to have their services. That’s the
lesson Amilya Antonetti of Soapworks learned when she hired a big public relations firm
to help turn her all-natural, soap-based home cleaners into a national brand. The big PR
firm devoted its attention to its bigger clients and generated no results for Soapworks.
Instead, it sapped several years of the company’s cash growth. Amilya later found a
younger, more aggressive firm to handle her account, one that got her the results she
craved using cost-effective marketing, consumer and corporate education, and guerilla
2. Put all of your eggs in one basket. Businesses that rely on a single supplier,
vendor or type of customer are only one move away from disaster, as Gary Hoover
discovered when his retail travel store, Travel Fest, took a dive because it was too
dependent on the airline industry. Travel Fest took off in the early 1990s as customers
embraced its travel superstore concept, but things began to fall apart when cost-cutting
airlines drastically cut travel agent commissions, an important part of the company’s
revenue. At the mercy of an industry he could not control, Gary never saw the fatal blow
to his company coming.
3. Neglect your best employees. Jeff Taylor lost many talented people when he
started Monster.com. Before developing the largest job and recruitment site on the
Web, Jeff owned an advertising agency called Adion. Not wanting to dilute the strength
of Adion, he invited only young, up-and-coming employees to join the fledgling
Monster.com. Months later, he learned that many key employees at Adion were leaving
because they felt left out. Jeff was able to woo about a third of them back with offers of
jobs at Monster.com, but it was too late to save the rest. Jeff realized that he kept his
key employees in the dark about Monster.com and erred by not asking them to get in on
4. Trust everyone. Remember— it’s not personal, it’s business. For a lesson on what
not to do, ask Judith Briles, whose venture as a hotel developer with a “friend” cost her
more than US$1 million. Looking back, Judith realizes she missed several red flags
about her partner because she was too trusting. To make things right, Judith had to sell
her house and her family’s clothes to satisfy her creditors after her partner declared
bankruptcy. The experience changed her career direction and taught her the importance
of knowing exactly where the money is going.
5. Ignore your finances. When Susan Jones Knape and her husband started their
advertising agency, Knape and Knape, they hired an in-house CPA and fired the
outside CPA firm they had been working with. Susan devoted all her energies to
growing her agency’s client base and let the CFO watch the money. She was unaware
of his history of mismanaging money at other companies, and with no outside CPA firm
to check up on him, he proceeded to make poor decisions on her behalf, including
choosing to pay media vendors instead of the IRS, which eventually cost her
US$350,000 in penalties and interest.
These five tips have helped me learn and grow as a business leader. By applying these
lessons learned to my company, I’ve able to position my business toward sustainable
success. What’s more, I’ve learned how to be the best entrepreneur I can be.
Carol Frank was a 14-year member of EO and is now Managing Director of SDR
Ventures, an EO Colorado sponsor. She is the author of, Do as I Say, Not As I Did!
Gaining Wisdom in Business through the Mistakes of Highly Successful People.
The Commandments of Business Growth
By Mark Graham, EO Toronto
When I graduated from college in 1997, I started my business career
in investment banking. I lasted four months. While the experience was
rewarding (I learned how to use Microsoft Excel like a pro!), I found I
was more suited for entrepreneurship. I always wanted to build
something I could call my own, and it turns out I have a mind for sales
and marketing, not finance.
Given my time in investment banking, I was interested in how Goldman Sachs—the
industry's 800-pound gorilla—grew from a mid-tier firm to a global powerhouse over the
course of a few decades. To learn more about this magnificent rise, I’ve been reading
Charles Ellis's “The Partnership: The Making of Goldman Sachs,” a book that sheds a
lot of light on growth management.
Admittedly, I have very little connection to the investment banking industry these days,
nor do I endorse modern-day Wall Street. However, what I find interesting about this
book are some of the timeless business principles that can be applied to almost any
enterprise, regardless of industry or company size.
This is not a commentary on Goldman Sachs per se, but rather a look at how one
company within one industry was able to grow by applying some surprisingly simple
principles. In 1970, long before sub-prime mortgages and credit default swaps, John
Whitehead, a co-head of the firm, wrote the following 10 commandments that guided
their business development efforts:
1. Don't waste your time going after business you don't really want.
2. The boss usually decides— not the assistant treasurer. Do you know the boss?
3. It is just as easy to get a first-rate piece of business as a second-rate one.
4. You never learn anything when you’re talking.
5. The client's objective is more important than yours.
6. The respect of one person is worth more than an acquaintance with 100 people.
7. When there's business to be found, go out and get it!
8. Important people like to deal with other important people. Are you one?
9. There's nothing worse than an unhappy client.
10. If you get the business, it's up to you to see that it's well-handled.
As an entrepreneur, I reflect on these commandments all the time, and many of them
make perfect sense, especially for an organization that wants to be outstanding. In my
case, I have built my business by putting integrity first, even if it seems at times we
sacrifice short-term profits. We have always held the belief that a client relationship is
something to be nurtured and encouraged to blossom into a profitable and enjoyable
affiliation. However, it is not easy to develop relationships like this if one is always out
for the quick sell.
Many people in business waste a lot of time chasing opportunities that simply don’t
make sense and distract from what really matters: establishing relationships. By
focusing on the principles listed above, I am able to create more value within my
business, establish stronger connections and become a better, all-around entrepreneur.
Learning to Embrace Change
By Ravi Todi, EO Kolkata
In my quest for greatness as an entrepreneur, I know that
accomplishments and changes are just two steps toward achieving
life's higher goals. It is the process of continuous improvement that
makes success complete and propels me to reach the highest
bastions of excellence in my country.
The finance business in India is both a challenge and an opportunity. It is a challenge
because there are too many players willing to fund nearly anything and everything at the
lowest possible interest rates. This makes competition tougher and unbalanced as
players start to defy convention to get business. It is an opportunity because everybody
is increasingly becoming conscious of their state of existence; they want to have the
best of things even with limited resources. That is where I come in.
I made the conscious decision of merging my company with another so that I could
become a small part of a large pie instead of remaining a large part of a small pie. This
merger provided us with a much larger market capitalization. Almost overnight, our joint
entity became a force to be reckoned with. We were able to borrow at a much lower rate
and our bargaining power increased, thanks to our increase in size. The merger has
resulted in the formation of a US$1.5 billion asset company with more than 4,000
Leading affairs and managing the total operation of this newly formed company is a
wonderful learning experience. I’ve discovered that technology is a must to grow your
business. I’ve also discovered that size matters. I started thinking big, and my whole
thought process changed. In all, the two factors that have determined the success of my
business are sound management principles and quality human resources. Both need to
work in harmony to achieve success in totality.
During the years, I have seen how the management order has changed from being one
of control to one of delegation. Organizations are accepting this change and gradually
shifting over to the “teamwork” model, which allows employees to better integrate with
corporate objectives. As an entrepreneur, I have always relied on teamwork, because it
provides avenues for a more holistic growth.
I keep coming back to the concept of change, since it is one thing that is constant in
today’s world. Everything else seems irrelevant. If I hadn’t learned to adapt to and
embrace change, my business would have been left behind in the business wake. It is
this change that is compelling organizations like ours to look for innovative models of
growth. Knowledge and its application are certainly the key elements of corporate
growth, which remains the core values of my organization.
When the Rubber Hits the Road
By John Jankowski, EO Austin
Growing up, I was never what you would call a “team sports” guy.
While my friends were busy playing baseball, I gravitated toward a
single-person sport that has since changed the way I live and work:
motorcycle road racing.
I started racing motorcycles long before I became an entrepreneur. In fact, it was my
desire to race that inspired me to be my own boss. Racing taught me that I could be the
creator and master of my own destiny. When my father sold his business and I lost my
job, I decided to start my own engineering firm. I knew I could make my own success by
applying what I learned from the racetrack to the workforce.
1. Prepare to Stay Competitive. Racing, like running a business, requires intense
preparation. I once kept track of the time I spent working on a motorcycle to remain
competitive with the other riders on the starting grid. I uncovered a simple equation: six
hours working on the bike for every one hour I spent riding. Tuning my bike, riding
practice laps and maintaining a high level of fitness are all necessary to perform at a
championship level. Likewise, in business, to perform at a competitive level requires
discipline, strategy and preparation that no one ever sees.
As a consultant to architects and their clients, I’m never surprised by how savvy they
can be. Walking into a meeting and risking being asked to discuss the latest
technology—that I’ve never heard of— is no less dangerous than throwing my leg over
a bike that’s not been properly set up, checked and rechecked. I’ve learned to do my
homework beforehand to ensure I’m on point with my clients. In business, preparation is
not a luxury, it’s mandatory.
2. Don’t Let Fear Take Over. After decades on the track, I am keenly aware of the
risks inherent to motorcycle racing. I approach risk in business the same way: I know
the potential problems, look for ways to optimize the outcome and take steps to produce
the best and safest results. At the same time, it’s important that I evaluate multiple
scenarios without letting fear take over.
Recently, I had a veteran employee who was dramatically underachieving. This was
causing significant stress to the team, all of whom were picking up the slack. I tried to
help this employee improve, but things weren’t getting better. I feared the possibility of
letting an experienced team member go, but I had to make a decision. I fired him.
Afterward, the attitude and productivity of the team improved. I’ve since learned that my
fear of losing an employee, or the repercussions of termination, undermines the efforts
and discipline required to build a strong team.
3. Maintain Your Focus. Ultimately, being a motorcycle racer or an entrepreneur
does not totally define me. I used to think that being the best at something would make
me a different or better person. Years ago, I set a goal to win a regional championship. I
wound up winning four and earned pole position based on accumulated points in eight
national final races. Once that was behind me, though, I didn’t feel like anything had
really been accomplished.
What I learned is that the highs in racing are incredible, but they are also fleeting. The
same experience applies to business. As an entrepreneur, I have to maintain my focus
without giving in to the quick ups and downs. It’s great to revel in success, but once the
high wears off, it’s time to focus on the next big project. Only then can I truly reap the
rewards that come when hard work and preparation meet risk.
The Absent Entrepreneur
By Michele Hecken, EO Edmonton
Once again, I am traveling, and once again, I am reluctant to leave.
Too many things are going on in my company: aggressive growth
plans, hiring four additional sales people, implementing new
technology … why did I think it was a good time to go on a lengthy
I will be gone for two weeks, and I know the company needs my leadership more than
ever. Just as I felt like a bad mom when I left my kids to visit with clients, I now feel like
a terrible leader for abandoning my team, wondering if this trip will bring the desired
return on my investment and time. Emotions aside, I know traveling is a necessary part
of my role as an entrepreneur. Getting away helps me recharge my batteries, and more
importantly, it provides me with ample opportunities to strengthen both my team and my
performance as a business leader.
When I travel for business, it’s a chance for my team to step up to the plate and show
me what they’re capable of. Furthermore, it forces me to streamline my communication
channels, an important step in ensuring everything runs smoothly without me. On
average, I travel about seven or eight months out of the year. Before I depart for each
trip, I follow certain rules that help set my team up for success in my absence. Here are
some of the steps I take before and after I embark on business travel:
1. Maintain continuity. I set reporting structures and processes in my absence. Daily
huddles, regardless of my location, are a must to ensure effective communication with
2. Stay transparent. I share the company’s annual plan and targets with the entire
staff, and I make it a point to update them if anything changes while I’m on the road.
3. Stick to goals. Quarterly goals are themed so everyone knows where we are going
and can work toward it in my absence. I don’t micromanage from afar. Instead, I try to
coach and create incentives so everyone owns their outcomes for the team.
4. Leverage technology. All of our numbers are reported daily and are visible on our
online portal. This allows me to have an up-to-the-minute overview of how my business
is doing at any time— a helpful tool when I’m negotiating with clients.
5. Stay focused. I never check my e-mails more than once a day. I don’t want to get
sucked into the everyday chaos of business life while I’m looking at the big picture or
meeting with clients
6. Give freedom. I try to be clear in communicating my desired outcomes for all
projects, and then let my employees get creative with them. My job is the “what,” not the
7. Trust staff. I rely on my COO to be my proxy while I’m away. She takes care of
operations, coaches the team and only contacts me when she’s stuck or needs my
In the end, I have found that discipline breeds freedom when it comes to setting up my
team before—and while—I’m on the road. It takes a lot of work to prepare everyone
properly, but it’s worth it. Staying in constant communication with my employees not
only helps the company, but it allows my team to be independent in their endeavors.
When it comes down to it, my employees are the real reason why I get to travel for
business and do I what I love. Giving them a chance to shine while I’m on the go is one
of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned.
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