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In 2005 I left my job as a journalist at CNN to take a chance and co-found the company GoodSearch.com, whose mission is to allow everyday actions to help your favorite cause. About six months later, I was recruited by MSNBC to host its new program Your Business, which focuses on giving advice to small-business owners. For six years I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be able to travel around the country interviewing small-business owners about what they are doing to keep their companies on the right track and then apply what I learn to my own company.
GoodSearch began as a typical startup in my apartment in New York City. My brother, who is my co-founder, and I worked every waking hour, doing everything from writing copy to negotiating business-development deals to answering customer service emails. I cold-called organizations to tell them about the site. I asked my friends to sit down and evaluate our design, and I tested the commitment of my then-boyfriend (now husband) by having him listen to my elevator pitch over and over and over. Today more than 15 million people are using GoodSearch.
Our growth to this point was not a given. No company’s growth is. It takes a lot of hard work, determination, access and often blind faith. Over the next two months, I’ll share lessons I’ve learned from being a journalist, an entrepreneur and the author of the book It's Your Business: 183 Essential Tips that Will Transform Your Small Business. My goal is to help you reach your business goals. They’ll be different for each of you. Some of you will want to increase sales; some of you will want to increase conversion. Some of you may want a bigger social media following. Some of you may want to grow your staff. So prepare to take a look at your company, talk to your team and decide what one thing you want to focus on to get the business on track for growth. Once you have decided what that is, go to SUCCESS.com/WinBig and get started!
I’m thrilled to be your guide through the 2013 SUCCESS Start Small Win Big Challenge. I’ll give you steps to help move your business to a new level, and I’ll provide additional tips in my weekly blog at SUCCESS.com. But before we start, let me share some wisdom from none other than my own mother! I think I can. I think I can…
This is the refrain my mom, a very successful entrepreneur (against all odds, but I’ll go into that later), drummed into the minds of her four children. I am going to pass her philosophy down to you.
Do you remember the kids’ story The Little Engine That Could? It’s about a train that is stuck trying to get over the mountain to deliver toys and food to boys and girls on the other side. Lots of big engines pass by and refuse to help pull the train over. Then a little blue engine chugs up and, though she’s small and has never been over the hill before, offers to help. While saying “I think I can, I think I can… ” she does the unexpected and makes it all the way to the top of the mountain.
Yes, it’s a children’s book, but the message applies to all of us. In order for your company to be successful, it’s imperative that you believe it’s possible. When my mother started her company JOBTRAK, she was in her mid-40s and was a stay-at-home mom. While she volunteered a lot, she did not have a paying job. Her co-founder was my brother Ken, who had just graduated from college. This was hardly the dream team anyone would invest in. When they told people about their idea, they received a range of responses from, “This will never work” to “Good idea, but you’re not experienced enough to make it happen” to “Wow, good for you” from someone who simply did not want to be openly negative. My mom and Ken had faith in their ideas and in themselves, however. And that’s what gave them the fuel to continue to contact potential customers even after they had heard “no” more often than “yes.” It’s also what compelled them to keep working hard when many people didn’t think their company would make it.
But make it, it did. After running JOBTRAK for 13 years, my mom and brother sold the company to Monster.com in 2011. Of course, it takes much more than having faith in yourself and your idea to be successful. And when I write about believing in yourself, I don’t mean you have to believe you have all the answers or all the necessary skills to run your company. What I mean is you must believe that if you don’t have what you need, you will be smart and resourceful enough to find it. So when you are up at 2 a.m. worrying about some aspect of your business, instead of wasting time fretting about what you can’t do, go back to sleep. Then in the morning figure out what you need to put in place or whom to speak with in order to find a solution.
A few months ago I was on a panel with Susan Sobbott, president of American Express Open, and she said something so dead-on I wish I’d thought of it. She told the audience, “If you didn’t know how to swim and your baby fell into the pool, you would not stand on the side and think, Oh, I can’t do this. No, you would dive right in.” Well, that’s the way you need to think about your business. Learn what you don’t know.
Beyond that advice, I’m presenting four meaty steps that will lead you toward success. They touch on different parts of your business—accounting, strategy, marketing, sales and beyond.