One of the challenges faced by anyone running a start-up or small business is learning what you need to know, before your lack of knowledge trips you up big time.
Reading business books and accessing online info like StartupNation are two important ways to learn. (Have you checked out 10 Steps to Grow Your Business lately?)
Another important way to learn is hanging out with other business people. I was reminded of this yesterday, when I got a call from one of my favorite entrepreneurs, Mike Faith of Headsets.com. He was in Montana with his buddies, fishing the Yellowtone river and nearby streams. He dropped by to tour our new facility and talk business for a few minutes. He noticed that we use FedEx as our primary shipper. He has been considering shopping his shipping service, so we set up a time next week to discuss what we learned when we went through the same process a couple years ago. I’m happy to do it, in part because I owe Mike.
Several years ago, I called Headsets.com to order a telephone headset for a new hire. I spoke with a smart, knowledgeable, and nice fellow. He asked me good questions, advised me on my choice of models, and got the whole thing done quickly. I was so impressed that I asked what kind of training he got as a Headsets.com employee. He said that they got weekly ride-alongs from a sales coach, weekly review of performance numbers, and regular sessions with a voice coach. I asked how big his company was, assuming only a big firm would provide that level of training.
His answer: 19 people. We were about the same size at the time, so I was inspired to put together a formal training program and a CRM coaching program. Today, we are 10 times the size we were back then, and we devote substantial resources to PFL University. The ROI is great, and our people’s skills are constantly improving. Our largest source of new customers every month is referrals from existing customers — which I attribute to our well-trained, well-supported people.
I’m not talking about classic "networking" or schmoozing to try to drum up more business. This has value, but given 15 minutes to chat up a succesful businesperson like Mike, I’d rather pick his brain than his wallet.