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If You’re Looking for the Real Secrets of Business Success, Don’t Listen to the Experts


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Written by: Robin La Pere | No Ordinary Businesses and Franchises

If you were to search “secrets of business success” on Google, how many results would you expect to get? We tried and got 99 million. That’s a lot of secrets. So how do you know which ones you absolutely, positively need to know in order to be successful in business?

Given that the definition of a secret is something not very many people know, we suspected that pretty much all of these so-called secrets were simply business tips that had been labelled as “secrets” to get our attention. We also suspected they had been repackaged to appear different from the tips they’re copied from. And we assumed that if they had been repackaged, we could unpackage them and sort them into common categories. Surely, we reasoned, the more business tips we found of a certain category, the more important that type of tip was likely to be?

We tested this by going through the first two pages of our Google search. We sorted the tips we found into common categories. For example, tips such as “clarity of vision”, “definiteness of purpose” and “clear direction” were all placed in the “Vision/Clarity” category.

In this way we were able to condense the total number of tips, but we had expected to be able to reduce that number to maybe ten. Instead, we could only get it down to 28. There was everything from Customer Relationships, Motivation and Team Building to Innovation, Values and Leadership.  

Confused? We were.

So we turned to the experts. Well-known business gurus like Richard Branson, Brian Tracy, Phillip Kotler, Steve Collis, Jack Welsh and Bill Gates. What was their number 1 business success secret?

Richard Branson said Passion. Brian Tracy, the personal and professional development trainer, said Clarity. Phillip Kotler, the marketing guru, said Being Different. Steve Collis, President and CEO of AmerisourceBergen, said “It’s not how you start the race, it’s how you finish it.” We guessed he was talking about Commitment and Persistence. Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric, said Candour.

Not a lot of consistency in the secrets so far. But it was Bill Gates, the world’s richest and nicest man, who really threw a spanner in the works when he talked about his favourite business book, Business Adventures.  

“Unlike a lot of today’s business writers, Brooks didn’t boil his work down into pat how-to lessons or simplistic explanations for success. (How many times have you read that some company is taking off because they give their employees free lunch?) You won’t find any listicles in his work. Brooks wrote long articles that frame an issue, explore it in depth, introduce a few compelling characters, and show how things went for them.”

Listicles? What the…? 

Maybe we should have stopped writing this article at this point. But we decided to take Steve Collis’s advice and finish the race. And we also decided to take Bill Gates’ advice and make this article longer than we intended and far more in-depth.

Our own view is that one of the secrets of business success is to look at how others have achieved success and then pull out and apply the bits that you think will work for you. Sometimes, though, we’ve found the real secrets aren’t immediately obvious and you have to read between the lines to find them.

Here’s an example of what we mean. 

The other day, we were looking through a Slideshare entitled “How to build a $5 million company in 10 steps”. As we flicked through, we couldn’t help but pick up some tidbits that weren’t immediately obvious.

1. Find Trustworthy Partners 

In our experience, success in business often depends on the leader – and in particular, how driven the leader is to succeed. In this case, the business is owned by a husband and wife team, but we note the husband produces the Slideshares and the wife is the CEO*.

REAL SUCCESS SECRET #1: Drive the business or marry someone who will

2. Create a Strategy & Focus

We take it Verne Harnish is some kind of business guru but his “1-page strategic plan” doesn’t appear to have any strategy in it. We’ve explained elsewhere that strategy is different from vision, mission, goals, priorities, and plans. It’s about how an organisation creates, delivers, and captures value, first for the customer and then for the company.  

REAL SUCCESS SECRET #2: Start with a real strategy that focuses on customer value

3. Say No to What’s Off Focus 

We couldn’t agree more with the need for a laser-like focus and that sometimes that means having to fire customers. But we really, really hope that the logo shown doesn’t belong to one of the customers they’ve fired.

REAL SUCCESS SECRET #3: Say no to what’s off focus but don’t brag about the customers you’ve fired 

4. It’s the People Stupid

Yes, it is the people – especially in a service business like this one (a social media agency). But if people are the most important success factor in this business, why are they are No. 10? And what’s the significance of all the big-name brands on this slide?

REAL SUCCESS SECRET #4: Yes, it’s the people, but they need leadership, clear strategy, focus and culture to help them succeed

5. Form a Board of Advisors

Not enough small business owners do this, but we’ve never come across a business this size with so many advisors (we count eight, not including the owners). Do the owners really need all that advice? Do they ever get around to actually making a decision? And why does the average age of their advisors appear to be 87 when the average age of their employees (see above) is 12?

REAL SUCCESS SECRET #5: Seek outside counsel but don’t let it slow down your decision process

6. Build Your Brand

Not enough small businesses do enough brand building, but that’s not something you can say about this company. So many digital marketing agencies have such wanky names. I mean ‘Razorfish’, ‘Victors and Spoils’, ‘Firstborn’ – please! ‘Likeable’ isn’t like any of these. And whether or not you find the orange ‘like’ symbol likeable (we’re not going to tell you what we think), at least it’s simple, clear and positive.

REAL SUCCESS SECRET #6: Build your brand as an extension of your strategy, values and people

We think that if you can look past that sunburned and disembodied hand, this sentence from Likeable’s home page goes some way to explaining the real secret of their success. At least it speaks to the customer. It makes two promises that the customer may value: getting results and providing convenience.


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