I’m winding down. I’ve had a great career, learned a lot, met and worked with a lot of great people, and I don’t have the energy to stand at the helm of another company trying to survive and reinvent itself. I want to keep working but I’d rather be helping others benefit from my experience. Besides, I have six pretty cool grandchildren that I want to enjoy as they mature and develop into young men and women.

Recently, I was talking to a friend in the industry I’ve known for some time. We were discussing the changes we had both seen over the decades we have spent doing what we do. My three children are all thirty-somethings. While none have followed in my career footsteps I wondered after that conversation what advice I would give them if they had…and were about to assume that first job in the corner office.

I made a list of things I would share. It’s not very long but I believe if it were followed with commitment it would make a difference. I’d like to share it with you.

1) Avoid the general commercial label for your business. It’s been at least a decade since the demand for print was ubiquitous. It may have been decades since most of you had your last walk-in customer. The invention of the microprocessor and the internet has shoved print as the dominant method of communicating and storing information to the back of the line. Print still works and has a place in the spectrum of communications technologies available. It’s just not universally applicable any more. Your challenge is to find a target market or certain class of customers whose needs can be met with print in combination with other methods. Understand those needs and problems in depth and craft an offering that will fulfill them. Do this without choking the business with debt. Become a business that solves certain types of problems for certain types of customers. (And just happens to use print among other tools to solve those problems.) Market and brand your company as a reflection of what you do for the customer and why it matters. Don’t market your company by talking about how you do it with your equipment.

2) Recruit and develop the best sales force in your market…and make it an integrated part of an overall marketing approach that includes a well-designed web site, marketing automation, digital marketing, and a highly functional web-to-print solution that maximizes the effective selling time of your sales force. There is no better and more cost-effective way to brand your company than a highly competent sales force. As you move your company into a world where the focus is on solving problems instead of taking orders, the skilled sales person is a large part of the difference between success and failure. Lastly, as we move from a dependence on relationship selling to a more insight-driven emphasis, the sales person is still over 50% of the customer’s experience of your company.

3) In addition to the sales area, hire the best talent you can find in all key areas. Be ridiculously selective. Create a hiring and development strategy that attracts, assesses, interviews, on-boards, and develops the key talent your strategy requires to win with your target customer audience. You need “A” players. Find them and hire them. Make sure everyone understands clearly what the strategy is, what the value proposition is, and what performance is expected from each individual. Make sure everyone understands the business model, with its various processes, that you have built to deliver your value proposition.

4) Run the business as if you are selling it within five years and you intend to cash out and not work again. Let me clarify exactly what I mean with this statement. First, you are running the business to maximize market value over the long haul. Second, this mindset, executed properly will consistently make your company financially powerful enough to do about anything you might want to do with it. Grow it, reinvent it, pay off debt rapidly, take out extra dividends occasionally to enjoy some of the fruits of your labor are all among the options you can consider. (Just don’t overdo it. It will not be fun to sell the beach house and other toys to get the cash you need to weather a crisis.) The characteristics of a company likely to attract top market value are:

  • Focused strategic approach that defines the business in terms of market segments or a class of customer with common needs and problems to be solved
  • Very strong margins
  • Consistent year over year growth
  • Healthy cash position
  • Low debt
  • High rate of asset turnover
  • Efficient use of working capital
  • Low level of risk factors, i.e., customer concentration, sales concentration, receivables aging, OSHA citations, DOL filings, etc.

Put another way; create a focused strategy that will enable consistent sales growth with strong margins. Build a strong balance sheet and control the risk factors. This sounds easier than it is. It is a commitment to excellence few make. Every year get your team together and set 5 year goals. Break these down into specific objectives for each year, 1-5.

5) Take a page from Jon Gordon in his new book “The Carpenter”. Love life and what you do. Let that shine through. Serve all your stakeholders, family, friends, and your calling. Care more than you thought possible. Live a good life and let your works be your legacy. Perhaps most importantly, share your success. Reward the people who make it possible.

That’s my short list. Let me know what you think.