What defines success in your business?

Everyone defines success differently. How about you? Particularly as a business owner and entrepreneur, this topic comes up quite frequently. The related question that also comes up is to ask when enough is enough. The two are actually directly related within my definition of success as there is no end point, only milestones.

Success is the company as a whole, here is how it is detailed at VoIP Supply and Sayers Technology Holdings:

  • The culture: Creating a work environment where the staff is happy and excited to come to work, proud of their accomplishments, and able to build their own career path to follow. Work is work but does not need to be a dreaded destination, which should be left to the dentists. Receiving feedback from the staff letting me know that they enjoy their job and work environment and receiving awards such as Best Place to Work in WNY are affirmations that the building of the desired culture has been successful.
  • The people: Building strong and self sufficient teams of highly skilled and devoted employees is one of the goals. Finding “diamonds in the rough” is another component of success through people as it related to building a successful company. While there is no end to the search for high quality employees, the staff we have allow the company to feel as though it has been successful in this aspect of business.
  • The customers: Happy customers, repeat business, referrals from accounts, feedback highlighting staff assistance, and a continuously expanding customer base indicate that we have been successful in this area. Thousands of new customers each month and dozens of emails highlighting our performance prove that we are successful with our customers.
  • The growth: Internal growth and improvements combined with overall company growth of customers, employees, revenue and profits are significant reminders that we have built a very successful company with a desire for a continuous effort to improve and be even more successful down the line. With dozens of growth awards, including the Inc 500, Entrepreneur Hot 100, WNY Fast 50, CRN Fast 100 and most of these awards having been received 2, 3 and even 4 years running, the company has been well recognized as successful in its growth.
  • The dominance: Viewing the competitive landscape and doing so from a dominant position in the marketplace is a level of success that we enjoy today. While there are many more competitors than a year ago, VoIP Supply been successful in maintaining a majority stake of the overall online retail sales of VoIP hardware.
  • The profitability: Many young companies never reach profitability and just as many tech companies continue to grow, yet do so running in the red. It has been exciting to see our company grow and do so profitably and for businesses, this is a huge sign of success.
  • Enough is never enough: While there are exit plans and strategies, within my definition of success, any exit is designed to create multiple new entrance points into the next opportunity to build something successful. There is plenty more to come within VoIP Supply and Sayers Technology Holdings.

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Sutus BC200 - On Sale at VoIP Supply
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Sutus BC200

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Good Ideas Lost (re-post)

Re-posted from The VoIP Insiders (May 18, 2008)

As with many of my blog entries, the intended audience is just as much my staff as anyone working elsewhere and is not necessarily focused on the VoIP industry as much as it is general business, entrepreneurship and effective management. Please comment with the intention of improving the idea and providing additional value and insight.

At VoIP Supply, we are not a large company by any means, but large enough to have a layer of management between the executive layer and the departmental team members. While sometimes this layer of management is a bridge for the staff to reach out to the owners with ideas and suggestions, often times it is a dam preventing ideas from reaching the surface for a variety of reasons.

Often times the management layer uses its insight into the big picture to filter out ideas that do not mesh with the business direction and needs while at other times the ideas may not fit well with the agenda of the individual manager that it is presented to. Still other ideas are not presented in a manner compelling enough to make it to the top and therefore never receive their intended audience.

While it is in many ways the responsibility of the management team to push up staff ideas just as it is their responsibility to push down executive decisions and requests, it is also the responsibility of the team member to push their ideas and suggestions until they receive sufficient feedback indicating either that the idea has been pushed up or it was not pushed up for a particular and valid reason.

Make the wheel squeak – the loudest one is usually heard first and either oiled (implemented) or thrown out with valid reasoning and justification.

The take away: do not assume that because you had a good idea and presented it to your manager that it was heard, fully understood and moved up the chain, adequately re-presented to the company executives. As often as it is, it is not. I, though perhaps not like everyone else, enjoy hearing from staff members directly when it comes to their ideas and suggestions. Bringing an idea directly to the executive team is highly encouraged and the squashing of such action by my management is highly discouraged regardless of the intent to not waste my time or shield me from something that does not fit the needs and direction of the business. Even if the idea is not a good fit at the time, the value to me and the increased value of the employee comes by way of simply having an idea and presenting it well.

My door is open to anyone at any time. Your ideas are valuable and I’ll decide if it is a good fit for the business now or in the future. This statement is true for employees, customers, vendors, partners and the like.

A Good Manager

Comments from Benjamin Sayers on being a Good Manager – (re-posted from The VoIP Insiders)

To preface this, the intended audience may or may not be in the VoIP industry, they may work for VoIP Supply or somewhere else, they may even be the owner of their own business. This commentary is stream of consciousness and written to reflect on experiences during the week at my company that I hope will be of use to others in some manner. Your comments, positive or negative, are always more than welcome and highly encouraged as I too love to see things from someone else’s perspective in effort to always being improving.

At VoIP Supply, we have some excellence within our management team. We also have ways to improve and provide a greater leadership experience to our staff. Some things that our management staff can, should, and generally do exhibit include (though we can all get even better at):

1) Proper delivery of expectations: Staff needs to know what is expected of them in clear and concise terms, preferably written and reviewed in a timely manner. Ongoing support and coaching to ensure that once delivered, the understanding of the expectations are indeed well known and execution is a simple and easily followed path, are necessary from start to finish but not necessarily in a micro-managed fashion.

2) Follow through on delegation, to get what you inspect, not what you expect: Getting work off your plate is only of value if the results are what you expect and are of value to you such that the work does not need to be redone, finished off, or worse–a complete failure. With regards to delegation of work, you will always get the results expected if you inspect the work prior to completion of the task.

3) Providing just the right amount of rope (not a noose): A truly good manager hires people capable of exceeding expectations and providing enough value that the manager themselves can be promoted and backfill their position with a solid replacement. To do so is to encourage self sufficiency, creativity and opportunity to succeed above and beyond their predefined tasks. Letting staff loose to show their talents and help build the business (should they be motivated to work above and beyond their minimal job description) is critical in developing a team of truly valuable assets. Coach, mentor and follow up with them to ensure that they have not been setup to fail or allowed to wander too far without supervision.

4) Proper message delivery and moderated use of tone: Each team member is different, reacts differently and interprets the manager’s guidance and directives differently. Being sure to deliver the message, positive or negative, in the right medium and with the right tone, is important when hoping to motivate the team rather than threaten them, devalue their work, or create fear of failure and its consequences.

5) Accountability relative to expectations delivered: While I am proponent of positivity, patience and understanding of circumstances beyond the control of the staff member that has been given a particular project or task, holding them accountable remains a necessity. If a task is delivered and accepted, the accepting member of your team must be held accountable for completion of it or communication of its pending incomplete status, reasons for its status and a plan for completion within an adjusted timeframe.

6) Encourage and promote positive two way communications: One of the greatest points of failure in any business is within the internal communications between staff and between departments. It is the responsibility of the management to demonstrate the value and process of effective two way communications, leading by example, coaching and promoting it, rewarding it and ensuring that the team is doing their part within the company.

7) Setting goals and defined points of re-evaluation: Along the same line as setting expectations, the management should be setting goals for celebration of the success of the department. Considering the expectations to be the minimum levels of achievement for the department and the goals are just that, the goals. Sometimes goals are missed and that’s ok, you still have something to shoot for and feel exceptional about achieving. When goals are set too high or unplanned circumstances occur making goal achievement impossible, management needs to set points to re-evaluate those goals and maintain realistic levels so-as to ensure that the goal is not completely unrealistic and therefore not worth striving for.

8.) Leading by example: This one more or less goes without saying, but a good manager needs to lead by example and overachieve those working for them. This should not be confused with squashing the efforts of the staff to ensure that managers continue to look good by preventing others from succeeding. The right thing to do in the situation of a superstar knocking it out of the park is to let them pass and be proud that you groomed such a valuable asset to the company.

9) Understanding the big picture and providing visibility into it: When delegating tasks, assigning team members to a project, critiquing their work, dismissing their suggestions and explaining results and expectations, it is important that the manager understands the overall direction of the company, how their department fits that picture and how the staff fits into the overall big picture of the company. Some are comfortable repeating the same task over and over again while others have ideas and suggestions for improvements. While the suggestions may well be valid and good ideas, they may not fit with the current needs and direction of the company. It is important that ideas and suggestions are not merely dismissed, but shown that the reason for dismissal or non-implementation is that it may not fit the current needs and direction of the company. Thank them for their independent thoughts and suggestions, encourage more of it and educate them on where they should focus their attention relative to additional ideas.

Personal Brand Building and the Internet Land-Grab

The Internet called, they want to know if you’re coming to pick up your property?

This isn’t exactly a new idea or concept, either of them for that matter. Many have spent countless hours/days working on and perfecting their personal brand (on-line or off) and surely the Internet has been around for some time now. The game changer, at least for the moment, is the uptick in quantity and adoption of social media sites and applications. Just like managing your personal brand offline, there are a lot of places to manage when claiming your lot in cyberspace. More sites pop up, some will shut down, others will consolidate and until the application is created to manage them all from one place, you have a lot to keep track of if you want to do it right.

I don’t claim to be the expert on this, but from a business perspective, I see the value am taking steps to be where my customers and colleagues are, to be visible and helpful in places where they hang out and am losing the notion that the telephone and physical networking events are primary sources of business communication. Since I am not the most outgoing person in the world, networking on-line is a lot more comfortable for me than mingling at public social events. On-line, I can cast a huge net with a truly valuable offering, a recognized brand (or name) and the patience and persistence to make sure the net is noticed in all of the places that my customers might be waiting. My customers do not necessarily want to be found as they are intelligent people quite capable of finding me when they need me. It is my job to make sure that I have the brightest and largest target on my back (and front) as possible.

People like buying from their friends and from people who are helpful rather than pushy. Sure, a seasoned sales rep can coerce or bully you into buying sometimes, but customers are more and more savvy, they know what they want and they know they can get it cheaper somewhere else. This is where combing your personal brand with your business brand becomes very beneficial. It takes a long time, a lot of work and plenty of patience to achieve any sort of results, but hang in there and I’m sure you will see the long term value begin to pay off. Start with what you know and offer advice. Join, follow and contribute to groups in your line of expertise. Asking questions, meeting colleagues, working together on common problems that you face in your field will help solidify the value associated with your newly established personal brand.

Personal brand: Your name can carry a lot of weight in the search engine, particularly if you have a unique name or a nickname used by all of those who know you. Mine is uncommon enough that I was able to grab up a lot of the property associated with it and begin weaving my net between these sites. Below are some examples that I’m using to pull it all together.

  • Facebook.com: There are plenty of Ben Sayers’ out there and no really unique way of modifying the URL to your profile. But, if you search for Benjamin Sayers, i’m sure you’ll find me. If you combine my name with company affiliation, it gets a lot easier. http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=766234121
  • LinkedIn.com: Much more of a business networking site and one that has been around for a lot longer than most, LinkedIn is a good place to organize your Rolodex and to expand it through introductions made through your colleagues thereby extending your personal network. LinkedIn gives you the ability to get your Name (Brand) in the URL which will help when search engines come a-lookin’. Benjamin Sayers on LinkedIn.
  • BenjaminSayers.com: This blog is a good example of a brand building tool offering the most control and flexibility when it comes to customization, search engine optimization and traffic driving opportunities. It takes time to get sufficient content and traffic to the site if you are not already well known, but posting valuable information, asking and answering questions and sharing your experiences and advice will begin to pull people towards your goal.
  • Twitter.com: A newer medium for communication combining both personal and business updates on “what you’re doing now”. This one is fairly new to me, but has provided significant value already and has opened my eyes to a lot of useful resources I would have otherwise gone without (most likely). I’ve found and now follow a lot of people in the entrepreneurial, VoIP, technology, general business and venture capital spaces. Everyday there are some exceptional tweets with tips, tricks and URLs to content often specific to my interests. I’m found at http://twitter.com/benjaminsayers, come follow along.
  • Company Blog (VoIP Insiders): Though I haven’t contributed in a while, our company blog gets a lot of traffic and is a great place to help build my personal brand. Re-posting content or writing new posts on blog.voipsupply.com that links back to BenjaminSayers.com will help with search engine rankings and help associate my personal brand with our business brand which is well known and highly respected.

There are other places out there (myspace.com, twibes.com, spaces.live.com, google profiles, ning.com) and new properties are created all of the time. If you are building and managing your brand, now is the time to snap it up before someone else with your name decides to beat you to the punch. If you are looking for help building your personal or business brand on-line (of off), the people at one of my companies, Sayers Media Group, can help. Along with creating IVR, SMS, Web, VoIP and other communication applications, our marketing team is experienced and well aware of how to build an on-line brand and drive traffic to it from all angles. If you just have questions, send a tweet, comment on facebook, ask a question on linked in or comment on this post.