Now that the British economy shows slow signs of recovery, the small business landscape has never been so competitive. Are you doing enough to stay in the ring?
A couple of weeks ago, we talked about how well you’re really selling yourself, and how important it is for every small business owner to become a salesman. But it doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and it can be hard to know where to start selling when you’re used to doing all of the hard work behind the scenes.
To give you some inspiration, here are our top 5 lessons according to some of the most successful businessmen and entrepreneurs in history – from iconic legends to technology’s newest pioneers.
If you’ve ever seen Mad Men, you’ve had a taste of the competitive, heady world of advertising in the 1950’s and 60’s. Widely hailed as “The Father of Advertising”, David Ogilvy crafted some of the most iconic marketing campaigns during this period, for clients including Schwepps and Rolls Royce. Ogilvy was someone who really understood the importance of “knowing your audience”; emphasising the importance of talking to a customer personally, as if they stood alone rather than in a crowd. Although he tended to use colloquial language in his work – in order to be as relatable as possible – he was firm on never dumbing down ads for consumers.
The Lesson: Don’t underestimate your audience, and focus on the individual. Ogilvy’s style was not the black and white sales pitch. In fact, he was one of the first champions of a softer and more information-rich approach. His ads offered something of worth to customers, forming much of the basis of modern content marketing.
Apply these principles to the more current concepts of personalisation, and you’ll see the value in keeping things as relevant and valuable as possible for each and every customer
Bill Gates has been the richest person on the planet for the past 16 years. Despite co-founding Microsoft in 1975 and watching his net worth grow to meteoric proportions ever since, the really interesting thing about Bill Gates is that he’s been selling his shares in the company for the last 15 years. Gates is also a philanthropist and co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, which aims to improve US education as well as global health. To date, he has given $29.5 billion to charitable sources.
The Lesson: Considering the amount have money he has managed to amass in his lifetime, Bill Gates need never lift a finger again. But he still shows up to work every day. Why? Passion. Dedication. Tenacity. But above all, purpose.
We might not all be charity workers or philanthropists, but we can each identify the true meaning behind what we’re trying to do. Own a hairdressing business? You’re making people feel better about themselves, and giving them half an hour out from their stressful day. Install security and fire alarms? People feel safer in their own homes because of your business. It’s important to understand the reason behind what you do – and really believe in it.
Most of us don’t go a day without using something that was once a product of Steve Jobs’ imagination. Along with Steve Wozniak, Jobs invented one of the most widely used and iconic pieces of technology in existence today – the iPhone. From the humble beginnings of the first Apple computers, it’s fair to say that iPhones, along with iPads and iPods, have revolutionised the way we communicate, surf the net and listen to music. These days, it’s hard to think of anyone even close to Apple when it comes to producing slick, beautiful technology.
The Lesson: Sometimes it’s not good enough to come along and do what everyone else is doing. You need to find your point of difference, and use it to transform your competitive landscape. When Steve Jobs started working on the first Apple computer in 1976, it seemed unlikely that he would go on to become a technology pioneer. But by democratising the electronics market and making powerful computers available to the masses, that’s exactly what he did.
Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, is known for revolutionising the automotive industry with his forward-thinking approach.
But the most remarkable thing about Ford wasn’t the fact that he first brought the assembly line technique to automotive production, or that his focus on inexpensive products allowed many people to buy their first car. It was his unwavering commitment to quality. Henry Ford’s company was, and still is, the product of strong foundations and honest business practices. Henry himself said it best: “quality is doing the right thing when no one is looking”.
Ford also understood that the secret of a quality product is happy employees, so did something virtually unheard of at the time, and doubled the salary of his factory workers. All to ensure that the product going out of the door with his name on it was always top notch.
The Lesson: Don’t worry – we’re not telling you that you need to double your employees’ salaries! But listening to them and rewarding hard work will ensure they keep caring about your product as much as you do. In the end, your product will speak for itself – so you should be willing to stake your reputation on it.
As a digital marketer, you know about Mark Zuckerberg. You know that he founded Facebook, arguably the biggest and most popular social network in the world, aged just 20. You know that he’s now worth an estimated $34.8 billion. But what you probably didn’t know, is that he once created a music sharing platform called Wirehog – and it completely tanked.
Zuckerberg invented Wirehog before Facebook became the social media monster we all know and love today. He envisioned the programme as an extension of Facebook, which would allow users to share music and content with each other. However his business partner, Sean Parker, was opposed to the idea, and the platform failed to take off due to being fairly complicated and difficult to use. Zuckerberg eventually shut down Wirehog in 2006 and poured his focus into Facebook.
The Lesson: If something in your business isn’t working, don’t ignore it: recognise the problem and change it. Wirehog is now referred to online as the programme that “almost killed Facebook” – if Zuckerberg had continued to back his failing enterprise, he could have drained his resources and momentum, and Facebook may have remained just a college student’s pipedream.
What are your favourite lessons from great salesmen and entrepreneurs? Let us know in the comments below!