This will be a little different than my usual small business blog article. I hope the content is as inspirational for the reader as the person that inspired me to write it. The focus of this article is about a small business success story in my local area. This is about a company that has been in business for almost 40 years and was started from the bottom up that had less than 20 employees which proves you do not have to be large to be successful.
I had the distinct pleasure of attending a regional Economic Development event in my community the other night where the keynote speaker was Ron Compton, the former owner of the local cable company (Compton Communications) who recently sold his business to Rogers Communications. He received highest amount that has been paid for any local cable company in Canada based on a per subscriber basis. Without understanding the demographic, someone might say so what? This cable company exists basically between two rural communities and for the most part is in a farmer’s field. His competitor in this area was big blue Bell Canada.
This is a man that did all of the right things and focused on working on his business for the last 3-4 decades versus working in his business.
After listening to him, it was obvious that the key areas of success for him were:
- Constantly re-investing in his business by making sure that his equipment and infrastructure were up to date. For anyone who does not know the telecom world, this is key, as technology changes so rapidly.
- Focusing on customer service. As a small business going up against the giant who is known for poor customer service – this was his key differentiator.
- Hiring the right employees. He chose employees based on their character and values versus just technical skill. Technical skills can be taught – character and values are innate.
- Not being afraid to push the envelope and think outside the box. Small cable companies were getting outrageous bills from many of the channels and were paying more than the big cable companies. Part of the reason was the billing costs associated with dealing with all of the small companies. As part of an association of the small cable companies where he held a board position he took on the task of stepping up and negotiating a deal where the channels billed him and he took care of billing the smaller cable companies so they all could get a fair and equitable price.
Having moved here from the city myself, I will admit I dreaded having to buy from the “local” guy. I had to give up my email account and the features and packages were not quite as numerous. That all changed after I met the first employee who came to do the installation. He was there when he said he would be, he stayed until he was assured everything was working, and I actually knew something about him when he left. In the time I have been a customer of this company, I have only had 2 reasons to call. In both cases, I talked to a human the first time that was who I needed to. The first time, the individual I talked to was actually the same person who came out to my house hours later. I had decided a wireless modem would be “neat” but then I found out there were a lot of my neighbours that were home-based businesses and we competed for the same signal every day. The modem was exchanged and have had excellent bandwidth ever since. The second was a billing question, and I received the same helpful courteous service.
A few weeks back I received a call from Compton Communications telling me that the battery was dead on my modem. They called me; I didn’t have to call them. If there was a power outage this would be a problem and they were willing to come almost immediately to change it. I called them and asked if I could come by and pick up the battery as I wasn’t usually home during the day. The tech on the phone knew that I had worked in telecom because we had chatted before and that I could change it myself. I will admit I forgot about it and today was going down the winding road in farm country where their office resides. I walked in and started to tell the young man behind the desk why I was there and he knew exactly who I was and reached behind the desk for the battery that had my name on a sticky. I know to appreciate this now because when the large carrier has completely integrated the company – I will receive the same poor service that I did in the city from them. Unfortunately customer service is not a priority with them and other large carriers and don’t think this small business owner didn’t know this when he made this a top priority. We put up with it because we don’t have a choice because they are all the same. This man’s company has definitely changed my perspective on customer service importance as I too had just learned to expect and accept poor service because I painted them with the same brush until I dealt with his company.
This small business owner did everything right. You can tell when you talk to his employees that they respect and admire him and that is so important. His employees respect the business he has built and as such represent him well to customers as his employees are truly the face of Compton Communications.
Ron Compton was not a business owner that has took all of his profits out of his company and lined his pockets to the detriment of the business and his employees. He has continued to spend money on infrastructure in a highly capital intensive business and if you do not keep up with the technology, you cannot compete. This is another reason that he most likely received such as high price for his business. What company, even a large company like Rogers wants to buy a business that gives them subscribers but ends up costing them more than the revenue they gain from subscribers because they have to upgrade the network?
No one when they start a business probably thinks about the day they will sell their business or hand it down, but the fact is – you should run your business every day like that day is around the corner. If you actually do that, it might help you with making some of the key decisions that when or if the day comes you too will get what you want for your business.
As I listened to his presentation – he reinforced some of the points of what are the right things to do in order to be a successful small business owner.
- Be a leader in your business and community
- Hire competent people that have the same value system that you want to portray for your business and to your customers.
- Trust the employees and the managers you hire and focus on being the visionary not the task master and dictator. Delegate the day to day to others and focus on how to grow your business and continue to make it successful. Early on you have to be involved, but as you hire and grow, you need to learn when to let go.
- Be the visionary for your business for the future. What works today may not work tomorrow and you have to address this before it happens. You need to learn to work “on” the business versus “in” the business day to day.
- Pay your employees appropriately and treat them with respect. If you do that you will have loyal employees and they will represent your business well.
- Re-invest in your business to make it successful. If you are just working “in” your business to make a pay cheque and you take everything out now without thinking about the future – you will give up the larger future payout.
- Know your customers and what you need to keep them.
- Provide quality products and services.
- Differentiate yourself with excellent customer service. Most people are even willing to pay more if they are satisfied with a product or service and receive great service whether they are calling about an order, a bill, or a product issue. They are all the same to the customer so the service they receive should be good throughout your business.
I have been asked before on how I would define a successful small business and there are many different answers for this. After the other night, as I pondered Ron Compton’s presentation and his history I am left with this as my answer:
- If you enjoy what you do every day while you are doing it.
- Learn from others that have come before you and learn how to apply that to your business
- Surround yourself with a good network of advisors and partners
- Take risks and learn from your mistakes
- At the end when you do decide to sell or pass your business down, you have no regrets and know that the business you built added value to your family, your community, your customers, and yoursel