Twelve years ago, I left my corporate job to fulfill my lifelong dream of attending professional cooking school. Now I run Parties That Cook, a mobile culinary events company that stages hands-on cooking parties and corporate team-building events in four cities. We grew to a staff of over 100 by following this recipe for business success:
1. Provide fanatical customer service
Respond quickly to clients. If you don’t take care of your customers, someone else will. Strive to give clients more than they expect. Happy clients are your evangelists and make the best marketing advocates for future business.
2. Embrace employee autonomy
Give your employees as much autonomy and responsibility as they can handle. Encourage your employees to pretend the business is their own. Reward top talent with equity compensation.
3. Choose partners carefully
Partnerships are like marriages: they take work, even more so if you don’t see eye-to-eye on the direction and success of the company. In an ideal partnership situation, priorities, objectives and business roles are outlined upfront. Hire an attorney to draft a partnership agreement (like a pre-nuptial agreement in marriage) and clearly spell out all exit scenarios in case it fails. Ideally, you and your partner should each have an attorney so that your interests are protected.
4. Make the right decision for the right reasons
It is more important to be respected than liked. As a business owner, sometimes you have to make difficult decisions that are unpopular. Always try to take the emotion out of your decisions and ask yourself: “What is the right business decision?”
5. Leverage CEO resources
Get support from a board of advisers or join a CEO group where you can share resources and ideas for your business. EO, Vistage, Pacific Community Venture are three valuable organizations.
6. Hire slow and fire fast
Interview carefully and ask pointed questions. Loyalty is one of the most important qualities in a staff member. If someone does not work out, do not agonize over it. Let them go and move on. Your job is to get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off (as outlined in the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins). I find many of my best staff through informational interviews. Whenever possible, I test them as contractors on a project basis before permanently hiring them.
7. Cover your weaknesses
Consider hiring a team with opposite Meyers-Briggs scores from you. That way, you can feed your strengths and have your weaknesses covered by a quality team.
8. Watch your back
Monitor your competition and do everything you can to stay ahead of them.
9. Rebuild company infrastructure
Tough times are an opportunity to focus on priorities, be creative and streamline business operations. Take a step back and assess your business infrastructure. Make the necessary changes that will help position your business for the future. Recession is the mother of invention!
10. Work on the business, not in it
Most businesses fail because the owner remains a technician well after the business is up and running. Ideally, at that point, the owner should be working on the business vs. in the business (this is outlined in the book “E-Myth” by Michael Gerber).
11. Learn from your mistakes
The only real mistakes are the ones we don’t learn from. James Joyce was right when he said, “Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” Embrace your mistakes; when you fail, you practice success. “Oops" is the mantra of champions. Persistent people begin their success where others end in failure.
12. Build process
The best way to protect your company’s value is by creating processes that capture that value. Process has been a huge key to our growth and one that has let us successfully operate in multiple cities at the same time. If you don’t create a process, you can’t transfer that value.
Over the past 12 years, Parties That Cook has grown, but not without pains. Unfortunately, I learned many of these tips the hard way. Don’t feel like you need to go it alone, there are resources out there—just remember to ask for help when it’s needed.
OPEN Cardmember Bibby Gignilliat is the CEO and Founder of Parties That Cook, a company that provides hands-on cooking parties and corporate team-building events in private homes and professional kitchens throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, Portland and Seattle.