“I want to start my own business,” is a common refrain heard daily. Many people want to quit their 9-to-5 jobs and start their own businesses. And why not? Being an entrepreneur is alluring. People are drawn to the idea of having complete control over their work while earning the most money possible. If only success were that simple.
Before diving headfirst into the fantasy of making millions of dollars in your first year in business, it’s important to understand what it means to be a business owner. What qualities do successful entrepreneurs possess? What should one keep in mind when entering a field that, while it can be the most rewarding experience of one’s life, can also be absolutely crushing to one’s self-worth?
We’re all looking for answers to these questions. One way to find them is to learn from the experiences of those who have achieved success as business owners.
We’ve asked Linda Welter and Kerry Stratford, Principals at Caliber Group, a leading brand marketing, public relations, and digital firm based in Arizona, to speak with us about what has made their business so successful. Caliber works with businesses and brands faced with challenges that require innovative thinking, experience and strategic solutions that lead to successful outcomes. With more than 25 years’ experience across multiple industries, we were curious to hear how they have weathered the entrepreneurial storm and found success.
Aspioneer (A): Thank you so much, Linda and Kerry; it’s a pleasure to have you both here today. Let’s begin with you, Linda. Many people, including many of our readers, are interested in learning the secrets of being a successful business owner. What have you discovered on your journey?
Linda (L): Anyone who wants to start or operate a business, I believe, is looking for that secret formula. What I’ve learned over time, is the secret to success is complex and you must have many elements aligned to be successful. These include: a great concept the market needs; a quality team to deliver on the brand promise; a sound business and marketing plan; the right tools, training, operational support and systems. An entrepreneur also needs positive, consistent cash flow; strong leadership; a culture of innovation; and the right timing. An entrepreneur needs self-confidence, a positive attitude, and the ability to persevere through hard times.
After more than 25 years of running a business, I’ve also discovered a simple truth: you must understand what you’re willing to do—or not—to make your business successful.
I am not claiming that a certain level of passion or skill is not required to run a successful business. Those qualities are crucial as well and the reason why we structured our business the way it is today. No matter how much you think you know, it’s not enough, because you will be required to stretch and learn something new nearly every day. Being a successful business owner is also a journey of perseverance, isolation, hard work and failures.
Aside from having a great product or service to sell, entrepreneurs must be willing to do the time-consuming, unappealing tasks that no one wants to do over an extended period. However, there is one little secret that keeps me and Kerry going: passion. You should not start a business simply because someone else has had success with the same type of business. Their results do not guarantee your success. Only start a business about which you are passionate. Caring about what you do is required to overcome competitors and adversity.
“We believe that one of the most important keys to success is to cultivate a greater sense of self-awareness. When you begin to value your interests and believe in your own voice, you will be able to create processes that are inherently most effective for you".
Aspioneer (A): Kerry, Linda made an important point earlier about how passion drove you to structure your business the way it is today. What were some of the qualities you instilled in your company?
Kerry (K): Caliber’s commitment to quality, accountability and integrity is, in my opinion, its most distinguishing feature. So many businesses promise their customers excellence but then fall short. Any serious entrepreneur, I believe, does not want their clients to have a negative experience. It’s that they are often unaware of their own limitations as a business that leads to failure.
Linda and I, on the other hand, wanted Caliber to be unique. As a result, we determined early on that we would never promise our clients something we couldn’t deliver. That is our overarching principle. It does not imply that we are perfect, but it does imply that we will go to great lengths to defend our core values of accountability, excellence and integrity. We’re not saying we never make mistakes. We do on occasion. When that happens, we apologize and make things right. In my opinion, this constant internal effort is an important part of who we are. Being honest with our clients, thinking long term for our company and building trusting relationships with clients and long-time partners: this is what Caliber is.
This is also a way for us to stand out from the crowd, for our voices to be heard in a way that is both unique and significant, but that drives us to keep improving.
Aspioneer (A): Everyone we meet finds entrepreneurship fascinating. However, the tedious aspects of business ownership are frequently ignored or not discussed. But not for us. Linda, please share some of those “boring” practices that are critical to success with our readers.
Linda (L): We constantly hear about the thrill of starting a business: coming up with the next big idea, revolutionizing the industry. I believe that every successful business learns along the way that the boring and mundane tasks can sometimes mean the difference between success and failure.
For a great idea to succeed, an entrepreneur must delve into the unglamorous nuts and bolts of the business, thoroughly understanding financials, workflow structures, and margins. It doesn’t matter how dedicated you are or how revolutionary your service is: if your paychecks are late, the power goes out, or an unexpected legal battle arises, your chances of success can plummet. The most common piece of advice I can give is to do the boring stuff well and lay strong foundations for your business early on.
At the same time, be strategic, specific and passionate. Set key performance indicators (KPIs) for yourself and your team and base your business strategy on them. Recognize that you will need to set milestones along the way to validate your strategy and prove your core assumptions. You will eventually make money. Otherwise, you’ll be preoccupied with how to keep the lights on.
Entrepreneurs who understand the math behind their business and the state of the market are the ones who weather the storm, whether it is a competitor or a global pandemic.
Aspioneer (A): The last few years have been extremely taxing on businesses and their owners. COVID–19 wreaked havoc on our economy and impacted businesses everywhere. How did you and your business deal with the disruption? What have you taken away from this experience? Is there anything we should all be on the lookout for in the future?
Kerry (K): … I believe the pandemic was one of the most disruptive events in our history, not only for business owners but also for individuals. Linda and I were most concerned about the safety of our employees. We decided that sending them to work from home was the best way to protect them. We were fortunate in that so much of our work could be done remotely. We made the most of this aspect of our business. In a matter of days, we converted our entire workforce to working from home, including rushing equipment to those in need and setting them up with internet access. This pandemic demonstrated the importance of embracing our humanity, being understanding, and caring — and this held true for us as business owners as well. We also provided regular communications to our employees about travel restrictions and local government resources so that our colleagues could remain safe and protected.
However, we quickly realized that physical distancing wasn’t the only thing that was important. Social distancing created a lot of anxiety and stress within us and our team. To cope with the isolation and overwhelming feelings, Linda and I conducted wellness check-ins, where we personally reached out to our employees to see how they were doing. We knew we had to be there for our team during those trying times. We didn’t want them to think they were alone.
We also held regular employee online meetings to announce major developments and to solicit real-time feedback and discussion from our employees. We wanted to give them a safe place to ask questions and make them feel heard. Beyond that, we responded by providing individual support and assisting people in making decisions that were best for their families and their unique situations.
We survived the pandemic, as we have many of the other challenges we have faced in the past, such as economic downturns and changes in our business landscape. We were able to rely on the solid foundation we had built, along with perseverance and a nimble strategy to keep the business afloat, our clients needs fulfilled and our employees employed.
Linda (L): The biggest challenges, in my opinion, facing business owners right now are the impacts from inflation, talent shortages, and a possible recession. I don’t want to scare anyone, but I believe it is critical that businesses remain prepared. There has never been a better time to update your strategic plan and reconsider how you spend money in your business. During these uncertain times, the most effective way to continue pursuing business goals is to make sure your business is on the right path. It’s also important to optimize costs and to have enough cash in reserves to weather new storms. Examine all monthly expenses thoroughly to determine where and how the company can make cost-effective changes.
Aspioneer (A): Let’s get a little more personal. Above, we discussed the qualities that entrepreneurs must possess in order to be successful. But what personal qualities must leaders cultivate in order to be successful? We recognize that this is a highly subjective topic, but we believe that shedding some light on it will benefit those who wish to pursue entrepreneurship as a career.
Kerry (L): Personally, I believe that one of the most important things an entrepreneur can do is to constantly learn new things and innovate, to make certain your business remains relevant. Learning should never stop; leaders must also be constantly stretching and gaining new skills.
Linda (L): I wholeheartedly agree. It is critical to be constantly learning new things. Knowledge allows you to not only bring new ideas into your business, but also to look into the crystal ball and predict what might happen in the future, which is a necessary skill for any business owner.
However, as an entrepreneur, you are usually very busy, especially if you own a small business. The key is to pursue your hobbies and interests outside of work. I like karaoke and motorcycles. Who knows, maybe while singing or riding my bike, I’ll come up with an idea that will set my business apart from the competition.
Kerry (K): Yes, I pursue other creative outlets outside of work including documentary filmmaking and creative projects that keep me current on the newest creative tools for design, 3-d, illustration, video editing, and photography. Staying ahead of visual trends and processes allows me to know when to implement them for the business, which makes me a better leader and innovator.
Aspioneer (A): Finally, what can someone in your position do to assist more women in advancing to positions of power in business? What advice do you have for women entrepreneurs who want to be successful on their own?
Linda (L): One of our passions is empowering other women to achieve successful careers in their chosen fields. We believe that sharing our personal philosophies and experiences can inspire other women to seek solutions for navigating the business world in ways that will elevate their careers. One way that we connect with aspiring businesswomen is through speaking forums and professional networking opportunities, where we encourage all successful women to invest some of their time in mentoring female professionals. Finally, women should hear from other women about examples and methodologies that may resonate with them and the careers they wish to pursue. It is about investing time in their advancement and personal goals, mentoring when appropriate, leading by example, and supporting success.
(K.): We believe that one of the most important keys to success is to cultivate a greater sense of self-awareness. When you begin to value your interests and believe in your own voice, you will be able to create processes that are inherently most effective for you. Keeping this in mind and cultivating broad perspectives is an important skill for advancing one’s career. Having a point of view and being able to express it is also advantageous. Know who you are and have the self-assurance to recognize that your voice advances everything you touch. Most importantly, stay committed to your own personal growth.
Aspioneer (A): Linda & Kerry, thank you so much.
Linda Welteris a veteran brand and reputation management strategist with over 25 years of experience building, expanding, repositioning and protecting company and brand reputations. Linda currently serves on the Metro Tucson Chamber Board of Directors, the WPO (Women’s President Organization), and the PRSA Counselors Academy. Linda has been honored by the American Advertising Federation Tucson, the Public Relations Society of America, Greater Tucson Leadership and the Arizona Small Business Association for her community leadership, business success and effective marketing and public relations campaigns.
Kerry Stratford is a seasoned brand and marketing strategist with more than 25 years of experience supporting clients with strategic business thinking to drive organizations forward. Her award-winning creative has appeared in design and advertising publications all over the world, and her leadership abilities have been recognized by the American Advertising Federation Tucson, Greater Tucson Leadership and the Arizona Small Business Association. Kerry is a member of the executive committee for the Tucson Advertising Federation Educational Foundation and University of Arizona National Alumni Council she also serves on the Local First Arizona Southern AZ Steering Committee and Sun Corridor Board of Directors.