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Interview with Business.gov’s 10K Member: Secret Recipe for Business Success
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Interview with Business.gov’s 10K Member: Secret Recipe for Business Success
The Business.gov team is pleased to announce that the Community has reached 10,000 members! Since its launch in February 2009, over 100 members have been joining each week. In less than 1½ years, the Business.gov Community has become a respected platform for small business discussions and a trusted source for small business information. In celebration of achieving 10,000 members, we interviewed our 10,000th member, Rick Braddy, a small business owner who has successfully started and managed four businesses. Here is what he has to say about what it takes to start and run a successful small business.
Why did you join the Business.gov Community? How did you hear about us?
I wanted to immerse myself in different small business communities, so I did a Google search on small business forums. Business.gov was one of the top-ranked forums.
Why did you decide to start your own business? How did you transition from being an employee to becoming a business owner?
I am an entrepreneur at heart. I start businesses because I am passionate about the subject. If you spend so much time working, you might as well find something you enjoy doing and think of ways to make money off of it.
So far, ;ve started and managed four businesses: a software company, a training website for Texas Hol-em Poker, an art gallery at a mall, and an online consulting firm. I have since sold the software company, turned the poker-training website from a hobby to a profitable business, and saw my art gallery go out of business due to 9/11. I still own the poker and consulting businesses.
I would not say that there was transition from being an employee to becoming a business owner. Throughout my career, I bounced between running my own business and working for an established business. I started running the poker-training website in 2004, but continued to work as the VP of product marketing at a large technology firm.
I was not a full-time small business owner until I retired in 2007. I would say it was a personal decision, a lifestyle choice. I was constantly running a rat race, working at different software companies in between starting up businesses. I realized that I needed to reprioritize. After I started my online company, I got the chance to spend more time with my wife and kids. I had the flexibility of going fishing in the morning and working during the heat of the day.
What is the toughest challenge you faced in your experience as a small business owner? How did you meet that challenge?
In all of my businesses, finding fresh customers has been my toughest challenge. You need a cost effective way to market your business and attract new customers. Even though you generate a good deal of business from referrals, you reap the most profits from new customers.
To attract new customers, you need to (1) find effective ways of advertising and (2) increase visibility for your business. Nowadays, advertising online is essential. However, you must balance the costs and benefits of marketing strategies. For example, Google ads are a great way to drive traffic to your business, but they can get expensive. You do not want to go out of business before your marketing strategy becomes an effective means to generate profit.
What I mean by increasing visibility is meeting and talking to business owners and potential customers. Create a network of people you can rely on and share contacts with. They serve as effective mentors and sources of business referrals.
You emphasize the importance of passion when running a small business. When did you learn this lesson? Can you give us an example?
Passion overcomes a mountain of obstacles. I learned this lesson from working in the corporate world. From directly managing others, I realized that you cannot instill passion in someone. You can provide them the tools and training to motivate them, but you cannot force it upon them. When my employees were not motivated and passionate about their jobs to begin with, they have difficulty achieving success.
There are many points in my career where passion drove me to success. When the economy tanked, I had to get creative in order for the business to survive. Demand for direct consultative services plummeted, so I decided to develop new software for my consulting business to drive up sales. I fought my way past a steep learning curve to learn two new programming languages and spent 9 months developing a product I was not even sure I could sell. The product was ultimately a success, but it would not have happened had I not had the passion for the subject and desire to succeed.
What made your business successful? What is the recipe for business success?
A successful business owner has four qualities: clear vision, hard work, passion, and faith. Many businesses fail because they are missing one or more these components. Starting and running a business is not for the faint of heart. It takes a substantial amount of hard work and a leap of faith to succeed.
My art gallery business was a success because my wife and I were passionate about art. Even though we understood nothing about the business, we sought resources to help us start and run the business. We took training courses. We solicited advice from experienced gallery owners. We had a vision and we had faith.
The business itself needs two essential ingredients to be successful: (1) a market demand and (2) a great product. Finding an existing problem, or existing marketing demand, is the best route to go. You can create a market demand for a product, but many fail before they can sell anything. Once you zoned in on your target market, find an innovative way to solve the problem. Make customers want and need your product.
Creativity is also key. Since I own multiple businesses, I learned to use one profitable business to sustain others that are losing money. Due to the current economic climate, my consulting business is not doing too well, so I rely on revenue from my online poker business to support the consulting business. In addition, I developed a new product for the consulting business that provides a cheaper solution to what customers need. The new strategy generated enough profit to continue the consulting service side of the business.
From your experience, what skills are important for those thinking about starting a business or running a business?
To start and run a business well, you need the ability to understand your customers, to plan and execute your business operations, set goals, and most importantly, to sell. Sales skills are crucial because you can sell your way out of anything. As long as you sell, you generate revenue, you have profits, and your business thrives.
If you are not a good salesperson, become one. Hire an expert. Take a training course. I bought an audio cassette in the 1980s to learn how to sell. It helped me for the rest of my career.
You have had an incredible career- from a marketing executive to chief technology officer to a business owner of an online game site and consulting firm. With all those experiences behind you, what is one piece of advice you would give to someone who wants to start a business?
Get ready to roll up your sleeves and work ten times as hard as you normally would. You will be working long hours. Your business will demand you wear multiple hats and acquire new skills and knowledge. You will need perseverance because you will fail often. You need to have the strength to pick yourself up every time a challenge knocks you down.