Matt Certo founded his marketing company, Findsome & Winmore, 20 years ago. Since then, the 39-year-old CEO and author has learned quite a few lessons.
He shared with us 20 of the most important things he’s learned over the past two decades that all entrepreneurs, CEOs, managers, and employees can use:
1. Family matters most. Starting and running a business is not for the faint of heart, Certo explains. “You can’t do it alone. Over the years, I have relied a great deal on my family for support and encouragement.” And it’s important to remember to do the same for them as they pursue their own endeavours, he says.
2. Someone must be willing to give you a chance. Every entrepreneur has a few customers or backers who rolled the dice and gave them a shot. “I was only 19 when I started my company, but I had a couple of customers who took a chance on me well before I had earned it,” he says. “I am grateful to them to this day.”
3. You need great mentors. Over the years, Certo says he has leaned on person after person to show him the way regarding the conceptualization and running of a business. “Fortunately, I’ve had a number of people willing to share their insights, ideas, and experiences with me, and it’s helped tremendously.”
4. You have nothing without customers/clients/readers/fans. “Our clients drive us, motivate us, and make us better. As Peter Drucker says, ‘The purpose of a business is to create a customer.’ If you can’t do that, you don’t have much of anything,” Certo explains.
5. You must develop perseverance. In the course of doing anything for a long period of time, you must be willing to keep trying even when things aren’t going your way. “No one can do this for you, but you can endeavour to inspire others around you along the way,” says Certo.
6. Optimism is key. “Along with dark skies, storm clouds, and everything else that’s bleak, running a business requires optimism,” he explains. “You have to keep telling yourself that it’s always darkest before the dawn or, as Mumford & Sons puts it, ‘night has always pushed up day.'”
7. A great team is indispensable. “Any company is only as good as its people, and I have been thankful to have had a chance to work with some great ones,” he says. “In the end, our people are our most precious and cherished assets.”
8. Culture matters more than you think. Certo used to think “corporate culture” was nothing more than a fluffy buzzword. He now knows much differently. “You have to be intentional about — and model — the kind of company you are trying to build and the values you seek to perpetuate. As I read somewhere recently, your personal calling is not necessarily what you do, but how you choose to do it.” With the right group of teammates, your company can be an expression of that calling.
9. You must put character above all else when hiring. There is an old adage that you should hire for character and attitude, and train for skill. “I have come to believe this implicitly,” he says. “There’s nothing more detrimental to a company than someone who has talent but no ability to co-exist with others or to contribute to the firm’s culture.” It can have a seriously negative cascading effect if you’re not careful.
10. A strong leadership team that challenges you is crucial. “I’ve definitely learned the value of having great co-leaders next to me,” Certo says. “Running a business brings all sorts of challenges one’s way. Having other leaders around me has helped me to see situations through different lenses, gotten me out of my comfort zone, and ultimately helped me to make better decisions. You can’t do it alone.”
11. Be a great, responsible corporate citizen. A company is a citizen. It should give to its community through contributions, volunteerism, and sponsorships. “The company should do this simply because it’s the right thing to do,” he explains. “You should look at this as a duty, not an optional undertaking. If you do this right, both the community and shareholders can benefit concurrently.”
12. You need heroes and role models. There will be many people that you will never meet but will have great influence on you. “You need great examples of people in the public eye or history to emulate as you develop your business,” says Certo. “For me, those people have included Duke Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski for his approach to leadership, Apple Founder Steve Jobs for showing how business is really art, and basketball legend Larry Bird for exemplifying tenacity and determination.”
13. Travel a bit. “I’m not a person who has a ton of wanderlust, but getting out of town and away from things every once in a while gives you perspective that is impossible to get anywhere else but away from town,” he says. An occasional change of scenery is invaluable. While you’re there, it’s important to be open to inspiration from what you see. When you come home, bring that spirit back to the office.
14. You must want to compete. Business is a battle. Competition is always lurking, but it should not be feared. “Competition is a great motivator, barometer, and ultimately makes business fun,” Certo says. “You should embrace it. Every loss to a competitor is an opportunity to improve your company and every win over a competitor is reinforcement of what you do and how you do it.”
15. Cultivate great relationships. In the end, your relationships with teammates, clients, and partners are paramount. A business can be viewed as a collection of relationships. You must invest in those and do the best you can at cultivating them through good times and bad, he explains.
16. Never stop learning. Business changes all the time — and so does the world. You must continue to grow and develop your base of knowledge about the world through books, articles, speeches, and conferences. “The more you learn, the more effective you are.”
17. Find something to believe in. “For me, my faith has guided me, strengthened me, stretched me, and ultimately taken me further than I could ever go on my own,” says Certo. You don’t have to be a religious person — there are plenty of other things you can believe in that will help you find your purpose.
18. Team up with great vendors/partners. You will need a fantastic team of people outside the walls of your company to help you grow and develop. “I have had the great fortune of having truly great partner organisations help my company succeed,” he says.
19. Do your best to create a great place to work. Your employees are both your present and your future. “Help them, support them, and nurture them,” Certo suggests. “Thank them, encourage them, coach them, and give them as much coffee as they desire!”
20. Rinse and repeat. Your business can never stay in the same place for long. “Change is a must, but you must watch each and every step,” he says. “So, invent and then re-invent. It must never stop.”
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