I speak to thousands of business owners each year – from sole traders with a crew of one – doing everything from the actual work, the invoicing, the quoting, the tax, the marketing, the bookkeeping, the advertising and everything else involved with running a business, while trying to jam in family life and friends – to the managing director who manages a warren of interrelated tendrils that make a company of scores or hundreds or thousands all move in the same direction. I’ve learned many things and one of them is what makes any business successful – the willingness to ask questions and to learn.

Clichés are clichés mainly because they are true. We currently live in a world where the truth is a concept open to ‘alternative facts’ but in business adages add up. “10% inspiration and 90% perspiration’ may sound like a sound bite from the 1950s, but it’s true as ever it was. Work only works if it is driven – has passion, belief, and commitment and the willingness to learn.  While the technology that envelops what we do today is most definitely different to what has come before, the pillars of success have altered little. We are swamped daily by an avalanche of information but without the capacity to question and learn, it is of little value at all.

‘Don’t be a human being, be a human doing’

About 18 months ago I began talking to a small business owner who had started up a cleaning business in Auckland. His background was in something completely unrelated and he had never been in business at all. To characterise the one thing he had from the beginning would be hunger – to learn, to adapt, to be open and to be committed to doing good work and ensuring that customers would be thrilled at what he did for them.

“I had never encountered a business owner who had asked so many questions, who was so inquisitive, and so willing to listen and share ideas.”

His industry is competitive – there are established big players, medium sized operations and a swathe of one man bands that do what he does and have been doing it for longer. It’s the sort of industry where businesses spend a lot of money with Google Adwords brokerages, trying to get ahead. It’s an industry that has solid consumer demand but desires quality, dependable work.

I had never encountered a business owner who had asked so many questions, who was so inquisitive, and so willing to listen and share ideas. We have spoken in the same way for nearly two years now. But every time we talk he will ask my opinion on things he’s heard about or encountered. I ask questions as well. Each time I learned more about what makes a business work, or not. He’s learning it too.

“I’ve watched his business grow – from a rough start up with fliers in mailboxes and a burgeoning online reputation – to a thriving operation with rave reviews, a solid repeat customer base and a growing number of daily enquiries for work.”

He’s made mistakes, been scammed, trusted the wrong people and advice, spent money he would later regret. Importantly, each mistake has been a lesson learned, not regretted. He’s shared most of them with me, often accompanied with belly laughs and incredulity. They always make for good stories.

“He has told me that his online reputation has been one of the most important factors in the wealth of his business.”

I’ve watched his business grow – from a rough start up with fliers in mailboxes and a burgeoning online reputation – to a thriving operation with rave reviews, a solid repeat customer base and a growing number of daily enquiries for work. He can’t keep up with demand and has hired new staff do carry the load. In a little over 18 months he’s built a vibrant, growing business and freely admits that he’s had a lot of fun doing it too. It’s been hard work, he’s lost sleep but he has kept a sense of what he wanted to achieve along the way – not in a dream of wealth or even success but to make money doing something very, very well.

He’s now in a position where he’s ready for a new challenge – he’s going to move overseas with his young family and start something new.

He has told me that his online reputation has been one of the most important factors in the wealth of his business. Using the online word of mouth of past and present customers to attract new ones and to position his business where he wanted to be online, without forking over far too many thousands of dollars on needless, fruitless types of advertising and marketing, has taken him from zero to a market player.

But that’s only happened because he has worked at it – asked for feedback from customers, learned what works in accruing reviews, prioritised feedback as an integral element of his business philosophy.

NoCowboys is New Zealand’s premier online reputation marking platform. To find out how they can help grow your business – email here.