Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

Lessons from Four VERY Successful Business Owners

I have just returned to my desk from an absolutely fantastic event hosted by my local Chamber of Commerce which featured four of our area’s most accomplished and respected business leaders talking about how to build a great company.  The companies that were featured were all relatively small businesses, yet three of the four competed on a national and even global scale.  Two of the owners were in their early 20s – the other two in their late 30s.  All four were incredibly bright, talented and successful business leaders.

The format was basically an hour-long Q&A and here are some of the big takeaways I wrote down from these wonderfully thoughtful business owners:

  • Most people can keep their job only giving about 80% of their effort – how do you get the last 20%?  In our company it comes down to being part of a team, feeling truly valued and genuinely appreciated — and measuring people’s performance carefully so that we can show them exactly how to be successful.
  • The key to motivation is autonomy – mastery – purpose.  Let people have the freedom and flexibility to go out and do their job well, hire people who are focused on their craft and dedicated to mastery, and show them that their work has some greater purpose other than just earning a paycheck.
  • A core element of a successful culture is creating a “family” atmosphere where people in the organization know that the other folks around them are truly interested in them, care about them as an individual and see them as important and valuable.


Another thing that emerged during the Q&A was the idea of hiring the right people at the beginning of the process.  As several of the business owners pointed out: I can teach someone to code, or how to develop a new type of app, or how to run a certain kind of program – but I can’t teach them to be a good person who is self-motivated and honest.

I love this quote: “Creating a business plan is invaluable – but most plans are useless.”  There is pure genius in that statement!

Lastly, they asked each of the folks on the panel what was something they had to learn in business the hard way – something they wish they knew before they had gotten started.  The answers were:

  • Focus – it is extremely important to know what to say “No” to.
  • Be a student of learning – constantly be striving for personal and professional growth.
  • Implementation is critical – it’s easy to come up with lots of good ideas, but it is very difficult to turn those ideas into products, services and revenue.
  • Learn to delegate – you can’t do it all yourself.  Hire really great people, give them clear direction, and then give them the freedom to take the business forward on their own.

 I read a lot of business books, and attend many, many business seminars each year – the advice from this panel was absolutely superb.  I hope you found their words of wisdom as helpful as I did.


  1. Stacia Madden says:

    John – Great summary! Your insight on the insights of others is always something I look forward to. Thanks for making Gainesville such a terrific hub for business learning!

    A few things I picked up during the panel discussion:
    – Innovation doesn’t just happen with a big bang idea, but often occurs after progressing through a series of small improvement ideas.
    – Be careful not to get lost in the type of medium (twitter/facebook…) and continue to focus on the meaning and reason for the message. There is no “perfect” communication medium, and all should be used as a tool not a distraction.
    – With advertising, consider the emotional attachment that could be made to your product/service when the ad is viewed. (Want fun/happy response: place your logo on shot glasses, so it’s seen when folks are having fun.)

    • Excellent comments Stacia –thank you so much for lending your voice to this discussion – like you I am extremely excited about the future potential of Gainesville and all of the businesses here. Glad you found my comments useful – take good care – see you soon – John

  2. Great, laser-focus wisdom. Your thought leadership always challenges me to continually learn and stretch.

  3. John – I was particularly impressed Josh from GrooveShark who has an emphasis on building an effective “environment of collaboration” – and how that feeds into employee motivation.

    It is also worth mentioning that all four of these companies has developed a culture of giving back to their respective communities. Kristen from Student Maid makes it a job requirement!

    I thoroughly enjoyed the whole event – congrats to the Chamber for delivering such great content.

    Herb Jones
    Founder and Chief Marketing Evangelist
    Online Potential inc – a Gainesville Internet Advertising and Marketing Lab

  4. John:
    Thanks for summarizing and sharing your learnings with us.
    The quote you loved reminded me of a similar one I heard several months ago that has stuck with me:
    “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” – General Dwight D. Eisenhower
    Take care,
    Ginny Schlosser
    Business Coach

  5. David Weisselberger says:


    Your blogs are always right on. It had been a since while I was able to use a computer and yet every time I search for your newest post, it never ceases to teach me something valuable. I am not a business man yet but this is wisdom for the future!

    hope all is well,