Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

Some VERY Good Business Advice

For the past year or so I have been contributing articles to a wonderful local business newspaper called the North Central Florida Business Report.  The editor, Kevin Ireland, has become a good friend and as I was reading his “Letter from the Publisher” this month I thought to myself, “Kevin nailed it on this one,” so I asked him if I could please post it on my blog.  Here is a really good article with some great advice on how to be successful in business during these challenging times.

7 Tenets for Business Today 

In the last several years I’ve become a sponge for business publications, consuming a half dozen magazines, eight or 10 daily e-newsletters, a handful of instructional videos and a business book or two each month.

Partly, I’m seeking inspiration for stories we might cover in The Business Report, but even more importantly, I searching for selfish reasons: to ferret out advice that will help me develop a competitive advantage, launch a new product, or simply do what I’m doing now better. 

My search has taken me to the following, which I define as tenets for succeeding in the new economy. 

There is no future for vanilla. This declaration appeared in Thomas Friedman’s “The World Is Flat” six years ago, yet if anything it is truer today than it was then. If you hope to attract consumers who are dealing with a world of outsourcing, budget cuts and $4 a gallon gas, you have to find fresh, creative and more productive ways to operate so you stand out against the competition.

It’s ultimately about people. Curt Hanke, the co-founder of a Wisconsin ad agency, said this in an article about the advertising world, but I think it applies to every business. If you want to be a success these days you darn well better focus on providing special experiences for the people outside your doors (your customers) and the people inside (your employees). Fail in either case and you’re in trouble.

Fortune favors the prepared mind. Louis Pasteur made this observation when colleagues were ridiculing his discovery of pasteurization as luck. As he suggested, and we all should understand, success is based on research, training and hard work more often than on good fortune or instant inspiration.

Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. How many of us write off customer complaints as the raving of cranks? That’s a huge mistake, says Bill Gates in the discussion from which this quote came. We business owners need to understand that the most critical complaints offer the greatest insights into our customers’ attitudes and what we need to fix, Gates says. I’ll add to that advice and suggest we not only should accept criticism, we should seek it out by assembling focus groups or picking an advisory panel to regularly vet our work.

When you’re finished changing, you’re finished. While this comment from Ben Franklin is more than two hundred years old, you’d be hard-pressed to find better guidance by which to operate in 2011. As Franklin makes clear, continual growth is the essence of personal and professional success. Indeed, it’s the motivation for life.  

If you’re going through hell, keep going. There are some days when this quote from Winston Churchill is my personal mantra. Probably yours too. As I read it, Churchill is saying that when things are at their worst, it does no good to stop and fret about your situation. You have to accept, suck it up and continue toward your goals, with faith and optimism—two attributes that all successful businesspeople must have.

Kevin Ireland is editor and publisher of the North Central Florida Business Report, a regional magazine that provides news and advice to help small-business owners and decision-makers improve their businesses.

*** From John: I have a great deal of respect for Kevin, he’s a savvy businessman and a serious student of business excellence, I hope you found his sage advice as valuable as I did.  I look forward to your comments about this article and as always, if you like it please send the link on to anyone else you think would enjoy reading it too.  Thanks – take good care – John Spence


  1. Thanks for sharing, John. Kevin restated some sound principles for moving forward. I continue to embrace the concept that the better the people you seek for your ‘circle’, the better person you have the opportunity to become. I appreciate your abundance…

  2. “Fortune favors the prepared mind” and “If you are going through hell, keep going” rang most true for me, though all are true and sound. I have found that my worst moments only come when I am struggling and stop to wallow in it. Hell is shorter lived when you have momentum, and even shorter still if you read a book from someone who has walked through it before you!

  3. As always very practical and sound tips to keep one aligned to the important stuff. My only comment re the No future for Vanilla is that this should not be confused for becoming fragmented in who we are and what we stand for. Many have lost their way diversifying in these difficult times in the name of just chasing cash or turnover. Tweak it, tinker but stay on the course and as JS would say hold each other rigourously accountable to the BIG Game.

  4. Great article from Kevin Ireland. thank you John for exposing and sharing. NCFBR is a great publication and a valuable source for business owners in our community.


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