Hard-Earned Wisdom

FW Inc.’s Entrepreneurs of Excellence share the best business lessons they’ve learned in building and selling companies.

By Tony Ford
Ford Leadership Solutions

For the last seven months, I have had the privilege to serve as program director for the 2017 FW Inc. Entrepreneur of Excellence Awards. Like so many things in life, what started out as a simple conversation among friends and fellow entrepreneurs soon took on a life of its own.

It started when publisher Hal Brown and I discovered we were both concerned there was no independently judged, high-level competition designed to recognize the personal achievements, sacrifices and community contributions of Fort Worth’s most excellent private business owners. That glaring deficiency, coupled with the fact that FW Inc. magazine exists to spotlight our community’s top business leaders and their best practices, demanded the creation of the EOE Awards program.

As our leadership team began developing the requirements, technical tools and marketing information necessary to attract Fort Worth’s best entrepreneurs to apply, we were very gratified to discover how positively the business community embraced the program.

Applications started arriving via our online entry portal. Sponsors invited us to share our ideas and generously reciprocated in ways that made the program even more attractive to potential finalists and winners. We contracted with First Preston HT (the same company used by TCU’s Values and Ventures competition) to provide the independent judging process required to maintain fairness and integrity. Twenty local subject expert judges invested many hours in narrowing down the pool of applicants to 29 finalists and 10 winners (to be announced at our EOE Awards Banquet on Jan. 12 at the Fort Worth Club).

Throughout this process, I had the opportunity to visit with many of the judges, sponsors and applicants. As a fellow entrepreneur, I could not resist the temptation to get their opinions on “What kinds of practical wisdom have made you an excellent entrepreneur?”

Here are some of the more “hard-earned” things they learned:

Get out of your own head:

As business owners, we know what we know, but we do not know all there is to know about what is going on around us. By surrounding ourselves with trusted professionals who see our business from different perspectives, we prevent blind spots. In order of significance, build relationships with an experienced coach/mentor, seasoned financial strategist (fractional CFO/accounting firm), peer mentoring group (TAB, EO, C-12), commercial insurance expert, and established local business attorney.

Get past your own past:

We should listen to ourselves when we are talking to employees, customers, vendors or friends retelling war stories. While this may be a type of therapy, it does not help improve our understanding of what is possible. Each of these people has important real-time information they need to share with us.

Get back in touch with market realities:

What has changed in your market, products, competition, and technology? When we seek out people, articles, subject experts, seminars and other reality resources, we will know more, do more and sleep more.

Get real about your actual skills and abilities:

Nobody builds a successful company on their own. The longer we work to grow our companies in relative isolation, the more mentally and physically exhausted we become. Sometimes exhaustion overtakes sound judgment. At times like this, reaching out to other business owners and professionals we respect is a sign of strength and character.

Get success advice from someone who has been successful:

We can respect subject experts who have never started and grown their own successful company as long as they focus on areas that they have actual experience in. Unfortunately, many stray off into giving advice in critical business areas that require actual experience. The first question you should ask a potential business coach or mentor is “please describe the success YOU have had in growing your own company.”

Get growing or get going:

One of the most costly mistakes we make as private business owners is that “we stay too long.” By that, we mean we work so hard for so many years to build our companies and then, right when we should be bringing in an experienced business intermediary to help us harvest our equity through a sale, we just hang on to it while the market around us starts to change (and often decline). This piece of advice really struck a chord with me since I have personally left money on the table by not recognizing it was time to sell one of my companies.

As a coach/strategist, I spend most of my time helping other entrepreneurs find the funds, subject experts and strategies they need to become more successful. Leading the 2017 FW Inc. Entrepreneurs of Excellence Awards program has been instructive and very rewarding.

I hope as you read the profiles of this year’s EOE finalists, you will consider entering next year’s competition. If you would like to know more about the program, please contact me at [email protected] or 817-832-5696.