Does Your Comfort Zone Matter in Business?
By the age of 22, Frank Abagnale Jr. had successfully impersonated both a surgeon and a lawyer. And as anyone who has seen the film Catch Me If You Can remembers, he didn’t stop there. Now, I don't advocate bank fraud (something else Abagnale excelled at). But I believe there is a lot that entrepreneurs can learn from his story: One thing in particular is that almost anyone can do almost any job.
While Abagnale’s approach might have been extreme, it shows us that even professions that require years of training and onerous qualifications can be condensed down to a core set of skills that can be acquired relatively quickly -- especially when that learning takes place on the job. I think most successful entrepreneurs can relate to this.
I am often asked how I can run a technology company (and be very much involved in product development). This occurs despite the fact that I don’t have a tech background (and have never written a line of code in my life). While many might see gap as a handicap, I don’t. For me, entrepreneurship is about learning rather than exploiting existing knowledge. The best entrepreneurs make their ideas work not because they know they will, but because they are open to learning what they need along the way to enable them to succeed.
So, how do you make sure your business is open to learning, and that you don’t just stick to what you already know? For Receipt Bank, my first step was to employ people who knew more than I did. Even if you the entrepreneur are a relative newcomer to the industry, you must learn quickly and import the required knowledge by surrounding yourself with team members who know the industry and the required roles inside out. This way, you can accelerate your own learning process and avoid some of the common pitfalls.
The second step is to listen to your customers. The people who use your product (or service) on a daily basis are a goldmine of information which, if used correctly, can have a potentially transformative effect on your business. For example, in the early days of Receipt Bank, we processed only receipts, not invoices. It was only when one of our early clients told me that the ability to process invoices would be invaluable to his business that I realized we needed to add that feature.
I spoke to our developers and within three weeks we had added invoice processing -- now one of the key features of the Receipt Bank product. By listening to our customers, we have been able to build a product that they love and need -- and to secure their loyalty in the process.
Finally, the business stays open to learning if you build it in a way that encourages further development. For example, we train our account managers to be as receptive to product feedback as they are to sales: They are not just there to bring clients through the door; their role is equally to build relationships with customers and ensure that those customers are getting the most out of the product. This makes our customers happy and enables us to learn from them.
I firmly believe that if, rather than staying in your comfort zone, you can make learning a core part of your business’s DNA, you will have constant opportunities for improvement and growth. This approach will enable you to spot market trends and changes in customers’ requirements in advance.
And that will enable you to react to those opportunities quickly. In this way, your company will always be relevant to your customers, and you will own the one product or service they can’t live or work without.
Michael Wood is the CEO of Receipt Bank, which offers a productivity tool that helps small businesses take the hassle out of processing invoices and receipts. Users submit their invoices (by post, email or photo app), which then feed straight into cloud accounting software, or can be stored in an Excel file for bookkeepers to use. Four years after launching, the company now has offices in three continents, has been Xero’s number one add-on for two years running, has raised about $15 million in funding and is a multi-award winner.