Levi King is the founder of Nav (formerly Creditera), which is dedicated to guiding business owners on business credit scores and the complex world of financing a business. But, this venture it isn’t his first rodeo. Having successfully founded seven businesses in areas ranging from manufacturing to technology -- plus investing in a host of others -- he’s learned some compelling lessons along the way.
As a client of mine (disclosure: I do have a paid financial relationship with his company), I have been lucky to hear some of Levi’s best advice. Here are six of his most powerful lessons that can benefit other entrepreneurs.
1. Do what others aren’t willing to do.
He’s not the first to say it, but Levi knows first-hand that one of the keys to entrepreneurial success is being willing and able to do what others won’t do. One example came from his former manufacturing business, where he found that his greatest success in gaining new customers was from cold calls. Levi hated making those calls, but he knew that if he spent the majority of his time doing them, he would not only get better at them, but garner more business.
Many entrepreneurs might stop after a few calls or drag them out over long periods of time instead of focusing on them in every spare minute or instead of pursuing business minutiae that doesn’t add value. If you want to be successful, you have to get out of your comfort zone and relentlessly pursue the types of activities that lead to growth.
2. Don’t take it personally.
Another lesson from his cold calling days was not to take it personally when someone didn’t return a call. Levi’s strategy was to keep track of his calls and reference the number on the voice mail. He had one prospect he called 92 times. Each time, he said something along the lines of, “It’s Levi King and this is the XXth voicemail I have left, and I want to get a hold of you because I believe that I can be helpful to you,” keeping the messaging positive.
He didn’t take it personally when people didn’t return his calls -- they were just busy. When he met the man he called 92 times at a trade show, the gentleman joked that he was going to punch him for leaving so many voicemails. However, he then acknowledged that he knew who Levi was, and he hadn’t returned the call only because he was waiting on a budget decision. That persistence and positive attitude helped Levi stay focused on sales, instead of letting his ego hold him back.
3. Experience the pain, then train.
Getting out of your comfort zone can be challenging as being an entrepreneur and creates the desire to delegate that task to someone else. However, Levi says that you should never delegate a task until you have experienced the pain of the task yourself.
Taking a “feel the pain, then train” strategy means that you will know exactly what the opportunities and pitfalls are of that particular task. Then, you can use your passion for the business and knowledge of the tasks together to be more effective at training an employee. Without the firsthand knowledge, you won’t get the most out of your employees, especially in areas like sales.
4. Hire hidden gems.
Levi says that many companies are inclined to hire those with fancy resumes that use big buzzwords and have top-tier educations. But, he advocates that you don’t rule out the underdogs. “They have something to prove,” he said. He also says that those types often have to start somewhere else and ultimately go find their passion by switching roles, so keep an eye out for those who know what they want and are hungry.
He also advocates looking beyond the first interview. “Interviewing is a skill,” he says, which doesn’t translate into whether that person will be a good employee. “People who are nervous in a first interview might be able to be better evaluated in a second interview when they are more relaxed,” Levi suggests. He also says to take them on an office tour and ask your interview questions more causally as you walk.
That will put people’s guard down, and you can often make better judgments.
He does warn to beware of people who switch jobs frequently. Once is ok, twice maybe if they have a long history, but those that leave every nine months should raise a red flag, no matter how stellar their explanation.
5. Embrace that there are at least 20 right ways to do something.
As opposed to quickly getting rid of the tasks that are outside of their comfort zone, most entrepreneurs have a hard time delegating the things that they like to do or are good at, believing that nobody can do these tasks as well as they can.
But, this unwillingness to delegate over time creates a cap to growth. Levi says that you have to embrace that there are “at least 20 right ways to do something and around three wrong ways.” If someone is not actually doing it one of the three wrong ways, then it’s right; it’s just a different method than you would have picked. Getting comfortable with that notion will allow entrepreneurs to ultimately focus on the strategy and growth of the business.
6. Know how others see you.
Levi’s biggest lesson came at an early age, when he had a falling out with a co-founder over his spur-of-the-moment firing of an employee. This led to them implementing 360-degree reviews, where all team members gave anonymous feedback. To Levi’s surprise, his team viewed him differently than he viewed himself, giving him strong marks where he thought he was weak -- and vice versa.
That led to a realization that other people’s reality is reality in business.
He advocates finding out how others view you as a leader and also how they view your company and not getting defensive -- but rather using that as a way to realign how you communicate and do business.
Having had to get out of my own comfort zone a number of times (including transitioning from investment banker to TV and radio host) and being particular myself about the way things get done, I know firsthand how valuable this advice can be. I hope you will consider doing things differently like Levi suggests above as a way to grow yourself -- and your business.