Recently I went on a trip to Portland to meet with Ziba, a design firm that was founded over 30 years ago. I’ve been running my development studio JAKT for almost four years now, and I thought I’d been in business a decent amount of time. Visiting Ziba made me remember that I’m just at the start of the journey.
On my visit I was keen to learn more about what enabled Ziba to be successful over such a long period because any firm that lasts more than 30 years is doing something right. Over the couple days I was there, I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with Ziba’s founder. Here’s a few things I took away with me on what it takes to build a long-term business that can outlast the original founder.
Culture is the foundation.
A business that does not have a great culture founded on strong values will not last. A culture is what survives over time, past when the original founder started the company. Look at any great company that has been around for a long time and you will find a great culture. As a founder, it is your job to instill a great culture and values into your company. This is what will help get your business through the tough times and help build a lasting company.
People are the most important asset to your business. You must make the people in your company the first priority. You can’t run a business on your own (unless you are a freelancer or solopreneur). You must treat everyone in your company right. In turn, they will treat each other and ultimately your clients well. It all flows from the top. Be a person and actually take the time to get to know each person in your company. Learn about their lives, what they do in their free time, about their significant others, their life goals.
And don’t do this because you think you need to. People will see through this. You have to do it because you genuinely believe it’s how others should be treated. If you remember to always put people first, you will build a solid foundation of people in your company.
Treat every client as your only client.
Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of this when running a business. When you start out, your first client means everything to you and you do everything to keep them happy. And by keeping them happy, they continue to come back to you for more work, even possibly referring others to you. An important point to always keep in mind is that the cost to acquire a new customer is always higher than an existing customer who comes back for repeat business. But sometimes as you grow, you can lose sight of that. You get a lot of clients and your attention to each one isn’t as great. And then your clients don’t come back as often as they used to for work. Don’t make this mistake. As a business, your reputation means everything. If you have happy clients, they will continue to come back to you for more work. They will also then refer others to your business.