Why Business Owners Should Never Be Happy

Every successful company is a work in progress, so your pursuit of better performance needs to be relentless.

By Mark Stevens

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Let's say you are quite happy and content with the state of your business.

Sorry, but I'm disappointed to hear that. Not because I don't like good news but because I know an insipient problem when I see one. The hard truth is you should never be "happy and content" with the state of your business simply because every successful enterprise must be a perpetual work in progress. You -- the entrepreneur, the owner and manager in chief -- must be restless in pursuit of ever-higher levels of performance.

I used to visit a client -- a chief executive of a major enterprise who started out as a man with a dream and $30,000 home-equity loan and built his company into a juggernaut. On his desk was a sign that read for all to see:

The Boss Is Not Happy!

This was his way of declaring war first on himself and second on everyone who worked on his team. It was not destructive, mean spirited or evil. It was instead a perpetual battle against the cancer of complacency that can and will inevitably set in when the leader gets "happy and content" with the state of her business.

To build profitable, proud, innovative and truly productive businesses that meet the ultimate test of being scalable and sustainable, we all must declare war on ourselves now. And not let our guard down.

What to do? I suggest the following actions:

Stop asking if your customers/clients are satisfied. Satisfied customers are easy prey for aggressive competitors. We have to raise the bar, shooting for a new standard: Thrilling the people we serve. When you are thrilled you are a customer for life.

Get out of the office and into the field. Do the "dirty work" now and then because it's not really "dirty" to get behind the grill and cook a burger, show a guest to a room, answer the phones when the public calls. When Charles Revson was building Revlon into a powerhouse, he would allocate part of his time manning the customer complaint line. We wanted a clear, undiluted sense of how the company was pleasing, or failing to do so, the women who spent money on his products.

Of course you have to spend most of your time making leadership decisions, but if you watch Undercover CEO, you will see that every time the boss goes out and does what she used to think was below her, she comes away with a powerful epiphany.

Terminate anyone on your payroll you have warned about their subpar performance, but you have failed to cut the cord because you don't want to be disliked or you feel sorry for them. You're not engaged in a popularity contest and furthermore making an exception for one slacker is a slippery slope that almost always leads to a systemic problem: a "can't do" culture. Try taking that to the bank.

Give yourself a pay cut any year the company underperforms. You need to feel the pain too. Sitting alone in an isolated bubble of generous compensation removes the hunger, the drive, the rubber hits the road mindset that keeps companies alive, agile and vital in spite of the inevitable challenges they will face.

Try something you always thought was wrong or inappropriate for your business. As entrepreneurs, we can sell ourselves a bill of goods that is pure nonsense.

For the first 14 years of my company's evolution, I refused to advertise, thinking that public relations, social media and referrals were the only way to go. But after a TV appearance where I suggested to the viewers that they try something new, I took a shot at radio advertising. I declared war on my own closemindedness.

That first $12,000 flight produced $230,000. Now advertising is a mainstay of our marketing and I have tripled down, investing $30,000 per month, and I am now preparing to double that.

Mark Stevens

Mark Stevens is the CEO of MSCO, a management and marketing firm based in New York, and the author of Your Marketing Sucks and God Is a Salesman. He's a regular media commentator on business matters including marketing, management and sales. He's also the author of the marketing blog, Unconventional Thinking.

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