My Biggest Mistake...And How I Fixed It

By Andy Birol, as told to  Plain Dealer reporter Marcia Pledger
May 17, 2004

I started my business when I had a defining point of losing my job as vice president of sales and marketing at an information services company. At the same time my 6-month-old baby girl was hospitalized for about a month with a potentially fatal illness. I started my growth consulting business in the hospital when I said to myself and aloud, "Nobody will ever do this to me again."

Now I work exclusively with business owners helping them to either build their businesses faster or return to growth. I also help with transitioning businesses from parents to children or from owners to professional management. I've been the only individual on the Weatherhead 100 list of fastest-growing companies in Northeast Ohio for the last two years. And I know I'll make the list again because I've just completed a record year.

But my business didn't start out this way. Like most entrepreneurs leaving corporate jobs, I relied on family and friends to build my business. One year into the business, I was hit with a double whammy. Number one, I ran out of friends and family. Secondly, 92 percent of my business was with one client - that I lost.

My biggest mistake was not doing what I tell my clients to do, which is selling, delivering and developing at the same time. I was spending most of my time selling work and delivering on the work I sold. But I was not developing my business.

An owner would hire me, and I'd spend time interviewing their employees and customers to develop strategies to build their business. But I failed to focus on developing my own business.

I was terrified. I realized I had to start using the same skills and methods I was applying to other businesses to my own. Basically, I had to start running my business like a big company, even though I'm the only person in it.

The first thing I did was invest in technology. I built a Web site and loaded it with valuable information. The idea was to give away proof of my expertise. The site started attracting business owners who began to think, what could he do if he focused on my business?

The next thing I did was re-engineer my image around a professionally designed tag line and logo. Then I started a monthly newsletter. I started collecting business cards, asking people if I could e-mail them my newsletter.

The newsletters contain tips about how businesses can grow, and it regularly features case studies about my clients. The key is that it's not promotional.

The more people started reading about my thinking and the local businesses that I helped, the more my business grew. That got me lots of invitations to speak and write. And I self-published a book, called "Focus, Accomplish, Grow," and I'm in the midst of another.

Another thing that made a difference was asking clients if I could list them on my site with testimonials. Chances are business owners recognize someone.

I've positioned myself as an expert on growth. The stronger my business gets, the more I can help develop my clients' businesses.

I coined the term "Best and Highest Use," which means focusing on what your company likes doing and what it's good at doing. For me it was advising owners, as opposed to working for an owner. Never again will I neglect the "developing" part of the equation to sustained growth.

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Birol Growth Consulting, LLC
 941 Penn Ave, Suite 201, Pittsburgh, PA 15222
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