Doing what you love and turning a profit is the dream of entrepreneurs and business owners everywhere. But not all businesses are alike. Service-based businesses, for example, have their own unique challenges. Being successful may look different from these business leaders’ perspectives. That’s why I set out to interview several CEOs to find out what you need to know to “create a successful service-based business.”
On the surface, success for service-oriented companies seems simple—give great service! That is, of course, an important part of the equation. But it’s not the only part. In fact, providing great service comes from a solid foundation of good business principles. In this blog, I’ll share snippets of the most common themes of what these business leaders feel are key to building that basis for a successful company.
Invest in people.
People are one of your business’s greatest assets. Employees are the lifeblood of your daily operations. And when it comes to a service-based industry, they can make or break you. Their daily interactions with customers are crucial and can have profound effects on the success or failure of your business.
- Employees are on the front line. “In a service business, your employees are the face of your business. If they are treated well, perhaps they’ll treat your customers better. They will know how you make them feel; appreciated, valued, and trusted and they are more likely to do the same with your customers.” Wade Brannon of Pigtails & Crewcuts
- Hire the right people. Antonia Hock, the global head of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center, believes that “To build a phenomenal business, you must take the time to hire people who believe in the mission, are likable, and have a passion for service. They must have the intellectual horsepower, work ethic, and integrity to deliver at scale. Hiring the wrong people will destroy the business from the inside out.”
- Bring in the best candidates. “You’ve got to recruit the best of the best candidates that you can at your stage.” Eytan Bensoussan, CEO of NorthOne
- Hire employees who are aligned to your mission. Advice from Tim Spiegelglass of Spiegelglass Construction Company confirmed that hiring the right people is key. “Hire people who share your values. It’s impossible to be in 20 places at the same time. Hire people who you trust to take care of your business and your clients. And be sure you are also taking care of them.”
- Care about them. “Care deeply about the people you lead and they will care deeply about the people they lead,” says Joel Thomas of Stratos Jet Charters.
- Service-oriented employees. “The right people. Providing the right service, once you clearly understand what that needs to be for your business and your clients, comes down to people doing it and doing it with conviction. People can be taught technical skills. But people come pre-wired (or not) capable of and desiring to serve others.” Jeff Brunken, President of MGIS
- Reserve team members. “Your people are your profit engine. So, you need to have backup and overflow team members in case you lose one to a competitor or need to expand quickly.” Jonathan Maxim, Managing Director at K&J Growth Hackers
Be the best in the business and stand out.
Standing out among your competitors is key to every type of business and industry. Doing something really well to beat out your competition will keep you growing. Just like most industries, in service-based businesses, it’s crucial to attract and maintain existing customers. To do this, you need to raise the bar and give them something to come back for again and again. It’s not trying your best; it’s about doing your best.
- Best job possible. “No matter what service you’re offering, your focus should be on doing the best job possible. Many service-based businesses prioritize sales and acquisition over doing good work for their existing clients. This is a mistake. Focus your team’s time on doing superior work for existing clients, and new clients will often flow through referrals.” Nico Hodel of Start It Up NYC
- Be really good at it! “You can love what you do and make great money, but if you’re not really good at it, eventually people won’t come to you because they’ll go to the person that is better at your “thing” than you are.” Abby Sparks, CEO and Founder of Abby Sparks Jewelry
- Create a high standard. “Creating high standards of customer service may be more expensive at first but in the long run the investment always pays off.” George Birrell, Founder of Taxhub
- Stand apart from the crowd. “There are a million services firms, the only real way to stand out is to stand apart. Analyze your purpose as a business and live it fully in every choice you make. Don’t try to be like everyone else, you’ll blend into the landscape.” Zack Zalon, CEO of Super Hi-Fi
- Differentiate yourself. “In services, you must be ruthlessly honest about your position in the market. Are you offering a highly differentiated, important service that your clients cannot get from any other firm? Can you tell that story from a client point-of-view in less than 90 seconds? Be honest and think hard about the answers to those questions. If they aren’t clear, crisp, and specific, you will struggle to survive.” Antonia Hock, global head of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center
According to one Forbes article, 13 Habits of Humble People, a study with 1,000 participants (200 of which were leaders) “revealed that companies with humble people in leadership positions had a more engaged workforce and less employee turnover.” It’s important not to confuse being humble with being insecure or passive. It’s the opposite. Humble people are confident in themselves and their abilities. But they don’t dwell or boast about what they have accomplished and focus outwardly.
- “Show humility. Be humble in what you create and show your customers that you are as passionate as they are.” Eytan Bensoussan, CEO of NorthOne
- Give others credit due. “be humble. The team is building client success project by project. They are doing some heavy lifting. You are there to support, clear the path, provide air cover, and make sure everyone flies in formation. Always give the credit to your team for the work and be prepared to always take the body-shots on their behalf.” Antonia Hock, global head of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center
- Be receptive to feedback. “if you’re not humble, you’re not going to be able to listen and be receptive to what customers want. You have to know that you aren’t always going to have the answers, and you have to be constantly and eagerly seeking feedback, even if it is bad. At the end of the day, services businesses are serving their customers, not the other way around.” Ryan McInnis, CEO of Picnic Tax
- It’s not just about you. “it can be really easy to sit back and say I did this. It was all me, but that would be the biggest lie of the century. So many people have sacrificed time and energy to help me achieve what I have. Team members have come alongside me and helped us grow this company. It’s not about you; it’s about the organization.” Justin Goodbread of FinanciallySimple.com
Be passionate about your business.
This may sound like a no-brainer, but it cannot be stressed enough. Having the energy and motivation to be and stay in business takes a lot of drive and determination. Your passion and love for the business is one of the most powerful reasons for employees and customers to love it too.
- Gotta love it (relationships are everything)! “Service-based businesses are hard, so you have to love it. When you’re supplying services of any kind, you don’t really own anything except your relationships, and you effectively start from zero every year.” This is the number one piece of advice from Zack Zalon, CEO of Super Hi-Fi.
- Without passion, you won’t reach your potential. Darrin Giglio, CEO of North American Investigations said it very succinctly, “Without passion of wanting to wake up every day and give it your all, in my opinion, even if you are successful, you will not reach the potential of success you can experience.”
- Stay passionate. “Show hunger for what you do. Never stop reading and learning about your passion. Nike is a great example of a company with an insane hunger to be the absolute best. Show your competition every time that you’re the best and an innovator in the space.” Eytan Bensoussan, CEO of NorthOne
Invest in technology.
Staying ahead of the competitive curve means striving to reach new heights and leaving competitors behind to catch up. It means optimizing your services to give your customers the best possible experience of doing business with you.
- “Embrace technology or fail. Technology is a force-multiplier for service people. Embrace tools like marketing automation to create better customer communication experiences or intelligent data analysis to better anticipate the needs of customers.” Freddie Laker, Founding Partner of Chameleon Collective
“Innovate and adapt to and with new technologies. WIN’s story of persistence in the market and the need that has evolved was partly luck and the other part was good planning.” Peter Nieves of WINFertility
- Optimize your processes. “Services businesses thrive on operational efficiency and optimization. The systems, processes, and infrastructure needed to run an effective business may not be glamorous, but they are a mandate to run a profitable services business. Invest in process optimization and grow an operations team that is passionate about wringing any inefficiency out of the system.” Antonia Hock, global head of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center
Know yourself and be authentic.
To be successful, it’s important to know who you are and what you represent. Handling a business requires that you know your strengths and your weaknesses to deal with the stresses of a daily operation. This is especially true when dealing directly with customers. Your genuine business accountability is connected to you being truthful about what it means to you.
- Know what you want. Grant Aldrich of OnlineDegree said it best, “Know yourself and what you want out of life (if you hate sales, don’t do it). Be yourself – authentic.”
- Be who they’ll remember. “Be yourself, so that businesses think only of you when they have a problem that they’ll know only you can solve.” Zack Zalon, CEO of Super Hi-Fi
For some, listening can be difficult when you’re leading a company. But you won’t be able to solve problems unless you listen.
- “Be Responsive and Become a Good Listener: Make an effort to respond to your clients’ inquiries as quickly and cordially as you can. In reality, for many clients you will be regarded as more than a service provider. Many clients will see you as a sounding board, guide, and confidant. Clients are people, and they have emotional needs just as they have business needs. Running a service-based business means understanding that reality.” Nico Hodel of Start It Up NYC
- Take the feedback/advice. “Listen– You have two ears and one mouth for a reason. You are here to service your clients and customers the best you can. If they are offering you advice or feedback take it and thank them. It will only make you better!” Kim Kaupe, CEO, The Superfan Company
Many of these recommendations from service-based company leaders hold true for other types of industries as well. Learn more about what these and other CEOs have to say.