Thomas Michael's 12 Rules for Business Success

06/17/2024 01:37 AM By Tom
Tom's Rules of Success

I’ve been a lifelong entrepreneur and had certainly had my ups and downs over the last 25 years. I’ve enjoyed many great successes and a lot more failures that I care to admit. Along the way, I've picked up a few nuggets of wisdom—12 to be exact—that I like to think have kept me mostly sane and reasonably successful.

I refer to these 12 thoughts as my Rules for Business Success. They were hard lessons to learn but have always helped me avoid problems and avoid problems down the road. So, without further ado, let's dive into my 12 rules for business success. I promise, there's something in here for everyone, whether you're just starting out or a seasoned pro like me. 

Rule 1: If it starts hard, it ends hard.

This is my number one rule for a reason, and it applies to business and life in general. If you bang your head against the wall on day one, chances are you'll end up with a constant headache by the end.

No matter if you are onboarding a new client, hiring a new team member, or dealing with a new vendor. If it starts hard, it will end hard. For example, early on, when our team grew and we didn’t know much about culture or how to hire properly, we hired people who were late to interviews, didn’t perform well during the interviews, and made onboarding them like pulling teeth. All the warning signs were there, but we hired them anyway. Big mistake, of course, and it ended fast and hard.

Another time we were onboarding a new client. Our early excitement waned quickly when they made unreasonable demands after another. Instead of setting firm boundaries we tried to appease the new client. Big mistake again. In the end, we lost money on this client, they were never satisfied with anything, and we had to let them go.

Lesson learned. If it starts hard, it ends hard.

Rule 2: If you have no assistant, you are the assistant.

Let's be real: trying to do everything yourself is a one-way ticket to Burnoutville. Population: You. Trust me, I've been there. In my early days, I thought I could juggle a million tasks without breaking a sweat. Spoiler alert: I was wrong. Very wrong.

Picture this: it's 8 AM, you're knee-deep in paperwork, emails are piling up, and your phone is ringing off the hook. If you're doing all the admin work, guess what? You're not the boss—you’re the overworked assistant. And probably not even a good one at that.

The turning point for me was when I finally hired my first assistant. Suddenly, I had time to focus on the big picture, strategize, and actually lead my company. It was like night and day. Delegation isn't just a luxury; it's a necessity. Your time is too valuable to be wasted on tasks that someone else can handle faster and better than you. 

Remember, you’re supposed to be steering the ship, not scrubbing the deck.

Rule 3: Nobody likes to be sold to, but everybody likes to shop.

Ah, the delicate art of selling without actually selling. It’s a bit like trying to convince a cat to take a bath—tricky but not impossible. Here’s the thing: people hate feeling pressured, but they love discovering things they actually need (or think they need).

Back when I was pushing SAP training, I learned quickly that hard selling was about as effective as a screen door on a submarine. Nobody wants to hear a sales pitch, but they’re all ears if you show them how your product can make their life easier. It's about creating an environment where customers feel in control and make their own decisions.

Imagine you’re in a bookstore (remember those?). You’re more likely to buy a book if you can browse at your leisure, read a few pages, and see what interests you. The same principle applies to business. Give your customers the space to explore and discover. Highlight the benefits (and not the features) subtly and watch them come to you.

Rule 4: Don't sell. Solve problems.

This one is a follow-on to rule #3. Forget about the sales quotas and commissions for a second. At the heart of every successful transaction is a problem that’s been solved. Your job is not to push a product; it's to offer a solution.

I remember a time when a potential client was ready to walk away because they felt bombarded by sales pitches. Instead of pushing harder, I took a step back and asked, "What's the biggest challenge you're facing right now?" That simple question shifted the entire conversation. Suddenly, I wasn't just another salesperson—I was a problem solver. We ended up closing the deal because I focused on their needs, not my sales target.

When you approach business with a problem-solving mindset, you build trust and credibility. Customers see you as a partner rather than a vendor. It’s a subtle shift but one that makes all the difference. So, put on your detective hat, uncover those pain points, and offer the perfect solution.

Rule 5: Build relationships, not transactions.

If you do well with rule #4, this rule comes next. In the grand bazaar of business, getting caught up in the whirlwind of deals, contracts, and bottom lines is easy. But here’s a little secret: transactions are fleeting; relationships are forever.

Early in my career, I treated every client interaction as a means to an end—a transaction. It wasn’t long before I realized that this approach was not getting us ahead. I started focusing on building genuine relationships, and guess what? The transactions followed naturally. Clients became partners, deals turned into collaborations, and business started to feel a lot less transactional and a lot more meaningful.

Building relationships means taking the time to understand your clients' needs, interests, and long-term goals. It’s about showing genuine interest and empathy. When you prioritize relationships over transactions, you create a loyal customer base that sees you as a trusted advisor rather than just another vendor. And that, my friends, is priceless.

Rule 6: Quality over quantity. Less really is more.

Ah, the age-old debate: quality vs. quantity. Let me settle it for you right here: quality wins. Every. Single. Time. Standing out means offering something exceptional in a world overflowing with options.

Back when I was running Michael Management Corporation, we focused on delivering top-notch SAP training courses. It wasn't about cramming in as many courses as possible; it was about making each one the best it could be. Sure, we could have expanded our catalog quickly, but at what cost? Instead, we chose to invest in the quality of our content, and it paid off. Our customers recognized and appreciated the difference, and our reputation soared.

It's tempting to think that more is better, but in reality, less can be so much more. By focusing on quality, you build trust and create lasting value. Whether it's a product, a service, or even a business relationship, prioritize excellence over excess. Your clients, and your bottom line, will thank you for it.

Rule 7: Delegate responsibilities, not tasks.

Here’s a nugget of wisdom that took me far too long to grasp: delegation is more than just offloading tasks. It’s about entrusting others with real responsibilities and giving them the ownership to succeed—or fail—on their own terms.

In the early days of my career, I was the quintessential control freak. I micromanaged every little detail, thinking that was the way to ensure perfection. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. My team was frustrated, I was exhausted, and our productivity was in the tank. The turning point came when I realized I needed to delegate responsibilities, not just tasks. I started trusting my team with entire projects, giving them the autonomy to make decisions and learn from their mistakes.

The difference was night and day. Not only did it lighten my load, but it also empowered my team. They felt more invested, more capable, and more motivated. When you delegate responsibilities, you’re not just handing off work; you’re fostering growth and innovation within your team. It’s a win-win.

Rule 8: You are the product of the people you surround yourself with.

Ever heard the saying, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”? It’s not just a catchy phrase; it’s the hard truth. Your circle influences your mindset, your decisions, and, ultimately, your success.

In my career, I’ve had the privilege (and occasional misfortune) of working with a wide variety of people. The lesson? Surround yourself with go-getters, innovators, and positive thinkers. They will lift you up, challenge you, and push you to be your best. On the flip side, if you’re constantly around naysayers and slackers, well, don’t be surprised if you find yourself stuck in a rut.

One of my early mentors was a brilliant, albeit slightly eccentric, entrepreneur. His enthusiasm was infectious, and his ability to see opportunities where others saw obstacles was inspiring. Being around him changed the way I approached problems and opportunities. I learned to think bigger, aim higher, and embrace the occasional craziness of the entrepreneurial journey.

So, take a good look at your inner circle. Are they pushing you towards greatness or holding you back? Choose wisely, because their influence is more significant than you might realize.

Rule 9: Embrace change or die like the dinosaurs.

Um, the dinosaurs didn’t really have a chance to adapt to change, but you get what I mean. If you’re not willing to adapt, you’ll be left behind faster than you can say “meteor strike.”

I’ve seen it happen time and time again. Companies that were once industry leaders got too comfortable and resistant to change, only to find themselves obsolete when new technologies or market trends emerged (remember Yahoo?).

When I founded Michael Management Corporation, we constantly evolved our offerings based on the latest SAP training and technology trends. It wasn’t always easy, and it sometimes felt like we were chasing a moving target. But staying adaptable and open to change kept us ahead of the curve and ensured our long-term success.

The moral of the story? Don’t be a dinosaur. Embrace change, seek out new opportunities, and be willing to pivot when necessary. Failure is part of this process, of course. Your ability to adapt is what will keep you thriving in an ever-evolving business landscape.

Rule 10: Customer retention trumps customer acquisition.

Acquiring new customers is like dating—exciting, full of potential, and sometimes a little nerve-wracking. But retaining customers? That’s like a long, happy marriage. It’s where the real magic happens.

When I started Michael Management Corporation, I was obsessed with bringing in new clients. Don’t get me wrong, new business is great, but it’s the repeat customers that kept us afloat and thriving. Think about it: acquiring a new customer can cost five times more than retaining an existing one. Plus, repeat customers are more likely to spend more and refer others to your business.

Once, we had a client who was on the fence about renewing their contract. Instead of launching into a hard sell, we focused on addressing their concerns and showing them the value we had provided over the past year and the milestones they had achieved. Not only did they renew, but they also increased their engagement with our services.

The key to retention is to exceed expectations consistently. Provide exceptional customer service, stay engaged, and ensure your clients know you value them. Remember, keeping a customer is easier (and cheaper) than finding a new one.

Rule 11: Success is not a destination but a journey.

Here’s the thing about success: it’s not a one-time event. You don’t just reach it, plant your flag, and call it a day. Success is a continuous journey, filled with twists, turns, and a whole lot of learning along the way.

In my 25+ years in the business world, I’ve had my share of wins and losses. I founded and sold a successful company, but I’ve also faced my fair share of setbacks. What I’ve learned is that success is not a final destination. It’s about the journey, the experiences, and the growth that happens along the way.

Take, for example, the time when we launched a new training platform at Michael Management Corporation. It was a huge success, but that didn’t mean we could sit back and relax. We kept innovating, improving, and adapting. Each milestone was a step in the journey, not the end of it.

Celebrate your victories, but don’t get too comfortable. Keep pushing, keep striving, and keep growing. Enjoy the journey, because that’s where the real success lies.

Rule 12: Work to live.

Last but certainly not least, let’s talk about balance. Work is important—no doubt about it—but it shouldn’t consume your entire life. The whole point of working hard is to enjoy the fruits of your labor. So, remember to work to live, not live to work.

When I sold Michael Management Corporation, it was a monumental milestone in my career. But it didn’t mean I would just kick back and relax forever. Now, I work on our growing portfolio of SaaS companies under the Tomco Capital umbrella. But here’s the kicker—I also make sure to stop and smell the proverbial roses.

These days, I make time for fun activities. I’m a drummer (sorry, neighbors!), which is a fantastic way to blow off steam. I also dabble in gin-making at Tom's Spirits. It’s a fun venture, even if it’s hardly profitable. And then there’s my passion for travel. I travel like it’s my job, exploring new places and cultures, which keeps me inspired and grounded.

Balancing work and play isn’t just important; it’s essential. Your work should enhance your life, not take it over. So, work hard, but make sure to play harder. After all, what’s the point of all that success if you don’t get to enjoy it?

Final Thoughts

And there you have it—Thomas Michael's 12 rules for business success. These rules are more than just catchy phrases; they’re hard-earned lessons from years of navigating the business world. Whether you’re just starting out or you're a seasoned pro, these principles can help guide you toward a more successful and fulfilling career.

Remember, it’s not about the destination but the journey. Surround yourself with the right people, embrace change, and focus on building meaningful relationships. Delegate wisely, prioritize quality over quantity, and always solve problems instead of just making sales. Keep your customers close, enjoy the process, and, most importantly, make sure you’re living life to the fullest. And for god’s sake, remember this: If it starts hard, it ends hard.

So, get out there and apply these rules in your own business endeavors. Who knows? Maybe one day you’ll be sharing your own rules for success. And if you ever need a reminder to balance work and play, just think of me—drumming away, crafting gin, and exploring the world, all while growing a portfolio of promising SaaS companies. Here’s to your journey and all the success that comes with it!