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15 Lessons from 15 Years of Business by Tom Abbott

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Tom Abbott wears many hats. He juggles the roles of founder, sales trainer and motivational speaker at SOCO/ Sales Training, an award-winning sales optimisation company, and is also a regular contributor to the Singapore Business Review and Singapore Marketer. Having penned two books on sales – The SOHO Solution and Social Selling – Tom is also an accomplished author.

15 is the magic number for Tom. A LinkedIn notification congratulating his 15 years at SOCO inspired him to commemorate the first 15 years of his business by reflecting on the lessons he had learnt over the years. He consolidates these 15 key lessons in his Arcadier Inspire summit talk.

You don’t need to be perfect to get started, you just need to get started

Many startups are plagued by analysis paralysis. In their quest to create that perfect product, they plan and ponder excessively, until they have lost their chance. Tom says, “Where you’re at right now is where you ought to be.” Rather than wasting your chances by chasing elusive perfection, start now. It’s alright if your product is imperfect. Think of its flaws as areas of improvement and make it better.

Be in the right place at the right time with the right attitude

According to Tom, “Luck is where opportunity meets preparation”. The most important thing is to be ready and deliver value. When Tom first landed in Singapore, he was a stranger in a foreign land. With no connections whatsoever, he started from scratch and searched for networking events to get to know the local entrepreneurs.

During his first talk in Singapore, Tom spoke to an audience of merely seven people. Nevertheless, he impressed them with his presentation skills and nabbed an invitation to speak at the SME centre at the Singapore-Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry. From there onwards, it was as if the door of opportunities had opened for him. Slowly but steadily, he started to make himself known in the industry. And now, he is one of the most distinguished sales speakers in Singapore. It goes to show that it’s all about being ready to take that first step.

Deliver on your promises. Most people deliver excuses

Instead of focusing on the problem and delivering excuses, focus on the solution and deliver promises. Most people tend to overpromise and underdeliver. Instead, underpromise and overdeliver.

Be honest with customers. Be ethical towards them and make sure that you always give them full disclosure. Doing so will allow you to manage their expectations and gain some brownie points too.

Tom points out giving the bare minimum is not enough. Satisfied customers are not repeat customers. At the very least, you need to deliver on your promises to convert them into loyal customers.

Focus on long-term dreams especially during short-term nightmares

The road to accomplishing your dream is rocky, and a boulder or two tumbling across your path may just be the last straw for you. Even so, remember that you need “a lot of short-term pain to get long-term gain”. During those bleak moments, remind yourself of your ultimate goal, the fuel that gets your fire going and don’t give up.

However, don’t conflate plain stubbornness with perseverance. Tom offers some wise words of advice, “Never give up on your dreams but sometimes give up on a strategy.” You may need to adjust your plan but don’t ever give up on your dreams.

Always change what isn’t working

People can get overly attached to their own idea and end up being resistant to change. Always remember, if it’s not working, there’s no reason to stick to it. Instead, listen to feedback from your customers and try something different. Tom points out, “You need to make your own company obsolete. Don’t wait for the competition to do it.” In this fast-paced world, if you lag behind, you’ll end up bowing out in no time.

Never change what is working

On the other hand, never change what is working. As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. Balancing necessary changes and retaining existing practices can be a huge challenge. In times of confusion, Tom recommends asking yourself, “What did we do well that we stopped doing?”

You’re not as great as you think you are. Be humble

What does your business run on? People. Be it customers or employees, you’re always going to have to deal with people. Maintain a humble attitude and treat them well. Tom warns, “Be careful how you treat people on your way up because you may meet them on your way down.” Kindness begets kindness. Treat people well and they will help you too.

You’re not as bad as you think you are. Be proud

Although humility is an important trait, it is just as important to take pride in yourself. Be proud of your achievements and build up your self-confidence. As Tom says, “Don’t settle, but be proud and acknowledge what you’ve done.”

Take pointers from other people. Tom visualises what a world-class speaker would look like and what value they would deliver to guide himself. Similarly, look for role models as a reference point for the standard that you ought to hold yourself to.

Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness

Many entrepreneurs, especially founders, tend to feel that they “need to have all the answers.” They may be the pillar of the company in its infancy, but if you refuse to ask for help, you will end up inhibiting your company’s growth. Understand your weaknesses and ask for help if needed. It’s not a one-man show.

There’s no such thing as a self-made person

Following up on the previous lesson, there’s no such thing as a self-made person. Behind every successful entrepreneur is a great team. Appreciate your team and be grateful for them.

Your customers put food on your table

Working in customer service is often perceived as a nightmare. True, dealing with customers can be annoying at times, “but don’t let it derail you from your long-term dream”. Your customers are the ones who keep your business running. Serve them and always put them first.

Do what you do best and delegate the rest

Tom professed that he’s a people person. His forte lies in talking to people, be it presenting, speaking or coaching. He also admits that administrative, operational and financial matters are just not for him. Instead of forcibly taking those matters into his own hands, he leaves it up to his skilled team. The hard truth is that no matter how hard your work on your weaknesses, they will go from poor to average at best. Rather than wasting time trying to improve on them, play to your strengths.

Take big risks if you want big rewards

Tom says, “Go big or go home.” If you play it safe eternally, you will never be able to reap great rewards. Be proactive and don’t be afraid to take risks. Even if you fail, you can stand up again.

Be a big fish in a small pond

Similar to how marketplaces are going hypervertical, Tom recommends finding a niche, and becoming a leader in it. Going global can be tempting but it also comes with its set of challenges. Appealing to audiences from all over the world is easier said than done.

Motivational speakers are a dime a dozen. How then, did Tom distinguish himself from the rest? By specialising only in sales training. SOCO tackles a specific domain, sales, and provides solutions and products to train sales staff in the SOCO way.

If you want to go global, get your footing first. Use a particular market as a launchpad, then slowly expand into other markets.

It takes 15 years to be an overnight success

Lastly, understand that achieving success takes time. According to Tom, “96% of businesses fail in the first 5-10 years.” You may encounter numerous setbacks along the way, but as long as you “plan, be steady and be patient”, you can do it.

Watch the entire Arcadier Inspire summit talk here:


Watch it right here.

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