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David FullerA business in my community recently marked 100 years of operation. There was a party, celebrations and even recognition from politicians for their years of service to the community.

I honestly don’t know much about the business except for the great service I’ve experienced as a patron over the years.

What I do know, however, from my decades in business is that there needs to be a lot more than great customer service happening behind the scenes for any operation to survive for a century.

Every business has a life cycle.

It usually begins with an idea and a struggle. In this stage, the business owners are trying to generate enough sales to break even. They’re doing everything they can to find a business model that will work. They need to find a workable business model, look for profitable products or services that will put money in the bank and ensure they have cash flow to pay their suppliers and lenders.

Most businesses fail to get past this stage.

If you’re lucky enough to get through the early days – it typically takes about three years – there’s the thrill of watching your business grow and flourish. While you might not be making much money, you can see the fruits of your early labours generating results. Customers are starting to come to you and while you might be still working 12 or 14 hours a day as an entrepreneur, you can see some light at the end of the tunnel. You probably love what you’re doing.

Then come the good times.

You’ve figured it out and your business is generating some cash to compensate for the lean years you’ve gone through. You’re happy to be employing some good people and making a difference in your community. You decide to expand your operations or start another business. You might run for city council or try to make the world better because you think you’re set and need a new challenge.

But wait! As you become distracted, your business starts to struggle. Key people retire or move on, a recession hits or, because you aren’t paying attention, some key customers leave.

One day you wake to the fact that you need a business that’s sustainable through good times and bad, one that can operate when you’re not paying attention. At this point, we tend to diversify revenue streams, implement systems and establish procedures to ensure we hire great people to manage our business. If we’re lucky, business gets back on track.

For years, we might enjoy that thriving business. Then one day, the business seems monotonous. We’re just doing the same thing over and over. It doesn’t generate the thrill it once did for us, our employees and even our customers. If we aren’t careful at this point, competition can swoop in and take away our competitive advantage because we’ve become complacent.

Yes, we reassure ourselves, we’re still growing because the population is changing. However, at some point things will change, the economy will turn and we’ll realize that our business is suffering.

If we’re fortunate, we can create a vision that will revitalize our business, re-energize our employees and thrill our customers again. This will take different forms for every business, but it might mean that we need to replace outdated strategies with new, more relevant concepts.

Many businesses never get beyond this stage and begin the long decline into oblivion.

A business that survives 100 years has a history of overcoming challenges. They deal with hardships that their customers never see. They go through experiments that failed and strategies that were doomed. Perhaps fortunes were made, but also many grateful households and communities have benefited from years of employment and stability.

Could you help your business survive 100 years? You need to create the foundation now to ensure management has the tools to communicate challenges and the ability to make decisions that will allow it to thrive into the future.

You’ll also need to craft systems that ensure the generational transfer of knowledge from leader to leader.

Finally, you’ll have to accept that how your business looks and operates today will inevitably evolve to adapt to advancing technology 80 years from now.

One hundred years in business is indeed something to celebrate and admire, especially when you consider what the owners have gone through and what the future holds.

David Fuller, MBA, is a certified professional business coach and author who helps business leaders ensure that their companies are successful. David is author of the book Profit Yourself Healthy. While not 100 years old, Dave still does like to hear your comments email [email protected]

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