Earl G. Graves, Jr. is president and chief operating officer for Earl G. Graves Publishing Company, which publishes Black Enterprise magazine. His father founded the company back in 1970, after serving as an aide to Sen. Robert Kennedy. Graves, Sr., didn’t know anything about publishing, but he had a will to be successful, and the magazine was profitable within a year. Since then, the magazine has acquired four million readers and diversified into digital, and the company hosts three major national events each year.
Speaking at the sixth annual Kansas City Government Contracting & Procurement Forum on Aug. 7 at Bartle Hall, Graves, Jr., noted they didn’t accomplish these things through some great plan, reminding the audience once again that his father had no publishing background when he founded the company. Instead, it was his father’s determination to be successful that carried the company forward. And it’s that same determination in the son that keeps the success coming, in spite of a major recession and revolutionary changes within the publishing industry. Advertising, Graves, Jr., says is a real struggle, more so today than when his father founded the company with no industry experience. But the will to succeed keeps everyone at the company laser focused.
Before you start thinking, “Well, a will to be successful might have worked for them, but there’s more to success than just ‘willing’ it,” let me just say that you’re correct. And you’re not correct.
To be successful, you obviously can’t just stand in the middle of the street, click your heels three times and say, “I want to be successful” and expect to be so. However, when you have a will to be successful, then you possess a mental openness and a mental toughness to do whatever it takes—even if you don’t have a grand written plan—to get you there. That kind of mindset can’t be taught; it comes from within.
Combine that mindset with some of the practical “do what it takes” actions Graves, Jr., offered to the business owners in the audience, and you have a blueprint for success:
- Stop making excuses for why you can’t. Enough said.
- Scale, scale, scale. You have to show potential customers, especially those who vet contracts, that you’re capable of doing the work. A half million dollar company is not going to win a $5 million dollar contract. You can collaborate or partner with other companies to win the contract though. Don’t let your ego keep you from having 100 percent of zero, rather than a smaller part of something larger.
- Be creative in raising capital. The days of walking into a bank with a business plan is over. The time to ask a bank for money is before you need it. Build those relationships now. Explore non-traditional ways of raising money.
- Be unique, daring and creative. In your product and service offerings, don’t make the mistake of simply creating “me too opportunities” that all your competitors’ are offering. Learn what your customers and the market really need. As examples, he noted that New York doesn’t need another cupcake store, and Kansas City likely doesn’t need another restaurant that sells ribs.
- Network and build relationships. Time is precious. You need to figure out who’s a contender and who’s a pretender. Spend your time building relationships with the people who can help move you forward, who can change your business or your life.
- Have faith in yourself. This goes back to having an abiding belief that you can be successful. Prospects notice if you don’t believe in yourself. If they sense that you don’t believe in yourself, why should they believe in you? There is often a fine line between success and failure. Most of that lies in your degree of self-confidence.