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What are the secrets to surviving and prospering over 3 decades?

5 min read

Small Business

During the celebratory toasts for my company’s 30th anniversary, one of our contractor consultants raised his glass and said, “Congratulations! And thank you for always paying on 30 days.”

Other toasts highlighted CommCore’s high-profile success preparing clients for “60 Minutes” interviews, Congressional testimony and launching consumer products and IPOs. But the “paying on time” compliment struck a particular note about the little/big things a business needs to pay attention to in order to survive and prosper for 30 years.

Since we’re based in Washington, D.C., where you need an acronym for anything, let’s call the secret sauce CAPP and see how we can apply the lessons for other entrepreneurs.

CAPP stands for:

  • Client-focus
  • Adaptability
  • People
  • Passion

CAPP sounds simple. But it really captures how an entrepreneur-led business that started 30 years ago — not in a garage, but in a 14th floor, one bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side of New York with a $5,000 loan from my father — has grown to real offices in New York, D.C., Dallas and Los Angeles, and has conducted training programs on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.

Client-focus. All entrepreneurs create their own version of client focus. One easy way to fail is to give lip service to the phrase. The CommCore client-focus sauce developed from a business model that is based on transactions rather than long-term client contracts. We survive with the accepted pressure that each single training or crisis engagement could be the last with a client unless we’re providing exceptional value. We need to perform in order to get invited back.

Little things count: a real person answering the phone — not voice mail or a service; extra research and preparation that gets the compliment I love to get: “They know their stuff, but they also know a good deal about our business.” Client focus has results — several key accounts have been with us since the first year we opened.

Adaptability comes in many forms. It could just be the technology. Our first computer was an Apple II and we rented enormous studio cameras for media training. Fast forward to smart phones, tablets and flip cams as our tools of trade. We have adapted from teaching about communicating with conventional media to engagement with the world of multi- and social media across platforms — different needs for different content and response.

Yet while we adapted to technologies and media, there are a few constants that haven’t changed over 30 years. The constants in media, witness and presentation training and crisis consulting: develop your messages, target them to the specific audience and prepare for the objections and challenges. And yes, we believe we have adapted to be able to speak with millennials.

People. The question: What does it mean when you say, we have a superior team? Credentials, a.k.a. a good resume, gets a consultant on our masthead. But you need more than a list of journalism or training creds to be good at our craft. Each of our senior consultants needs to have the uncommon ability to walk into a CEO’s office or handle a group of scientists and teach and coach them so they become better communicators. Part of my job as a player-coach is to vet each client-facing consultant so they understand the client problem/need and can provide a specific solution.

For the internal team, much like a staging successful play, the actors depend on the production team. We have developed the “Power of AND.” It’s possible to have a client-first culture that also encourages and rewards personal growth and that also allows for personal growth. Entrepreneurs sometimes whine about benefits and job perks. We have learned to pay well, provide employees with health care and 401(k) plans that build loyalty and customer service.

Passion. We live for client thank-yous and repeat business, not just the fees. My mantra to consultants: Think of your favorite teacher from high school or college. In addition to what he/she taught, why else did you sign up for the class? Because the teacher brought a passion for the subject and imparting the knowledge. Each time you walk into a conference room conference center or on in an auditorium, bring the same level of passion and commitment to your client.

CAPP: Client focus, adaptability and people and passion. It’s a pretty simple yet hard to replicate formula. Figure out the specific that apply to your business.

Andrew Gilman, president and CEO of CommCore Consulting Group, has been a communications strategist, crisis counselor and keynote speaker for more than 30 years. Founded in 1985, CommCore is headquartered in New York with offices in Washington, D.C., Dallas and Los Angeles. Gilman is also co-author of “Get to the Point,” and is a lawyer and award-winning journalist.

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