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20 LESSONS FROM 20 YEARS OF STRATEGIES

Since 1993 Strategies has had one goal: to help businesses operate more efficiently and profitably. The company has worked with thousands of salon/spa/medspa owners, managers and their teams to create businesses that balance profitability with a happy work environment and devoted customers.

“Strategies is a living, breathing entity that tells you if your company is performing correctly and functioning properly. It’s designed to build strong vibrant, healthy companies,” says Neil Ducoff, founder of Strategies and expert on business education. “Our mission is to empower our clients to be the most successful they can be by teaching best practices that result in tangible improvements in each of our four Business Outcomes: Profitability, Productivity, Staff Retention and Customer Loyalty.”

Led by Ducoff, Strategies has a team of coaches and educators who perform seminars, on site training, coaching services and webinars to clients nationwide; offering them the opportunity to streamline and improve their systems, and most of all to grow their profitability.

This year being Strategies' 20th Anniversary, Ducoff lends his top 20 lessons to salon business owners that he's learned from his 20 years in the salon industry.

LESSON #1: Starting a company is an extraordinary experience, but making it through the start-up years and beyond requires incredible passion and belief in yourself.

LESSON #2: Be tenacious and courageous. There will be tough times when you want to throw in the towel. There will be times when you may think you have nothing to give your company. In those times, find the strength to discover new opportunities, and never give up.

LESSON #3: It’s okay to screw up. We all make what we think are great decisions that turn out to be pretty dumb. Learn to own them and learn from them. Know that as a leader, decisions must be made and, no matter how well researched, not all decisions are the right ones.

LESSON #4: Never compromise what you believe in. I have been teaching and coaching Team-Based Pay (TBP) long before Strategies. It is an extraordinary compensation system based on overall performance. I have been told not to talk about TBP at certain venues. I have had doors close on me because people fear something different than traditional commission structures. Strategies would never have survived if TBP didn't work, inspire team performance, control payroll costs and offer growth opportunities far beyond commission. To all the naysayers— knowledge overcomes fear. TBP works.

LESSON #5: Falling off a stage isn’t so bad. It was 1997. I was doing a one-day class in Harrisburg, PA, for my friend Howard Hafetz at Raylon Corporation. Early in the afternoon, my foot slipped off a step and I crashed on the floor in front of 150 people. I broke a bone in foot. I finished the class sitting in chair with an icepack on my foot. The show must go on.

LESSON #6: Books are knowledge. Author Seth Goodin says, “A book is really an author’s manifesto of what he/she believes in.” Write with passion. It takes a lot of writing to discover your written voice. I hope you like mine!

LESSON #7: The importance of balance. I guess I'm one of those road warriors who knows their way around airports as well as the back roads of my home town. For me, the glamour of travel wore off many years ago, especially in recent years. I have learned that time on the road needs to be balanced with time in the office and at home. It's also why I love riding my bike and pushing myself to do distance riding.

LESSON #8: Surround yourself with believers. Every leader needs an inner circle of believers to lean on. I am blessed to have an inner circle at Strategies to push me to be my best, lift me up when I’m down, and tell me the truth when I need to hear it.

LESSON #9: Never disconnect for too long. As a leader, you need to pay attention to what’s going on in your company. Without the proper systems, accountabilities and information flow, it’s easy for a company to wander off course. It's so easy to get caught up in new projects or work the point where you unintentionally disconnect. Have you ever said, "How was that happening right under my nose?" If yes, you were too disconnected.

LESSON #10: Focus and capitalize on your strengths. Do what you do best, and the stronger your company will become. Let your staff focus on doing what they are good at, while you focus on what you are good at—it’s what’s going to keep you capable of running a company in the future and doing the work you love.

LESSON #11: You don’t have to do it all. I have an amazing team of Certified Strategies Coaches (CSCs). Together, we share the load of delivering our training courses and coaching. There is no greater joy than sitting in the back of a classroom watching a member of my team deliver the Strategies' systems and methodologies.

LESSON #12: Rocking the boat. Don’t get too comfortable and dial back your sense of urgency or your company will get complacent. Leaders must keep their boat rocking and moving forward. Developing a sense of urgency to achieve goals, launch new projects and improve operating systems keeps a company vibrant. It starts with a leader.

LESSON #13: Be accessible. It always cracks me up when I hear, "Wow, you answered the phone," or, "I didn't expect Neil to call me back." If my phone rings, I answer it. If I need to make a customer service call, I do it. The same goes for employees. If they need me, I'm there for them. The only reason to ever close my office door is when I'm on a coaching call. Being accessible has everything to do with culture building.

LESSON #14: Don’t take yourself too seriously. Laugh and have fun. Leaders don’t have to play that role 24/7/365.

LESSON #15: It’s OK to obsess. As a leader, there are certain things I choose to obsess over. I obsess over my company's brand image. I obsess over the quality of service and experience we deliver. I obsess over my writing. I obsess over delivering my message in a keynote. Obsessing over certain things is my way of raising the bar for my company and myself. I'm really OK with my obsessing. I wish more leaders obsessed over what's really important.

LESSON #16: Numbers tell the truth. Numbers tell the truth about how your company is doing, where you are strong and where you are weak. Knowing the truth forces better and tougher decisions.

LESSON #17: Don’t run out of cash. As an entrepreneur, I know what happens when my company runs out of cash. I get to sacrifice my paycheck to ensure that my employees get theirs. I get to borrow money on my home to fund the company. I don't need any additional motivation than this to manage cash flow.

LESSON #18: Protect the culture. In my No-Compromise Leadership book, I wrote, "The ultimate responsibility of the no-compromise leader is to protect the integrity of the company's culture." Allowing any form of contamination to infect is a compromise.

LESSON #19: You can overcome depression. Depression got the best of me in 2007. Can't explain it. Don't understand it. To this day, the experience of depression seems surreal to me. I took three months off, starting working out and doing distance riding. I returned to Strategies with renewed determination and the self-confidence to lead my company through anything the business gods can throw at it. No compromise.

LESSON #20: Do what you love, for as long as you can!

For more information on Strategies visit www.strategies.com.