How to Build a Successful Business – 3: People

Last Updated: May 1, 2020

Can you have a successful business if you try to do everything yourself? Of course you can’t. Time is finite. That is why you need people. Colm O’Brien concludes his three-part series on how to build a successful business with a look at the importance of the right people to complement your brand and systems.

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Image Source: Unsplash / Photography: Seth Doyle

I BEGAN this three-part discussion on how to build a successful business by likening a solid company to a three-legged stool. You might remember that we saw only three legs—no more, no less—will guarantee a stool always resting solidly on the floor.

Similarly, and drawing from my experiences at the head of my business Carambola, I’ve found that the most effective, successful and sustainable business must have three legs. Any fewer, and your business will tumble. Any more, and you create the risk of ‘wobbling’ because of elements outside of your control.

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I attempted to demonstrate how the most effective business models are strong in all three of the following areas, or ‘legs’:

  1. Brand
  2. Systems
  3. People

We looked at Brand in terms of developing the reputation of your business, and Systems in terms of the robust systems required for every aspect of your business—systems you can teach others to implements. In this sense, ‘others’ brings us to the third leg of the stool. ‘Others’ are the People at the heart of your business. The secret of how to build a successful business is that people must be as strong as your brand and systems. In fact, all three elements must be as strong as one another. They are inextricably linked.

Time with for a quick ‘Coffee with Colm’ before we continue…


Video Source: YouTube


How to Build a Successful Business – the ‘People’ Question

Why people are so crucial to business is that there are only so many hours in the day. There is only so much you can do, and time is finite. How do you do more? Leverage. And how do you leverage? One way is through People.

It’s important to start out with the decision that you are building a business, and not simply remaining self-employed. After you consider the Brand, and begin to develop and implement your Systems, that’s when you begin the hunt, looking for People to join your cause.

At a recent talk with schoolchildren, I told the young audience of my belief that they were in school mainly to do two things:

  1. To learn how to learn
  2. To learn how to work with others

If you master those two skills, you will be able to go anywhere and do anything. Fail, and you will always struggle. And indeed, it has been argued that success is 15% dependent on technical expertise and 85% reliant on people skills. To look at it another way, that means people skills are almost six times more important than technical ability. And that is why People are the crucial third leg of successful business in our three-legged stool analogy.

Brand (reputation) is fed or starved by the robustness of the Systems you build and ultimately by the implementation of those systems by People who produce the products, answer the phones, provide the service, interact with the customer.

Find great people. They add value to your systems. The wrong people will damage the systems, your brand, and ultimately your business.

Every day I give a tour of the Carambola facility to outsiders. Whether my tour parties are adults or children, I am honestly always blown away by the systems we have built. Carambola produces 24,000 individually labelled and sealed lunch bags – each one different to the next, each carrying on a label, the name of the child, the menu items chosen and even the calorie count.

Making that happen every day requires systems (which we have developed over 13 years of trade).Doing it brilliantly requires a dedicated team of great people. Doing it consistently year on year is what has allowed us build a brand with an excellent reputation for quality, consistency and reliability.

Good Brand – Great Systems – Even Better People.

Of course, while Carambola has attracted many great people over the years, we have also made a number of hiring mistakes. So will you, and frankly, I wouldn’t change that. Getting out there and operating in a space where you’re challenged to make more good decisions than mistakes is what it’s all about. For me, despite the difficulties underlying the question of how to build a successful business, the alternative was eternal consignment to working in a small business that would require all of my personal time and effort, forever. For me, that wasn’t an option.

Series concludes. If you’re interested in reading more about the kinds of first-hand entrepreneurial experiences that have informed these insights, there is extensive reading in my book, Feeding Johnny: How to Build a Business Despite the Roadblocks.

how to build a successful business, people, carambola, colm o'brien

Image Source: Amazon


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