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There really is no such thing as an overnight success. If you see an actor or singer become big, seemingly out of the blue, that’s usually because they’ve been toiling away for years — and then, yes, their career finally exploded. It’s an important thing to remember when you’re ambitious and hungry for success — usually, the most successful individuals and enterprises don’t become the next big thing by taking big steps. Instead, success often comes through small but significant steps forward.

Not that I’m against taking bold, brash moves in the name of progress when necessary. But in my experience, it’s the seemingly small but substantial steps that make the most meaningful differences. One of my mottos or mantras as CEO of Any Lab Test Now is, in fact, incremental improvements. My philosophy is that incremental improvements for a business are what compound interest is to a retirement account. Over time, those incremental improvements, if you make them frequently, build into a formidable force.

I’ve noticed how important incremental improvements have been in my own life, and I doubt I’m alone. I started off washing dishes at Dot’s Country Kitchen in Jasper, Alabama, where I learned plenty, from how good it feels at the end of the day to have accomplished a full day of hard work, to how the most minor job can be one of the most important. If I had stopped washing dishes, eventually people wouldn’t eat, and the entire restaurant’s infrastructure would have come crashing down. And it isn’t like I moved on from there to become the CEO of Any Lab Test Now; there were plenty of other jobs in between, each building off the one that came before it.

Incremental improvements — there’s evidence in almost every facet of one’s life as to how important they are. I have four children, ranging from 14 years of age to 25, and I can tell you, one wonderful day at an amusement park or quality-filled vacation does not a well-rounded human being make. You raise well-adjusted children one day at a time, or if you prefer, one hour at a time.
And when you’re running a business, the same is true. The big and bold and brash steps generally don’t cut it — not when you’re employing people and their lives are on the line, at least in a sense. So, yes, I’ve more than established that I like incremental progress, and if you have a business and are looking to make similar small but significant changes to your company, I’d recommend zeroing in on a few things.

Focus on your employees, before your customers. Yes, you want a lot of customers — and happy ones at that. But you can’t get anywhere in your business, and you certainly won’t keep your customers happy and loyal, if you don’t start with your employees — or if you’re in a business such as mine, your employees and franchisees. If you work on deepening your relationships with your employees and franchisees, you’ll automatically be making improvements that will strengthen the bond between your business and customers.

But when you work with franchisees and employees, you actually have to work with them. That means you need to be engaged and listen, listen, listen. And if you do that, you’ll find that sometimes, no matter how great you think your system is, your employees or franchisees will have an idea that tweaks what you’ve created and improves upon it. It probably won’t be a wholesale completely new development, but as I keep saying, it’s those little pockets of progress that can really pay off later. And they have, with Any Lab Test Now, over and over.

Be willing to experiment. Experimenting takes time. Clearly, you don’t want to let a new initiative drag out if it’s clear that it’s failing. You need to know when to pull the plug. But you also need to allow people the freedom and space to fail — and then to try again, going down a new path, if you see potential in what they’re doing.

And being willing to experiment also means that you allow your team members the chance to grow, to try new things, to train them in areas that interest them. Not everything is going to work out, and as the leader of a company, you need to be able to know when to say no, firmly but empathetically. But you also need to be willing to say yes, sometimes when your gut is intrigued but your logic is wagging its finger. And sometimes instead, maybe you’ll meet a team member somewhere in the middle.

Set up the right environment to thrive. This is probably the most important way that any progress, whether incremental but important, or disruptive and meteoric, happens. Our existing franchisees want the company to grow, to be sure, but they also want resources dedicated to growing revenues and profitability. That generally doesn’t happen by growing too fast. In fact, the annals of business history are littered with successful businesses that seemed indestructible as they exploded in growth only to sputter out when they had expanded too quickly as the business’ costs outpaced its revenue.

We believe in growing smart — balancing our resources to bring new franchises into the system while supporting our existing franchises. We have overarching, ambitious long-term goals, but in the short term, we keep focused on incremental improvements. And one day, if it hasn’t happened already, some potential consumer will drive by an Any Lab Test Now facility and will think to him or herself, “I’ve been seeing that name everywhere lately. It must be one of those overnight success stories.”