Q&A: Doug Ainsworth, chair of the Delaware Vistage Group

By Kathy Canavan
Special to Delaware Business Times

Doug Ainsworth is chair of Vistage Worldwide, an invitation-only peer advisory group for CEOs in the Delaware Valley.

Is there one challenge that all small business CEOs will face at one time or another?

There are many challenges CEOs face while starting, building and growing businesses. If I had to pick one, hiring and retaining talent would be the most significant. Talent is the key to the success of any organization, especially in small business. Having processes in place to recruit top talent, transparent communication with employees and a program for the CEO’s growth and development are critical to keeping an organization moving in the right direction.

What percentage of CEOs that you’ve met have a strong cybersecurity plan for their companies, and how important is it to have one?

In a recent Vistage survey:

• 27 percent said their company did not have a defined cybersecurity strategy.

• 18 percent said their company did not have one, but were working on it.

• 17 percent said their company had a strategy, but it wasn’t current.

Cyber-attacks are increasing against businesses and individuals, translating into enormous costs in terms of system downtime, resources and money. If a business hasn’t yet been hacked, it’s only a matter of time before it will be.

What steps can small businesses take to diversify their client lists?

Relationships: traditional face-to-face selling. With small or midsize businesses, you’re always doing business locally — sometimes regionally, nationally, or globally, but always locally. So, the ability to have face-to-face relationships is at the top of the list.

Defined sales processes: High-growth small and midsized businesses maintain an organizational understanding of how their customers want to buy, and have been able to translate that into measurable, definable sales actions and steps. With that common sales process comes common sales language. Meaning we don’t reinvent how we sell every time we sell. Rather, we’re now able to capture, document, and then put some resources behind it.

Referrals remain a critical growth strategy, especially in a small or midsize business. It’s who you know, and can they connect you to the next person. Are your customers out actively promoting and referring you?

That’s who your prospects listen to most closely. The positive vibe from customers just radiates into the market. If your resources are limited for now, what is the best way to retain solid employees in this increasingly competitive business environment?

Prioritize meaningful work over “fun.” It’s important to give them work that suits their strengths, contributes to the company’s mission and gives them an outlet to thrive. Of course, this shouldn’t mean cutting out fun team activities altogether. There’s still a need for team culture and camaraderie.

Gather feedback so employees feel heard. When they feel heard, employees are more likely to proactively express opinions about how to improve processes, benefiting you, your team, and the company.

How important is it for CEOs of small companies to have advisory boards or Vistage groups or places to go for advice?

Ambitious leaders who run growing companies in today’s world are finding it increasingly complex. Gone are the days when a single consultant or a small band of trusted advisors are enough. Often, they provide solutions to specific tasks, but the environment today demands a more holistic view. Having an advisory board of peers such as a Vistage group can provide perspective on any number of topics and help the CEO become a better leader, make better decisions and, eventually, get better results.

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