“I Like to Feel That Every Day I’ve Actually Accomplished Something”

Gene Marks, founder of the Marks Group, began his company following nine years at KPMG, an international accounting and consulting firm. Since its inception in 1994, his company has grown to more than 10 employees and 600 active clients, and Gene has published six best-selling books on small business management (his latest is 2013’s The Manufacturer’s Book of Lists). He is also a frequent contributor to the New York Times, Inc. magazine, Entrepreneur, Forbes, The Huffington Post, Philadelphia Magazine, Fox Business, MSNBC and more.

Over the course of his career, Gene has overcome a number of hurdles that many business owners face, including acquiring new customers with a small marketing budget and managing the time and financial requirements of owning a small business. Here, he explains what drives his success, and suggests good places for entrepreneurs to get inspired.

What are the top three things that make you tick/get you out of bed in the morning?

  1. My anxiousness to get things done. I like to feel that every day I’ve actually accomplished something.
  2. Goals. Each year I make goals for my company, and the most important one is cash in the bank at the end of the year. I get out of bed each morning to hit that goal.
  3. I really like what I do, believe it or not. And each morning I’m pretty happy to get up and keep doing it.

How do you define success?

Balance. I know a lot of very wealthy people who have terrible personal lives and people who are in the opposite situation. Having the ability to make enough money, create enough value and also have a happy personal life in the 70 or so years we have here is success.

What is the one item you need for your business to succeed?

A laptop. Not a tablet, but an actual working laptop with a keyboard. We write and analyze and do things that a tablet can never do.

Do you have any tips for how a small business owner might deal with the competition?

Never ignore your competition. I’m always interested in what my competition is doing. I look at their Web sites and I ask about them. I do this for two reasons:

  1. What are they doing that I can learn from? They are probably doing a few things better than me.
  2. In what ways could we potentially partner? No one is too big to need a partner.

How can a small business owner stay on top of industry trends?

Go to two industry meetings a year, a trade group or industry association. Many of them do a great job in providing speakers and content that shares what’s new.

On a related note, then, what are your tips for networking and building professional relationships?

Join groups only if the content interests you. Don’t go to meetings just to network. It’s fake and a waste of time. Focus on what you can learn from others, both from hearing people speak and joining in on conversations where people have things they can teach you. Shut your mouth and listen. Limit the groups you belong to — stick with the ones that teach you the most. Devote time to those groups. You’ll get out of them what you put into them.

Do you have a mentor? If so, how has this individual impacted your career?

My dad, until he passed away, was my mentor. He told me a lot about how to succeed — and how to fail — in business. He was a smart guy, but not a great businessman. That was helpful. Today, my mentors are a few of my clients who are business owners and know how to make a buck. They are not dreamers or entrepreneurs. They are just business people, and I look to them for inspiration.

What three pieces of advice would you give to people trying to start their own company?

  1. Make sure your family is 100 percent on board with you.
  2. Don’t overdo your business plan. Keep it very, very simple.
  3. Focus on getting customers. Without them, you’ll have no business. Actual customers will be the foundation for your future plans. Your business isn’t a romance novel — it’s an asset.

What book do you think every entrepreneur should read?

Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson. Really. You will learn that to be a success you will need to put in 10,000 hours plus years of commitment, and that no matter how much money you have, it can disappear — don’t be a fool with it.

Is there a quote you live by?

“Things are never as bad as they seem. Then again, things are never as good as they seem, either.”

For more insights and inspiration from Gene Marks, follow him on Twitter at @genemarks or connect on Google+

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