Bill McComb
Bill McComb advices businesses of all sizes to have a solid business plan.

Bill McComb knows big business. During his career, he's worked with corporate giants like Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson, and he spent seven years as the CEO of Liz Claiborne.

Today, though, his focus is a little smaller: McComb serves as an active investor and advisor to startup founders. Although there are some key differences between the operations and organizational structure of enterprise companies versus small businesses, there are plenty of valuable, transferable lessons McComb passes on to the entrepreneurs he works with.

In a recent interview with CO—, McComb shared some of those key lessons for small business owners.

Get your business plan right

According to McComb, one of the most important things any company needs to have is a detailed business plan. It doesn't need to be long or formal, he said, but it's important that you write one based on your business's priorities.

"Whether you're a startup, a mid-sized company or a huge corporation, you can't get away without having a plan," McComb told CO—. "A plan is the framework with which you allocate resources, and if you're not allocating your resources ... you will ... hit a wall."

Of course, like any plan, it's not always possible to follow your business plan to the letter. McComb noted that all plans are meant to change, and as your company grows and evolves, you may find you need to deviate from the original, or rewrite it from scratch to reflect your new focus.

You can get stuck in doing those same things as a leader over and over, when your company needs you to actually pivot and do other things.

Bill McComb, former Liz Claiborne CEO, investor and business advisor

Don't be afraid of delegation

In any business, there's a lot of work to be done. McComb reminds business owners that they need specific skill sets within their company to accomplish it all. Often, that means hiring the right people, either in-house or virtually, to fill any gaps.

"You're not going to get anywhere unless you have the ability to get things done through other people," he said. "A founder's job in a small startup business is to ... recruit and build a team that's going to help them win."

But recruiting is only half the battle: Once you have a strong team in place, you need to properly delegate authority based on each person's individual strengths. Many founders struggle with letting go of the reins, but eventually, you'll need to step back from the day-to-day so you can focus on the bigger picture.

"The very skill set ... that takes your company from a seed to an actual idea can ... be a trap," said McComb. "You can get stuck in doing those same things as a leader over and over, when your company needs you to actually pivot and do other things."

The volume of work and the challenges you'll face will change dramatically as your business grows, and as a founder, you need the freedom and flexibility to address those emerging issues, he added.

Focus on data-driven marketing if you want to grow.

Every startup's goal is to keep growing, and a solid marketing strategy is one surefire way to do that. McComb says the most successful brands employ data-driven marketing tactics through digital channels.

"It's [about] having a digital mindset and spending your dollars on digital marketing, with an emphasis on being a collector of first-party data," he explained. "Data analytics are as important as the media vehicles themselves."

Although it's easy to get caught up in what your competitors are doing, McComb says the best thing any business can do is stay focused on its own customers, particularly when it comes to using the data you've collected for personalized, targeted marketing campaigns.

"[Use] that data to go from engagement to high levels of satisfaction," he said. "You have to avoid complacency."

Watch the full interview with Bill McComb to hear more of his business lessons for entrepreneurs. This interview was conducted on behalf of CO— by C-Suite Network's Gregg Greenberg.

Bill McComb's interviewed for CO— by C-Suite Network's Gregg Greenberg. 

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Published February 25, 2019