The best advice I ever got: Dawna Henderson

Written by Susanne Ruder

Xchange asks Canada’s leading businesswomen to share their most meaningful business lessons. Each issue brings you the advice that has helped shape the lives and companies of these winning businesswomen.

Dawna Henderson is president and managing partner of henderson bas, a digital sales and marketing agency in Toronto. Fusing design and marketing with technology, the firm provides such services as Web design and development, online advertising and promotions and e-mail marketing for such blue chip clients as Molson, Nike, Coca-Cola, ING Direct and Sprint Canada. Founded in 1999, sales reached $6 million last year.

BEST ADVICE: “Focus on the Three P’s: Profit, Product and Paranoia.”

Before starting her own firm almost seven years ago, Henderson worked for other advertising / marketing firms, paying close attention to their mistakes and weaknesses. That’s how she developed her own theory about the importance of the “Three P’s”. Today, “those are the three things that drive me,” says Henderson. Here’s how she explains the value of each “P”:

Profit: “The reason we’ve been so successful all these years is that I never bought into the dot-com business model where it was all about the revenue,” she says. “Profit is essential, and having a good finance person on your team is paramount. Some entrepreneurs are good at it, some aren’t, but you really do need someone watching the money.”

Product: “The product has to be good, because it doesn’t matter how good you are at building your brand — it’s only as good as the product that you sell,” says Henderson. “I’ve always focused on the product first, because if someone likes what you’re selling, they’ll tell somebody else. And eventually you will be successful because great products are hard to hide.” That’s especially true in a business such as Henderson’s, where most new business comes from reputation and referrals. “My name’s on the front door,” she says, “so nothing goes out of here unless it’s the best. And if that means that I have to spend a little extra money that I’m not charging for, then I put it into the campaign because I will not have my company put out mediocre work. Your product has to be the cornerstone of your company.”

Paranoia: “I just assume that my business is going to fall apart every day,” says Henderson. “It’s like defensive driving: you just have to assume that everything is going to go wrong and you have to put things in place to ensure that it doesn’t.” In other words, don’t rest on your laurels; instead, be proactive about preventing problems. For example, make sure you have a vision for the company, know what competitors are up to, and make sure your employees care as much about quality customer service as you do. “It’s a million details,” says Henderson. “Honestly, it’s the hardest job I’ve ever had.”

© 2006 Susanne Ruder

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com