Like many small business owners, when Thomas Bernard started ProCraft Interiors in 2010 he wanted to build a company he could be proud of. He knew the skills he’d developed after two tours in Iraq would help him turn his 15 years of construction experience into a successful full-service home improvement company. “I started with $600 and dream,” he says, “but if you’re willing to work harder than anyone else, you can build a very successful business.”

Bernard’s willingness to roll up his sleeves and get to work is a theme that drives his success. He’ll tell you there’s no shortcut, and suggests there are three places where the rubber hits the road you can’t afford to ignore.

  1. Customer satisfaction and quality before profits
    It might be tempting to put profits first, but Bernard thinks that’s a big mistake. “When the quality of your work or your product creates satisfied customers, profits follow—it doesn’t work the other way around,” he says. Your reputation in the market is a reflection of what you are, not what you say you are. Starting a business is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Putting the customer first takes hard work, dedication, sacrifice, and self-motivation—but it’s worth it.

  2. Your employees are your most important assets
    Bernard advises, “Pick the right people for the job and get out of their way. Learn how to delegate and don’t micromanage.” Sure, people will make mistakes. Small business is all about learning—not a focus on successes or failures. When employees are empowered to put customer satisfaction and quality first, even if they make mistakes they’re moving in the right direction. Making mistakes, and learning from them, is critical to success.

  3. It starts with you
    “Lead by example,” he says. “Your employees will do what you do.” Bernard argues you should hold yourself to a high standard your employees can proudly emulate. The way your employees interact with your customers will be the same way you do—and the way you treat your employees. Never forget, it starts at the top and integrity matters. Taking ethical shortcuts always costs you in the long run. Your employees take note of how you treat your customers and taking ethical shortcuts with customers casts a shadow on how you interact with them. It also tells your employees that you’re OK with putting profits over customer satisfaction and quality. Never forget, integrity matters.

Bernard suggests, “Keep your eye on the ball. Building a successful business is a marathon not a sprint. Don’t get bogged down with the struggles of the first few years—the first three to five years will be tough. You need short-term and long-term goals to measure success.”

Focusing on where the rubber hits the road isn’t always easy, but Bernard would tell you it’s the only way to be successful.