5 Tips to Grow Your Business Safely: Lessons from Dan Winkowitsch, Tri-State Grain Conditioning

Our Dream Big series introduces you to savvy entrepreneurs who have built their businesses from an idea to an innovation. We’re chatting with them about how they started their businesses, the steps they’ve taken to make them grow, and essential advice to future business owners.

Dan Winkowitsch grew up on an Iowa farm, but he’s as globally-minded as they come. It’s a perspective he takes into leading his business, Tri-State Grain Conditioning, a grain storage equipment company based in Spirit Lake, Iowa, with products in 48 states in the U.S. and 40 countries globally.

After college, Dan moved to Ecuador to work with subsistence farmers and later worked for Coca-Cola. After twenty years in South America, Dan returned home to help his brother run Tri-State Grain Conditioning, founded by Rich Cook in 1982. Dan had an arm in every part of the business. He started building and installing equipment, then moved into sales, and then management. When his brother retired in 2009, Dan and his wife were ready to take over the company.

Tri-State Grain Conditioning’s products have a global reach. Still, Dan believes it’s important to operate the business at a local level to make it grow. Here are Dan’s five essential tips for current and future business owners to grow their enterprises successfully and safely.

1. Leverage being a small business to your advantage.

Being a small business doesn’t mean you have a small impact or revenue. It typically describes the size of a company’s team. Working with a close-knit staff means you can quickly make changes and advances in your operations in ways larger-sized companies can’t. Dan says having a smaller team that’s excellent at their jobs has been essential to their growth.

“I worked for Coca-Cola. Wow, what a great organization. But to get any decision made in Coca-Cola is eternal. I say that even though I love the product,” he explains. “In a small company, you can turn on a dime.”

This advice can be applied across industries, whether you own a coffee shop in a downtown location or you’re developing a product to change your field. This is important to consider from the beginning when you’re planning your business.

2. Small-town values go a long way in business.

Dan also says that operating as a small business means they can focus on excellent customer service. Tri-State Grain Conditioning can offer the same high-tech products as their competitors, but person-to-person communication sets them apart.

“When people call, and I don’t care if it’s a big elevator group, or if it’s a local farmer with one little bin that he’s trying to monitor, he doesn’t want to hear an answering machine or, ‘Choose line one,'” Dan says. “He wants to hear, ‘Hi, this is Dan from Tri-States. How can I help you?’ And that’s where we start. If people want to call in, they’re going to talk to a person.”

3. Change happens constantly, but you can adapt.

Since taking over Tri-State Grain Conditioning in 2009, Dan has been a part of massive changes in the agriculture and technology fields. But anticipating shifts in your industry will help you prepare for long-term success. This means reading industry news, forming connections with other business owners, and, most importantly, staying curious about the future. This also helps protect you from future risk.

“Technology changes, and technology will continue to change,” Dan affirms. “There are many things that have been invented that we no longer use. But as technology comes, you have to be willing to embrace it, but you cannot lose the human aspect of it.”

4. Know when you can’t be the expert.

Every small business owner knows they have to have their arm in everything: marketing, sales, product development, finance, tech, and more. Being open to learning is critical to owning a business for the long haul. Dan explains this process in three easy steps.

“When you approach a new area of knowledge in the beginning it’s, ‘I don’t even know what I don’t know,'” he explains. “Stage two is, ‘Now I know what I don’t know,’ and then stage three is, ‘Okay, now I know it.’ But if you start out thinking, ‘Well, I got this,’ You will find out very quickly that you don’t.”

But there is a limit to what you can learn as a business owner and effectively execute. This is his fourth essential tip for entrepreneurs who want to grow their reach, especially when it comes to growing a business securely: know the difference between when you can learn something and when you should hire an expert.

5. Build a network of specialists that you trust.

The network you build outside your business is just as essential as the team you create inside it. This means partnering with the right people to manage things that could be out of your depth, like your IT and security, branding, or, most importantly, your business finance.

“That’s the key, especially if you’re a small business and you want to be on the cutting edge,” Dan says. “Find out who those companies are out there that are doing what you want to do and who you have good synergy with, and then come together and work. But it all starts based on trust in a person.”

Looking for more advice for growing your dream business? Listen to Dream, Plan, Live: the Bank Midwest podcast for more tips from the business experts in your community and at Bank Midwest.

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