1. Michael Bolton said it best, but it bears repeating. Time, love and tenderness.

No mother would throw her baby in a room, close the door, say, “Good luck, see you when you grow up!” and hope for the best. No, no. It takes nine long months for a baby to develop into existence, and much longer than that for it to become the awesome person you know he was meant to be. A combination of precious time, incalculable patience and countless hugs are required to rear a baby into a toddler (and then into a child, and eventually, help me, a teenager).

The same is true for business image. A company’s brand requires constant care. Keep up with your industry, the market, your competition, and most importantly, your consumers to make sure you are taking full advantage of opportunities to nourish your company’s image and grow your business.

Ask yourself: Was your logo designed a decade ago? Does it look like it was? Does your website’s home page say, “Welcome to our website!” like most sites did in 1997? Do you have company stationery so old it doesn’t include your email address? Is something relevant to your business happening in the news? Have you acknowledged the issue via your company’s Facebook page or the appropriate section of your website? Is your competition sending promotions via email, but you’re still paying loads for direct mail marketing? Take the time to really delve into these areas, and figure out where your business and its image could stand to make improvements.

Bottom line: Without the stable presence of a loving mother, a baby will fail to form mature emotions. Without a consistent regard for brand and image, your company will fall behind the times, and certainly behind the competition.

2. Ignore it, and it will go in the wrong direction.

Baby gates were invented for a reason: so that busy moms could turn their backs on their toddlers for a few minutes at a time and not worry about their babies tumbling down the steps (please note, I don’t encourage you to let a gate babysit your child). But the safety contraption only works if you use it correctly. You must screw it to the wall properly, and remember to lock it each time you enter or leave the room.

The same principle applies to your business. Automated processes can be a lifesaver for a multi-tasking entrepreneur or small-business owner. But remember to give your customers the personalized attention and service they expect and deserve.

Bottom line: Leave a toddler alone, you’ll find her eating dog food and playing with a box of matches you left on the coffee table. Leave your business unattended, and when you return, you may not find it at all.

3. It just might turn out to impress you.

Since my son turned 2, he has not failed to amaze me on any given day. Just a couple short months ago, our conversations consisted of me asking him what he wanted for breakfast, and him staring up at me with a confused look on his face. “Moo,” he’d say. “Uhhh, are you saying you want milk? A hamburger? A toy?” But now, we have full-fledged discussions about what should happen on the potty (vs. on the floor), about the plotlines of a particularly animated stuffed bear with his own TV show, and about how his sister does not appreciate him shoving the pacifier in her mouth, even if he insists she really wanted it in a hurry.

Likewise, just a handful of years ago, my business consisted of me meeting with brides-to-be, working out the details of their bridal party march down the aisle so I could design their wedding program. By the time it was all said and done, I probably ended up earning the same number of dollars per hour that I now pay my babysitter. I really enjoyed working on what I called “graphic accessories” for weddings and related events, but I quickly tired of tying satin ribbons to 200 programs at 10 o’clock at night after having worked all day at my 9 to 5.

I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way, my clientele turned into small businesses and non-profits. Little by little, I gained experience working with professional business people dealing with email promotions and whether it would be a good return on investment, instead of working with frazzled brides dealing with shower invitations and whether to print 10 extra copies in case she decided to invite B-listers to the event.

If you had asked me what my business what turn into back when I first started it, there is no way I would have said it would be my full-time gig, working whatever hours I please with awesome clients on projects that I love (and none that include organza bows). And if you had told me a few weeks ago that my son would soon be singing the full lyrics to “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes and peeing on the potty, I would have said you were nuts.

Bottom line: Set goals for your toddler, and he will surprise you with all he can accomplish. Set goals for your business, and it will take its own twists and turns to become what it was meant to be, regardless of what you expected.