For the past several nights I have had the same dream. I would get into a car and I would begin to drive. While the car seemed normal I could not see out of the windows and it had no mirrors. Nonetheless, I was always able to drive to car. I never got into an accident and no one was killed. Finally, in the last dream of the series I got into the car, still no windows or mirrors, and I was driving down the road. However, this time I was sitting on the floor in the back. I was not panicked. The car moved into a parking lot and outside the car I could hear on-lookers asking why would she drive a car if she couldn't see where she was going? I woke up in a cold sweat!
I reached out to a trusted source to help explain the dream. His explanation was simply:
When you are walking by faith and not by sight you are moving towards a destination and while you cannot see it with your eyes your faith sees it clearly. Outside observers will question your journey, but it isn't their job to see. You can't listen to their criticism because in the end they will have you stop before you arrive to the destination. When you got tired; you got in the back and faith steered for you.
That cold sweat came back along with chills and a few tears.
That dream and the explanation were both very powerful for me. They spoke directly to the Entrepreneur's experience and, more generally, my life's journey. If you have left a corporate job or started your own company then you have likely made this faith leap. You have made a decision to move forward regardless of the peanut gallery. You have begun a journey with no clear destination. You are pushing forward, navigating hurdles and pitfalls, often times by instinct.
When you speak to those who have made it to their destination there is a common thread to their narrative. They had to keep moving forward. They were not sure it would work but they for sure were going to try. I believe that their secret ingredient was faith. Faith in themselves. Faith in their destiny. Faith in divine providence or a higher power.
So on this Monday, I implore you to keep the faith and to keep pushing forward.
Growth does not happen by chance. Moving your business to the next level is every entrepreneurs’ dream. That could mean expanding into a new territory, or adding a service line, hiring employees, or increasing your profit margin, whatever the intended outcome most people do not want to be in the same place they were last year. This is laudable. However, a common mistake that many new entrepreneurs make is not preparing for greatness. But how do I prepare? Easy plan, plan, plan, and more planning. In case that is not descriptive enough here a few strategies for you to consider:
A wonderful thing occurs when you are working for someone else... vacation days! Some are given by the employer- some federal holidays-- some "mental health". No matter the source if you are in a corporate position then you likely have at least 5 days of "vacation time". Often entrepreneurs don't allocate any down time for themselves. This is a mistake! Everyone needs a break, including entrepreneurs. In case you, needed to hear the words: IT IS OK TO GO ON VACATION.
There is a tremendous amount of clarity and perspective that you get when you take time away. We are about to cross over into Q3 and now is the time to pause and take stock. I challenge everyone to ask themselves these questions:
Take a day or two off. I mean really off. Read a book for fun (not a business book). Lay on the beach (or the couch). Take lots of naps and long meandering walks. Then on your first day back answer these questions, You may be surprised with the results.
Please take this advice: DO NOT CONFUSE YOUR GOOGLING SKILLS WITH A TRAINED PROFESSIONAL! I have many clients that come to me only after the sky has fallen. As a business adviser and strategist I often find that entrepreneurs chose to complete critical tasks themselves to be scrappy and "practical". This is often a mistake.
Two of the most overlooked team members is a proper Accountant and a licensed Attorney. There is a misconception that these professionals are very expensive. So, instead of paying for an hour or two of their time we make a mad dash to Google's home page. There is only one problem with the contract or template that you downloaded; it may not be suitable for your needs. How will you know? You won't until you are in a jam. Non-professionals can not spot the errors or deficiencies.
When I am deciding whether to engage a professional I first ask myself two questions:
Do not save a few hundred dollars today only to pay thousands later!
Calling with small questions will always be cheaper than unraveling a complex issue.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Friday Story Time!
I was asked what my next career steps were and I responded like I typically do: I would love to become and expert correspondent and be like the Oprah for all topics Medical and Scientific. I received a very quizzical look from the person who asked the question. He says, “hmmm that’s interesting, who did Oprah look up to”?
This question set off a cascade of thoughts… Who did Oprah or Steve Jobs look up to? Should I add those people to my list etc. But then I immediately began to recognize that I was missing the point. Most people that others aspire to be were only aspiring to be themselves!
This thought runs counter to most of the guidance that we see as entrepreneurial advice. We are constantly told to find a comparable or an example and look at what they did to be successful.
Well its nice to look for inspiration but when it comes to defining what you want to be when you grow up I think we should all take a bit of advice: “Live your best life”!!!
So over the next 7 days I am challenging myself to define my aspirations without limiting the possibilities to what others have done before.
The worst advice I have ever received is: "Accept every opportunity that comes you way". This adviser went on to say you have to always say yes because you are your meal ticket.
In all honesty, I took this advice and lived it for more than 1 year before I listened to my own experience and changed my way of thinking. I found myself in back to back client meetings, on endless committees, several board seats, at plethora of mentoring events and speaking engagements. All great things right? Yes, but no one actually knew what I did because I was everywhere for everything. There were no intentional movements, no common themes, no deeper meanings. After nearing burnout, I found a simple and powerful word, NO!
Being able to say no has nothing to do with not being open to opportunity or being too good to participate, its about priorities. Your goals have to be clear and your focus on them has to be equally clear. Since my bout of "busyness" here are a few of the tips I use for decide whether to say yes or no:
With these 3 tips here is how I decide if I say yes or no. Here is my flow chart:
As always check your work. From time to time I find myself to trying to skirt that last point because I am a curious soul. It is okay to do OCCASIONALLY as long as you are honest that it is really not your area. If you need to decline try to be specific about why you are declining and don't be shy about connecting them to quality people in your network to fulfill their need.
Finally, you don't have to take my word for it. Take a look at a quote from the master entrepreneur, Steve Jobs.
Who was the first person to record sound? Thomas Edison? NOPE! It was In 1857 by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville. He was a French inventor that was interested in what sound looks like. He was able to etch the sound of a popular folk song on glass because he was interested in how the sound looked. He never cared to hear the etching. Then comes along Edison (and TEAM) nearly 20 years later with his phonograph. Once the application of music was applied... it was a hit!
So what is the lesson here? What good is an invention if you never discover who would want it. The French inventor once he heard of Edison's phonograph begin saying I did it first. It did not matter because Edison was the person to find an application that people wanted.
One of the most critical things an entrepreneur or business can do is identify who their product appeals to. When you believe that you have an idea or business that is revolutionary remember to ask WHO CARES.
One way to do this is to use the problem-solution formatting. What is the problem? How is this a solution? When identifying your problem be sure to ask for whom is this a problem. As long as you can identify at least one set of constituents (individuals or businesses) then you may move forward. Here is a helpful hint : Everyone is not an acceptable answer EVER!
The next question that you need to ask is: Will those affected be able to use my solution?
Here is a simplified example of I like to use to illustrate how there could be a disconnect.
Problem: "People should pull themselves up by their bootstraps"
Solution: I will make and sell boot straps
Issue: The people who you'd like to pull themselves up have no boots... so the straps will not solve their problem.
While this seems like a crazy analogy it shows how you can have a solution that does not touch the people who would care.
Always remember to have a specific audience to start. You can not be everything to everyone so choose a few relevant applications and then of course test and get feedback!
Anyone who knows me will tell you a mantra that I have had is "I don't work for free". I have held fast to this rule ever since I graduated from high school. Then something magical happened I CHANGED. I firmly believe that experts deserve to be paid for their expertise but don't exchange short term payment for long term gain. The short term gain may be a few quick dollars but in the end you may have forgone a much more lucrative long-term relationship.
Here are a few tips that I use when deciding when to hide behind the pay wall.
Free Consultations for All!
Whether 30 minutes or 1 hour take the time meet with potential clients for FREE! I have read several posts and commentaries suggesting that you should charge for the "pick your brain sessions". I would agree that if people are using lunch as an excuse not to pay you then you are in a different situation. However, this is not typically the case. I find that many people are curious about what I do or my journey or whether I am the right person for them to trust with their ideas. I agree that time is money however, we have to create space to build "client-expert" relationships. I also contend that we as citizens in a larger community should pass on the knowledge we have gained as our great gift to society. I am perpetually thankful to all of the men and women who took their time and shared their wisdom with me. It has shown me new ways of thinking and different perspectives. I am willing to share with anyone who seeks knowledge. Be sure to schedule these in. Tip: I set aside a few hours each week to do consultations. This may mean that the person seeking my thoughts have to wait a week or two but I have adequately planned for the time and they will get my best.
Do Not Charge for Free things!
If you can very easily google it do not simple create a booklet and charge people for it. If there is a process that exists as a free service charging the ill-informed is simply wrong. While you may get the $5.99 for your e-book you lose credibility with your peers. .Exploitation is not how you want to grow your business. If you have not added some additional nuance or guidance then there is no product. Get rich quick schemes will catch up to you in the end.
Define Your Services!
If you know what you provide it is easy to know what to charge for. After a consultation you should be able to easily identify the potential client's need. This requires you to ask questions and listen. This is where having defined services come in. You should be able to look at what you can provide and what expertise that you have, if there are overlaps this where you begin quoting prices and charging for a project. You also have one additional obligation... send the client to someone else if this is not your area. At the very least pull in an expert so that you can learn and deliver a quality product. If you have to pass it on remember these referrals tend to be rewarded with referrals. If it does not then who cares you met another human and frankly its part of the cost of doing business.
It is my belief that there is no harm in sharing information. I give away information firmly believing karma will take care of the rest. Do good and good will be done to you.
Networking has several levels- for starters there is the initiation, the follow-up, and the check in. Most of the focus is on the first level, initiation. We have networking event after event centered on meeting new people. This is not the real work. After you had a witty conversation and the new connection has ASKed (yes they need to ask you) for your card most people feel great. They have networked, Right?!?... WRONG! Relying on the person with your info to call you may not be the best approach. There should be a mutual exchange of information. This is for two reasons, 1- some people have terrible memories and may quickly forget why they asked for your card. 2-you want to be able to proactively follow-up.
Here are the basics of each level of networking:
Level 2- Follow-up
I am a firm believer in the triple bottom line. What does that mean in basic terms? I believe that a business should consider PEOPLE, PLANET, PROFITS in everything they do. My philosophy is that we have a corporate responsibility to the people in the community that we serve, the planet that houses us and to make a little change in the end.
For a good read on the triple bottom line check out : The Triple Bottom Line: How Today's Best-Run Companies Are Achieving Economic, Social and Environmental Success - and How You Can Too By: Andrew Savitz, Karl Weber
I love to hear stories of entrepreneurs who are socially responsible BUT I dread hearing "I want to start a non-profit". SORRY- not sorry
Non-profits should not be entered into lightly. Currently, there are more than 1.5 million non-profits in the US. That means there is likely an organization that is already active in the area that you are interested in making an impact in. Before you jump head first into a non-profit consider these things.
from A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”