I read a column in the Huffington Post recently that inspired me to tell it like it is. The column broke down some of the myths that continue to be perpetuated about entrepreneurship, like how to “get rich quick.” I know I’m just one more voice adding to the fray, but I felt compelled to share.
I’ve been an entrepreneur for more than 30 years now. I wouldn’t have it any other way. This is what I know.
1. Success can be defined in many different ways
Don’t make the mistake of focusing exclusively on how much money you make. I think money allows us to do things – nothing more, nothing less. You can use money to help others. It gives us the opportunity to be generous and to do the right thing.
2. Becoming successful will take longer than you think it should
And I mean much longer. There’s no way of quickly becoming successful. Don’t trust anyone who says otherwise. Those who advertise how rapid their success has been are conveniently leaving out the years they spent hustling prior.
Are you in this for the long haul? If not, you might as well get out now. This profession takes dedication.
I recently had the pleasure of listening to Bob Parsons, founder of GoDaddy, give a speech about his career as an entrepreneur. The advice he stressed above all else was: “Hang in there.” His point was that you have to stick with something long enough to catch a few lucky breaks and eventually become successful.
3. There’s more than one way to achieve success
So learn as much as you can from others, especially those who are living the kind of life you want. Ask questions, the simple ones too. Draw your own conclusions from what you learn. When you create your own road map, be willing to change it.
Flexibility will serve you well. Entrepreneurs are always in motion! We’re dynamic creatures. Evolve or die.
4. You must be willing to make sacrifices
Time is one of them. It just is. So make sure you enjoy what you do. Don’t let your dedication destroy other parts of your life.
We’re all interconnected. Industries are smaller than they seem. You’re going to meet the same people climbing up the ladder when you’re on your way down.
6. If someone treats you poorly from the beginning, don’t expect your relationship to improve
Unfortunately, in my experience, it doesn’t.
7. Try to be patient
Lousy situations result when you rush. I think time is one of our greatest assets. If you give yourself enough time to think something through, you’ll discover more possibilities.
8. Don’t try to change difficult people
Focus instead on changing the way you deal with them. That’s the only thing under your control.
9. Have a positive attitude
People want to work with people they like. The only way you’ll be able to move mountains is if you believe you can.
10. Tell the truth, even when it’s painful
People might not like what you have to say, but getting real is what builds long-term relationships.
11. Admit when you’re wrong and move on
When people fail to take accountability for their actions, resentment festers.
If I’ve learned anything, it’s that life is too short not to enjoy yourself. Become an entrepreneur! Aim high! But more than that, focus on creating a business that has a great culture, does right by its employees and that people actually want to work for. That’s the best feeling in the world as far as I’m concerned.
If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Are You Building A Business Or Creating A Job For Yourself?
Is it just you behind a desk or are you delegating the work? The distinction is an important one.
We recently spoke with a member of our co-working space who owns a PR/marketing company and is the only employee of his company. His firm is successful and has been in business for more than three years since he left a large organisation where he was the head of PR.
Our conversation got around to the issue of extra help. When he needs additional skills to fulfill assignments, this man told us, he contracts with other professionals. That was interesting, we thought. Because, although our PR friend is talented and able to support his growing family, his comment about contracting out work raised a question for us.
“Was he trying to build a company or create a job for himself?” we wanted to know. It was a question that struck a chord with this man – one that he later came back to discuss.
In that context, we want to state that we think that we consider either choice a valid one, but one that should be a specific choice, nonethless. We work with and mentor dozens of small start-ups. And many start as single-person firms completing short assignments for a variety of other small or midsized companies.
There are more than 28 million small business in the United States. Of these, single-person companies are in the majority, representing three-quarters of all small businesses. These individuals, whether they planned it or not, have created a job for themselves. They will not hire employees or scale their businesses. Of course, this need not be negative.
Done right, a one-person business can actually make good money. It can give the owner the flexibility to choose assignments that are interesting and fulfilling, and to enjoy the flexibility of working when and where he or she chooses.
The “micro-business” category
A person working alone, or essentially alone, is a business category we call a “microbusiness.” The defining characteristic of a micro business is that the owner or principal is doing the primary work of the business, whether that means providing PR services or baking cookies. He or she may have helpers in the form of other freelancers, vendors or assistants, but the preponderance of the revenue comes directly from the work of this principal.
The key to the success of a micro business is how well the principal does its primary work, which includes selling. We find that the biggest challenge in a micro business is finding a steady stream of work. By the way, our consulting practice is a successful micro business. We have one paid full-time employee, our marketing assistant, but we do the primary work of our business – consulting.
The small business structure
Many people who own micro-businesses choose to stay at this size. However, if you want to build a business, you will need to grow, at least to what we call a small business structure, where the primary work is delegated to others. The owner might keep his or her hand in it, but others do the preponderance of the work. At this point, how well the principal does the primary work of the business is not nearly as important as it was when the enterprise was a micro business.
Personally, we found it difficult to transition to a small business structure in our consulting business for a couple of reasons. First, when people hire Doug and Polly to consult to their small business, they want Doug and Polly, not an associate. Second, we are limited in the amount we can charge to the very small businesses we serve. The fees we charge are not high enough to pay talent at the level we would want and still provide a sufficient markup for our firm. Therefore, Whitestone Partners has stayed a micro business.
It’s important to note that the role of the entrepreneur changes dramatically as a business moves from micro to small. In fact, at the point of transition, the principal has to let go of doing the very thing that made the company successful at the prior step. In a micro business, the business lives or dies based on how well the owner performs the primary work of the business. This makes sense. You have created a job, and you keep it or lose it based on how well you do the work.
But, if you choose to grow to a small business structure, success depends on how well the principal hires and manages workers. If you are the principal, your role will change. If you want to bake cakes, stay a micro business. If you want to run a bakery, you need to build a business. This is a scary step and one that can cause the principal sleepless nights.
Many people we mentor balk at this transition when they realise they will be responsible for the livelihood of others. However, to grow a business, yourself,, eventually, you will need to hire and manage employees.
Next . . . the midsize business
If you’re successful at the small business stage and choose to continue to grow, you will become a midsize business. The business has transitioned from small to midsize when at least one layer of management has been inserted between the principal and those doing the primary work. The principal has gone from managing workers to managing managers. This might sound like a small change. It is not.
To effectively utilise managers, the principal must delegate decision-making authority to them. This means giving up a measure of control, which is often difficult for entrepreneurs who are used to making every significant decision in the company.
This also is the transition with which growing companies most often struggle. Letting go of some control is a scary thing for entrepreneurs, and they are right to feel trepidation. Ineffective delegation can lead to the ruin of the business – we’ve seen it too often. To enable effective delegation, the principal will need to ensure that the appropriate infrastructure is in place. This means making certain that the business has the right managers, that processes are well-documented and that appropriate metrics are in place.
Meanwhile, if you want to create a life that has flexibility and autonomy and allows you to work when and where you like, you should probably choose to stay a micro business. As we like to say, you can create a great job for yourself. If you want to build something more, you will need to move to a small business structure. You will know that you have transitioned from micro to small when you have delegated most of the primary work of the business to others.
To truly scale a business, you will need to transition to midsize or larger. You will have done this once you’ve delegated day-to-day decision-making authority to a layer of managers that is between you and those doing the primary work of the businesses.
Each choice is valid and comes with its own challenges. However, we believe that it should be a conscious and specific choice. If you are unsure which direction to take, find an experienced consultant or mentor with whom to explore your options, skill sets, and desires. Then move forward with purpose in the direction that works for you.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Why Optimism Isn’t Enough – You Need To Also Accept The Brutal Facts
Entrepreneurs tend to depend on optimism in the same way that fish depend on water. It’s absolutely crucial for survival. In fact, it’s arguably the single most important character trait that a successful entrepreneur can have, but it also has a dark side…
A realistic path to success
- Lead with questions, not answers
- Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion
- Conduct autopsies without blame
- Build red flag mechanisms.
No matter how bad your day’s going, it’s probably nothing compared to your average day at the ‘Hanoi Hilton’. This was the euphemistically-named prisoner-of-war camp (actually called Hoa Lo Prison) where American soldiers were interned during the Vietnam War. Pilot Jim Stockdale was shot down on 9 September 1965 and sent to the prison. While there, he was tortured, denied medical attention, kept in a windowless cell and locked in leg irons at night. Stockdale spent almost eight years in the prison, and while many other American soldiers died there, he survived.
This brings us to the topic of optimism. You don’t survive eight years in a prison camp by giving up hope. Despite almost impossible conditions (and odds), you need to stay optimistic. Stockdale never lost hope.
“I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade,” Stockdale later said about his time in the prison.
The Stockdale paradox
So, Stockdale was an optimist right? Yes, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Jim Collins interviewed him while writing his seminal book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t. After hearing how Stockdale refused to give up hope and stayed optimistic throughout his internment, Collins asked him who didn’t make it out alive.
“Oh, that’s easy,” he replied. “The optimists. They were the ones who said: ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say: ’We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.
“This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
From this, Collins identified one of the key things that differentiated great companies from others: The ability to accept brutal facts. Greatness demands optimism, but not in the face of obvious disaster. Collins called this the Stockdale Paradox.
Too much optimism
What happens when a bunch of executives enter a boardroom with their charismatic founder? The founder is optimistic, inspiring… and demanding. He has absurd expectations. He wants the impossible. (Steve Jobs was a good example, who employees said had a ‘reality distortion field’ around him). The executives are eager to seem equally gung-ho, of course, even those who know that a crucial deadline won’t be met, so the brutal facts are ignored.
“We’re going to be shipping product by Christmas,” they all say. And Christmas comes, and Christmas goes. Then they say: “We’re going to ship by Easter. And Easter comes, and Easter goes. And then Thanksgiving, and then it’s Christmas again…
An overdose of optimism is a dangerous thing. While optimism is a crucial tool in the entrepreneurial kit (especially when it comes to motivating employees), it can lead to disaster if administered too liberally. Like morphine, a sensible amount can take the edge off a scary reality, but too much will distort reality to such an extent that you become oblivious to existential threats.
And how do you keep your company off the morphine? Collins suggests four things: Lead with questions, not answers. Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion. Conduct autopsies without blame. Build red flag mechanisms. If you do this, optimism becomes a powerful tool, and not a ticking time-bomb.
Alan Knott-Craig Weigh In On Living Your Entrepreneurial Dream
From raising capital to getting the most from your employees, business ownership is all about living your dream.
How do I chase my dream? — Sam
First, you need money. Moola. Cash. Capital.
Chasing your dream without enough capital is akin to having a premature baby. All the baby’s energy goes into survival rather than growth. Start-ups are not about survival (paying the bills). They’re about growth (getting rich).
Before you chase your dream, make sure you have enough capital. Keep your lifestyle simple and living costs down. Save up enough to last two years. Or marry rich.
I’m considering selling my business. I need help. — Clark
Before you enter M&A conversations, first decide: “Am I a seller?”
You won’t find it easy backing out during negotiations. Don’t start a process you can’t finish. Don’t look for buyers if you don’t want to sell.
Most people I know that sold their business regret it, unless they had a very specific reason: i.e. the business was about to die, or the business can’t grow without a big brother, or they want to leave the country. If that’s your reason, go ahead and sell. If it’s simply to have a pile of cash, reconsider.
What are you going to do with the money? Put it in your bathtub and wash yourself with notes? Buy fancy cars? Buy a fancy spouse?
Lots of money in your pocket can only tempt you to the dark side. Eventually you’ll get bored and you’ll want to start a business again, and you’ll start all over. If you don’t need to, don’t sell.
How do you instil an ownership mindset in your staff? — Johan
It’s hard to work with people that have no drive. Some people just come to work and go home with no planning or vision or energy. Start with getting rid of the bad apples, then start fine-tuning recruitment to only let in the folks with a good attitude.
Use some of these methods to motivate and encourage buy-in from staff:
- Ask staff for feedback.
- Do not tolerate mediocrity.
- Make sure everyone knows their job.
- Share information. Keep everyone in the loop.
- Look after your staff and they’ll look after you.
- Lead by example. Pick up litter. Be first to office. Be last to leave.
How do I determine what venture to dedicate my energy to and when do I know when to stop pursuing one of the opportunities? — Mike
Go with whatever gets traction first. Ruthlessly scratch everything else off your to-do list. Generally speaking, go with the business with the most tried-and-tested business model.
I left my former employer to move away from the legal side of things. I know that I have the technical skills in this area and I have used that in completely running the legal side of the micro lending venture, but the ultimate aim is to be an entrepreneur/businessman rather than constantly seen as the ‘lawyer’. Do I discontinue the legal consulting or slowly taper off? — Mike
If you can live without the sideline income, do so. Focus 100% on business. If you need the money, keep selling hours on the side.
I have a very successful farm store. I’m considering expanding countrywide. Any advice? — Elo
Ask yourself “why?”
If the answer is to get rich, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to scale your successful farm store.
Maybe a better option is to take the free cashflow of your farm store and invest it in a different business. An annuity revenue business. A business that will make money while you sleep, rather than only when you’re behind the till. Cash cows are hard to come by. If you don’t want to lose your cow, don’t try to scale it unless you’re 100% sure you never have to sell it.
Can you help me flesh out the detail of a pitch to investors? — Mamkhele
There’s only so much you can rely on others for. At some point, you need to man up and do the work yourself. You need to answer the questions yourself. The answers for all pitch-related questions are on the Internet. Google it. No one will save you, only you will save you.
Listen to this
Alan’s audible book Be a Hero: Make Life an Adventure is now available on amazon.com and Audible.com
Read by Alan himself, Be a Hero is a collection of stories on how to make your life an adventure by changing your mindset and tackling adversity.
Go to amazon.com or audible.com to download your copy. Be a Hero is also available in Kindle and paperback through Amazon.com.
Read ‘Be A Hero’ today
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