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The pinnacle of business accomplishment is Level 5 Entrepreneur! It is at this level where mega wealth is created and with mega wealth comes the opportunity to do mega good.

Rung Level of Entrepreneur Ladder

Entrepreneur:      5

Investor:            4

            Owner:               3            

Manager:           2

Self Employed:    1

Employee:          0

 

To operate as a true Level 5 Entrepreneur, we must gain a thorough understanding of corporate structure as a Level 4 Investor - how to structure businesses so that everything works to our advantage.

Advancing to Level 5 Entrepreneur

At Level 5 we are, once again, on a steep learning curve. Don’t let that scare you. If we stop learning we die. To ascend to the level of Entrepreneur, you must succeed with enough business deals at Level 4 to be considered a master. People will then want to invest with you. At that point you will be investing with other people’s money, which will lead you to the last level - that of Entrepreneur.

Big stakes excitement

Level 5 is the most exciting. This is where the true capitalist operates. It is at this level where you make money by raising capital. You are using other people’s money to build paper assets like stocks, franchises, licenses and royalties.

Think of it this way - true entrepreneurs use other people’s money to make money. The larger your reputation for successful entrepreneurship, the larger will be your pool of eager investors. One way to market your skills is to write books on how to succeed in business. This builds your reputation so that when you take companies public, you have a large number of investors jumping on board. This should be part of your strategy.

How did Bill Gates do it?

Consider this: What does Bill Gates, one of the world’s richest men, sell?  Does he sell computer software, information, solutions, or systems? In reality, what Bill Gates sells to create his wealth are shares in Microsoft. Level 5 Entrepreneurs build businesses they can take public. This allows them to quickly gain a massive amount of wealth.

You must be a visionary

At Level 5 you are a visionary – a dreamer with a vision. It is often said that all the best ideas start with a simple dream. It is not enough to just dream – we must take action to make our dreams come true. Sell the dream, then work to make it a reality. Always keep your mind focused on what is not currently real but soon will be. Then trust yourself and your team to make it so.

Level 5 capital

Level 5 Entrepreneurs do not have to work for money. They certainly do not trade time for money, and do not rely on profits as their primary source of income. They are interested in Return on Investment (ROI). They make money by raising capital. They create money by adding value.

Share price can be considered the entrepreneurs stock in trade. Their relationship with money is through the stock market. As Entrepreneur, you operate using your finely honed skills and deep economic understanding. When everyone else is in a panic, like today’s market, you remain cool headed because of your understanding of the economic seasons, briefly mentioned in last week’s article.

Turn, Turn, Turn

The Bible talks about this seasonal concept in Ecclesiastes chapter 3 verses 1 – 8 (the Birds put these verses to music in their famous song Turn, Turn, Turn, in 1965, written by Pete Seeger in the 50’s). Understanding the timing of your ventures in relation to the economic seasons is vital to your success and one of the reasons others entrust their money to your vision.

With our current economic turndown, we have once again entered the economic season of winter.  For the savvy entrepreneur, winter represents the beginning of the wealth creation cycle. Acquiring or starting businesses near the end of economic winter, at a fraction of the cost of during other seasons, enables the entrepreneur to maximize ROI during the summer in the form of IPO (Initial Public Offering) or acquisition.

Entrepreneurial wealth creation – a tool for good and for maintaining individual freedom

Many who reach the top of the e-ladder become great philanthropists, donating money and brain power to charities, hospitals, children’s organizations, scientific research, and education.

The e-ladder is the foundation of our capitalistic system, which has produced the greatest wealth and lifestyles for the largest percentage of the population than any other system in the history of mankind. How far you choose to climb has nothing to do with your value as a person. It has everything to do with your vision, your gifts, your willingness to work hard, take calculated risks, and to constantly learn. Marc Nuttle, a Norman attorney and advisor to many presidents, in his insightful book “Moment of Truth” clearly delineates how intricately our capitalistic free enterprise system is linked to our personal freedom as individuals. I highly recommend his book.

To maintain our freedom as individuals it is imperative that many exercise this freedom by climbing the entrepreneurial ladder. We climb, first and foremost, to provide for our families, and second, to do good for others. When we climb the e-ladder, we are providing jobs, opportunity, and hope for those who follow!

Like all things in life, running a business has its ups and downs, its highs and lows, and its successes and failures. Celebrating the sweet victories is easy, but how do you cope with the agonies of defeat?

First things first, like it or not, failing is inevitable. Every single person has failed at one time (or in most cases, lots of times). Throughout history scores of renowned great achievers not only failed, but failed over and over again. When Albert Einstein was young, his grades were so poor that a teacher asked him to quit, saying, "Einstein, you will never amount to anything!" Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team for his lack of skill. Winston Churchill failed the 6th grade. Soichiro Honda was turned down for an engineer position with Toyota Motor Corporation.

Here’s another truth: Failure is not something to fear. Failures and mistakes are lessons that can be used as stepping stones. And even though it may feel like it’s the end, it’s actually just the beginning. According to dictionary.com, failing is “an act or instance of failure.” But according to John Maxwell, bestselling author of Failing Forward, “Failure is simply a price we pay to achieve success.”

Failing forward is a willingness to learn from failures and implement the lessons into your actions, behaviors, and business. It’s choosing to pick yourself up and continue to move forward and toward your intended outcome in spite of being discouraged.

Think about the last time you failed and ask yourself these questions:

  • What can I learn from this?
  • What could I have done differently?
  • Do I need to acquire or improve some skills?
  • Who can I learn from?
  • What will I do next?

Now take the answers to these questions and plan how you will incorporate the lessons into your future actions.

So the next time you find yourself flat on your face, be grateful for the learning opportunity, dust yourself off, keep trying, and remember that the most inventive and successful people in the world not only fail, they are the BEST at failing.

The most significant challenges with running a family business arise due to the relationships within families. With a regular job, you can leave work at the office with no worries about bringing the job home.  However, when your co-workers live under the same roof, or are related to you, work and family issues can become intertwined.  Your childhood relationships with siblings, parental interactions, self-image, generational thought processes all affect relationships in a family business.

 

Some of these challenges include:

  • Boundaries:  At some point in a person’s career, we almost always bring some level of work home with us.  However, in the family business, work and home become blended.  Work is done at home and personal issues are often addressed at work.  The challenge family businesses sometimes find themselves in is a potential total absence of boundaries.  The blur becomes contentious, depriving family members of a place of solitude and escape.  In the end, the family always suffers.
  • Illness/Contingency Plans:  In the journey of life, situations occur that impact our ability to focus on life, let alone business. Emily, her parents, three brothers, three cousins and two uncles and aunts all worked in a manufacturing business. They had about 10 additional non-family employees as well, however the greatest responsibility for running the business fell on the shoulders of the family. Then disaster struck: Mom was diagnosed with cancer. She was the lifeblood and bond for the whole family for all these years. The cancer took its toll on Mom and everyone else in the family. They no longer cared about delivering orders, servicing customers, selling product or growing the business. They wanted to be at her side during the last weeks and months prior to her death. That is exactly where they needed to be, but the business could not run without the family. No plan had been put in place to allow for the entire family to essentially be unavailable for weeks at a time. Orders weren’t being filled, deposits weren’t being made, and materials weren’t being ordered.
  • Marrying into the business:  Your spouse’s family business has been around for years and your skill set matches specific needs within the family business.  Now for the challenge.   You are part of the family, yet you are still the in-law.  Should disputes arise (ok, when they do), too often you are left standing on the wrong side of the family tree.  No matter how much your spouse understands your opinion, there is always the question of support.
This uniqueness also creates advantages and opportunities.  Family name/reputation can carry a great deal of clout in the community – especially if the business has been around for a long time.  The lasting legacy that it creates, presents opportunities for even those not in the daily operation of the family business.  Truth be told, it is hard to be fired from the family business, so general job security is much stronger.  The sense of belonging and strength of relationships can create a vitality that carries through many an economic, personal or business storm.

 

There are lots of challenging issues when working in the family business such as divorce, health challenges, financial stability just to name a few.  Rather than ignore the possibilities of such things happening, it’s best to create a scenario and then a contingency plan should something arise.  Protect your business, but don’t forget to protect the family as well. 

She is very controlling.  He is always talking.  She is slow to take action.  He is quite a perfectionist.  Are those words descriptors of you, your family members or your spouse?  I know I recognize myself in at least two of those phrases.  The challenge is not only our behavior, but the behavior of others.  We need to understand the value of each other’s strengths and capitalize on them, not focus on the negative.  Let’s look at different types of “behavior”.

She is so controlling – yet the value she brings is the ability to makes decisions quickly, achieves goals, continue to be highly productive, a great leader, risk taker, and is usually efficient and structured.  Now that doesn’t sound so bad and could be these are tendencies that are needed in this business.

He is always talking to people which impacts productivity.  However he is also spontaneous and loves a crowd around him, seeks out participation from others, is great at motivating the team, keeps everyone laughing, is easy to get to know and will try anything.  Who wouldn’t want to be around him?

She is slow to take action and hard to adapt to new environments.  However, she is also relaxed, accepting, a great listener, a fantastic team member, is great at follow up, friendly, compatible and sees the details that others don’t see which keeps us out of trouble.

He is such a perfectionist – it has to be exactly right.  Yet, if I want something done right, he is the one to complete the task.  He is accurate, systematized, structured, a good planner, and focuses on quality more than anyone on the team.

What one considers a benefit, another considers irritating.  Think through the personalities on your team and refocus on looking at their irritating habits as strengths to appreciate!

The psychology of denial is interesting.  Webster’s defines it as:  a condition, in which someone will not admit that something sad, painful, etc., is true or real.

Yet, that is a state that many live in daily.  They essentially lie to themselves on a regular basis and that lie becomes the truth.  Where are you lying to yourself in your business?

  • Business is down due to the economy – Really?  Then why are your competitors doing so well?
  • There aren’t any good employees – So why are there places like the Broadmoor Resort, which is a 5 star resort that seem to have quality employees (even teenagers – wow)?
  • Customers only care about price – Do you buy only on price?  Or will you purchase something more expensive if you see a greater value at the higher price?

Each of the above items and your Excuses (which are dressed up reasons) are part of your own denial.  You don’t want anyone else to notice that you are lying – and lying to others – but mostly to yourself.

Truth is: 

  • Business is down, and it caught you by surprise; or you didn’t understand your financials, or  have Key Performance Indicators in place that would have given you a heads up allowing you to adjust your business.
  • There are good employees – yet your interviewing techniques, hiring & training methods are not as effective as they need to be.  It may be time to look at how you invest and motive your employees too.
  • Customers care about value – what kind of value are you offering your customers and what are you actually providing?

As the end of the first quarter of this year approaches, it might be a good time to ask yourself these questions and contemplate on where you are suffering from Denial and what do you need to change personally and in your business today!

Attitude is all about how you look at things.  I recently took a trip to New Orleans flying through Houston.  The Polar Vortex that has been hitting the US made for cancelled flights and a one day delay in actually making the trip.  Then upon my arrival in Houston my connecting flight was cancelled.  Rather than waiting around hoping to make it on another flight (the standby list was over 200), I chose to drive.  The situations on that drive will generate some good stories during my speaking event! 

That drive and the resulting situations (i.e., getting pulled over, having the road closed for 125 miles and getting detoured twice etc.) could have made for a very unhappy person who was grouchy, blaming the airlines, mad at the world and generally miserable.  What I chose was the pure joy of having 6 hours to myself in a part of the country I haven’t driven before and the peacefulness of my thoughts (when I wasn’t singing at the top of my lungs to a favorite song).

The event that happened was the cancelled flight, my response was – ok now what happens.  My actions created the outcome; “this is a journey and who knows where it will take me”.  My response could have been much different and the outcome could have ruined the whole conference for me.

My questions to you: 

  • How do you respond during challenges?
  • What are your first thoughts and resulting actions?
  • Do you take it out on others – therefore creating a bad awful day for them?

I have learned that one great joy is to take a bad situation and NOT take it out on others.  I love watching them respond when they expect you to yell and get mad.  I love putting joy into their day of not having an irate customer in front of them. Now this doesn’t mean I allow them to walk on me, or am a push over (those who know me probably haven’t even dreamed of that situation.)  You would be amazed at how often I then get told:  Thank you for being so understanding.  Thank you for your attitude.

How do YOU respond?  Do YOU need to change your response to life, business, and personal situations which not only change your world – but those around you?

The critical impact of attitude is seen every day in the business world.  What one business owner sees as a disaster, another sees as opportunity and capitalizes on that opportunity.  Those who have spent their lives in below the line thinking don’t even realize the impact it has not only on them personally, but their families, businesses, customers and potential.  If their team is below the line, where did they learn it from?  Most likely they learned it from the business owner.  An owner who is below the line will hire staff who also first turn to blame, excuses and denial. It is someone else’s fault that the project is delivered late, someone else’s fault that the customer is upset.  To change they will need someone to hold them accountable to point out where they are below the line. 

As I work with clients on this concept, the tendency is to swing to a point where issues in the business are not discussed with the excuse (notice the tendency again) that the issue is below the line.  This doesn’t give permission for a business to white wash issues in the business.  What is does change is the ownership and responsibility for changing the issue at hand.  If projects are late, that is a fact.  The question is what must change in the business to ensure projects are not delivered late, that your customers have the experience stated in all the promotional material.

Businesses have lived for years in below the line thinking and attitude.   They stay in business, they grow, and they pay the bills and serve customers.    What impact would the business make with an above the line attitude?  Profits would increase.  Less time would be spent on blame and poor productivity.  Productivity would increase with energy due to the positive atmosphere in the business. The examples abound.

Yet, you must be ready to make the change.  Your dissatisfaction with the results, profitability, long work hours, people avoiding you since they dislike being around negative, blaming people, etc., must be at a point where it is higher than your resistance to making the change.  It is easy to live below the line. It may not be fun, but it is easy and there is a great deal of company.  When I ask my clients do they want to be average, the resounding answer is NO.  They want to be above average.  To make that happen, your mindset must change to one of excellence—above the line thinking— and you will be amazed at the results.

Let’s start with a story.

Two business owners are in the same market, offer essentially the same products, target mutual markets, and yet at year end, produce very different results. One business is doing well, another is doing poorly.  One business owner seems on top of their game, another isn’t succeeding.  One business is growing, the other business is barely scraping by and the owner is beginning to wonder whether it is either time to sell, or maybe, just shut the doors.

What is the difference between the two businesses?  There can be any number of factors to consider.  Perhaps the owners differ in the amount of knowledge and skills they have for running a business; there may be a difference in the systems which have been put into place, or maybe they are missing all together.  Consider the team that drives the business forward, how pricing is determined, marketing is presented, and how sales are made.  Many factors play into the success and growth of a business.  Yet, there is one characteristic that creates the largest differentiator between the two business environments.  That is the mindset of the owner and/or leadership.  How do they view, what is their perspective on every situation, every economic obstacle, every customer, and perhaps on life in general? The attitude of leadership sets the tone for the environment of the business.

Is there a pervasive attitude similar to Eeyore’s, Winnie-the-Pooh’s donkey friend?  In this type of environment the we get below the line thinking which produces a string of blame, excuses, and denial manifested in the “woe is me” life is hard, this is what happened, I don’t get the same opportunities as others, the economy is really hurting, etc.  In below the line thinking we often hear people blaming someone else, producing excuses for why things didn’t get accomplished, and denial that their attitude is a main source of the issues at hand.  Below the line thinking creates a reason for everything and generates a need to be explained. 

On the other hand, the attitude that propels above the line thinking is more like Pooh’s friends Kanga or Owl.  Above the line thinking accepts ownership, accountability and responsibility for everything they do.  They understand what they cannot control (economy, taxes, etc.) is only 10% of life; but what they have great control over is 90% of their life.  This is what the author Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, calls the 90/10 rule.   How your day goes is totally up to you, as is how you react to situations and what opportunities you achieved even through disastrous times.  Steve Jobs got fired from Apple which most likely was not what he called the best day of his life, yet without being fired from Apple he would not have created Pixar and NeXT which are part of the foundation of the Apple products we love today. Above the line thinking creates results.  Results don’t require explanations, they speak for themselves.

 Why do we, as a society, have such a hard time dreaming?  As children, we dream on a regular basis.  We fly, conquer the world, create imaginary friends, and plan to accomplish things never considered by anyone 20 years of age or older. 

 Then the aging process starts and conformity begins.  We conform not only in our behavior (which is mostly good), but in our ability to dream.  One by one, we are told (and often not outright), that our dreams are impossible. Our dreams are unreasonable, unreachable, or even unthinkable. You might have even heard, “Why would you ever try that - you might FAIL!”

 What this creates is a society of control freaks.  Some control freaks become business owners and owners who want it done their way, believing their way is the only right way.  What they end up losing is the ability to leverage the world to get things done for them.  They don’t hire for new ideas, they hire for fitting into the box the business owner created.  The problem: business owner wealth creation is often best accomplished by people with the desire to dream in a world without boxes.

 Make 2014 a year of Dreaming without Boxes!  What does that mean?  It means stepping out and doing things differently.  A perfect example is Steve Jobs who created something that was new and different that we didn’t know we needed!  Yet how many of us want to revert back to what life was like prior to first Apple computer?   As a business owner, you need to get away from the day to day operations at times and give yourself time to dream, to challenge the status quo, your current thinking process, and to be open to new ideas. 

 You also must be willing to let others challenge your thinking – they also have dreams that might allow you to fly, conquer the world, and accomplish things you were told were impossible.

Dream big dreams for yourself, your family, and your business in 2014.  Dreams do come true, but only if there was a dream in the first place!

 

An old adage goes, “Rules are meant to be broken.” In many ways, this is absolutely correct. Simply following the rules, doing the same thing over and over, won’t get you anywhere. Albert Einstein once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.” Every truly great, major innovation in history has come about as a result of new thinking.

 So let’s say you’ve set up your business, and are doing fairly well. You have a steady stream of revenue, a good customer base, efficient systems in place, and everything is going great. What do you do next? Often, businesses will plateau. They will improve up to a certain point, but things won’t get better from there. Once a plateau is reached, new thinking is required if you want your business to grow-which you should. Now, you should not throw your old playbook out the window, however, change is needed, and in many cases this change is rather unconventional. You need something that sets you apart.

  • What could you be doing that none of your competitors are?
  • What markets are you not tapping into?

Find that niche, and utilize it. Do something new, something different, and blow everyone away with your creativity and innovation. 
(Picture credit:Freeditigalphoto.com)

In any business, just providing good customer service is not enough. In order to rise above your competition, you must take your customer service from average to spectacular. Customers have higher expectations and look for something that makes your company stand out.

Create a positive customer experience. Were their phone calls answered courteously and in a timely manner? Were their encounters with you and/or your staff friendly, energetic, and memorable? Did you do everything possible to find answers to their questions, solve their problems, and meet their specific needs?

Share your enthusiasm. This key ingredient to success is crucial for gaining and retaining customers. If you are not enthused about your business, how can you expect the customer to be enthused about your products or services? Deliver your customer service with excitement! Your enthusiasm is apparent whether you are chatting on the phone, face-to-face, or emailing with your client. Make sure that your staff and team members provide customer service with the same levels of enthusiasm and excitement.

 Engage your customers. Assess all aspects of your business and determine how your clients felt about their experience. It is important to view your customer service from their side and then focus on any areas that may need improvement. Offer your clients the opportunity to share their feedback through comment cards, surveys, and testimonials. Be prepared and open to suggestions and/or complaints and criticism as you do this.

 Make it your goal to provide stellar customer service from start to finish. Let your enthusiasm impress and inspire your clients to come back again and again. When you share your products and services in a genuine, positive, and exciting manner you are building a connection and customer experience that helps you rise above the rest of the competition!

All too often, I hear excuses for why something did not happen the way it should have. People always search for ways to absolve their guilt by blaming their issues on something else. I have found throughout my career that there are three major categories of excuses:

The “It’s good enough” excuse

This is one of the most common excuses. Someone will do a passable job, scraping by, but quit as soon as possible with the excuse that what they accomplished is good enough. They are not striving for an “A” or for real quality work.  Merely scraping by with a “C” or adequate work is good enough.   However, if you want to make your business truly exceptional, meaningful, a true world-changer, this is not acceptable. You will never get ahead with “good enough”.  Would you yourself do business with just “good enough”?

The “I’m new at this” excuse

Along this same line, people who are new at something feel that they have a right to give themselves a bit of slack. Although there is something to be said for the learning curve, all too often it becomes an excuse to slack off your first few months.  However, the opposite is true; you need to be ready from day one. Otherwise, you get trapped in a cycle where the “I’m new at this” excuse becomes a “good enough” habit.

 The “I didn’t plan for that” excuse

We all have moments that make us go “Oops!” If you have any doubts about that, I have a board game called Leverage to show you. Even though there are some unexpected developments, you cannot simply say “Oh well.” You need a plan B, as well as a Plan C, D, & E. Be prepared for any and all eventualities, because you never know what will happen in the future. An employee may walk out on you, or there may be a sudden shortage of your product. When that happens, what will you do? Seriously think about a variety of scenarios and create plans to put in place before you need them.

Ultimately, complaining about a situation does nothing productive for you or your business. What you need to do is isolate the problem and identify a solution. Don’t waste ages explaining your problems to your friends and colleagues, only to ignore their advice. Instead, get to the root of the problem, follow through with the corrective solution, and move on with your business. The art of self-correction is among one of the most important business lessons you will ever learn.

Whether you’re buying your morning cup of coffee, holding a door open for a passerby, or letting a fellow driver merge in front of you, most likely you hear two magic words: Thank You. You hear it most every day, probably more than once. But how often do you SAY it? Do you feel that you say it enough? And do you make it a point to show it?

Steven Covey, bestselling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, puts it this way: "Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival, to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated." [emphasis added]

Chances are your clients have a number of providers, services, companies, and products to choose from, and they have chosen to support you and your establishment. With the holidays just around the corner, this is one of the best seasons to show your gratitude and appreciation for all of the people who make your business possible!

Here are some easy ways to show your appreciation throughout the season (and all year long):

  • Mail your clients a thank you card. In the hustle and bustle of this email age, correspondence can get buried in junk boxes, scanned over and quickly forgotten, or overlooked completely. Sending a good old fashioned card in the mail provides your customers with a token of appreciation they can hold in their hands, feel with their fingers, and display for their friends and family.
  • Pick up the phone and actually tell them how much you appreciate them.  When is the last time you actually spoke to your customers, not about business but about them?  Building a lasting relationship is crucial to keeping quality customers.  To build relationships, you must seek to understand the uniqueness of each business and make time to verbally share how much you appreciate them and why.
  • Give your clients special offers or promotions. This is an especially great way to show appreciation to your patrons who purchase in high volumes or frequency, who often refer you to their network, and who have been loyal customers to you and your business. Speak with a business coach to plan the best way to offer these promotions and also stay within your budget.
  • Give your clients an inexpensive thank you gift. These gifts can be as simple as a coupon or discount on their next transaction. They can also be gift certificates for coffee or yogurt, housecleaning, courier services, etc. Giving gift cards can be a great way to refer your favorite small businesses to your clientele. Again, you may want to speak with a business coach to assess a good budget for you to give gifts without breaking the bank.

If you already incorporate customer appreciation into your business, then pat yourself on the back for a job well done. If you would like to start doing so, work on focusing your attitude on gratitude this holiday season...a little gratitude can go a long way!

There is a lot of speculation about the value of college in today’s world. We live in a world today where some of the richest, most successful CEOs are, in fact, college dropouts.  Today’s college graduates face bleak prospects. So is college still worth it? How does the college planning process prepare the workers of tomorrow to be successful? Let’s take a look at questions asked on college essays, particularly the common college entrance application.

When have you experienced failure? How has it affected you?

Many of you, I’m sure, have heard the stories about failure, particularly from Steve Jobs. Failure is a part of everyone’s life, and learning to deal with it at a young age prepares people better for when they have to deal with it in the future.

Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or an idea.

This question examines the core of innovation and entrepreneurship. As I discuss in my book, people often start their own business in order to change the “status quo,” in essence, to challenge a belief or an idea. Students who write their essays on this question are setting themselves up for entrepreneurship in the future.

Although every high school senior (including my son) is currently complaining about how difficult writing these essays are, the application process can actually set students up very well for their future, as arduous as it seems.

The ideas set out in application essays are very different from what is actually taught in the classroom, particularly at the undergraduate level. I will discuss this more next week.

As children return to school after a busy summer, teachers are busy preparing activities to assess the knowledge they have retained from the previous year.  As a business leader, you must take the time to annually assess your business plan in order to grow your business.  You might look at your business plan as the “answer” to the test of what you have learned about growing a successful business.  The following are three tests that show what you have learned along the way.

Have you met your time line goals during the year and are you on track to finish the year strong.  This shows you have learned valuable lessons in time management and project management including the development of good work flow systems.  If you are behind in achieving your goals, put them through the SMART test.  Are they specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely? If they are and you are having trouble meeting your goals, this may indicate you need a bit of extra support and a business coach may be needed to help you succeed in your attaining your business plan. 

 Is your financial picture is on target or exceeds expectations for the year.  A healthy financial bottom line is a good indicator that your business goals for the year are being met.  However, closer scrutiny of both income and expenses is essential to ensure any financial gains and drains were derived from expected sources.  Any deviation may indicate a need for an adjustment in your business plan.  If you are unsure of where your money came from or went to give me a call and we can lay out a plan for getting your business financials in order.

 Are you ready to provide added value to your product line or services for the upcoming new year.  It is a satisfying feeling to review your business plan and check off the successes and milestones achieved.  A successful business is developed by scaffolding the lessons we’ve learn along the way, the lessons learned are simply a foundation for those yet to come.  You’ve heard the Marshall Goldsmith saying, “What got you here won’t get you there.”

  • Where is your next “there”? 
  • What will you need to learn to propel you to the next level?
  • What lessons will you need to learn to master the next test? 
  • Will you need a business mentor to help you get there? 

Test yourself throughout the year and be ready to evaluate what you have learned and what you need to learn to grow your business and achieve the success you deserve!

(Photo compliments of renjith krishnan/freedigitalphotos.net)

Millennials are often not ready to settle down. They move from town to town, job to job looking for what really excites them. Some will change jobs their entire life. Your mission should be to convince Millennials to stay at your company by doing the following:

  • Atmosphere:  Millennials pay close attention to the environment of places they work. Think of the business startup. The open floor atmosphere, the free coffee (which I will talk more about later), the passion and excitement of the employees are all very important to the millennial. Make the Millennial excited to go to work every day. Make the office an exciting place to be. Encourage individuality. Millennials like to express themselves, often with glasses and skinny jeans. Welcome that attitude into your office.
  • Attitude:  Attitude begins with the boss. What is he/she like? Is the boss approachable, or is there an invisible wall separating the boss from the employees? Millennials are a generation that need positive reinforcement. Have the boss check in on them; ask how a project is coming. However, do not micromanage. Give Millennials space, otherwise they will feel suffocated and leave. If they are supposed to arrive at 8, do not berate them for arriving at 8:05. They will start arriving at 8, but after a while, they will leave. Furthermore, allow Facebook access. It seems like a trivial or counterproductive thing, but access to social media sites has become an integral part of most Millennials. Provided it does not interfere with work, allow them access to these sites. They will enjoy looking at what their friends had for lunch, and you will enjoy having them work for you.
  • Perks:  As I mentioned earlier, Millennials love their coffee. Provide them with coffee, donuts, and food. They are little tasks that mean quite a bit to the millennial generation. Furthermore, Millennials often value experiences over money. As a result, it is prudent to give them those experiences. Allow them to try the new Vietnamese restaurant downtown. They will appreciate the freedom, and may even bring you back some.

Millennials are the hardest group to sell to. First of all, they have less money. Many Millennials are on a very tight budget. They are burdened with crushing debt, and many are unemployed or underemployed. Furthermore, they have been “sold to” their whole life. As a result, most conventional tactics fail. Products are overhyped to Millennials, who are used to seeing these things fail, and, as a result, there is a negative correlation between how much hype surrounds a product and how much Millennials want to buy your product.

The Oatmeal, a Millennials web comic, has an excellent illustration of this: Oatmeal Comics

Additionally, location is very important. Can Millennials walk or ride their bike to your business from their homes? Are you easily accessible from public transportation, if your city has it? Are there other businesses nearby that stand for the values that Millennials have? Millennials would much rather stop at your business after they have gone to their local coffee shop than make a special trip to visit you on the other side of town. 

Millennials have different priorities on how they decide to buy things. It is very important how something is made and how the organization gives back to the community. Panera Bread is popular with Millennials partly because they give back to the community through programs such as Panera Cares. Millennials would much rather spend a little more of the money they do not have on a fair trade product that gives the workers a decent wage than buy the cheapest available product. Millennials care far more about the atmosphere of a workplace. What impression do potential customers get when they walk in the door? Is everyone smiling and happy to be there? Is there something unique that no one else has? If your workplace has that, then Millennials will flock to you. 

As a business owner you know by now that you can’t do it all.  In fact, depending on the size of your business, you may not even be able to do half the work it takes to produce the goods or services of your company.  Any good business coach will encourage you to grow a great team of employees and empower them to do the work you can’t do, don’t have time to do, or don’t want to do.  It all begins with the art of delegation.

The employees who are most successful in taking responsibilities off your plate are those you hire with the end in mind.  Regardless of the position opened, when interviewing prospective employees always look for those who have had leadership experience in the areas similar to your company’s structure or exhibit emerging leadership characteristics. 

Business owners are often quick to promote hot shots that talk a great talk or have quick success with a project.  Remember the “Peter Principle, Employees will rise to the level of their incompetence.” Rather than having a “promote until they fail” philosophy, introduce leadership responsibilities one delegated task at a time.  If the employee shows a consistent level of handling the tasks delegated, then you know you have a winner and a good candidate to promote into leadership. 

Start with these three tips for delegating:

  1.  Assign tasks which will not cause harm should the employee fail to achieve the desired outcome.
  2. Provide as much information as possible to set the employee up for success.  Outline the perimeters, (i.e., budget, deadline, specific details or requirements).  Paint a picture through words of what the end product should look like, however do not tell them how to do the project step by step.  You want to see what they can produce.
  3. Check in with the employee and ask how they are doing and if they need any help.  Set up “check points” for long term projects and require them to provide you with a status report.

When the project is finished, review with the employee what they did well and challenge them to increase their skills in specific areas on the next project.  If they can’t handle the responsibility, acknowledge their willingness to try.  When a project turns out spectacular, be sure to share credit where credit is due, besides, it makes you look good for hiring such great talent!

Here are three questions to ask which will help you finish the year strong:

  1. What goals have you already reached, will reach, have the potential to reach, and will unlikely reach by year end?  Now I am assuming that you have strategically crafted measurable goals for the year in the first place.  When you ask yourselves these questions each quarter, you are much more likely to intently focus on your business goals and work to achieve them.
  2. What do you contribute to the achievement of the goals you have reached so far?   Take the time to evaluate your accomplishments.  Plot your path to success and learn to replicate the steps that are fruitful for your particular business.  Keep a journal as you try new and different ideas and then turn your observations into workable systems which can be used again or expanded and used in other areas. 
  3. In the same way, if you tried something that doesn’t fit your business at all, consider the steps you took and find out why it didn’t work.  Do you need to throw out the whole idea, or is there just a portion of the process that needs reworking? Visualize each step until you can identify the missing element.  Your idea may not have worked for that particular project, but it might be adjusted and work in another area or for a different project?

Many of us are good at developing New Year Resolutions and goals.  Some are even good about writing these goals down, but how many are really good at checking in each quarter and strategizing ways to cross the finish line?  If you’re not quite sure how to make quarterly goals and reports work for your business, search the web for ideas, buy a book or call upon a trusted business coach or advisor.  This year, let’s make sure your goals are more than just a New Year’s Resolution!

As the leader of your business, division, or other responsible position, do you ever find yourself feeling alone?  Many leaders do, but here’s the thing, you shouldn’t ever find yourself becoming lonely as a leader.  If you do, you’ve missed a step along the way.  Here are three missteps that often happen and ways to motivate you to fix the step.

  1. Be willing to mentor a rising star. Leaders get to be leaders by inspiring others to follow.  Among followers there will be a varied amount of skills and talents at different levels.  And among your followers will be a few real gems that rise to the top, and when they identify themselves, be ready to bring them under your wing.  Emerging leaders are hungry for information, ideas, and encouragement. Replicate the best of what’s in you into their leadership growth.
  2. Find a business coach or a group of advisors.  When a leader gets to the point of saturation within their field of study, it’s time to be challenged.  Find a business coach or group of advisors who can help you see another perspective, tie your success to other opportunities, or just validate the path you are on.  Everyone needs someone to clear the smoke from their eyes, help them map the future, and cheer them on along the way, even established leaders.
  3. Find a peer group.  Develop relationships with other leaders in your area or better yet, outside your field of expertise.  When there is no competition involved to establish who knows more about a particular area of knowledge, the easier it is to share issues, concerns and generally be vulnerable.  However, don’t allow your relationships to evolve into a “pity party”.  Use your time together to encourage and council each other as well. 

The bottom line is that leaders are known to take initiative.  So if you are feeling “lonely at the top”, it’s time to do something about it. 

You started out with a great idea, one that seemed to be desirable by a number of clients, and it paid off.  You truly found what you loved to do and are able to get people to pay you for it!  Congratulations.  Now, how are you going to sustain your business?  You may be fantastic at developing widgets, but how are you at the actual business competencies that will sustain your business over the long run?  

 An October 2012 report on Sustainability and Leadership Competencies for Business Leaders identifies top competencies as follows:

  • External awareness and appreciation of trends
  • Visioning and strategy formulation
  • Risk awareness, assessment, and management
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Flexibility and adaptability to change
  • Ethics and integrity

 Business owners need to provide themselves with learning opportunities that will strengthen each of these core business competencies.  This education can be accomplished through reading, formal training, or most effective, by utilizing a business mentor or business coach that can hold business owner accountable for actually implementing stainable changes in their company, ones that are customized to meet their company’s specific needs.  However you choose to receive your small business advice and continue your education as a leader, make a plan and follow your plan to ensure you are a perpetual learning leader.

As America acknowledges the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, Jeffrey McCausland shares an insightful article in The Guardian on the top three lessons leaders can learn from the battle of Gettysburg. 

 They are:

  1. The importance of time and timing – “When a leader makes a decision for his/her organization, timing may actually be more important than the decision taken.” While we have multitude of information gathering opportunities to make decisions today, it may actually be a detriment to our business when we wait and take too much time gathering information rather than acting on our knowledge and instinct regarding business management and business leadership. 
  2. Effective leaders must “park” there personal ego and focus on what is best for their organization.  I have shared a good bit about personal ego in recent blogs (access past blogs on my website).  When making decisions about your business, don’t make them too personal, or what’s best for you. Take into consideration your clients, employees, network, and all who may be impacted by your decision.
  3.  An effective leader must articulate and communicate a strategic vision to his/her organization.  Lincoln communicated his vision for the nation to the very end.  In Bill Hybel’s book, Courageous Leadership, he reminds us that as leaders we eat, sleep, and live our vision.  Our employees and others, however, will experience “vision leaks” if we are not able to keep the picture painted for our followers in a way that allows them to see the vision and join us on the journey.

 I suggest reading the full article The top three leadership lessons from the battle of Gettysburg, by Jeffery D McCausland.  It’s interesting to compare leadership from the past to the present.  While we want to learn from the past and not make the same mistakes our predecessors made, it is the wise leader that learns from those in the past and if we are willing to look and listen, we will be gifted with great leadership lessons. 

You can’t control a wildfire.  The best you can do is to plan for its eventual happening and do everything possible to keep out of the line of fire.  Our businesses are also susceptible to the devastation of a “wildfire” which can be the result of any type of catastrophic impact.  So what are the lessons we have learned from the fires we have experienced here in Colorado Springs? 

1.   Clear as much debris from around the perimeter of your property as possible.  
What type of “debris” may be associated with your business?  Strive to understand what keeps potential customers or clients from seeing you as an attractive company to do business with.

2.  Eliminate dead wood. 
If you have people on your team that are not producing, find a place where they will be successful or help them find a new place of work where they will be successful.  Dead wood often becomes destructive in nature.

3.  Keep an updated record of valuables. 
 Steven Covey’s now famous quote “Keep first things first” is invaluable to a business owner.  Set goals, work your goals, know what the most important things to spend your time on are and don’t let anything derail you from pursuing your goals.

4.  Always be prepared.
It’s now just the Boy Scouts that need to be prepared for any eventuality.  When you are prepared, you make it easy to do business with you.

5.  Help your neighbor.  
Business to business support is critical.  Join a network group and get to know your business community. When businesses support each other and rejoice in each other’s successes, we all grow stronger and keep our business community from potential “wildfires”!

Lately a few books I have read and Cd’s I have listened to have focused on the concept of the ability to learn and the desire to learn.  What makes one business owner great, record profits, obtain raving fans for customers, and secure balance within their lives; while another business struggling to make ends meet, experiences challenges with building a team, watch their profit being squeezed and have a decided lack of balance in their lives?  One could say many things make them different; however one common character trait of most successful business owners is genuine sense of Humility.  They recognize that they don’t know how to do everything.  They lost the negative side of ego many years ago.  They know the difference between self-confidence and ego and utilize the strength of each.

Self-confidence is:

  • being able to step out of your comfort zone,
  • being open to someone else knowing more
  • being a willing learner
  • being willing to be wrong, but know it doesn’t affect the core of who you are

Ego (the positive side) is:

  • having self-confidence in what you are doing, yet knowing when and how to ask questions
  • having appropriate pride in oneself – aka self esteem
  • having a realistic view of how the world sees them, yet knows how they see themselves and the qualities they possess

We all know the negative side of ego.

Humility (the opposite of Ego) is:

  • expressed by the actions of a well-grounded person
  • found in knowing your intrinsic self-worth
  • respected as a virtue in life and in a religious/philosophical sense
  • often tied to fierce resolve
  • critical as a character trait to leadership effectiveness

Where do you stand with response to Ego, Self-confidence and humility?

Last week’s blog on the Mind Game introduced the topic of results; how what you tell yourself hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly directly impacts the outcome of our actions.   Now as your self-talk begins to become more positive we can put it into even greater perspective.  For every negative thought you have, “I can’t do this”, “I am not good at doing anything or this one thing”, or “You screwed up again”, (whatever your negative self-talk includes), it takes at least 12 affirmations to counteract that one negative statement.  WOW!  Does that become a motivator to stop telling yourself what you can’t do?  This doesn’t even take into consideration what others may say to you, it only pertains to the one negative conversation you had with yourself.  So here is what it looks like:

Negative self-talk:  “I really blew that meeting!  You aren’t any good at running meetings.”

Positive self-talk:

  1. I continue to improve my understanding of how to run meetings.
  2. I really appreciated the feedback to running meetings better.
  3. I am great at running meetings.
  4. Every meeting I run I learn more about how to be great at running them.
  5. I learned a great deal at that meeting that I can apply to the next one.
  6. I am going to start earlier in preparing for running meetings to achieve even greater results.

And the list goes on.

We all eventually make a mess of things, do something wrong, bring to light an area we need to improve upon.  Those are all facts.  It is how we look at those mistakes, failures, whatever you want to call them that helps us pick up the pieces learn and move on.

If you aren’t failing you are not growing.  So embrace the failure, give yourself credit, and create a plan of self-talk of how to improve the next time without beating yourself up.