To Be, or Not To Be … An Entrepreneur

I recently received an email from a colleague who says she read that a professional practice differs from entrepreneurism, though she had thought of a professional practice as an entrepreneurial activity, and asked me what I thought.

It reminds me, initially, of the 3 blind people coming upon an elephant. One grabs the tail, one the trunk, and the other a leg. One says it is a rope, one says a hose, and the other says a tree trunk. A professional services business may or may not be an entrepreneurial endeavor. It depends upon whether you are observing someone looking at his or her practice as an entrepreneurial endeavor or a business.

I know professionals – chiropractors, attorneys, physicians and architects whose business depends upon their constant presence, and I know those who have developed a structure, a team, and systems whereby the business is self-sustaining, running without their constant presence.

You may come across the metaphorical elephant of a professional business that is entrepreneurial in nature and you may come across one that is of a sole-practitioner.

There is a difference between a small business owner and an entrepreneur; and there is also significant overlap. One quality of a small business is that the owner is interested in generating the income, with the long-term growth. The entrepreneur is interested in creating equity and then moving on.

For the business owner the reward is in the business. For the entrepreneur the reward is in the creation. I think the analogy applies to the professional practice as well. It is important to realize that there are other possible scenarios along the path. It is more of a gradient rather than one or the other.

There are benefits of each and a personal affinity for each; as I learned from my Dad that reason there is chocolate and vanilla ice cream is because some like chocolate and some like vanilla.

The perspective really needs to fall back to your primary reason for going into business. Your business is a tool to an end. I have found, however, that understanding exactly what that ‘end’ is for each of us, however, is easier said than done. But understanding that is where one needs to start with their business plan… what is it that you really, really, really want both from your business and in life. An answer that comes by listening to yourself away from the good opinions of others.

Godspeed and all the best to you.


Sharing Your Success

Thomas Jefferson did it. So did Andrew Carnegie and Anita Brittina (she wrote “Diary of A Small Businesses Owner: A Personal Account of How I Built a Profitable Business,” and had what she called a self-board, which meet regularly to cross educate and support). And Napoleon Hill wrote about it in his classic and timeless book, Think and Grow Rich.They all had mastermind groups to help them achieve success.

Hill writes in Think & Grow Rich, “No two minds ever come together with a common purpose without creating a third, invisible intangible force, which may be likened to a third mind.” He further described the mastermind as the “coordination of knowledge and effort of two or more people, who work toward a definite purpose, in the spirit of harmony.”

The value of a mastermind group is in the participants who are a catalyst for growth and a source of knowledge. It’s like having a supportive board of directors, from which you can gain tremendous insights for both your business and personal life.

Participants raise the bar, challenging each other to set goals, brainstorm ideas, and create a structure of accountability that helps keep you focused in a manner that embraces honesty, respect, and compassion.

The mastermind groups I lead have 6-8 small business owners, and meet either monthly or bi-monthly. The members are fairly close in the stage of their business development, with similar goals and challenges. While I set a learning focus for each meeting, the agenda belongs to the group, and each person’s participation is key.

Mastermind groups can be established around nearly any group of individuals who have a common interest. In addition to a small business owner mastermind group, there are masterminds for the self-employed, the job seeker, individuals working on advancing their career, or spiritual thinkers, as well as play-writes, stand-up comedians, and people seeking to have an extraordinary year.


What is Your Story?

Martin Luther King said ‘I have a dream,’ not ‘I have a strategy and vision.’

A dream is so much more compelling than a strategy or vision. We have all experienced dreams and know what they are. We can get our arms around them and can imagine them. Strategies and vision, on the other hand, are too often associated with power point presentations.

About Story Telling

The age-old practice of storytelling is one of the most effective tools of a business leader. It is a skill that connects and engages people at their deepest level.

Stories are critical to every aspect of your business and help the listener to consider their own possibilities in the context of the story. They can inspire everything from understanding to action. They help galvanize an organization around a defined business goal by telling about where you business is and where it is going. Stories help clients decide to work with you. Some of our most acknowledged leaders in business including Steve Jobs of Apple, Lou Gerstner of IBM, and Jack Welch of GE owe their success in part to their story telling abilities.

Stories can create legends that an entire workplace culture can build upon, and they have the power to break down barriers and turn a bad situation into a good one. They capture our imaginations and make things real in a way that cold, hard facts can’t.

Stories help people learn, absorb, remember and share information and ideas. They motivate, persuade, inform and inspire. Compelling stories have far-reaching emotional impact – and a far longer shelf life than the dry, abstract, one-way methods of corporate communications that clutter businesses today. Stories demonstrate what success looks and feels like, painting a clear picture of how we might need to change the way we think and do things.

Stories are the compelling message that enroll others in your vision, and enable you to create an organization where the employees join you in creating equity in your business.

Every story has a purpose that you want to clarify at the outset, as well as selected to match the listeners’ interest or situation. Each recipient of your story is unique and your story wants to reflect the needs of each audience.

As a small business owner, many of your stories will be intended to move prospective clients to use your services. Story objectives for the small business owner include:

  • Have a prospective client identify with the problems you solve
  • Communicate who you are and who you work with
  • Transmit a sense of your values
  • Foster collaboration
  • Leading clients and staff into the future

There Are 5 Basic Elements To A Story

A protagonist the listener cares about

The story must be about a person or group whose struggles we can relate to – your client, your team, your associates, and service providers.

A catalyst compelling the protagonist to take action

The listeners’ desire, pain, need or challenge. The facts. What is it that your client comes to you for? Look beyond he obvious and understand what he or she wants more deeply. For example the person shopping for a Mercedes Benz is shopping for prestige more so than transportation. This is your stories first act.

Trials and tribulations

The story’s second act commences as obstacles produce frustration, conflict, and drama, and leads the protagonist to seek change in an essential way – to use your product or services.

A turning point

This represents a point of no return, which closes the second act. The protagonist can no longer see or do things the same way as before. She takes an action as a result of your intervention.

A resolution

The third act tells how the protagonist either succeeds magnificently (or fails tragically if she did not use your services).

This is the classic beginning-middle-end story structure defined by Aristotle more than 2,300 years ago and used by countless others since. It seems to reflect how the human mind wants to organize reality.

What’s your story?

Your story may be for your prospective clients, your employees, or other stakeholders

In crafting a story to attract clients, begin with identifying a specific prospective, new client that you want and create a story to narrate how you helped someone else who struggled with the same challenges. You will have to do some homework in understanding your prospective client’s needs. Identify the situation that is similar, and begin a story about the problem that client had. You can start your story with “Once upon a time….”.

And most importantly, practice. You can begin simply what a story about how you helped a client. Practice and practice your story, before different audiences – at first low stake audiences. Watch and listen to see how your story resonates; and experiment with different element and expressions until you get the reaction you want, “Can I hire you?”

If you want to read one of my stories see my blog of December 2005 that tells how it is that I came to be doing what I do.


The Trusted Advisor

A pinnacle of the interaction with your clients is becoming a trusted advisorThe more that clients trust you, the more they will reach out to you for your advice, bring you in on more advanced, complex strategic issues, pay your bills without questions, refer you to their friends and business acquaintances, and forgive you when you make a mistake.

A trusted advisor handles a broad range of business issues for their clients as well has a deep personal relationship with them. The trusted advisor acts variously as a mirror, a sounding board, a confessor, a mentor, and even, at times, as the jester. It is the depth of the relationship that makes it trust based. Building this trust is a significant step in growing yourself and your business.You won’t become a trusted advisor to all your clients, but if the connection is there you can move the relationship to one of trust.

David H. Maister, Charles H. Green and Robert Galford in their book The Trusted Advisor describe several stages in the evolutionary process of becoming a trusted advisor: the subject matter or process expert, the subject matter expert with related capabilities, a valuable resource, and ultimately the trusted advisor.

The trusted advisor focuses on the client as an individual rather than a person filling a role for themselves. Problem definition and resolution is more important than technical or content mastery; and she has a strong competitive drive to find new ways to be of greater service. Also, trusted relationships grow rather than appear. The trusted relationship is both rational and emotional, and it is different for the client than for the advisor.

There are several principles of the trusted relationship that will help you build creditability and the trusted relationships: Go first and illustrate, rather than tell; listen for what’s different, not necessarily what’s the same; ask permission; say what you mean; have a sincere interest in the other person; be appreciative; and do your homework on your client.

Grow Your Level of Trust

You can increase the level of trust you have with your clients. First, importantly determine what stage you are at with them in terms of being a trusted relationship: a subject matter expert, an expert plus additional areas, a resource, or a trusted advisor. Clarify what it is you do that indicates the level of trust you currently have, set your intention to move the relationship to new level, and create a plan to develop the level of trust you want.

Some of the actions you take are internal, such as learning about your client and his or her business, and listening without judgment, and some are external such as anticipating needs or adding more value than expected. Finally, don’t go it alone. Involve a colleague, advisor, coach, or mentor for reality checks and feed-back. You will get there faster with less wrong turns.

I wish you growth and success as you build your valuable client relationships.


Teams and Stars

I having been reading Patrick Lencioni’s book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” and I’m finding that the team function has been in my conversations with others lately.  I don’t know if it is the “yellow Volkswagen syndrome,” which is that you never see a yellow Volkswagen until you are thinking about buying one.  Lencioni’s fifth dysfunction of a team is “Inattention to Results” which he identifies as the pursuit of individual star status and ego over the team.  Team-work defines organizations as apart from a sole proprietorship, and John Wooden, the storied UCLA basketball coach, said that stars win games, but teams win championships.

My yellow Volkswagen was an email from Zig Zigler who told a story about teams in another way.  He wrote:

When my wife and I were in Sydney, Australia, we had an opportunity to attend a performance of the Sydney Philharmonic Orchestra at the famed Opera House.  The seats were choice, our night was free, so we jumped at the opportunity.  When we arrived 30 minutes early, the orchestra members were already warming up.  The individuals came in all sizes, ages and colors, and were both male and female.  Some of them, like the cymbals player, would perform five or six seconds during the entire evening, while the cellist had one part that would extend over 20 minutes.  As they warmed up, the “music” sounded like noise to me.

At one minute before eight the conductor walked into the orchestra pit.  Immediately, everybody sat up straight.  As he stepped to the podium, everybody was at attention.  At eight o’clock, he raised the baton and when his arms came down the music started.  What had been “noise” a few seconds earlier became a beautiful melody.

The orchestra leader had converted a team of all-stars to an all-star team.  While each instrument produced entirely different tones, they all blended together in harmony.  No one instrument dominated any other, but rather harmonized with and became a part of the others.  Can you imagine what the results would have been, had every artist made up his or her mind that their instrument should be the star of the performance?

This conductor had, for a number of years, been a musician in an orchestra.  He had learned to be “obedient” andfollow the orchestra conductor when he was a performer.  In short, he had learned to obey in order that later he could command.  I once saw a young man with a t-shirt emblem that said “I follow no one.”  What a tragedy! Because, until he learns to follow, he will never be able to lead.  Think about it and I’ll SEE YOU AT THE TOP!

This is the antithesis of Lencioni’s fifth dysfunction of a team.


Asset-Based Thinking

I have been re-examining Asset-Based Thinking (ABT), which is a valuable leadership tool for creating personal mastery that supports your work and career. Very simply, it is about your glass being half-empty or half-full, when in actuality it is probably both.

ABT is a cognitive process for identifying our assets, strengths, talents, synergies and possibilities that are available in you, other people and any situation. It is about viewing your business, yourself and life in terms of opportunities rather than problems, strengths more so than weaknesses, and what can be done instead of what can’t be done. ABT creates a focal point of concentration and mental energy that will keep us alert and inspired to maximize all there is to gain from situations.

ABT is not blind optimism; and major companies, such as Monsanto, DuPont, Microsoft, Starbucks, Peabody Energy, Deloitte & Touche, MasterCard and the US Air Force have adopted ABT thinking in its approaches to developing leaders and managing change.

The opposite of ABT is deficit based thinking:  telling yourself “it is not going to work, it can’t be done.” One problem is that deficit based thinking is hard-wired into our thinking as a survival mechanism. Survival, however, is no longer a controlling theme in our lives.  The good news is that ABT is hard-wired also but less utilized and therefore takes a slight shift, conscious at first, in how we see things.


To strengthen your ABT make a list of three to five things you have accomplished in the past week or so.  Now, reflect on the personal talents, strengths, and skills you used in making those accomplishments happen. Jot those down next to each accomplishment.

Take a good, long look at your talents, strengths and skills, making notes about common traits and how these traits are experienced.  This is your ABT profile. What patterns do you see? Think about how you can leverage this particular positive pattern of skills, talents, and strengths-today, tomorrow, and next weekend! Do this reflection on a regular basis and you will be amazed at what you discover about yourself. (We all have major blind spots when it comes to our own unique assets).

Change The Way You See Everything, Thought Asset-Based Thinking, Cramer, Kathryn & Hank Wasiak. 2006. Running Press.


Weathering the Economic Storm as a Small Business

I was making a presentation to my networking organization this week, and was asked what I was seeing in terms of what is happening to small businesses, or how they are reacting to the economic situation. I immediately have two responses to that question.

Riding the Waves of Cash Flow

First, cash flow is the problem. People are busy. They have work and projects, but money is flowing slowly in drips and drabs. People are taking much longer to pay, paying partial, and asking for discounts.

The positive side to this is that people are creating new alliances, and seeing that cooperative relationships are working rather than competitive ones. As small businesses, we are interdependent upon the business ecosystem. We provide services or products and have people provide us products and services. If there is an interruption in that cycle we are at an imbalance and disadvantage.

While we are all nervous and frustrated, those who are able to work cooperatively with others as a team on the same ship in this storm have the greater chance of success. Chaos forces the building of alliances larger than your own business. We need each other to survive, and those with whom I am able to build cooperative relationships with in difficult times will be those I continue to work with when the waters are smoother.

We are seeking certainty now, which at the moment is difficult to find. As a small business, I am eager to work with you to re-negotiate an agreement if needed, if we build trust and can know that the re-negotiated agreement is solid.

For example, a client received 35 cents on the dollar for work completed. Reaching out they came to understanding each other’s situation and intent better. This strengthened the trust they had initially developed, and they understood what was needed to get full payment, and importantly when to expect it – diminishing uncertainty. While the principal depends on payment from the client before paying the sub-contractor, there is a new communication and cooperative relationship between both parties with an understanding that going-it alone will not get you through this storm.

Bracing Against the Winds of Uncertainty

The second response was about uncertainty – uncertainty as to when, how, and how well the stimulus initiatives will take effect. And will we, when they start to have an effect, go back to the same thinking that got us into much of this situation in the first place? It was Einstein who said that we can’t solve the problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created the problems.

Business is happening. Certainty is a requirement for growing a business. I know lots of businesses that are busy while experiencing cash flow problems. But the future is uncertain, and as a result there is anxiety and frustration. I talk with business owners expressing anxiety with uncertainty who feel they are alone with this concern. But know this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Uncertainty is prevailing, and as a result we are all being conservative in our behavior. But despite the doom-and-gloom messages in the media and the uncertainty, business IS happening. To weather the storm focus your energies on what you CAN do to keep moving forward, focus on your cooperative and mutually beneficial relationships, and keep on keeping on. The storm will not last forever.


Leadership Development Should Be Key Part of Your Small Business Development Strategy

If you are the leader of a small or medium-sized business, take a lesson from the playbook of large corporations by incorporating leadership development into your on-going business growth strategy. Large corporations weave leadership development into their planning. They consider future leadership requirements for the initiatives they are working on now, as well as the possibilities that can arise from a strong team leadership.

Certainly, the role of the head of a small business differs significantly from that of a larger business. The principal of a small business will be more involved in the day-to-day operation of production, fiscal, system and people management, and sales and marketing, while leaders in large corporation focus on achieving results through other people. Success for the large corporation is accomplished by the integrating leadership development into the strategic mindset at all levels. The growth for a small business to an organization that is both self-sustaining and equity producing also requires strategies for leadership development.

There are several things that the small business owner can do to make leadership development part of their growth process.

  1. Make leadership development an integral part of your daily workflow as well as your training and hiring process. Consistently think about getting tasks done by other people as the primary way you do business. This will free you up to be your business’ visionary, keeping your eye on the big picture at all times. Successful large businesses, such as General Electric, IBM and Allied Signal, institutionalized their leader development process across the entire talent cycle from selection, to development and retention.
  2. Articulate a vision for your business that is exciting so you can attract top talent. Large companies realize that a lack of talent is the biggest constraint to pursuing growth opportunities and surviving in today’s dynamic world and economic climate. One place to start, if you are uncertain of your firm’s vision, is to describe in what way your best clients – those you most enjoy working for – are better-off because of what you do for them. If you don’t know, you better find out before someone else does.
  3. Move from a manager role to an educator role. Teach your leadership team how to run the business, as well as how to develop leaders in their reports. If you don’t the business will never grow beyond your own capabilities and limitations. Great organizations, cultures and communities are built on the wisdom of many. If you are afraid that your employees might walk off with the business, it might be that your vision for yourself and the business is not compelling enough.
  4. Create space. Give people roles and let them learn as you did, by trial and error.
  5. Look for opportunities that are now available to you because of the new leadership. Look at and plan for the new leadership that is needed for new and potential opportunities.

If Henry Ford had asked his customers …

… what they wanted, it would have been a faster horse. A simple yet intriguing statement from Silicon Valley entrepreneur Judy Estrin (Wikipedia for more) in an interview about her new book, Closing the Innovation Gap: Reigniting the Spark of Creativity in a Global Economy. Innovation is the business topic of today. Estrin says innovation is how we are going to close the gap in energy, climate and healthcare, and grow our economy. We have been trained to get close to our customer, to understand what they want and to give it to them. These are all “today” needs. Future growth, which is what Henry Ford did, depends on innovation.

Innovation is the subject of another book in 2008, The Game-Changer: How You Can Drive Revenue and Profit Growth with Innovation by A.G. Lafley, Chairman, Proctor and Gamble, and business author, Ram Charan.

Lafley and Charan write that small companies can be effective at innovation because they are nimbler and have a more coherent sense of purpose. Large companies have advantage in having scale, resources and management capabilities. They list principles of innovation to include: motivating purpose and values, stretching goals, choiceful strategies, unique core strengths, enabling structures, consistent and reliable systems, a courageous and connected culture and inspiring leadership.

I work with small service businesses; and would like to hear your thoughts about what innovation means to you as a small business leader.