Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Are You A Table Scrap Entrepreneur?

The voice of Rover the family dog, "Bacon! They are having bacon! mmmmm. I know there will be a bit left on a plate after they finish eating. I haven't chewed anything or dug in the yard. I bet they will give me a bite if there is any left over. Ooooh! Here it comes! She's taking the plate of the table! ... Yes yes yes ... Oh, she wants me to sit. No problem lady! Ok...I'm a stittin' gimme gimme!.....YEEEEEESSSSSSSS!" Chomp! One scrap of bacon gone. Rover is happy.

Why did I write this strange paragraph? Well, for fun of course! That and because I believe that often, entrepreneurs take the roll of Rover when it comes to how they run their business. Have you ever said anything along these lines?

"If I can see 20% growth this year, I will reward myself with a trip."
"If everything goes well at the office this week, I might have time to take the weekend off!"
"That client is really sucking up my time, I guess it is another late night at work for me."

Granted, being a business owner has it's share of sacrifices that must be made. Especially in the start-up phase. But if you are a few years into your business, it is operating successfully and you still are dominated by thoughts like these, you are probably a Rover. A table scrap entrepreneur! If the business you own and have created only rewards you when there is left over time or money, something is wrong. It has become your master!

If you are the master of your business, you will not be at it's mercy once it is running smoothly. Instead, the rewards that you desire from owning a business should be built into your expectations of it.

You did not create a business in order for it to be your master. You created a business so that you could be the master of it.

In order to solve this, ensure that your goal setting process is correct. Set your personal goals before your business goals. Know what you want out of life and then design your business to provide it. I run a workshop that does this very thing with entrepreneurs. It helps them think through their business as masters of it and ensures that their personal goals are built into the very fabric of it.

Did you get into business to have more free time? Design the systems and hire the staff to make that a reality.

Did you get into business for money? Make sure your marketing, sales and customer service are top notch and enjoy the income.

Did you get into business in order to be the world biggest provider of flugelbinders? (I don't think that is a real word). Then make sure that your brand is synonymous with flugelbinders and find ways to conquer your flugelbinder competition.

In short, identify what you as a human being want. Then find a way to structure your business in a way that gives you that very thing.

Rover is happy with his bacon scraps. I am willing to bet that if your run your business like a table scrap entrepreneur, you will not be happy for long. Ensure that you are getting what you want out of your business, not just what is left over.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Is "Sales" a Four Letter Word?

"Sales ... p-thew" (that was me attempting to capture the sound of spitting in disgust)

That word, "Sales" has a stigma attached to it. We hear it and we think of the piranhas that hover outside the door at the used car dealership, we think of the people that so conveniently call you at dinner time to get you to buy their personalized pens that can write underwater or in space. (I actually had that call come in. I told them that when I started taking on clients who were space artists or under water poets I would give them a call). In short, we usually bring to mind bad experiences we have had with sales people. Then the stigma kicks in, "Sales ... patooohey!" (Did that spit sound better?)

In reality, sales need not be a dirty word. We all do it every single day. We sell our products to our customers. We sell ideas to our partners. We sell the fact that studying will be worth it someday to our kids.

No matter what your business does, you need to sell it to others somehow. You can be the most talented carpet layer in the world, but if you don't sell your business, you will have a hard time making a living of it. (On the other side of that, you can see may example of people who are mediocre at what they do, yet have great success due to understanding sales). Imagine your success if you are great at what you do and know how to sell properly!

The thing is, those who are good at sales, don't seem like they are selling. They probably don't feel like they are selling either. Why? Because good sales come from listening to the buyer.

People love to buy, but they hate to be sold. The sales person who tries to convince someone they need something will turn most people off almost instantly. The sales person who listens to what the buyer says they need and then tries to meet that need will find loyal clients everywhere.

Zig Ziglar famously said, "You can get everything you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want."

This is the heart of good, honest, not-slimey sales. Don't approach sales with the attitude of "How much can I get from this person." Instead approach it with, "What can I do to help this person." If people view you as someone who genuinely wants to help, they will keep coming back to you. That creates repeat business and also referral business. If you come across as someone who wants to get them to buy as much as possible with no regard for their actual need, you will never see them again.

Sales is not a four letter word, literally or figuratively. (Although a lot of pushy sales people deserve some 4 letter titles) Sales, if done properly, is a pleasant form of communication in which both parties have their needs met.

The next time you are selling your product or service, ensure that you really understand the client's needs. Address those needs sincerely and provide the solutions you have to offer. It won't feel like "sales" to you or the client. It will feel like being helpful, and that is a way better feeling.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Don't Lick That! 10 Common Mistakes.

If you rode the school bus as a kid here in Canada, you know what the inside of the window frames look like when it dips below -25 or so. Yup, they build up a layer of frost that looks sooooo tasty that you just have to lick it. Everyone from your teacher to your parents to your grandparents to that weird uncle that lives in his van has told you , "Do not lick frosty metal." But you do it anyway. Your tongue sticks just like they said it would. You try to counter the bumps the bus hits as your tongue fuses itself to the window frame, but sure enough, you mistime one and riiiip! Den you thalk like dis fou aboud fou houwahs.

We humans are strange beasts. Despite repeated warnings, there are some things we just have to learn the hard way. It is the same when it comes to entrepreneurship. Have you heard these warnings?

  1. Don't assume everyone will love your product just because you and your mom think it is the world's greatest thing.
  2. Do not think that you can handle every little bit of the business yourself just because Tim Horton's introduced a bigger coffee cup.
  3. Do not over promise on what you can deliver in the early stages. That rush order of 5000 hand made puffy slippers will not make itself and your friends will hate you for inviting them to a sweatshop party.
  4. Do not start a business without clear goals. You will not know where you are going and even if you were where you wanted to be you wouldn't know it ... and that sucks.
  5. Do not underestimate costs. Yes, you will have to pay for enough bandwidth to handle an online store. No, they will not give it to you on a trade for your old guitar. 
  6. Do not ignore your instincts. The numbers may point one way, but if your gut points another, listen to it. Unless your gut is just constantly pointing toward the fridge. 
  7. Do not view customers simply as a way to make money. They will hate you.
  8. Do not view employees as a place to save money. They will hate you.
  9. Do not view equipment as a way to save money. Your equipment won't hate you if you buy cheap version of it. But your customers will hate you. Your employees will hate you. Eventually you will hate you.
  10. Do not give up! Seriously, never give up. Change course, adjust strategy, tweak everything, just don;t give up. 
Just as a kid can't help but lick that school bus window frame, most entrepreneurs will make at least one of these mistakes despite all the warnings out there. So really, this blog seems like a waste of time eh? Go lick frosty metal. 

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Find Your Confidence Spot (or underwater basket weaving)

"Hoist me up in the bucket of the tractor so I can reach the roof. Don't hit the electrical wires. If you do, I will probably get electrocuted and fall off, so don't touch me. Just run to the house and get Ma." These were instructions I received from my grandpa when I was 10 years old.

For me, confidence comes in the form of operating vehicles. I grew up on a farm so there was lots of driving practice for a young boy. I had my first dirt bike when I was 8. Was driving tractors when I was 10. Trucks in the field when I was 12. Trucks on the road when I was 13. Did a bit of motocross racing. Drove 5 ton delivery trucks when I was 19. I am now 36 and have never (knock on wood) been in an accident when I have been at the wheel. I drive assertively and safely and I know it. (Ok, I'm done bragging, watch me back into something in the parking lot after I finish this blog post)

When I am driving vehicle, I feel safe and confident in my abilities. Knowing that, I often try to leverage it when I find I need confidence in other situations. What makes me confident in a car?
Knowing how a car works.
Knowing its limits.
Knowing how it wants to move.
Understanding the rules of the road, even the "unwritten" ones.
Watching far ahead for possible hazards.
Being in tune with what other drivers are doing around me.

In business, I try to do the same in order to have that same confidence. In any situation I try to:
Know how my business works.
Know its limits.
Know how it wants to operate.
Understand my surroundings and the rules that govern them.
Look as far into the future as possible for possible hazards.
Be in tune with the people around me and what they are doing.

It seems simplistic but it works for me. If I find myself in a situation where I am lacking confidence I try to think, "What would be similar to this in a driving situation and how would I prepare for it?"

Think about an activity that you feel completely confident doing. Is it rock climbing? Knitting? Playing hockey? Curling? Underwater basket weaving?

Whatever it is, analyze what makes you feel confident in that activity. What do you do that gives you that confidence? Then, when faced with a situation that you are lacking confidence, try to compare it to that activity. What lessons can you pull from it to give you confidence in the situation you face.

Try it ... it works!

ps. I did not bump the power lines and my grandpa was pretty happy about that.

Monday, 6 February 2012

6 Questions To Help You Find Your Passion

Often, I speak to people that know that they want to be in business for themselves but don't know what kind of business to get into. They often feel lost and like they are "missing the boat" as they search for a business that will make them happy. I tell them that I think they are wise for wanting to make sure they find a business that suits them rather than just jump on the first opportunity that shows its face. Pouring all of your time and effort into a business that does not somehow feed your passion will usually lead to a rough time. 

So the questions is, if your passion isn't staring you in the face, how do you discover it? One of the workshops I lead (Finding Your Passion and Making it your Business) explores that very question and helps participants find their passion. It is done by working through a series of questions and activities that really help a person to look within and find what truly drives and excites them. Here are a few sample questions from that workshop that can be a good starting point if you are trying to discover your passion.

What are 3 experiences you have had that made you feel "alive".

What was your dream job as a child? What did your parents do? How did you feel about their jobs?

If you had to pretend you knew your passion right now, what would you do or say about it? (I know this one is tough, spend some time on it.)

If you could subscribe right now to 3 magazines, which ones would they be?

If you could travel back in time and visit yourself when you were 16, what one message would you want to communicate?

If you could take over any person's life (the good and the bad), whose would it be and why?

This is just a small sampling of the exploration done in that workshop, but it may be just enough to get you pointed in the right direction. 

Look through your answers. try to find a common thread running through them. The answer may be just below the surface. In essence, discovering your passion is all about self awareness. Know how you feel at key moments, explore why you feel that way. Your passions are hidden just below the surface.

You may be very intelligent, hard working and have oodles of business savvy; but without a passion for what you do, you will never experience true fulfillment. 

Find your passion and run with it.