My friend Tom

From time to time I am asked if I can offer some advice, today was such a day

As a member of EO (Entrepreneurs’ Organization) I am less inclined to give advice and opt to share experiences instead, allowing the other person to make up their own mind as to where they want to go or what actions to take.

The condensed version of the experience sharing is bulleted below:

  • Create the vision, share it visually. Tom has a great visios, he explains it simply and passionately. To build what he needs and accomplish the vision, others need to be able to see it, understand it, share it and embrace it with him. Where do you want to be in 3 years? Show me what that will look like. Look at it daily and focus on getting there.
  • You have to do well before you can do good. Tom’s vision is to help, to educate, to read, teach, share and improve the lives of those within his community. Finances are required if he is to focus on the giving aspect of the vision. Therefore, in order to do good, an un-distracting stream of funds must be present first. Get that house in order first (do well) and then give back as you wish (do good).
  • Focus, blinders, Top 5, Top 1 of 5. In order to do well so Tom can do good, the business needs to get ramped up and profitable, unfortunately there are too many distractions each day that slow or stall the progress. What are the Top 5 things you need to accomplish to become profitable? What is the single (Top 1) most important thing on that list? Write them down, look at them (Top 5), focus on it (Top 1) all day, every day, look again every 15 minutes until that task is completed. Repeat.

The more detailed conversation... The three points discussed are not easy and require a lot of patience and persistence. All of them are areas of my own business and personal skill-set that I am actively working on and likely always will be.

Tom’s Story: In a nutshell, Tom is an educator by trade but left teaching to start a bookstore with a loft for reading, storytelling and after school activities for community members. Bookstores these days do not generate sufficient profit to fund the operations such that there is ample time to focus on the community programs envisioned and ultimately where the passion lies. Tom is not a businessman, he wants to teach, to help, to do good for his community. Within the building, in front of the bookstore, there is a vacant coffee shop that previously had customers and from the records of the prior owner, there may have been enough to fund the operations of both. For the past several years Tom has been getting by with help from sponsors, donations, fund raising, grants and some book sales. So, here we are today and Tom spends much of his time chasing down potential financial resources (people) instead of doing what he really wants to do, to do good. He’s not doing well and asked for advice. I replied with some experiences for him to glean from.

Create the vision, put it down on paper, make it visual and share it. I’ve personally been working on this one for some time and though it may never truly be completed, it does transfer what is in my head and put it down on paper for sharing with others. In Tom’s case, this is exceptionally important as he needs help from volunteers and ideally from like minded people with similar visions of helping the community they share. I’m thinking of where I want the company to be in 3 years, what will the company look like? How will it be perceived by outsiders? What will the people working there be doing and how will they be acting? What sort of customers will be there, how many and what will they be doing? What will the finances look like? What will the local news be saying about the company? What are the core values of the company, how do they support the vision and how are the employees and volunteers living them? What is the culture like, who is running the operations and what celebrations are there? I know where Tom wants to take the company and what he wants it to look like in 3 years. If more people saw the same vision, they too would love to be involved and help get there. Tom needs these people and sharing this vision will help attract and retain them.

You have to well before you can do good. Certainly not true for a lot of actions, but for sustainable giving back to the community, there are expenses like payroll, rent, operating expenses, utilities and many more. My story has been the same at times and the lesson has been experienced, unfortunately more than once. We as a company enjoy helping out, giving back and being a part of something larger than just the company and corporate profits. It makes us feel good and provides a sense of purpose above and beyond the day to day work required to earn a paycheck. There are a lot of things that we would like to do to further these efforts and increase the amount of involvement locally. The hitch is that we have to ensure that everyone is able to get paid to take care of their lives, the company needs to pay its bills if there are to be lights and power next month and we need to care for our customers if we are to earn their trust and business. We have to do well (financially) if we want to do good. Tom has the ability to create sustainable profits through the coffee shop and book sales. In my opinion, rather than continue to chase money from short lived donors, Tom’s funding needs to come from a renewable source (the business) by attracting, serving and wowing customers. Do well, do good.

Focus via blinders. What’s your top 5 and what’s the top 1 of those 5? This is by no means a strength of mine, I am not the best at remaining focused for a long period of time. I’m an entrepreneur. Nonetheless, in order to do well so that you can do good, sometimes you have to buckle down and focus on what needs to happen before you can enjoy what you want to happen. One of the tricks I’ve learned over the years and employed on many occasions has been to create a list of the 5 most important things that I need to be working on in order to achieve what I need to finish. Writing that list one a small piece of paper, reviewing the list and identifying the single most important thing on that list. One the other side of the paper, write down the Top 1 item that I need to be working on. Carrying this paper with me at all times, I make a point of reviewing the list and most importantly my Top 1, EVERY 15 minutes. If I find that I am not working on my Top 1, I stop and get back to focusing on that which is most important thing for me to work on. My thinking with Tom’s situation would be to include the documentation and visualization of his vision to be shared as one on the list and getting the coffee shop generating profits to fund/fuel whatever else makes it on to the list. Chasing temporary funds in an endless circle probably would not make it on my list of the Top 5. Focus and put on the blinders.

We are a proud sponsor of Tom and his endeavors. If you want to help him, feel free to do so by purchasing books online or at his store in Buffalo.

A different alphabet

Overloaded with thoughts, ideas, phrases and actions items to execute on, I summarized them with an alphabetical listing.

Having just returned from year one of my EO Entrepreneurial Masters Program, I’ve been asked a few times what the best take-aways were. Each time I’ve heard the question I’ve been unable to answer succinctly as there was simply too much to narrow it down well. With sixty five other entrepreneurs from around the world, we spent nearly 16 hours each day learning from great speakers and from each other. Talk about overload!

For myself and those interested, here are the lists.

The top two take aways from EO EMP Year 1:

  1. I’ve returned to my home knowing 65 new friends, all of who shared some of their past, present and future with me, much of it very heartfelt. The remarkable experience labeled as the night of the living dead.
  2. Significant clarity on what needs to be done in order to upgrade my business from the good that it is to the great that it will be.

There would have been a third take away in the list but it in an of itself if the other list, the alphabet. Key thoughts and phrases… they mean something different to everyone and a relevant in business and in life.

  1. Look for the pattern
  2. You get what you focus on and become like those that you spend time with
  3. Every day that you tolerate mediocrity is another day of saying, “I was just kidding about excellence”
  4. Communicate courageously and relentlessly
  5. Set clear and binary goals
  6. I’m good at what I do and I do it because I care about you
  7. Ambiguity breeds mediocrity
  8. People are safe, ideas are not
  9. Notice everything, always be collecting data
  10. You cannot sit on two toilets at once
  11. People eat with their eyes
  12. Think exponential, not incremental
  13. Find and ask the right question
  14. Keep running your old factory while you build your new factory
  15. Give your big idea a name and a theme
  16. Communicate one idea over and over again
  17. Virtual structure: less stuff = more success
  18. Your brand is found in the hearts and minds of your customers
  19. Your packaging is how they remember you
  20. Start dreaming again
  21. Accountability creates engagement
  22. Visibility creates accountability
  23. The enemy of execution is business as usual
  24. You cannot grow your business, only your people can. It’s called a company, not a lonely
  25. Bet on yourself and bet big
  26. Leave nothing unsaid

Business Intermission or Post-Mortem?

Sometimes taking an business intermission to reflect, re-group and then re-engage is best, better than quitting.


I’ve tried a lot of business ideas, some better than others. Some fail, more succeed and many of the successes have had to take a break before breaking out.

With there being so many complexities in creating, building and effectively running a business, it is pretty hard to get them all right the first time around.

While busy most of the time working on VoIP Supply, my core business, I often build prototypes of businesses/products, prove their viability and (the hard part) hand the idea and basic objectives off to someone hired to build it from the ground up. Ideally remaining very hands-off and allowing the professional hired to build a plan around it and successfully execute on their plan. “Ideally” isn’t always the outcome.

One such project led to the following analysis which is shaping the second period, areas for improvement in many businesses. These are listed in no particular order.

  • Insufficient Planning and Metrics for Accountability and Measurement: If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. That which gets measured gets done.
  • Ineffective Leadership, Not Able to “Wear All Hats” as Needed in Start-Up Mode: You have to be able to see the business at 30,000 feet AND 30 feet.
  • Confusing Messaging to Customers and Staff:  Within a multi-tenant holding company, who are we, how do we fit, why are we here.
  • Lack of Focused Effort, Too Much Time Spent on Non-Essentials: Customers (sales) pay the bills, focus there first. Profits make pretty.
  • No Simplistic Message (“Why Buy”) to Present to Customers and Partners: Explain it clearly in 30 seconds, once.
  • Not Leveraging Strength in Brand and Reach of Strategic Partners: Don’t walk past five $10 bills just to get a $20 bill.

It is my belief that, had the leadership been more tech savvy with interest in learning and using tools to improve efficiency, had they created a plan that included measurable goals and the activities required to achieve them and had they rolled up their sleeves to complete the required tasks before dwelling on non-essentials, they would have been more successful. Furthermore, the messaging, the “who, what, why and how”, the “why buy”, along with their visual and textual representation needed to be simple and crystal clear without detailed explanation. Lastly, the pre-established partnerships and primed customer base wasn’t leveraged effectively.

Second period, back on the ice, avoid these six bullet points and do the opposite. Simple right?

Don’t be self-defeating! Innovate.

Big companies need you, don’t let their presence prevent you from moving forward with your ideas, designs and inventions.

How many great ideas have been crushed by thoughts like, “What if I take my product public and a big competitor just replicates it, crushing me and my idea?

There was a good article in Entrepreneur magazine last month (Buy vs. build – Sam Hogg) that I want to summarize, in effort to promote progress rather than hesitation.

In short, big companies typically don’t build, they buy, they typically don’t innovate, rather they automate. Their shareholders demand guaranteed, successful growth, a requirement that start-up entrepreneurs can’t afford and also are not shackled by.

Innovation requires people (entrepreneurs) with wild ideas, solutions to problems and visions of a better future.

Large companies cannot afford the risk nor the time required to create something that may fail, it makes them look bad to their board and investors.

Entrepreneurs can make plans on a napkin and decisions over a couple of beers, large companies struggle to get a memo crafted in a day to call a meeting for next month.

Risk vs. reward…. it makes a lot more sense for a big business to buy a hot innovation than run the risk of trying to make it and failing, even if they have to pay a premium on the guarantee.

If you are thinking of innovation and afraid of getting stepped on, don’t be, just run faster and prove your success to a strategic partner or buyer (big business).

The brain at work or home (and play)

Lists are a big part of any plan for success.

As the saying goes, if you fail to plan then you are planning to fail.

For tasks at hand, things to remember and other knowledge that you want to recall quickly, I put them to a list written out on paper.

For the skeptics of the world, those that “remember everything” and have no need for lists, try this very simple example.

Below are a list of words. Read them all once, twice, even three times. Now, close your eyes and count to 20 then speak the names of your 5 closest friends.

With your eyes still closed, read back as many of the words on the list as you can in 10 seconds.

 

  1. Two
  2. Paris
  3. Elvis
  4. Galveston
  5. Sea-hawks
  6. Seventeen
  7. 1943
  8. Alan
  9. Nebraska
  10. Disney
  11. Lincoln
  12. Washington
  13. Wilson
  14. Wildcats
  15. Filthy
  16. Fifteen
  17. New
  18. Nine
  19. Twelve
  20. Eyes

Now, open your eyes and read off the list as many words as you can in 10 seconds.

 

I won’t ask how you did because even having written the list myself, I couldn’t get them all in 10 seconds if I wanted to.

From a sales perspective, those words are your customers and actions that need to be addressed today. Outside of work, those are all of the things you need to get done before winter. At play, those are all of the fun thing you have done with friends when next you wonder what to do.

One of the first things I do when trying to remember what I had planned for the day and what I should do next is to create a list, so I don’t have to think about it anymore.