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.

Business: a few things to remember

Running a business is easy!

I lied, sorry. There are a lot of important things to do and mistakes to avoid in building and running a business. I’m sure you know plenty of these, but so do I and I’ve still managed to repeat a mistake here and there. This is as much a reminder for myself as it is advice for others. If you take anything away at all, remember that the only constant in business (and life) is change. Embrace it!

  • Plan to run the business for your forever rather than to exit: This may be a wholesale change in mentality forcing a long term vision and a focus on planning out projects and goals without the distraction of short term objectives. If you can’t get away from it, you are more likely to be cautious in operating it and meticulous relative to the details and strength of its foundation. This also allows for a more relaxed and deliberate management/operational environment.
  • Be conservative with your finances and do the math before you spend: Particularly important and so easy to overlook in a young and rapidly expanding business. I’m sure I’ve written about this before, but beating this drum a few more times in hopes of helping others can’t be a bad thing. Get a growth calculation tool and plug in some numbers. One thousand a week for 10 years can grow to more than $600,000.
  • Get your financing in line (and keep it in line) before you need it: By this I am referring to working capital and credit. As clearly demonstrated by banks and lenders this past year, when times are tough, purse strings are tight. If you had a bad year and need some cash to help get back on track, it is often likely that the help will not be there, at least not in the form of anyone with a reasonable interest rate.
  • Hire slowly, fire quickly: Oh man, I wish I remembered this one every day when I woke up. There is little of greater importance than having the right people on your team(s) and when you find out an apple has gone bad or a you found a worm in a seemingly perfect apple, get rid of it asap! The old adage is often true, ‘some dogs can’t hunt‘.
  • You get what you inspect: I’ve spouted off about this one more than once also. When the company grows beyond just you and it comes time to delegate the things you used to do with your eyes closed, don’t hand it off and walk away. You absolutely have to circle back, more often than you’d like, and make sure that the work is being done the way you want it done before the results come back as something completely different and often useless. You get what you inspect, not what you expect.

Some good reminders for all of us, especially myself. There are hundred of more things to remember and mistakes to avoid. Add your comments and words of wisdom if you have time.