Tag Archives: running a business

The Secret Fountainhead of Great Ideas

Ideas can come from any source at any time. The key is to be open to them and to have a system for writing them down so you do not forget them.

The Secret Fountainhead of Great Ideas

Walking down a street in downtown Los Angeles on my way to the gym in 1980, I met a street person who started talking to me. He asked about me and I told him I was studying architecture at USC. Launching into a virtual tirade, he professed vexation that architects did not consider innovative projects. Then he told me about a church on lower Market Street in San Francisco that had burned down and was trying to rebuild by developing a mixed-use project. His description was so detailed I decided to check it out. Two weeks later a fellow student and I had been hired by the church’s pastor to create a preliminary design.

Ben Zoma, a distinguish 2nd century student, said, “Who is a wise man? He who learns from every man.” A powerful business idea, a lead to a new client, or a new approach for improving our relationships are out there if we will restrain our egos, engage in conversations with people, and share a little about ourselves.

  • If your first inclination is to ignore someone, think a second time. Maybe the person has something valuable to say.
  • Just listen. Hear the person out uncritically.
  • Always keep a small notebook or stack of file cards and a pen with you, especially next to your bed.
  • When inspiration strikes, write it down IMMEDIATELY! If an idea escapes, you will probably never catch it again.

Being open to people who do not seem to have any importance or with whom we may disagree can be challenging, but often yields enormous rewards.

Question: What techniques do you use to overcome mental roadblocks?

Want Success? Fail More!

Thomas Edison is credited with inventing the light bulb, though in truth he improved an invention that had been around for 50 years. Perhaps he gets the glory because he failed almost 10,000 times before he found a way that worked. When asked if he felt like a failure, supposedly Edison responded that he had never failed, rather he found 9,000 ways that did not work. True or not, this story has a vital message for anyone striving to succeed.

Want Success? Fail More!

When I started my real estate company in 1986 I thought success would be a breeze. Two years later, I had found lots of ways not to make money. In one case, I negotiated an agreement so poorly that I lost out on over $20,000 of income I badly needed. So I came up with a philosophy for any time I lost a significant deal: I figured I had bought myself a class or semester at the Wharton School of Business. By learning from my failures I never had to spend what a degree from Wharton would have cost.

Fear of failure means we are losing out on:

  • Discovering ways to be more successful in the future
  • Knowing when and how to be flexible
  • More chances to expand our businesses

If someone tells you he never loses a sale he has found the fountain of youth (very unlikely), he makes few or no sales (you cannot lose something you never try to have), or he never takes a chance on a less than perfect, pre-sold prospect. Which would you rather have: 10% of 1000 prospects buying from you or 100% of 50? Is not the first option twice as good?

Here are five steps to turn failure into success:

  1. Find out why the person said no
  2. If the no is valid, move on
  3. If there is a credible response to the objection, give it
  4. Use the information on the lost sale to improve your skills
  5. Ask for referrals from the prospects who turned you down

We do not need to be a genius like Edison to know transforming failure into success is in our hands

How have you used a failure to move you forward?

Please comment below ↓


Military Doctrine Guiding Business Planning

One of the many advantages veterans enjoy in entrepreneurship is the doctrine we learned during our years of service. And while part of the vocabulary of warfighting is inappropriate to civilian business, still the concepts can be quickly adapted to give us direction as we start and run our companies.

Rabs in Marine Corps Cammies

For example, Marine Corps doctrine on warfighting recognizes three levels of war

  1. Strategic – the art of winning wars by establishing goals, assigning forces, providing assets, and imposing conditions on the use of force.
  2. Operational – the art and science of winning campaigns, it links the strategic and tactical levels, including deciding when, where, and under what conditions to engage the enemy.
  3. Tactical – the art and science of winning engagements through the concepts and methods used to accomplish a particular mission and achieve the objectives of the campaign.

So how do we translate these ideas to business planning? The same three levels apply:

  1. Strategic – This is our business idea, mission statement, and goals. Also, it is our evaluation of the types of expertise our business requires, especially those we do not have ourselves, and the capital and equipment we need to be successful.
  2. Operational – This is our assessment of the profile of the clients or customer with whom we are most likely to be successful, where we can come in contact with them, the timing of our marketing efforts, and how we can set the stage to be most effective in attracting their patronage.
  3. Tactical – This is our step-by-step plan through which we will act to obtain these clients or customers.

For example, when I decided to go back into business, initially I worked at the strategic level. I assessed my skills, researched business ideas, and gauged the market for them and their chances of success. Having selected the one I wanted to pursue I developed my mission statement and goals and determined funding and other materials I needed to move forward.

Having clarified my strategic thinking, my planning shifted to the operational level. While my main clientele, veterans and service members, was obvious, less so were the individuals through whom I could expand my reach to them. Through networking, I found people who help veterans transition to civilian life, then planned how and where I could contact others in the same positions and stay in touch with them. Next, I set a calendar for my marketing effort. As I formed my plans at the operational level I periodically reviewed my strategic plans to ensure I was heading in the right direction but also to decide if my strategy needed to be revised.

Once my operational plan was fairly well developed I created materials, scripts, and email and telephone lists of the people I needed to contact and started doing so. Did my materials motivate them to act from the get go? Did my scripts immediately convince them of the greatness of my program? No and no. Indeed my early presentations were as much about refining my tactics as they were about persuading people to help me. I revised my tactics, periodically reviewed my operational plan in light of the overall response to my marketing effort, and shifted my strategy as the assets I had available changed.

At each stage of planning, I wrote down the major points and the reasoning supporting these decisions. As I move forward, I use my version of another Marine Corps doctrine, maneuver warfare (which I will talk about in another post) to continually appraise my success and make adjustments at all three levels.

So take the doctrine of your branch of the military and adapt it to your business planning. If you are not a veteran, take a look at the Marine Corps doctrine.

Sensible Goal Setting

Goal setting is as much an art as a science. Whether in the realm of spiritual, mental, or physical, our goals should be challenging yet achievable.

If we are setting goals in an area where we have a lot of experience, meeting these two criteria is not too difficult. For example, I have been a runner for most of my life. I know my limits on speed and distance. So I can readily set physical fitness goals that stretch my ability but not to the point where I have little or no chance of meeting them.

More difficult is setting goals in a field in which we are inexperienced. I would be hard pressed to set reasonable goals as a painter since I know very little about either its artistic or business sides. For some goals it is not necessary to benchmark them. I have a goal to travel to all 50 states. The only criterion I used to set it is the belief that the only way to really know our country is to visit every state.

For other goals, having points of reference or a basis of measurement is more important. Fortunately the Internet provides us with a medium through which we can fairly quickly gather information we need to make adequate goals that can be refined as we gain experience.

Since our topic is entrepreneurship many of us will want to set a goal for our income. If you have been in the military for most or all of your working life, it may be difficult to set a realistic goal in civilian life. Is an income of $500,000 a year after five years in business realistic? Let’s look at some statistics from the IRS (all data is from 2009, the most recent year it was compiled):

Total individual tax returns filed: 140,494,127

Top 25% of earners (35,123,531 taxpayers) made at least: $66,193

Top 10% of earners (14,049,412 taxpayers) made at least: $112,124

Top 5% of earners (7,024,706 taxpayers) made at least: $154,643

Top 1% of earners (1,404,941 taxpayers) made at least: $343,927

Put another way, to get an A in income earning we have to make $112,124 in adjusted gross income.

Do these facts put into perspective earning a $500,000 annual income? Only 0.35% of taxpayers do so, which is not to say that you should not make it your goal, but to understand how difficult it will be to achieve it.

There are metrics for just about any goal we want to make. The key is to find them and figure out our capacity to meet or beat the standard they appear to set.

While we are on the subject of IRS statistics, recently I read on article titled “How the Rich Got Rich.” Author Jeff Haden’s concludes the way to get wealthy is to own a business. I could not agree more.

Bringing Order to Chaos

Fitness. Lifestyle. Bringing your dog to the office. Finding a great business idea. A disparate list, no?

While I will plead guilty to writing about that which interests me, it was by design that the topics appear disconnected. That is often how business works. You plan a series of meetings for advancing your next marketing initiative and instead spend the whole day handling a personnel crisis. Entrepreneurs must cultivate agility in their thinking.

This week I am going to focus on synthesizing a couple of issues. It may seem contradictory to promote fitness while also noting that the entrepreneur’s lifestyle does not afford us more free time. Indeed, striking a balance between work, family, and fitness is probably the biggest challenge we face. How do we do it?

Robert Burns may be right when he wrote in To A Mouse:

But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

Still planning and time management are crucial to fulfilling all of our responsibilities. Some tips:

1. Plan your day the night before

By doing this you will not waste time in the morning deciding what you need to do. Whatever you did not complete that day has to be completed during the coming day along with whatever else has to get done that day. By planning the evening before you will set your mind to work on the challenges ahead rather than focusing on what went wrong in the past. I'm not suggesting that there's nothing to learn from our mistakes, only that we view them in terms of how they can propel us forward.

2. Do not do it unless it will move you closer to success

Reflect back on today and the day before. What things did you do that were a waste of time either because someone else should have done them or you were avoiding an unpleasant task? Schedule only those activities that will advance you toward your goals.

3. Commit to completing the tasks you have planned

Tasked yourself to call on ten potential clients or cold call for two hours? DO IT. It does not count if you stop after the eighth rejection or take two fifteen-minute breaks as part of the time. By the way, it also does not count if you have a particularly productive marketing session and decide to quit early. Keep in mind that the extraordinary success that day compensates for a fruitless day. Geoffrey James has 14 ideas for getting “insanely motivated,” and some may help you stay committed.

4. Do the things you dislike most first

Hate admin work? Get it done when you are fresh and motivated. Cannot stand cold calling? It should be the first task on your list. If you are easily demotivated, bookend the disagreeable task with a couple of short ones that you know will go well in order to launch you in a positive direction and give you something pleasant to look forward to so you will persevere.

5. Kill two birds with one stone

Simon Wood-Fleming, the CEO of Pandora Media Inc., has some great thoughts on this topic and time management in general in a wsj.com article (the online version of The Wall Street Journal). One of the topics recently addressed in a number of business publications and blogs I read is setting aside quiet or contemplative time. Steve Jobs conducted meetings while walking. Especially after an important conference call or meeting, I run for 45 minutes to ruminate on what happened and/or to stimulate creative thoughts. Many times our mental or spiritual fitness plans can be combined with a family or business commitment.

6. Be on the lookout for time-saving ideas

My nickname when I was a navy chaplain in Okinawa, Japan was OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) because I was constantly looking for ways to improve the Base Chaplain Office’s efficiency. But even this old dog learns new tricks. About a month ago I read a blog post by Michael Hyatt on how to handle email more efficiently and it has saved me at least 30 minutes a day, not to mention eliminated the nagging concern about unresolved emails.

The key when adopting a new process, as well as better managing your time, is to commit to using it for a specific length of time, say two weeks. If it does not work after that time, perhaps you can modify it in a way that better fits the way you operate. If not, discard it and move on to the next one. In general, I recommend you work on one time management skill at a time, make it a part of the way you operate, then add the next layer on top of it. Rather than trying to take on too many new methods and having the whole plan explode, build slowly but surely and you are more likely to make progress.

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