Tag Archives: running a business

On a Mission . . .

Do you have a defining purpose to your life? Does it motivate you to enthusiastically get out of bed each morning looking forward to the day’s activities? When your time on earth is just about done will you feel your life was worthwhile because you pursued this mission?

On a Mission . . .

One of the great aspects of the military is that no matter what our rate or rank we begin our service by dedicating ourselves to a mission: To support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic . . . This statement gives purpose to everything we do. When we experience the searing heat on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea during combat ops or have to de-ice that same flight deck to conduct humanitarian assistance operations in the northern reaches of Japan, we have a reason to endure the harsh weather and the punishingly long hours.

Why Will You Do What You Do?

So too in your life and business, you need to have a mission. Non-profit organizations learned this long ago because they have to motivate their workers, especially volunteers, to commit to a purpose and devote time and money to its fulfillment. The United Way provides a good example.

For-profit businesses can reap tremendous benefits from the same clarity of purpose. The mission statement for my company is: to help veterans secure a share of the American dream they fought to preserve.

Notice that this is not a goal per se. While it is written down, there is no objective to reach or time limit by which it is to be reached. Once you have a mission for your life and/or business, it becomes the litmus test by which you decide whether a particular activity or goal is relevant and purposeful.

A mission statement should be an expression of your most important values because if the two are in conflict you will be working at cross-purposes. Yet, if you are unclear about your morals it may be difficult to create a compelling mission statement.

5 Steps to a Personal, Business, or Family Mission Statement

Here are the steps for writing a mission statement:

1. Make a list of your five most deeply held values

Be careful not to mistake political positions for values. Look at why you have a particular political belief to determine the values the underlie it. If you need some help getting started check out this list.

2. Write down your elevator pitch

This is a brief explanation of what you want to do with your life or what your business is and does.  So called because you can deliver it in the length of an elevator ride. Harvard Business School has a website to help you build one.

3. Use your values to describe WHY your business does what it does

Write a paragraph with each sentence addressing how one of your values relates to your life or business. For example, if you are starting a plumbing company and one of your values is being thrifty, one sentence of your paragraph might be about providing the highest level of service at the lowest price.

4. Edit your paragraph to one or two sentences

Work on combining the essential idea of one sentence with that of another. Sometimes a single word can replace an entire sentence. For example, in my mission statement the value of “taking care of G-d’s children, especially my fellow service members” is expressed with one word: help.

5. Let it sit overnight then edit it

Once you have written your mission statement put it away until the next day then review it. Edit ruthlessly. Say it out loud. If it does not flow well keep working on it. Try using a thesaurus to find variations of words that express your thoughts more accurately. If you get stuck, set it aside overnight again. You may have to do this several times before you develop a compelling mission statement.

When you have completed your mission statement read it periodically, every morning before you begin work, or each evening when you plan your next day’s schedule. Even when you have it memorized, refer to it in written form. Its impact is greater.

Where are you stuck figuring out your personal and business mission?

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Fit to be an Entrepreneur

When I started my business in 1986 I was always on the look out for the secret to success. I don't remember who it was but somebody told me the key was to “stay in the game.” The person meant you should have enough money to last through the start up phase, but in the 26 years since I have found that staying in the game requires more than money. It requires being fit. Just like in the military, an entrepreneur must be physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy. I call this the Three Pillars of Fitness.

Fit to Be an Entrepreneur - 3 Pillars of Fitness

Think of it this way: if you are mentally and physically fit you are standing on two legs. That works fine during normal times, but if life gets very turbulent you will get knocked down. A two-legged structure is inherently unstable. Now think about a tripod. Once its three legs are properly spread it is extremely difficult to push it over. The platform supported by the legs may on occasion not be quite level, but its three legs are the utmost in stability. The same is true for us. Click on each heading for more about each leg.

Physical Fitness

As service members, we had to periodically pass a physical readiness test so staying physically fit was a part of our job. It may seem that once we are out of the military we need not worry about this anymore. But stamina is a crucial aspect of being successful in business. While we may not be going on long hikes or wearing body armor to do our work, we will be working long hours. Proper nutrition, exercise, and adequate sleep are the keys.

I recommend having a fitness program to keep on track. I use The President’s Challenge, which is the latest program from the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. If you are interested in joining my Three Pillars of Fitness group let me know. One of the benefits of the group is I will pay for the medals you earn.

Mental Fitness

Business is mentally and emotionally demanding. You will deal with a lot of new issues and challenges. Failure will become part of your everyday existence. But just like physical training gives us greater stamina, so too can we train for the mental rigors of entrepreneurship. When I was ten years old I started reading biographies of famous, successful people and I have continued to do so for over four decades. There are many fantastic motivational trainers such as Zig Ziglar and sales trainers such as Tommy Hopkins. Over twenty years ago at Tommy’s Boot Camp I learned one of his mantras that I developed as follows: I never see failure as failure, but as the information I need to go on to succeed.

Mental fitness requires that we continually seek out the information we need to achieve success. We must challenge our assumptions. Remember, the definition of insanity is to repeatedly try the same thing while expecting a different result. A friend of mine recently introduced me to Michael Hyatt and I have found his ideas to be very stimulating. The good news it that there are numerous resources, including podcasts and recorded books many of which are free, on the Internet to help us get and stay mentally fit.

Spiritual Fitness

When our physical stamina is running low and our mental toughness has taken its twenty-fifth hit that day, nothing will get us through except our spirit. For some of us we will look to religion, having faith that G-d will show us the way through. Others will use meditation or other physical techniques that have a profound impact on the spirit. Still, others will grab their iPods and plug into music that recharges their souls. My point is not to suggest that you must use any particular method, only that like with physical and mental fitness, you train your spirit for the demands of entrepreneurship. Just like we have to work out at least three times a week to stay in shape, we have to have a regular plan to exercise our spirits.

I will return to this topic periodically, expanding on a particular pillar and giving resources for its development. In the meantime let me know if you found this subject valuable and what your thoughts are about it.

Relationships are the Building Blocks of Life

If you’ve read my blog before you know I believe life rests on a foundation of relationships. They permeate all of the Three Pillars of Fitness. So I am delighted to share with you a book that addresses the vital topic of building relationships. How to Be a Power Connector: The 5+50+100 Rule for Turning Your Business Network into Profits by Judy Robinett reads fast and serves as a step-by-step guide on the strategy and tactics you need to know to create, build, and improve the relationships you need to direct your life.

While the title focuses on business, Judy addresses familial, personal, and professional relationships. As important, throughout her book, she stresses the importance of shared values as a basic building block for interacting with people.

Darrah Brustein beautifully summarized the book in her article on Entrepreneur.com. Rather than reinventing the wheel, I asked Judy some questions that arose from my reading her book.

Question: How much of your day is devoted to building and maintaining your network?

Answer: Not even a half hour a day. Keep in mind, just because somebody can help you doesn’t mean he will. Be clear about your goals.

Question: In your book, you shared many of your successes. What have you learned from your networking setback besides avoiding bad actors?

Answer: When you hit a wall, just say next. Relationship building requires resilience, and faith in G-d.

Question: There are people who think those who differ with their politics by definition do not share their values or are bad actors. What advice do you have that might help them reconsider this idea?

Answer: You have to be smarter to see the value in two divergent points of view. Just because you have a relationship with someone doesn’t mean you agree with him on all points.

Question: As a person of faith, how would you respond to someone who says if G-d wants me to meet the right people He’ll make it happen?

Answer: This is Santa Claus thinking.

Question: I have found one of the most important functions of experts is to give people permission to do things they otherwise would avoid. [More on this idea in a future blog post] What things will you give people permission to do?

Answer: It’s okay to be afraid. But adopt the good fear – the kind that moves you out and up, known in Hebrew as yira. Keep in mind, almost nothing can be done alone. Know that half of Americans are shy. They feel just like you do. So talk to strangers. Ask people, “What ideas do you have?” “Who should I meet?” Always be thinking - how can I add value?

Aside from being known as the woman with the platinum Rolodex, Judy is a brave woman. Quoting Hebrew to a rabbi!

The other day I was speaking with a colleague about whiskeys and tequilas he found life changing. I had never considered libations could be that impactful. But whether you are a novice entrepreneur or approaching your silver wedding anniversary, Judy’s insight and advice will improve your relationships and help you take your life to the next level. Get her book today!

How would being more strategic about developing relationships help you?

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Why You Need Momentum to Live

Being an entrepreneur requires you to take that first step out of your comfort zone, even if you start part time and keep you “day job.” The entrepreneurship press abounds in exhortations to take action. Rightly so, since to paraphrase Newton’s First Law of Motion:

Your Life Tends to Remain on Its Course Unless You Force a Change

Changing your business or professional life requires your initiating a new direction. Perhaps the only thing more difficult than beginning a new venture is starting it up again if it founders. Better to maintain momentum.

Mometum is Key in Buinsess & LIfe

Image from iStockPhoto.com

About four years after starting my real estate company the market collapsed. Leading into the recession of the early 1990s, my business stagnated. Shortly before I had borrowed a lot of money to finance expansion. Faced with a load of debt and shrinking client prospects, I teetered on the verge of bankruptcy. Regrettably, while I had been preaching the folly of believing real estate prices would endlessly rise, I did not take the steps necessary to keep my company moving forward. I had to start up again. The second time was arduous compared to the first.

There is no magic formula to maintain momentum. It requires tenacity and planning. And,

The Critical Step to Sustaining Entrepreneurial Momentum-Avoid Complacency

Here are actions you can take to keep your momentum going:

  1. Think counter to the crowd. If most of your competitors think the market or your industry is going in a particular direction, find the source of this collective wisdom. You may be surprised how often it is baseless. The economy is not a plutocracy. If everyone thinks prices have to go up, they are probably headed down.
  2. Think counter-cyclically. While you want to exploit an improving market, this is also the time to be planning for the inevitable downturn. In the previous 160 years, there have been 32 cycles of expansion and contraction, on average one every five years. Just about when you realize the good times are here the bad times are about 18 to 24 months away.
  3. Business development above all else. Whether you are new to your business or a veteran who relies solely on referrals, and no matter what your product or service, you exist to serve people. Your primary task is finding the next person whose life will be improved by your entrepreneurial endeavor.
  4. Never grow up. As your business matures, you will be tempted to routinize processes. While this is important for accounting, inventory, and other similar functions, the roots of your company must remain adolescents. Remember that time when you were not sure about pretty much anything so you tried just about everything? Such is the essence of entrepreneurship.
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Each of these four will compel you to constantly re-examine your products, services, market position, and customer base. By doing so you maximize the chances that if one or more of them changes you will be at the forefront rather than being caught flat-footed.

What do you do to maintain momentum in your life

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One Night Stands Don’t Work for Business Either

Prospecting.  New business development.  Finding more customers.  Whatever you call the process, an organization must expand its client base to survive and grow.  Despite having years of practice in the necessary skills, most people are oblivious as to how to go about it.

One Night Stands Don’t Work for Business Either

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This was highlighted to me when a friend brought to my attention the large number of people who show up only once at the meetings of an organization to which we belong.  My response to him became the headline for this post.

Throughout my real estate career, I realized that the cost to acquire and maintain a new client was high. Because of the low margins in the property management and appraisal businesses, generally, it took six months to a year before a relationship became profitable.  As such, I quickly learned:

It is Pointless to Pursue One Off Clients Who Negotiate Hard on Price. 

Aside from their insistence that they squeeze ever last penny out of a situation, repeat business from them was rare. My having learned all of their negotiating tricks the first time we did business meant they had to find someone new to squeeze.  Rarely did I get referrals from them since by the time the matter was completed they had already moved on to someone new.

Most of us carefully choose the people and organizations with whom we do business, especially in the areas of professional services.  Think about how you chose your doctor, lawyer, real estate broker, or pastor.  You probably knew the person well or were referred by someone who previously used his services.

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Why as someone with something to sell would you expect people to suddenly decide the first time they meet you to give you their business?  This is why networking seems so fruitless.  Most people have the unrealistic expectation that one meeting is sufficient to establish them in people’s minds as legitimate for giving referrals.

Finding New Customers is Like Making New Friends.

The difference is that often friendships develop organically as you go through day-to-day life.  But if you examine your friends undoubtedly you note commonalities on which your relationships are built.  Finding new clients is a more intentional process but the end result is the same:  Enough interaction has taken place for prospects to be comfortable with your handling their business.

With respect to networking, you should have two goals:

  1. Establish rapport with a prospect.  Be interested in the person.  The more talking he does the better off you are.  There will be plenty of time later for you to make a presentation, if necessary.  At this stage there is only one question to answer – is this person a viable prospect?
  2. Get contact information.  The point of networking is to get people’s cards, not give yours out.  How will you follow up without a name, email address, and telephone number?

The process is no different being involved in a networking group or professional organization.  Your task is to identify the people who will be the best referral sources rather than clients.

Once you have chosen your prospects, continue the process of getting to know them and their situations while they get to know you.  It is probably not going to happen as quickly as you think.  But the business you do build will be more enduring.

When did restraint improve a situation?  When did it worsen one? 

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