Business Development

How To Direct Your Own Fulfillment, Part Two: PREPARATION

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Last week we spoke about the purpose behind starting a business, a certain job, or even a hobby. This week is about Preparation. The article to which I referred last week spoke to the fact that a lot of entrepreneurs who are lured in by the title of entrepreneur start their businesses without really comprehending what goes into running the business day to day and, as a result, the majority of small businesses fail. Their founders are blinded by the shiny diamond of business ownership and do not stop to wonder what kind of pressure that diamond has to endure to become shiny in real life.

This is why, as the article states, passion and a big idea is not everything. A lot of background knowledge and preparation are needed as well. 

Preparation comes in a lot of forms, though. I will not say that there is one absolute requirement, but there must be something. The article mentions how the allure of the Entrepreneur title also comes with the mindset of diving in, taking risks, and failing in order to succeed. Even though all three of those things occur in the life span of a business, starting off like that with no training wheels is a bigger risk than should be taken. And a rather arrogant one.

Think of it like going into a job interview without doing any research about the company or the position. The candidate is either arrogant or oblivious, neither of which bodes well for sustainable success. 

Preparation for starting a biz can be many things:

  • graduate school
  • undergraduate classes
  • a relevant workshop
  • relevant work experience
  • interviewing business owners you know
  • reading Entrepreneurship For Dummies
  • listening to a podcast
  • keeping your day job
  • waiting a few years
  • praying to God
  • moving back in with your parents
  • all of the above

The cool thing about this modern age is that graduate school is not required for so many jobs. The positive of this is that more opportunities are available and people can take more risks on their own, but the negative is that people think that they are qualified for the pursuit. Even worse, they think they are qualified and dive in to something like entrepreneurship equipped with nothing more than their self-righteous determination. 

I thankfully had numerous levels of preparation when I started my company:

  1. I kept my day job
  2. I had four years of relevant work experience
  3. I knew multiple people who had started businesses and had interviewed them
  4. I had wanted my own business for so many years that the idea could marinate 
  5. I had a support system for the business inception
  6. I had an exceptional level of common sense and adaptability

I did not need to go to graduate school, I did not need to move back home, and I did not read a single book on entrepreneurship or business.

That six part prep I had gave me enough of a foundation to comfortably start a business, but by far the most important tool in my toolbelt was years of relevant work experience. 

I knew it was time to start my business when I realized how my skills could be offered in a valuable way on their own. I was able to assign a monetary value to them at the outset and I was working with clients before I even had a website, company name, or email address. Having not gone to graduate school for a MBA or having not started the business with anyone but me, myself, and I, I have had to adapt A LOT over time and change so many things: my business model, my services, my prices, etc.

But I was able to adapt with confidence because I had a strong foundation of my own unique preparation.

As my business continues to evolve, so does the kind of preparation that I need. 

Now let us extrapolate for those of you who are starting a new job or new hobby:

  • What kind of background knowledge or preparation do you need for that new job?
    • What kind of research should you do for it?
    • What questions do you need to ask?
    • Who do you need to ask?
    • What are you personally interested in knowing?
  • For a hobby, what kind of supplies are needed?
    • What background knowledge do you need to know about the activity?
    • Who could you ask about it?
    • What does the activity entail?

Even though diving into something is thrilling and makes for a great, risk-taking story, it is still a risk. In a later post we will talk more explicitly about the challenges of entrepreneurship, but for now continue to consider these two questions:

What kind of preparation do you have for your current ambition?

What kind of preparation do you still need?

How To Direct Your Own Fulfillment, Part One: PURPOSE

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I read an article yesterday on Business Insider about the traps that people fall into when they choose to start a business, aptly named "Entrepreneur Porn". It comes down to the question of Why they are starting the business. I will discuss a few aspects here, but the full article can be found at: https://www.businessinsider.com/starting-business-entrepreneurship-hard-7

Side note: I love how the shortened link title above says STARTING-BUSINESS-ENTREPRENEURSHIP-HARD. No beating around the bush. ENTREPRENEURSHIP HARD. That is the gist before you even click the link and read the article.

As I said above and so many times before, it is all about the why. The article talks about several aspects of specifically entrepreneurship, but I would like to expand that a little bit for my readers. I do not only work with entrepreneurs and so I want to connect the points to 9-5 jobs or even hobbies and leisure activities in which people participate. The two main points that I am going to cover in two separate posts are:

PURPOSE and PREPARATION

Purpose

The article discusses the sexy allure of calling oneself an entrepreneur or adopting the liberating mindsets of "not having a boss anymore" or "freedom to make the schedule I want". Those are all attractive, for sure, but then what? Once you LLC your company and technically are granted those freedoms, what are you going to do with the business? What next?

This is where the WHY comes in. This is all about what truly drives you. Whether you are starting a business, you work 9-5, or you started a new hobby (or habit re: last week's post), why you are pursuing that thing is the most important predictor of your future and satisfaction. Hoping to call yourself an entrepreneur or hoping to have a steady job are good goals, but they can be achieved in little time. Once achieved, you are left then with a lot of subsequent responsibilities you had not considered because your only goal was achieved at the start. After starting a business, there is a lot that goes into maintaining a business. Once you get a job, you have to show up every day and perform. 

If you only thought about obtaining one or the other, you will be in for a shock about what comes next.

It is like the phenomenon of weight loss. If you set a goal to lose fifty pounds and you do it, what then? People often cop out and say "I'll just maintain it" when really they did not set a new next goal to proactively start pursuing such that a new success is defined. 

The "allure of entrepreneurship" is something I have thought a lot about. I wanted my own company all the way back in high school, but why did I want it?  Why do I want it now?  Upon reflection, I have realized that, even though I agree with the article about how sexy the Entrepreneur title can be, that was never why I went into entrepreneurship. The title feels good, yes, for sure, but I learned that it is secondary to what really fuels me: creative independence. 

There are a lot of things about business management that I am so aware that I am not interested in and the delegation of which I am slowly learning how to orchestrate. I am proud of the fact that I own something unique and authentic, but being the "owner" is not my reason to do it. It is not my why. When my business grows and there is more of a team involved, I am interested in being its leader but not its owner, i.e. not an authoritarian dictator at the top of some hierarchy that I imposed because I own the company. That does not excite me. That is only ego. Being part of a team that is serving a brand does excite me. 

My why for entrepreneurship is the independence of it.

Homework: 

  1. If you started a business or want to, why do you want to be an entrepreneur?
  2. If you are currently working a "9-5" job, what does that job do for you?
  3. If you are currently searching for a job, why do you care about having a job? What is the specific motivator?
  4. If you have just begun a new hobby or are continuing an old one, how does that hobby serve you?

The reasons are different for everyone, and your unique reasons dictate your satisfaction with that pursuit. Take a minute to answer a question for yourself.

Your future depends on it.

The 3 Crucial Personality Traits You Need To Start A Business: Part 2 - RESILIENCE

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Okay so you are starting a business. If you read last week's post, you have started to consider the kinds of things to which you must commit beyond the exhilarating fantasy of your product or service idea. It is okay if you do not want to commit to scaling your business and running it from there as an enterprise. There is no shame in that. Just as many entrepreneurs start their business and then decide to change it due to their true interests as those whose ideas do not succeed and the business flops. 

Lesson #1 about starting a business is that it is alllll yourssss. Yes, there is the pressure of succeeding with it on your own, but it simultaneously relieves the pressure of someone above you hounding you about deadlines and "the way it should be done." With that in mind, take a deep breath, look at your list of many many options of places to start, and remember that the choice is yours. 

Now that you have realized there are things called bookkeeping, market research, and email campaigns and you have committed yourself to grinding through them because you care about your mission, you must begin to fortify your defenses when the storms arrive.

Personality trait number two is RESILIENCE

Resilience is defined as "the ability to recover quickly from difficulties" and as "toughness; elasticity". Enough said. 

Entrepreneurship is like building a beach house during hurricane season.

You take care to put every material into its functional spot and build the house such that its strength and efficiency increase its value for years to come. But you build the house in Florida and you can see far into the distance (Are you with me on the metaphor so far?). Then challenges come up:

  1. Early investment of your own money in the house = darkening skies 
  2. Prototyping your product = cloud layers
  3. People demean your idea = rain falls in the distance
  4. Feeling isolated = clouds start to swirl
  5. Self-doubt creeps in = rain clouds move toward you
  6. Vendors terminate a contract = bolt of lightning
  7. No one buys your product = the wind changes
  8. You pick up shifts as a barista to pay rent = the rain wall descends on the beach
  9. Society and the internet tell you a billion different things to do = the storm hits the mainland

Overwhelm ensues. What will you do? How much do you care about your idea? What have you put into the walls of your brand that will help it survive the maelstrom? Even if you have only built the first floor of your beach house, can you sit there amongst the raging winds and pelting rain and still take that next tiny step forward? 

  1. Early investment --> google how to raise money
  2. Prototyping --> who can you test it out on (friends and family are good ones)?
  3. Demeaning people --> that's fine, move on to the people who support you. 
  4. Feeling isolated --> positive self-care and reminders of the courage it takes to face the risk you have.

You see where I am going with this. There is ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS a next step, however tiny, to take that still moves you forward but it is up to you to choose to take that step. This is critical to remember. Unless you choose to eliminate the business altogether (which is your choice), you always have another option. No matter how helpless, alone, lost, and foolish you feel. 

I know because I continue to face hurricanes myself. Fun fact about me: my longest standing insecurity is about confidence in competence, or being competent at anything. Even when I achieved great success playing soccer growing up, I felt much self-doubt and perceived incompetence.

You can imagine how a personality complex like that has played into my entrepreneurial life. There are times when my brain goes numb and I cannot recall what I even offer people, what value I bring to them, or why I thought I could be an entrepreneur. I have moved around the country three times in the four years of my business, needing to reconstruct a network and find new clients each time. There have been periods of time when I had 0 clients and 0 leads. There was a time when I did not feel motivated to seek out new leads. 

For me and my life long fragile sense of competence, though, the thing that has kept the hurricane swirling is the expectation that society puts on me as an entrepreneur. I have heard ENDLESS, COUNTLESS, RELENTLESS suggestions on how to run a business, "needing this or that or my business is doomed", from tv, internet, and social media. I have fallen into the trap oh so many times of comparing myself to other business owners and authors of other blogs (who are not in my industry and who may not actually be successful - who knows?). 

I am sensitive to the comparison trap because it feeds my self-doubt. 

Here is the thing, though. I would have never been in the position to compare myself to other entrepreneurs had I never started a business. Furthermore, why do we compare ourselves to others at all?

Because we care about something. 

We start businesses for a reason. There is always a Why that is uniquely yours. I have written a lot about the Why because it is your brand's narrative and conveys your value for the world. In the case of the hurricane, however, your Why is what will get you through. 

Every time I hit a lull or moved or felt overwhelmed or curled up and cried because I was not like X, Y, and Z founders of A, B, and C companies, I can always remember why I love what my business offers and what entrepreneurship offers me.

Do what you have to do to remember!

  • Post-it notes around your apartment
  • Accountability partners
  • Finding that perfect Spotify channel

I am not foolish enough to think that getting my beach house through one hurricane means there will never be another hurricane. In reality, there are rain storms every day that I must face, and the hurricanes will only get bigger as time goes on. 

But when that next storm comes for you, there is no greater brand management tool on the market than a good old fashioned deep breath and remembering your Why.

The 3 Crucial Personality Traits You Need To Start A Business: Part 1 - COMMITMENT

You meet commitment at the intersection of excitement and fear.

You meet commitment at the intersection of excitement and fear.

This week marks the start of three posts on the most crucial personality traits needed to start a business. Even though I will discuss it in the context of entrepreneurship, each of these themes can be applied to other jobs, workplaces, and career shifts. All are welcome. 

A lot of my clients and students fall into the classic creative trap of focusing so much on the idea of their business and the excitement that they feel that they do not step back and consider the logistics of its execution.

This is normal.

It is so exciting to come up with an idea for a business that you think will make millions and change the world. I have come up with dozens and dozens of ideas for businesses and collaborations that feel cool when I imagine them. When I think a second later about what would be required to execute them, I am not excited. Even with the companies I do have, there have been several points where I have had to pivot because the block I ran into was something about which I was not excited (often some kind of marketing, it did not feel authentic to me and I did not have the funds to hire out for it).

As a result, I tabled it and focused my energy on what was energizing. 

I am getting ahead of myself, though. LESSON #1 is on the COMMITMENT to your idea.

We are creative in our own ways and our values allow us to care about different things. When we come up with an idea for a business that aligns with our values, it is like a nuclear bomb of exhilaration in our circulatory systems and brains. We feverishly white board our ideas and diagram out our product options and design logos and taglines and what our office will look like and what color post-it notes we will buy, but we do not think about buying those post-it notes tomorrow, getting an accountant to track our expenses, then talking to people outside of our team to see if the product could be helpful.

Why? Because it is not exciting. It is not fun. It is not time spent in La-La-Land dancing with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone on sets only your imagination can create. The logistics are the hard, grey cinder blocks that keep you down here with the rest of the dirty world and which remind you to pay the bills and construct a real product. 

This is the difference between having something to say and committing to starting and running a business.

If you have a great idea, you want to share it with the world, but you do not care about scaling a business that becomes your career, that is fine. Own it. Write a blog, sell coffee mugs, give talks, and leave it there.

If you have an idea and want to make it a business, you must commit to exactly that. 

Act on the assumption that your business will grow. How does that demand make you feel? Are you excited about that opportunity for growth, or does the idea of keeping up with the growth repulse you?

This is the most important question to ask yourself as a beginning entrepreneur. You could be a rock star undergrad Entrepreneurship major prototyping an awesome product, but it will not go to market if you are not committed to the grind of networking and pitching. You could be a 30-something who just received huge funding for trials of a new miracle treatment, but you have to be committed to the long game of the trials and execution if you want to match value to that investment money. 

Entrepreneurship is hard. Much hustling is required. That is why taking a long awkward look at yourself in the mirror and asking "To what about my idea am I committed?" is the most important first step. 

I started desiring entrepreneurship back in high school, and not until I formulated my very first real true business idea in college did I stop and reflect on why I wanted to own a business. My first idea was cool and super creative, and had I pursued it I probably could have cornered the market and quickly done well with it, but it was not exciting to me at that moment. I was not interested in what was required of running that business at that time. 

So I waited.

Desire only grew, which is so cool, and the opportunity arrived right when I was ready to commit.

I still did not know what would go int to the day to day logistics, but the difference was that I was open to committing no matter the responsibility. 

In conclusion, whether you are a budding entrepreneur with an idea, you have started a business, or you have owned a business for years, check in with yourself. What is your commitment level? What do you care about now and how has that changed over time? To what about your idea can you commit yourself RIGHT NOW? What feels exciting to you within your brand?

How My Three Brand Pillars Will Change Your Life

Last week I introduced to you to the three pillars on which my services are based - Awareness, Acceptance, and Accountability - and now I am going to tell you how they can be used to rock your world and change your life.

To start, let us take it back for a second. I am the youngest of three kids. I have been known as the baby, the little prince, the perfect one, the favorite, and some others, but I swear none of those have gone to my head, I swear. 

Did I mention I was the favorite? Anyways...  I got to observe all of my family interactions from day one. All of the questions, the activities, the arguments, and the love. Before I even knew that I was a "person", I was filling up my brain with little notes and observations about personality and motivations. As I grew a consciousness, I began to notice I had biases, interests, and dislikes, and that they began to affect decisions I made. Those interests and decisions led me to set goals and voila! Awareness laid the groundwork for direction. 

My self awareness was built by life events that came with getting a little bit older. Golden example: the terrifying experience of calling the dentist's office that I described a few posts back. When I was little-little and didn't know I had a voice or what a telephone was, someone made the appointment for me. In my example, I had become old enough to know how to use a phone and that that was how appointments got scheduled, but I did not know the right way to schedule one. 

This is the acceptance. The combination of self awareness and more life experiences showed me what I did not know.

I thought that there was a right or wrong way to schedule an appointment with the dentist and plainly did not know how to do it. Even though I panicked before I asked for help, the panic on its own is a form of acceptance - I was panicking that I did not know something!

But then I learned how to do it. I asked for help and called the darn dentist's office. I stuttered my words, but I achieved my goal. And there comes the accountability. As soon I learned how to make a dentist's appointment, I would be expected to do so in the future. Since I now had the new ability to call their office, I bore that privileged responsibility.

Okay, why is he talking about the dentist's office so much? Because it is real life. It is a mundane, every day challenge that someone could face growing up. And it is an example of positive change that my business provides. Sure, I could help you with calling the dentist because I am now an expert, but I also mean applying the three As to not only a business but your personal life as well. 

Lightning round: A RELATIONSHIP YOU ARE IN

  1. Awareness = your emotions for the other person, your capacity for vulnerability, maybe even what you are looking for out of a partner or relationship, and, of course, where you fall short in the connection.
  2. Acceptance = that you are not perfect - SPOILER ALERT - and you do not know everything and that, in your emotional discomfort, you are dating the person with whom you can communicate and ask for help
  3. Accountability = you are dating the person with whom you can communicate and ask for help. Now that you know how to, you can continue to in the future andddddddd boom, the connection gets stronger.

You are welcome. 

Now let's circle back to business. If you are starting a business or have started one and for whatever reason chose to skip over your narrative exploration (shameful), all you have to do is frame your reflection with these three pillars. For example:

  • Awareness = your business idea, your desire to start your own thing, and maybe even the first step to designing your product.
  • Acceptance = that you do not know how to make a business plan, do marketing of any kind, or in what kind of guidance youwant to invest.
  • Accountability = as soon as you do ask for help or receive guidance, you have the responsibility to not only advocate for any help as needed in the future but also follow up on that guidance and do what was advised.

In other words:

  • Awareness = your goal
  • Acceptance = current state / what you need to learn
  • Accountability = learning and taking action

This is why people recruit friends or hire people like me to keep them diligent. Accountability often is most effective when its source is someone or something external to you but, if it is not rooted in a passion that you are aware of, you will not stay motivated or you will veer off in the wrong direction.

One of the defining principles of true narrative is aspiration, and these three As make up the car that drives the aspiration forward. They provide direction. Apply them to your life. Where are you feeling stuck and wanting direction?

These three pillars can be used to provide direction as well as give you a boost of an action plan to pursue a goal in any realm of your life.

Conversations with coworkers, date night, cooking a meal, running a marathon, running a country, starting a business...

Knowledge is power. You cannot get to true Accountability without digging into your self awareness and goals...

...so let's get started.

How to find a resource! Hint: Be afraid...

Merriam Webster defines resource in numerous, but related, ways:

  • a possibility of relief or recovery
  • a source of supply or support
  • a source of information and expertise
  • a natural source of wealth or revenue
  • an ability to meet and handle a situation
  • {and most importantly...}
  • a natural feature or phenomenon that enhances the quality of human life

Let's get the obvious one out of the way. When we say "someone has the resources for x...," it is often clear that we are referring to money in some way. A resource in that sense is almost like a relaxed recognition that money is there and can be accessed as necessary.

Okay, great. Let us move on. Resource comes from Old French meaning "a source or spring", refers to "a means of supplying a want or deficiency", and "to rally and raise again." It also comes from Latin's root word for resurgent, relating to the idea of rising from some lower point.

I think that is pretty cool. We seek resources when we acknowledge a need of our own or a gap in our knowledge, however big or small.

The first time I ever made my own appointment at the dentist's office when I was younger, I was petrified. The fact that my parents had made appointments for me before that point made me think that there was this grand, special way to do it that only they were allowed to know and that there was definitely absolutely a right or wrong way to do it. In other words, a high probability I would fudge it all up and be eternally ashamed. I was lucky to recognize my mom as the resident expert at the time on this knowledge that I needed so, what did I do, everyone? Say it with me: I. Asked. Her. For. Help...! Very good. 

She was all like "Yeah, just tell them that you need a cleaning and see what days they offer might work." 

Am I on candid camera? Was that it?

You know the emoji of the narrow, focused eyes and the one pensively scratching its chin? Combine those two and that is the face I remember giving to how simple her answer was. This is how a resource presents the possibility of relief and recovery. Not only was all of my pre-pubescent anxiety immediately extinguished but I also acquired a new skill of confidently picking up the phone and advocating for something I needed from the big scary dentist's office.

Resource seeking can be as simple as my younger, cuter self calling the dentist or as complex as someone with an epic idea wanting to start a business (I know there are bigger examples but no, I am not going to mention the kind of resources our marvelous president should definitely seek right about now...).

I have met so many people in the startup world and, having created two startups myself, there is an endless need for resources in the form of information and expertise.  Even though I listed what the dictionary calls a resource, actual resources are completely subjective. My clients see me as a resource for personal branding and building narratives, but the way in which they need that is unique to them and their journeys. 

A common misconception is that seeking a resource is a one-way effort. But instead it is an exchange. A matter of teamwork.

You are the one that has to break the ice, though.

No one will know you need their supply and support unless you put yourself out there in an honest and authentic way. I was shaking in my socks when I asked my mom about the stupid dentist but my vulnerability could not have been more authentic because, well, I was terrified to make the stupid phone call. 

I prepare for every single meeting, phone call, email, text message, what have you, when I am seeking aid from a resource so that I am able to not only honestly ask the question I want to ask but also contribute back to the discussion and subsequently put the work into applying whatever was taught to me. It becomes a mutualistic interaction around an agreed topic.

I learn from my clients every time I speak with them and it is my job to provide resources to them in any form they need. Narrative evolves (stay tuned for more on that) and so do everyone's needs for knowledge, including my own. If we continue to practice our authentic expression of vulnerability when we realize we don't know something, everyone will benefit and their eventual resourcefulness will be filled with new skills and knowledge that they can then share back to the world themselves. 

Remember, the origins of the word resource reiterate the theme of rising up from a place of deficiency. A resource can empowering, uplifting, helpful, and exciting if you are open to seeking it.

I am humbled that the mission of my companies and the mission of so many companies with which I am acquainted echo the last listed definition of the word: the enhancement of human life. 

Whether you want to call the dentist or start a company or anything between and beyond, I guarantee there is someone who can relieve your angst and I hope you will take the step to reach out. We will all be made better for it.