Tribe it Up

The other day I had lunch with my friend and fellow entrepreneur. We spoke candidly about some of the challenges in our respective businesses, and as we were getting ready to leave the restaurant she said to me, “I’m so relieved that I’m not the only one who goes through this stuff.”

That statement struck a cord with me because so often as entrepreneurs and small business owners we do feel like we have to figure everything out on our own, and that can be a very lonely position to take. The truth of the matter is, we have more in common than we realize. Even though we may be running businesses in different industries with our own very specific challenges, on a slightly higher level we are all the same.

We face issues and questions around cash flow, sales, employee recruitment and retention. We have to pay attention to marketing, advertising, culture and reputation. As our companies grow we most likely have a team in place to assist with many of these items, but ultimately, as a small business owner, the buck does stop with us.

But that doesn’t mean we have to go it alone.

Taking the time to intentionally seek out and build a support network for yourself is, I believe, key for the success of a business. At a minimum you may want to consider hiring a business coach or a mentor, but beyond that setting up a “mastermind” group of trusted peers will help you to keep challenges – and successes – in perspective.

Elin Barton is the President of White Knight Productions and the host of the podcast, Ready, Set, Grit.  Her first book, Ready, Set, Grit: How to Turn Your Daydream Into a Phenomenal Success, will be released in the Fall of 2017.

An Independence Play

We’re fast approaching Independence Day here in the States and it’s got me thinking about business and why we start companies in the first place. In the beginning everyone imagines that their business is going to give them freedom – financial freedom, but also the ability to choose how to spend your time, both at and away from the office.

The reality, however, is often far from this utopia. Many of us business owners get through the start-up phase doing anything and everything that needs to be done, from answering the phones to taking out the trash. And, truthfully, some of us never stop being that person – that “start up hero”.

But at some point we have to consciously make a shift away from the place where we are the core of all that happens in our business. This can be difficult for some people to do (after all, the business is our baby). But, if we don’t grow these businesses in a smart way, putting systems for our business in place, AND empowering our employees to make decisions, we’ll never achieve that freedom that we so badly want.

In fact, we’ll end up with the opposite effect – our business will start to feel like a prison. Even worse, when a business relies so strongly on a single person to function properly, this means that systems are not properly in place. And, in many cases, it also means that the business has little cash value if the owner should ever wish to step away.

Creating a business without systems, and without a way for your team to make key decisions, means that you’re designing a hamster wheel that you can never step off of. Company founders and CEO’s feel important when they’re required to sign off on everyday tasks, and oversee operations. But, isn’t it a better testament to a company’s health and value when nobody even notices when the CEO is out of the office for a week? When things run smoothly and established policies and systems do what they’re supposed to do?

When that happens you know that you’ve built something good. Something of value that will not only provide freedom to those on the top, but which will be a sustainable and scalable company that’s in it for the long haul. And that, my friends, is when you get to experience true independence.

Elin Barton is the President of White Knight Productions and the host of the podcast, Ready, Set, Grit.  Her first book, Ready, Set, Grit: How to Turn Your Daydream Into a Phenomenal Success, will be released in the Fall of 2017.

Turning the Impossible Upside Down

I have a confession to make. My husband and I are not athletes. Not even close, actually. We enjoy light activity – yard work, walking, sailing – but you probably won’t catch us running marathons or entering Ironman competitions anytime soon. Yet, in recent months we have been paying more attention to our health. We changed our diet, taking out sugar and carbs, and started walking. As we began to feel better we wanted to do a little something more to improve our health, and when I came across a Facebook post for a 30-day plank challenge, we thought, “Yes! This is it!”

If any of you have done the plank challenge before you know that you start out planking for just 20 seconds, and in the course of the 30 days you work up to more than four minutes. Well, on day one planking for 20 seconds was hard (but not that hard), but thinking about doing 60 seconds (or – gasp – four minutes!) seemed impossible.

We’ve now been doing the challenge for several weeks and are approaching the four minute mark. We got here by practicing consistently (almost every day, with some resting days planned in the schedule) and by pushing ourselves just a little harder and longer each day. There is no way we could have done a four-minute plank during our first week, but now we’re no longer scared of this goal and we know that we’ll be achieving it within the coming days.

The other day I was listening to a Tony Robbins podcast and the topic was building a business by pushing yourself just a little farther out of your comfort zone, day after day. On the show they talked about building up and learning to flex your entrepreneurial muscles and it got me thinking how similar that concept is to what we have experienced this past month.

  1. Dig deep and find your grit: there are no shortcuts. Whether you’re building your muscles or building a business you have to show up and do the work day after day. No one can do this for you and there is no faking it.
  2. Don’t beat yourself up: some days are just better than others. Some days we would go to do our planks and we’d feel like we were on top of the world. Sometimes we’d improve our time by 20, 30 or 40 seconds from the day before. Then other days we just couldn’t hold it very long at all.
  3. Don’t psyche yourself out: it’s mind over matter. You really have to go into every challenge with a belief that you will prevail. If you tell yourself that you can’t possibly hold the plank for more than a minute, guess what? You’ve lost before you’ve even begun.
  4. Seemingly impossible obstacles become easy. When we started planking it was just like when we started the business in that it was easy to get lost in the overwhelm of the enormity of the situation. If you focus on the obstacles you will never progress as quickly as if you break your challenge down into manageable steps. When we’re planking it comes down to focusing on our breathing; one breath at a time. With the business we consider our goals and build a strategy around them. Then we figure out specific tactics – small steps – that we can take to help us achieve our goals.
  5. Teamwork makes everything a little easier. We could do our planks at the same time, I suppose, but so far we’ve been taking turns so that the one not planking acts as timekeeper and cheerleader for the other. It’s a small thing, but taking on the challenge together has made us more likely to show up to do our part, and I’m sure that we’re both trying a little harder than if we were just doing this on our own. Plus it’s more fun to work on something like this together. I think the same is true in a business. If you don’t have a business partner, then getting your employees on board as part of the team that is working together towards a common goal is key for long-term success.

Stronger Together

Indisputable Truth: The solution to a problem is often right in front of you but cannot be teased out without some creativity and thought.

I recently participated in a workshop where we were presented with a problem involving rare pheasant eggs. This supplier has a certain price that he needs to get for his eggs, as there is a limited supply and his boss is pressuring him to come back with at least a certain dollar amount. Three buyers come forward with offers on the eggs but none are offering enough to satisfy the boss’ requirements.

One buyer wants only some of the eggs because a limited amount of the shells for a pharmaceutical product his company produces. Another buyer wants to sell the eggs in very high end restaurants where they are made into a special meringue-like delicacy and the other buyer wants to buy all the eggs for a nutritional supplement that his company makes, but he is not authorized to spend as much as the seller needs to receive.

Negotiations ensue but are guaranteed lukewarm success unless one thing happens. Have you guessed it yet? It’s a creative solution and requires a level of cooperation, but because all the buyers actually need a different part of the eggs, it is feasible that everyone could work together to get what they want and the seller can over-deliver to his boss on the money front, thereby guaranteeing himself a nice fat bonus.

Now, before some smarty pants comments on this blog about any technical reason that the above scenario couldn’t work, I ask you to please not bother. That really isn’t the point. I’m not an expert on eggs, nor do I wish to be, but what I do know about is strategic partnerships and cooperation. And after I started to change my business strategy to that of a lone wolf to an expert collaborator and partner, everything really start to shift for me in a very positive direction.

Any small to medium sized business person will tell you: life can be very lonely when you’re trying to run your business. You most likely have limited resources and are wearing a few too many hats. And trying to carve out your slice of the pie in a crowded marketplace can prove to be very challenging, to say the least.

This is where strategic partners can come in and become an important part of your high-level plan for sales and growth. If you can identify other businesses with complimentary products or services to your own, and come up with a plan that both sides benefit by, it becomes an attractive prospect to consider. Sure, it may take come creativity as in the egg example, and you may even find yourself working together with one-time rivals, but if you’re open to experiencing the magic of partnerships and collaboration you may quickly see how your influence can quickly extend to a whole new sphere of people that you may not have had access to before.

Now, of course I probably don’t need to explain to you what the word “strategic” means. Partnerships of any kind are never something that I would enter into lightly. There are a million reasons why they may not work, and whenever you do anything like this, I would strongly suggest a lawyer looks over any agreements that you decide to abide by.

But for all of the potential headache or risk, I would still contend that strategic partnerships are well worth exploring. If you can find other companies whose services dovetail or compliment your own, and either become an affiliate seller of those services, or if the two of you agree to team up and work together you will most likely find that your company is quickly getting in front of customers that you would not have been able to serve on your own. And in that exposure lies enormous potential and opportunity for growth – for both you and your partners. And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.