Mighty Small Business

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Last month I and more than 2,000 fellow business owners and entrepreneurs had the privilege of attending an amazing event in Washington, DC. All of us were graduates of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program (10KSB) and the event apparently was the single largest gathering of small business owners in the United States.

In short, it was incredible. Speakers included Tyler Perry, Warren Buffett, Sara Blakely, Michael Bloomberg, Sir Richard Branson and so many other fabulous business leaders. But the best part was being in the presence of thousands of other entrepreneurs, with all of their creative energy and “can do” attitudes. Someone said (and it’s absolutely true) that there were no “time wasters” in that conference center. All of us are the problem solvers, the ones who ask how something can be done, without much reverence for the obstacles that might be standing in the way of actually getting it done.

It was an exciting, invigorating and life-changing couple of days. I came away inspired and energized, and my very favorite thing happened on a bus one night, en route to a reception at Union Station.  I was sitting alone and a nice young man from Brooklyn sat down next to me. We naturally started talking about our businesses and I mentioned an idea I had to grow part of mine. Within seconds he started to brainstorm with me and within the course of the 15 minute bus ride together we crafted a pretty solid concept.

Then he surprised me, but in a way that exemplified what was so great about the conference.

“I’m giving you homework,” he said. “This is a great idea. How are you going to move it to the next level?”

“Hmmm… Well, I can make a teaser video about the concept and put together some materials.”

“Okay, when can get get that done by?”

“April 1?”

“April 1 is Easter. I’m calling you on April 2 to see what you’ve got.”

Within seconds I had accepted a calendar invite to talk with my new friend April 2. We arrived at our event, got off the bus and went on to have countless other amazing conversations that evening.

One of my co-alum, Leticia Velez, is featured in this video if you’d like to learn more about the program.

At the conference I learned how powerful and important small businesses really are to the economy as a whole. Some of the interesting stats that I learned about small business are:

  • Small business accounts for 29.6 million businesses in America
  • They make up 99% of U.S. employer firms
  • We create 63% of net new private sector jobs
  • We employ 58 million people – nearly half of America’s private workforce

 

Elin Barton is the President of White Knight Productions and the host of the podcast, Ready, Set, Grit.  Her first book, Ready, Set, Grit: A Three-Step Formula for Finding Your Purpose and Turning it into an Incredible Success, will be released in 2018. To find out more about how you can use video as a smart tool to grow your business visit our website.

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.

The Real Art of the Deal: 5 Quick Tips

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What does the word negotiation mean to you? Does even thinking about it fill you with a little bit of anxiety? Do you equate “negotiation” to “conflict” and try to avoid it at all costs?

There is a perception by many in business that in negotiation one side wins and the other loses. If you subscribe to this belief then it logically follows that the one who wins is better, stronger, smarter or otherwise holds an advantage over the other party. And, by extension, it stands to reason that the side that loses is weaker in some way and leaves the negotiation embattled and discouraged.

However, just as personal relationships are more complex than childhood fairy tales would make them out to be, business negotiations are rarely black and white. Instead, shades of gray and nuance usually blur the line between who wins and who loses in these transactions. But what I’d like to propose is a world in which both sides walk away feeling good about the deal… where negotiations are a very good thing.

In this new paradigm we stop going into a negotiation thinking, “How can I walk away with as much as possible?” and instead turn it into a game of,  “How can we both leave here feeling good about what has transpired? What can I offer to give my opponent that he or she really wants?”

In this more evolved type of negotiation you begin to view the other person as your “negotiating partner” instead of your enemy, and you work to uncover the essence of that person – the things that he or she really cares about. And remember, you are ALWAYS negotiating with a person, so be personable. Be real. Be compassionate.

And considering trying the game of “how can we both win here.”

Of course, not everyone who you try to strike a deal with is going to want to travel with you to mutually beneficial middle ground, but it’s worth giving that person the benefit of the doubt and trying to get there if you can.

Before you go into a negotiation make sure you do the following:

  1. Do some research on the person you’re meeting and try to uncover common ground or clues as to what their motivators are. Opening the session with a personal comment or compliment sets a positive tone for the entire negotiation.
  2. Know what the variables are that you may be able to negotiate on. Examples might be price, payment terms or delivery terms. Do adequate preparation before you go into the room and know what all the possible variables are.
  3. Be very clear with yourself on what your bottom line is for each of those items. Before you even walk into the room make sure you know your numbers: what number would make this an incredible deal, what number would you be comfortable with and what number is the absolute lowest you can go?
  4. You’ll usually want to start negotiations with a higher number, but remember those other variables too. Your goal is to walk away happy, but you want the other person to also feel like they’re getting a good deal. 
  5. If you reach a deadlock and the person you’re trying to work with can’t even get to your bottom line, then don’t continue the conversation. Announce your intention to walk away and withdraw from the deal. That will either set the tone for a new round of talks, or if not at least you won’t waste any more of your time.

Guided by Instinct

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The other day I got to talk to Seth Godin and it was awesome (the link to that interview is below). The way I got that opportunity had everything to do with stepping out of my comfort zone, and lessons learned in the process are so relevant to how you’re running your business today.

How do you run your business? Is everything you do based on data, numbers and empirical data or are you operating on a combination of instinct and cold, hard facts? I’d like to make the case for basing your decisions on both of these things. Numbers and charts without any nod to the “gut instinct” will never tell the whole story.

And the instinct could be wrong – no doubt about that – so it makes sense to have lots of arrows in your quiver: analytical evidence AS WELL AS “a good feeling” about something.

In my experience the world is never black and white. Any time I am faced with a tough situation and am not sure how to proceed I always look at the facts but then also like to hit “pause” and ask myself what my instincts are telling me to do. It’s very interesting, because so often I’ll get the urge to call a certain person or to hold off on sending an email. I can’t tell you how many times acting on these kinds of instincts have worked well for me.

The “why” behind this can’t necessarily be explained by science, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I like to use the example of something most of us have experienced: thinking of someone “out of the blue” who you haven’t spoken to for a long time, and then within minutes that person is calling you. No logical explanation, yet it happens.

Those are the same “super powers” that can by used to apply to business if you’re willing to follow your instincts. If you’re feeling the urge to call one of your old clients for no logical reason, why not go ahead and do it. You probably have nothing to lose and you never know… that person might have been wanting to reach out to you anyway.

Or if you get the crazy idea to do something outside of your comfort zone and it feels right, why not go ahead and give it a try. That’s how I got to interview Seth Godin for my podcast. I’ve long been a fan of his, and the other day when one of his blog posts resonated strongly with me I had this weird instinct to reach out to him and ask him to be on my show.

And here’s the thing: I almost talked myself out of it! I heard these things going through my head:

“My show has a small listenership. He’ll never say yes.”

“He’s way too busy to talk to me.”

“He probably doesn’t even write, much less read, his own blogs.”

And on and on. That inner voice can be very negative and challenging sometimes! In this case, however, I heard the voice and made the conscious decision to reach out to Seth anyway and was so thrilled when he said yes. Interviewing him was one of the highlights of my podcast – so far – and was a lot of fun, too. I think it’s a great example how listening to instinct over logic can serve us well, and how stepping out of the comfort zone is the best (only) way to grow.

If you’d like to hear Seth’s interview here’s the link to the podcast page. You’ll also find links to subscribe to the show from your favorite service. Please do. I’m really passionate about this show and amazing guests are lining up to come on. I think you’ll really enjoy the authors, thought leaders and sports stars that will be sharing their stories with us in the coming weeks.

Thanks for taking the time to read this story and the next time you get the sudden urge to do something crazy but potentially beneficial in your business, listen to it. Your inner voice may say, “But what if you fail?”

And your answer must be,  “Ah. But what if I am successful beyond anything I could have imagined?”