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.

Time Troubles? Here’s How to Break Free

 

Do you ever find yourself wishing for a clone? Or for an additional 24 hours per day so that you could get done half the things that are on your list? Well, what I’m about to tell you may not immediately fill you with glee, but stay with me because if you’re a small business owner or entrepreneur I’m going to tell you how to make a really big shift in your business.

Different people have different time management skills, with someone like Warren Buffet being a grand master. I’m going to assume that this article is not going to find its way into Buffet’s inbox, and I’m going to also go with the idea that most readers are “average” time managers. That means people who ultimately finish much of what has to get done, but not without stress or the underlying feeling that if they had had more time they could have done a better job.

The other assumption – the one that is true in 99% of all cases – is that most of us are not spending the majority of our precious time on the tasks with the highest rewards. This is a common problem but it’s also not a hard one to fix if you’re willing to make some changes in the way you’re doing things (and remember that not to be willing to change, yet to expect a different result, is akin to insanity….)

Because so many small business owners get caught up in the “weeds” of running their businesses – they end up spending most of their time doing operational tasks, putting out fires and working IN the business. When they’re able to shift how their time is spent so that for even just an hour or two per day they can focus  ON the ways that the business can exponentially grow and scale, that’s what makes all the difference.

But how do you find that extra hour or two a day? Here is where the growth opportunity lies (and yes, growth can be slightly uncomfortable, but that’s how meaningful change happens).

First, you need to start tracking how you’re spending your time. Log it all during the next two weeks (yes, I know it’s a pain, but it’s the only way you’re doing to see your patterns). After the two weeks has passed you’ll probably already naturally be better at time management simply because of your raised awareness around the topic, but then here is the rub: you’re going to need to look at all the things you’re doing on a daily basis and decide which of those things could be delegated. That’s one way you’re going to free up more of your time for meaningful work around strategy and growth.

When you make that shift you start to see BIG results.

But it’s one that requires a leap of faith. Hiring help is often a difficult decision for solopreneurs and small business owners, but it’s also the only way to grow and scale. You’ve simply got to free yourself, as the business owner or leader, from some of those tasks that are bogging you down.

And there are many ways to do this – Virtual Assistants can take a lot of administrative tasks off your plate, and usually very cost effectively. There are other freelance and full and part time options, too. Sometimes you can come to an agreement with a local college that is looking for places where their students (and graduates) can get work experience. Many cities also have programs that subsidize wages for hiring unemployed veterans or other subgroups.

Once you decide to get some help and start doing a little research you’ll find plenty of ways to fill your staffing support needs. The first, and possibly, hardest, step is making the decision to shift your focus to getting the meetings, partnerships and contracts that will grow your business to 10X or more. Because, ultimately, doesn’t that make a lot more sense than continuing on the path of being a slave to time and letting your business run you?

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.

Do I Know You?

How well do you know your customers, really? Do they tell you one thing while they’re thinking something else entirely? Are they reacting to the offerings that you’re bringing to the table and neglecting to tell you what they really want? Do they even know what they want?

These are questions that many of us forget or neglect to ask when it comes to our customers. Taking the time to not just get to know those customers but to understand their problems and issues with “out of the box” thinking is what sets you apart from every other salesperson who comes calling.

Read between the lines, ask the tough questions and consider how you could tweak your approach or your offerings to make their life just a little bit easier. When you do this not only are you deepening that relationship with the client but you’re also going to be providing a service that is ultimately more valuable, leaving you in a position as a trusted and strategic partner, moving forward.

So instead of listening to only what is said the next time you meet with your client, tune into your intuition and listen to what it’s saying about what is really going on. And ask the tough questions…

WHY does that matter to you?

HOW do you want to be perceived by your customers? WHY?

WHAT is it that really “lights you up” about your business? WHICH parts are you most passionate about and most drawn to?

Once you start connecting with your customers and clients on this new authentic level that is when everything starts to change. At the end of the day you can never go wrong by committing to become more real.

Up For the Challenge

How are you – as a business owner, entrepreneur, wife, husband, daughter, friend, employee – challenging yourself today? How are you getting smarter, more successful, and better than you were yesterday?

Are you getting by with the same old same old, or are you being very deliberate about your growth and development? The good news is, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Here is what has worked for tens of thousands of people who have gone before you:

  1. Find a mentor. Find someone you really admire who is better than you – smarter, richer and living a life that you admire. Find a person like that who is willing to teach and guide you, then take the time to truly appreciate them and listen to what they have to say. When you find such a person make sure you realize their worth and tell them frequently how much you appreciate their time and help. A good mentor can easily make the difference between you staying stuck and getting to where you really want to be.
  2. Get some good books. Embrace reading .- or audio books or podcasts – as an opportunity to get smarter and to get an edge over your competitors and others who are in the proverbial room. Reading and learning helps to keep your creative juices flowing too, so be sure to dedicate time every day to this practice.
  3. Examine your habits and figure out which ones are not serving you well. Which habits are bad for your health, are unproductive or even harmful? Which habits do you need to shed and which other ones should you be cultivating? If you can make good habits as much of a no-brainer as brushing your teeth you’re going to start seeing tangible results, pretty much guaranteed.
  4. Rub shoulders with the upper crust. If you aspire to be more successful, richer and more influential than you are now, it’s important to start associating with people of the caliber you wish to become. Please don’t take this as permission to be a fake friend or a “social climber” but do take note of who you’re spending time with. Create and cultivate real friendships with people you actually like, but also think about doing this somewhat strategically. If you want to be an artist you’re probably going to be more successful if you start hanging out with other artists and get into the circles of buyers and gallery owners. The same goes for almost every other industry I can think of.
  5. Think good thoughts. You have to teach yourself to focus on positive, not negative, thoughts. Learn to imagine life as you would like it to be, and not focus on the problems at hand. When you do this you’ll be much quicker to shift your energy into being productive, and you’ll also turn into a kind of magnet for others who will show up and want to do business with you, or help you out in some way. All of that positive energy will make you practically irresistible!

Take Little Steps or Keep Standing Still?

How many excuses do you think there are for not starting a business, or launching a new venture or initiative?

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that this number may be one of those ad infinitum situations. Excuses are easy to come by, but excuses don’t build dream companies, nor do they create change in anyone’s life. So, if there is some idea that has been nagging at you, some creative idea you want to explore or a new business that is fueling you with a passion, today may be the day to flip the switch and start turning your dream into reality.

Whoa. I hear those voices in your head and that cacophony of reasons why you can’t do that thing you really want to do just hit me hard.

“But I don’t know how.”

“I’m not sure how to get started.”

“I don’t know if there is a market.”

“I’m not experienced enough.”

“Someone else is already doing this (bigger, better, etc.)…”

 

What if I fail?  A million phrases like these prevent the majority of people from ever starting anything, but I’m sure that we can also agree that anything that currently exists was started from nothing. How many startups began in garages, coffee shops, bedrooms?

How many people just got on with it and figured it out?

See, I believe that it is not necessary to have every step of your journey mapped in advance. In fact, I think that knowing all those steps up front is practically impossible. Sure, you can plan and strategize, but you’re never going to be able to accurately predict every detail of your journey, and believe me, even if you could do that it wouldn’t be wise.

If you really knew up front how everything was going to play out, where would be the room for spontaneity, for miraculous serendipities and coincidences, for things to turn out far better than you were even imagining?

I think that, rather than waiting until you think you have the “how” all figured out, that a better strategy is just to start. Start by figuring out what success looks like – what your vision is, and decide that “this or something better” is what you’re going to create.

Then the fun begins and it’s just a matter of taking little steps towards your goals. Figure out small “bite size” things that you can do to support your dream on a daily basis. You might call someone up to ask advice, or put up a simple website. You might send out ten emails and follow up with calls. You might do a free talk or offer a class to your community. Maybe you start a blog or just start talking about your new venture and watch who starts showing up to support you. When you start to see the journey as the fun part you begin to shift your whole attitude. Instead of focusing on how far you are from the top of the mountain and how many thousands of steps it’s going to take to get there, you begin to see the whole trek as an adventure of epic proportions, and rather than dreading the start you begin looking forward to whatever lies before you.

This, my friend, is how great adventures begin and how great businesses are born – with an inspired idea and a determination to make it work. But please, whatever you do, don’t forget to enjoy the journey and to stay open to new opportunities along the way. You’ll be amazed at what starts to show up.

Good luck and bon voyage!

You Ain’t No Superman

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Don’t be Superman… delegate.

We work with a lot of small and medium size businesses that are run by founders and management that cares deeply about what’s going to happen with their company. These are frequently type-A perfectionists, but by structuring the company so that they have to sign off on every detail they are not doing their employees, shareholders or themselves any kind of service in the long term.

It’s true that the intentions are good and they want to do what’s best for the company, but without learning how to delegate – and trust – other staff and team members, the company can only ever grow so far. Projects inevitably become stalled, and the prospect of the founder or CEO ever exiting is impossible and the company ends up enduring the ramifications of your classic dysfunctional relationship.

The truth is, if you are running a business where the whole structure will collapse without leadership being hands-on with every detail it is time to build a new system. You know you have a well-oiled machine and a healthy business when no one notices when upper management is out of the picture for a day, a week or a month. And when you have strong systems in place that’s when your business begins to have more market value and when you’re likely to identify tasks that can be automated and outsourced, thereby driving up profits.

The need for systemization applies to start ups as well as to established, multi-million dollar companies. The more quickly you’re able to get those systems in place the better you’ll be in the long run.

Live Like a Lottery Winner

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Who hasn’t dreamed of winning the lottery? Sure, we’ve all heard the statistics – the odds of winning are less than the odds of meeting your high school sweetheart while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro at precisely 2:32 p.m. on September 26. You are more likely to be struck by lightening on separate occasions, be crushed by a meteorite or even become an astronaut than you are to win the jackpot.

And the stories of all of the people who either lose their entire winnings or who are ruined by the experience are not very encouraging, either. But still, there is something enticing about the dream of choosing the winning numbers. How different and exciting your life would be… how you’d have entirely new freedom, happiness – and probably a better car – than you do now.

With one of the big jackpots creeping up towards $400 million again, it got me thinking about a conversation I had with a former neighbor of mine. We were living out in Los Angeles at the time and my friend Beth lived across the street with her husband and young son.

One day she announced that they had decided to move to Santa Cruz, on California’s Central Coast. I was surprised by this revelation, as they both had good jobs and were well established in LA, but Beth’s logic went something like this:

“If we ever actually won the lottery we’d move to Santa Cruz. The lottery thing may never happen, but we can control where we live. Even if we have to go to a smaller house and cut corners for a couple of years we’ll still feel like winners.”

Many years after this conversation happened it still sticks with me very poignantly. Some people might call what they did foolish or risky, but I think it’s just the opposite. What are the implications of not taking control of your happiness? How many people do you know who feel trapped in jobs or situations they don’t like, and who stay because they feel they “should”?

Have you ever heard someone say something along the lines of:

“I’ll be happy as soon as I get that promotion?”

“When our sales reach “X” dollars, then I’ll be happy?”

“When I meet Mr. – or Ms. – Right, that’s when everything will be good.”

Are you starting to see what is wrong with this picture? With a limited number of days, hours, and minutes to walk this earth, isn’t it time to make a positive change in your life, starting today?

I ask you, don’t we all have a responsibility to live like lottery winners, even if it’s just in some small way? If you won the lottery what would you want? Is it more time with your family? Would you become a philanthropist? Spend time at the beach? Go fishing?

Sure, some of these things would be easier or could be done on a different scale with millions in your pockets, but life is short and if there are things you have thought about doing it’s time to start figuring out how to turn those ideas into reality.

It’s easy to make excuses but you’re surely doing yourself a huge disservice if you don’t start taking little steps towards your big goals. Here is a guide to get you started.

  1. Visualize – close your eyes and imagine that you suddenly have endless wealth. What are the top five things you’d like to do?
  2. Now look at each of those things and consider, what is the core reason you would enjoy each one? For example, you may envision yourself living in a luxurious mansion, but if you dig a little deeper you may discover that the core enjoyment is, perhaps, being surrounded by beautiful things.
  3. Once you understand where your core pleasure is rooted, take out a piece of paper and brainstorm ways that you might start achieving some of those feelings of joy right now, before you win the lottery. For example, if you’re craving being surrounded by beautiful things could you take one room in your house, or one corner of a room and start a conscientious transformation of the space?

Continue taking small steps towards all five of your top lottery winner goals and you will gradually begin to see real transformation in your life, whether or not your numbers are ever drawn. For isn’t it true that we all owe it to ourselves to live our best lives, without waiting for some external event to make everything change?

My husband and I always said we’d become patrons of the arts when our big money ship came in. Well, we’re still waiting for our millions, but we’re not waiting to live out our dream. I have joined a committee on our local arts council and now support multiple artists by donating my time and what we can financially to this organization.

And what about my friend in Santa Cruz? She still hasn’t won the actual lottery yet, but she is living in a lovely little house in a very beautiful part of the country. By living bravely and by making conscientious choices she isn’t waiting to live the life of her dreams, and neither should you.

 

 

Plot Twist: Time for a New Ending

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Do you remember being a kid – maybe seven years old – when everything was possible? You could grow up to be an astronaut, a cowboy, or a rock star. And you absolutely believed it. Your story was ever changing, endlessly exciting and most importantly, totally doable.

And you know what? If any one of us would have held tight to those dreams and kept on believing them with all of our might, there is a high chance that our paths might have been a little different. Because you see, the funny thing about our words and our stories is that they are the truth, even if they’re spoken before the present-day reality has caught up with them. You’ve probably heard the famous quote by Henry Ford in which he said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

That quote has endured for the past hundred years or so because it’s extremely accurate. The problem is, most of us let go of our childhood dreams and desires. We’re told to “grow up”, and to “be practical”, whether this message comes from parents, teachers, peers, or even ourselves.

Fast forward a few years to when make-believe is no longer encouraged, and you start checking things off from that list of potential reality. Even my own teenage daughter is not immune, and despite hearing for years how important our thoughts and words are, she can still rattle off a whole slew of formerly desirable jobs she could “never” do for one reason or another.

Unfortunately, as our world of possibilities shrinks, we often start writing another story, and this one is far more dangerous. It can sound like this:

“I’ll never get that promotion. There are so many people much more qualified than I am.”

“Every time I look at a piece of cake I gain 5 pounds. I’ll always be overweight.”

“I’m terrible with money. There’s no way I’ll ever get out of debt.”

The thing is, unlike the stories of possibilities from childhood, these new stories not only do not serve us, but the more we repeat them the more likely our reality is to reflect our words. And these stories are like a disease. They are disruptors on our life’s path, distractors that keep us from walking in alignment with our purpose. The words that make up these limiting stories and beliefs are woven into the fabric of our souls, and eventually they can masquerade as a part of our personality. Sometimes we get confused and even let them define who we think we are.

And that’s when we start feeling lost and out of sync with life. Oftentimes it’s in middle age that people realize something is off. The lucky ones see it sooner and take corrective action.

But sometimes it can be tricky to identify that there even is something amiss, at least on the surface. We go through the paces of our life – showing up for work, paying the bills, and driving the kids to soccer practice.

But if we’re paying attention we may start to hear a little voice – perhaps at first it’s just a whisper. And it may sound, just a little bit, like the stories of our youth. We may hear hints of our forgotten dreams, clues about who we could be, if only we’d stop playing small.

But how in the world do you get from here to there? How does one go from doing all the things you’re “supposed” to do, as a responsible citizen, to fulfilling your purpose and living the life of your dreams? Well, it starts with the simple fact that your thoughts are your powerhouse and first point of contact for true self-creation.

If we’re mindful of those thoughts and carefully guard against the negative ones, we can start to once again speak in the language of what’s possible. When we’re able to open up our imagination and mentally transport ourselves to visualizing the life we want to lead, we’re already well on the way to making it happen.

Once you can see where you want to end up you have to start playing a little game with yourself, with both your thoughts and your words. You have to think and feel and talk as if you’ve already achieved your goals. It’s important to declare it to be true because this is the way to start shifting your energy around your story, which leads to a different ending entirely.

In this way, “I’m terrible with money. There’s no way I’ll ever get out of debt” changes to: “I’m so excited and grateful that this is the year I’m coming out of debt.”

Instead of, “I always gain weight. I’ll never be in shape,” you can shift your energy around to, “I enjoy eating healthy and being active. I feel so good when I eat well.”

Once you believe it in your very core you need to start taking steps to inch your way towards your goals. While it’s neither possible nor important to know exactly what your journey looks like between here and there, it is critical that you take action, however small, in the right direction.

It’s a simple choice, really – taking ownership first over your thoughts and words and then your actions, to consciously craft the life of your choosing, or to be a victim of mindless words and complaints.

Let me start you in the right direction with my declaration: I fully believe in you and am thrilled that you’re well on your way to taking charge of your life and achieving all that you have set out to be and do. So go forth and conquer, and enjoy the journey, dear warriors. You’ve got this!