What is that special something that “winning” entrepreneurs possess?
The standard answer seems to be part luck, part guts, part brains and part the people they surround themselves with. Or, in mbaspeak…”right time. Right place. Right product.”
Lately, I’ve come to realize that the recipe is far different, seemingly simple, but, extremely difficult to execute.
I’ve been fortunate enough to spend my career working for and with entrepreneurs. Some who “get it done” and some who don’t.
The ones who do follow a pattern. A recipe that allows them to orchestrate success in the same way as a conductor does a symphony. They love the process and engage as it unfolds.
So, rather than a formula it’s a series of steps, notes on a page that blend together.
The winning entrepreneur:
(1) Checks their ego at the door
(2) Doesn’t become emotionally attached to their original idea to the extent that it outweighs sound business judgment
(3) Seeks out and listens to opinions from experts and their target market
(4) Engages in intellectual debate when challenged
(5) ACTS quickly when a suggested change of course makes sense
And, most importantly
(6) Embraces the process
Sounds simple. But, it’s not. By nature, serial entrepreneurs are egoists. They not only love their ideas, but many are in love with themselves and therefore emotionally tie themselves to their creations. Whether it be a product, a website, or a commercial, to WIN – the entrepreneur must actively engage and WANT others to better what they’ve done. Many CEOs engage in steps 3 and 4, but have never mastered 1 and 2 and therefore cannot execute on step 5. They know it all; the project is their “baby”. Who could create something better?
I’ve lived a real life example with a winning CEO. My CEO at Education Connection had been massively successful. He had started and sold several businesses – for millions of dollars. He was known in the for profit online education space as well as internet marketing industries as “the golden boy” or the “man with the midas touch”. He was incapable of creating something that was not a success. Having the opportunity to work for him and now having worked for several other CEOs, the difference is clear; he loves the process. He had said to me hundreds of times while building our business, “enjoy the journey – be present – don’t always rush to the end goal” and only now – a couple years later – do I understand what that means and why it led to his success. It’s the process outlined above.
The best ideas are those that lie ‘outside the box’. The top thinkers, innovators, and visionairies have all been considered ‘out of the box’. Similarly, those that have the appearingly ‘best’ careers are the ones who have taken the concept of ‘career’ OUT of the box.
Don’t wrap your career in a box. Don’t look at your career in a vacuum. It’s not static and if your idea of a career is static, you will become static as well.
Here’s the truth; if you’re looking for a career, you’re looking for the wrong thing.
What you should be looking for is something that makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning.
What you should be looking for is a way to continuously better yourself, continuously learn, continuously grow.
What you should always be seeking out – is your next adventure.
Certainly, that may take the form of something that turns into a career; or it may not.
Maybe what you’re looking for is to start your own business, maybe what you’re looking for is a contract – for a project that excites you, maybe you are good at several functional areas and it’s time to CHANGE what you thought was your ‘career’ path because all of the sudden, you’ve realized you’re a General Manager, but CERTAINLY you do not want to FORCE a career.
If you ignore this advice and continue to seek out a career, you will become part of the statistic that has changed so dramatically over the past decade. You will become one of the people who changes jobs an average of every year and a half, without promotion, but more importantly, without being happy.
By tying yourself into a career, you’re missing out on the most important part of your learnings; the different journey you take. The people you meet along that journey. Most importantly, your closing your mind to opportunities that may arise.
There’s probably a lot of people who will read this and think, “sounds good in theory, but I need to bring in some cash!” Of course you do – we all do. But bringing in cash and tying yourself to ONE career is NOT the same thing. Get a day job if you need the cash; but look for a day job that at least ties into something you love OR one that gives you enough free time at that “job” to work on your REAL passion – whatever that may be. A great example is Gary Vaynerchuck. He worked 12 hours / day at his retail wine shop and then built his own business at night – he worked almost every night from 8 PM – midnight. It took 2 years – but he did it. He launched his own business.
Another example is how I’ve designed my life. People ask why I consult and own my own businesses; and the reasons are very simple: 1) I don’t believe in a “career” as currently described in the marketplace 2) I haven’t yet found a job or group of individuals that meet the criteria set above; So, I take on projects and clients – I actually turn down more than I take on…and then I work on my own projects for free a couple hours / day. I have not “settled” for a job. I have figured out how to use my current skill set to continue making money. And I’ve ensured everyday is an adventure, every project is a learning opportunity, I only work for people who intrigue me, and most importantly, I enjoy my journey.
Your “career” can be anything you want it to be. Throw out the preconceived definition that so many cling to as a security blanket (definition of career) and define what a career is TO YOU!
There are blogs about time management. Increasing efficiencies. And creating a life / work balance. But I couldn’t find that many posts about “bandwidth”. I often have people tell me I have incredible bandwidth; and I always attributed that to one of two things: Either 1) Much of the work I was doing I had done previously and thus could work more quickly than a newcomer. 2) Maybe I was just “quicker” than the average Joe. Turns out, I was wrong. It was neither of these things.
This post explains how to make the most of your time; more importantly – increase your bandwidth while maintaning or bettering the quality of your work.
1. Get rid of your preconceived notions of separating ‘work’ and ‘personal life’. Whether we choose to admit it or not, every year this line becomes more blurred. With the advent and expectations that come with Blackberry’s, remote log ins, and other communication tools, people work 70% more now than they did 20 years ago. Instead of becoming annoyed and frustrated with the onslaught of technological communication tools, I found a way to use them in a way that makes me more productive. And we all know that “responding to emails immediately” rarely increases production, so this is not what I’m referring to.
2. Know when and how you produce. I’m an entrepreneur first, marketer second, and sales person 3rd. In any of these roles, three traits have set me apart; being ambitious enough to create strategically and then execute on tactics at near real time. That is “how” I produce. When do I produce? all day everyday. My least productive time in coming up with strategic ideas or plans is AT work; but I don’t have an exact time. Entrepreneurs gain business ideas and / or insights from anyone or anything. For me, an idea is usually sparked mid-conversation or while watching TV. I don’t know “why” this is, but would presume it’s because I’m an extrovert and clearly derive my motivations from other people.
3. Commit to being productive. Now that you’ve gotten rid of your preconceived notions and found out when you’re most productive, embrace the moment when a thought or idea comes to you. Don’t ignore it. Don’t say, “I’ll write it down later”. Commit to yourself that you will take advantage of your ideas and execute.
4. BE productive. Utilize the new technology. When you have an idea – type it out. Email it to yourself. Download an app like evernote. Record your thoughts an your phone. Whatever the communication medium is, use it. For me, I email myself all ideas I have. No matter how good or bad they are at the time. What may sound like a bad idea at one time may be the seed of a great idea or future business. Communicate it to yourself at the time, for later on you can build around it. For me, I have bursts of creativity, sometimes I even map out “task lists” in my head. What I do now is email them to myself. When I get to my computer, a task list, an idea, a marketing plan – whatever it is – it’s THERE. I copy and paste it into a doc, review / edit it, and the ‘hard part’ is done. I take on twice as many clients as other people I know because I commit to myself I will be productive when my brain is producing. I never put my creativity on hold.
5. Practice and embrace your productivity. When you’re in the car or at dinner, yes – this may be when you have a burst of creativity. Don’t get annoyed it’s “not the right time”. Get EXCITED. If you’re in the car, pull over. If you’re at dinner, excuse yourself and run to the restroom. The first few times, it may take you a while to get your thoughts communicated to yourself at a later time but as you do this more and more, you’ll find you’re able to send yourself an idea as well as corresponding execution plans in just 2 minutes. The faster your brain works, the more you’ll get onto paper.
I’m loyal – some may say, “too a fault” and on the surface, it may appear so. I’ve turned down opportunities that would’ve helped me grow, make more money, connect me with new and different people, provide new experiences…all because “I’m a loyal employee” (or so it would seem to the outside viewer). But I’m not a loyal employee, a loyal consultant, a loyal executive, or any other role you can place me in. I’m loyal to me. Period.
But what does “being loyal” to oneself mean? Perhaps something different for all of us; for me: I am loyal to the ethics, learnings, and morals that I believe in. And the learning that has most impacted my life and aided me in being enjoying my journey; I believe in people. The right people for me. I believe that by working for or working with the people that share similar “traditional” values, morals, or ethics, or more importantly – can educate me about new / differing morals and values – that is how I remain loyal to me.
Make a list of what is most important to you; morally, ethically, professionally, and even personally and seek out people who “fit” that list. If you are loyal to yourself and to your “list”, you will find these individuals, this ‘moral code’, personal and professional relationships, even job opportunities are not easy to find, Every opportunity, every individual, every ideology that crosses your path should be weighed against that list. And when you do find that ‘match’, embrace it. Foster it. Be patient. While there may not be a tangible ‘gain’ today, there may be one tomorrow, or 10 years from now. OR, there may never be one – but I assure you, you will build relationships that make YOU a better “you”; and that intangible gain is part of the journey. And the only part of life that matters…is the journey. And remaining loyal to the belief that the journey will get you where you want to be; wherever that may be.
So enjoy your journey, remember that everything is purposeful, and if you can remain loyal to yourself, and spend your time, effort, and love on the people who you choose to be part of your journey – who knows….lightning strikes at the oddest moments. Make sure you never give up the chance for the lighting to ignite a new journey; eventually, the journey will be one you can look back on and say, “I was loyal to me and that is all that mattered”.
I love education sales. There is nothing more gratifying than speaking with someone who genuinely is looking to better their life, having them “paint the picture” of their future, and knowing that by referring them to a degree program, you are ‘bettering’ the chances that they will get a job in the future.
For a decade I’ve been doing this, whether it be directly selling, building education businesses, call centers, training, or marketing programs. The past week I launched another business and I’ve been “back on the phones” as I don’t believe in “starting” a business without knowing your consumer. The students that I’ve spoken to have been of the highest quality and caliber I’ve ever driven to a call center; direct from television, no incentives, no discussion about money. Prospective students calling in solely because they are trying to better themselves.
And having a database of thousands of schools to refer students to used to be fantastic. I know the schools, how they work, and I know they do help people. That said, this week something has been different. While I know I am doing the ‘right’ thing by referring students to certain schools – there has been a hesitation to refer many of them. So, instead of turning them into revenue, whether it be by referring them to a school or even enrolling them myself, I’ve been searching for them. When a student calls in and says they want to go back to school online – I end up googling for community colleges near the students that have “distance learning” or “online programs” in their area. I’ve been explaining to students that there are numerous options, giving them the info about the for profit online universities, and then also giving them the information about the community colleges in their area…along with a recommendation that if the community colleges do offer the programs they are looking for, this is the “way to go” as it is less expensive and can be transferred into a bachelors degree program.
As I am fully aware of the value and quality of the online for profit programs; typically the teacher quality and curriculum is ‘better’ than a community college, I’m also flashing back on the loan repayment rates; or I should say, the lack of loan repayment rates. Over 80% of students going to school online are now in debt and about 50% of them are in default. I can’t get the picture out of my head of the spreadsheet I was given with those numbers.
While I have been perturbed with the increasing bad publicity surrounding the for profit universities; I’m seeing how it can affect those of us who believe in and support online for profit higher education. Data is data; numbers are numbers; and if someone like myself, a revenue driver to the core, is making the decision to send students to community college (if available), what will happen everywhere else?
I was lucky enough to be trained at the for profit university and I was trained to do “what is in the best interest of the student”. I was taught, “Enroll the ‘right student’, in the ‘right program’, at the ‘right time'”. We always asked if a student had a local community college that offered online education if the student needed their Associate degree. I wonder…if the online for profit colleges partnered and shared their model with the for profits for Associate degrees; and offered the matriculation into the Bachelors programs at their universities – would this be sustainable? I believe so and I believe it would be a “win/win”.
Less Revenue for the for profit school in the short term, but a higher net tuition revenue per student in the long term. Students enrolling with associate degrees AND students that have had online education experience have a higher likelihood of graduation – therefor decreasing the default rate and increasing loan repayment numbers.
Is it that simple? Or are these regulations just affecting my rationale?
A few years ago my job function was “technically” business development and operations. As with most start up environments, this was really just a title that was broad enough to encompass “anything that needs to get done”. That said, I was accountable for “marketing and sales deals” as well as devising the strategy and running the day to day operations of the company’s call center. There was not one area of the business that did not somehow effect either of these functions and as I was “employee 1”, I had a background or had worked in every other company function: building the website (design), developing the CRM (technology), driving traffic and tracking the sources/how they performed (analytics), setting up all clients and vendors (ops) just to name a few. The upside of the start up environment is the experience you get in a vast array of functional areas. The tough part is when you are told to focus in ONE or TWO areas, but you know enough about the other functions so when new employees are brought on, you are constantly working with them as well. What happens? You lose your focus.
Part of all of our journeys is to become self aware enough to recognize our faults, and choose either to fix them or use them to our advantage. At this time a few years ago my mentor sat me down and said the following,
“I assign you the project, ‘build a wall’. And you start building your wall; and it’s sturdy and beautiful – it looks like it’s going to be the perfect wall. But then, you look to your left and you look to your right and you see that your teammates have been told to build walls as well. However, their walls don’t look as good or as sturdy as yours. So, you leave your wall and you go to help them. You help them and guide them in building better walls for themselves and when their walls are done – they’re much higher quality walls than expected. You get back to finish your wall, and you’re almost done – but again you see someone who needs help on their wall; repeat performance. This time, however, when the wall is finished, you go back to your own wall and you find that the time to complete your project is almost up. You rush to build the rest of your own wall, and of course the quality suffers. When all is said and done, your team has 3 quality walls (not yours) and one semi quality wall (your wall). However, what I did not tell you is that your wall was the most important. Your wall was going to be the wall that protected the entire city and all of the other walls. I trusted you to build the most important wall because you were the most talented, the most tenacious, the most passionate; but you failed. You failed to build the wall I thought you would because you lost your focus; your passion for ‘people’ overran your passion to produce. You lost your focus.”
When my mentor told me this story, I understood. It was simple – he was telling me to focus on my tasks and stop worrying about everything going on around me. I was screwing up. What I did not realize then, that I do now – was that had I delved deeper into the story and continued a discussion, I would have realized way back then that I had a skill set that would set me on a new career path. While in a corporate environment working in one functional area, building others walls was not the ‘right’ way to perform. However, there is a whole industry of people who do nothing but “build walls” for other people. The industry is consulting. So while it took me a few years, I have realized what I’m really good at. I’m great at building other people’s walls. My “own wall” has manifested as a result of building others walls.
I think there are a lot of people who are stuck in boxes given to them by a title; who have the ability to add value in a myriad of functional areas and industries. Don’t stay in your box. Test yourself. Try building other people’s walls. It just takes one successful wall to gain the confidence to build another and then another. Eventually, you will have so many walls that you can quit your job and do nothing but creatively build other’s walls. It never gets boring; there is both short term and long term gratification; and like any famous wall – people will remember it was you who built it.