Do We NEED a “Women -Business Day?”

Image

Do We Need a "Women Owned Business Day?"May 1, 2014 is the inaugural Women-Owned Business Day.” I recently learned of it through Hannah Diamond, one of the driving forces behind the initiative. You may wonder, “What exactly is a ‘Women-Owned Business Day?’” Simply put, it’s time set aside to support women owned businesses and, in the process, raise our personal and the public’s awareness of these entrepreneurial women and the businesses they’ve started. To me, it’s a natural and necessary thing. It’s a way to help the women in our lives who reflect an entrepreneurial spirit and help close a disparity between them and their male counterparts (more on that in a moment). Yet some may ask if such an initiative is even necessary. After all, if women want to play in the same sandbox on a level playing field, why would they need special consideration? Those are excellent questions, and I’m happy to share my answers to them. I’ll cover:

  • Why Focus on Women?
  • Differences in Business Approach
  • How We Can Show Support

Why Focus on Women?

Rohit Arora, the CEO and co-Founder of Biz2Credit, wrote an excellent article detailing why women owned businesses are thriving. His findings mirror the report Women-Owned Businesses in the 21st Century prepared by U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration at the request of the White House Council on Women and Girls. Both sources testify to the growth among women owned businesses and their significant economic contributions in the United States. For example:

  • In 2007, women owned 7.8 million firms, accounting for almost 30% of all non-farm, privately held U.S. firms. Women owned firms had sales/receipts of $1.2 trillion and those with employees had 7.6 million workers. – ESA report
  • The average earnings of companies owned by females increased an astounding 54% in a year-to-year comparison. According to the research, average earnings for women-owned firms shot up to $54,114 in 2013, from $35,135 in 2012. – Rohit Arora’s foxbusiness.com post
  • Between 1997 and 2007, the number of women owned business grew by 44%, twice as fast as men-owned firms, and they added roughly 500,000 jobs while other privately held firms lost jobs. – ESA report

Clearly, women owned businesses are doing well. So why focus on women? The reason is simple: A disparity still exists between women owned businesses and their male counterparts, and part of the reason is the way people in general view women in business. Thus it’s up to us, individually and collectively, to address the reasons and close the divide separating the two.

Differences in Business Approach

Sharon G. Hadary wrote an article appearing on the Wall Street Journal website that analyzes the reasons for the difference in size between women and men-owned businesses. Those differences have a direct impact on the growth sustained by women-owned businesses. Some of those differences highlight how we as individuals and society can have an impact on how well those businesses thrive.

  • Different Goals. The first significant difference lies in the reasons why men and women choose to start their own business. Research shows men go into business to be their own boss, and hope to grow their business as large as possible. Women, on the other hand, seek personal challenge and want to integrate work and family. Therefore they want to keep their business at a size they can personally manage.
  • Access to Capital. Women often enter entrepreneurial endeavors with fewer resources than men. Therefore they tend to favor businesses with low start-up costs, but which also have lower growth potential. Part of the problem lies with women. In general, they view credit as something “bad,” and tend to use business earnings to finance growth. This limits their growth potential. According to research from focus groups, women business owners’ perceive lenders as unwilling to give them funds. Therefore they don’t bother to apply. This is especially true regarding women of color. Unfortunately, this feeling isn’t entirely without merit, according to Ms. Hadary. Her personal experience is that many bankers on the local level perceive women businesses as having low growth capacity, making them a poor credit risk.
  • Access to Markets. Whether in the government or private sector, many organizations have goals for including women owned businesses. In practice, however, the reality falls short of the ideal. One reason is corporate purchasers’ reliance on “bundling,” or consolidating purchasing through a select few large suppliers. According to women business owner associations, these large suppliers (typically men owned) include women owned businesses when submitting their bids. However, when awarded the prime contract, these suppliers rarely give women businesses any of the work.
  • Access to Networks. One of the best ways to increase knowledge, generate leads, and gain access to community, financial, and purchasing decision makers is through networking. Yet too often women aren’t taken seriously and are frequently shut out of conversations leading to lucrative deals.

These challenges highlight a need for re-education, both of women business owners and of people in general. If we as a whole change our views we’ll see our actions change as a result of our collective adjusted outlook. Sharon Hadary made some great suggestions on how we can accomplish this in her article. I’ll focus on some things we can do to help make Women Owned Business Day a significant and long-lasting success.

How We Can Show Support

For this initiative to work, we all have to do our part. Thankfully, the “work” involved is both simple and reasonably enjoyable. Here are a few suggestions:

  • The first step is simple: Agree to throw your hat in the ring (and we all know I like hats). Click the link below to visit the “Women-Owned Business Day” event page on Facebook and say you’ll “attend” (aka “participate”).Women Owned Business Day
  • The next step takes a little more work. Before you can support a woman owned business, you need to know that it exists. A great place to start is your state and local government. If you’re not sure where to find the info, a search for “women owned business [state]” (where you substitute the appropriate two-letter state abbreviation for “[state]”) will yield a host of useful links. You can also contact your borough, city, and state chamber of commerce, which likely maintains lists of women owned businesses. Here in NYC, contact Rochelle White with the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce for assistance.
  • This third step takes the most work – but is also the most fun! I don’t expect you to simply buy from a woman owned business because it exists. You only do business with people and organizations you know, like, and trust. Therefore, think of the things you need in the next few weeks, whether on a personal or professional level. Identify businesses from the list you created in the preceding step who can meet those needs. Then take some time and contact them. Get to know the owners and people with whom you might rub shoulders if you choose to use that business. Even if you don’t use them right now, you’ll likely get to meet some great people.
  • Finally, buy from those businesses on May 1, 2014 – and anytime thereafter that it’s appropriate. Heck, feel free to buy before that day! We won’t mind. The work you did in getting to know the business owners helped forge bonds likely to last well beyond Women-Owned Business Day, and that’s the real win.

Do we need a “Women-Owned Business Day?” The answer is a resounding “YES!!” It’s not because women can’t cut it, nor because they can’t grow significantly. We need one because they deserve it, and because we need to overturn some deeply entrenched misconceptions about who they are and what they can do. So let’s throw our hats in the ring and make preparations now to #buyfromwomen on May 1!

Overcoming Inertia: Harnessing our Minds

Image

InertiaDictionary.com offers two pertinent definitions for inertia. They are:

  1. Inertness, especially with regard to effort, motion, action, and the like; inactivity; sluggishness.
  2. The property of matter by which it retains its state of rest or its velocity along a straight line so long as it is not acted upon by an external force (from Physics).

The first definition highlights the primary connotation we typically apply to the term. When it comes to life and business, inertia (the lack of effort or activity) is a negative thing. If we also include the definition that comes from the study of physics, inertia is both a positive and negative force. It can either help keep us going or help keep us stuck in place. Being aware of the former definition of inertia helps overcome the latter definition, and that’s what I’ll focus on today.

Take a look at that second definition once again. If you’re in motion, you tend to stay in motion. If you’re at rest, you tend to stay at rest. What causes a change in state? This happens when you introduce an external force. However, we’re not talking about physics. We’re discussing people. Does this rule still apply? It most definitely does apply. Then what is this external force that can get us going when we’re stopped, speed us up when we’re moving, or bring us to a crashing halt? It’s our mind.

The Power of the Mind

Have you ever felt like you’re on top of the world? It’s that feeling that comes when everything is firing on all cylinders, and you know things are going your way? Then, a problem arises, and one of two things happens.

In one scenario, you power through the problem, changing and adapting to the new circumstances. You deal with the problem and move forward with renewed vigor, assured and confident.

In the other scenario, the problem hits you like the proverbial ton of bricks. You can’t think straight. It feels like the whole world is crashing down around your ears and nothing you do seems to make a difference. The problem stops you in your tracks, and you can’t figure out how to make things right.

Although presented hypothetically, those are real situations. I know because I’ve experienced both.

What determined whether the first or second scenario applied? It was the power of my mind. In the first case, I approached the problem with confidence. No matter what happened, I never wavered in my determination to see the problem to its finish and continue enjoying the success I worked so hard to attain. In the second instance, instead of feeling confident, something about the situation caused me to doubt myself, and that led to the slow unraveling of everything around me.

Our minds are incredible instruments. As such, they require constant, meticulous care. What we feed our mind determines how it responds in any given situation. Thus, if we want to experience more of the first scenario mentioned above, we need to let our minds feast on a constant diet of upbuilding thoughts. Those come from the printed page (whether literal or digital) and the spoken word. Ultimately, it comes down to those whom we choose as associates. Whether we hang out with them after work, invite them over to our homes for a meal, or invite them into our lives by reading their thoughts, watching them in some sort of presentation, or entertaining their ideas in our conversations, those with whom we associate have a powerful influence on our minds.

Since our mind is the “external force” that is the key to controlling inertia, especially the kind that tends to keep us stagnated (at status quo) or bogs us down through inactivity, how can we protect and master this amazing and unique faculty?

Safeguard Your Mind

Let’s recap what we have so far:

  • Inertia is a real part of our lives, and can work for us or against us.
  • To overcome inertia, you need an external force.
  • That external force is our mind.
  • The way our mind works in a given situation depends on the things we feed it. A big source of our “feeding” comes from our associates.
  • We associate with others by the things we read (whether online or in print, including chat conversations) and the things we hear (whether in a live or online audio interchange, other audio commentary, or the things we watch).

Therefore, if we want to control inertia, we need to guard our associations. Here are some questions that may help you think about ways in which you associate:

  1. What shows do you watch on TV or the Internet? What movies do you enjoy? What performances do you attend? Are the characters portrayed therein people with whom you would choose as associates in your life?
  2. What are the lyrics of the songs to which you listen? Is their message consistent with your goals in life?
  3. What kind of jokes do you tell, and what things make you laugh? Are they things you feel comfortable repeating?
  4. What stories do you read, and are the people portrayed in them (if they are works of fiction) those with whom you would normally spend time?
  5. While keeping abreast of current events, do you find yourself immersed in constant negative news, or do you gravitate more towards articles that uplift?
  6. With whom do we spend time outside of work? What things do we do together? Are those activities in keeping with my purpose in life?

You may find these questions and their answers lead to more questions. That’s a good thing. Pursue the line of questioning this discussion sparks, and let it lead you to a better understanding of the things you do and the reasons behind doing them. Ultimately, it will shed light on the various ways in which you associate with others, and may lead to you making better choices regarding your associations. Those choices will help guide your thinking into more positive directions, and ultimately will give you that external force needed to overcome inertia. Doing so will help get you moving if you’ve stopped, can help keep you in motion, and ultimately help you speed up to reach even higher levels of accomplishment.

Inertia is a part of our lives, and not just as it relates to the physical laws. When it comes to our roles as leaders, it’s important to understand inertia and to take control of that external force which overcomes it, our minds. If we carefully guard what we feed our minds (our associations), we’ll be more in control of how we handle the situations life throws at us. So let’s make a point of putting our minds on a diet of positive things.

How do you handle inertia? What do you find effective in guarding your associations to help you unleash the power of your mind? Share your thoughts in the Comments below.

Causes of Leadership Failure – Disloyalty

Quote

 

Perhaps this should have come at the head of the list. Leaders who are not loyal to their trust and to their associates – those above and below them – cannot long maintain their leadership. Disloyalty marks people as being less than the dust of the earth, and brings down on their head the contempt they deserve. Lack of loyalty is one of the major cause of failure in every walk of life. – Napoleon Hill

[This is the 8th in a series discussing the causes of leadership failure presented by Napoleon Hill]

Defined on Dictionary.com as “the quality of being disloyal; lack of loyalty; unfaithfulness,” and “a violation of allegiance or duty, as to a government,” disloyalty represents a lack of faithfulness. When discussing synonyms of the word, the website says, “Disloyalty applies to any violation of loyalty, whether to a person, a cause, or one’s country, and whether in thought or in deeds.” Thus, this cause of leadership failure carries the sense of faithlessness and betrayal of trust. It applies to a person’s actions towards both individuals and organizations. Additionally, it encompasses not just our deeds but one’s thoughts as well.

While we all acknowledge some people display disloyalty, is it a serious problem in the workplace? According to an article by Sybil F. Stershic, a marketing and organizational advisor with more than 30 years of experience helping service-based companies develop employee- and customer-focused solutions to improve bottom-line success, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Citing a 2007 Walker Information study entitled Loyalty in the Workplace, she notes, “The percentage of “high risk” employees (36%) – those who plan to leave their employer within the next two years – now outnumbers the percentage of loyal employees (34%). This trend is frightening when you consider the costs of lost productivity and high turnover.” Obviously, it’s a problem worth our attention. Even Napoleon Hill commented that this particular cause of leadership failure possibly tops the list!

Let’s examine three areas: Where does disloyalty take root in a person? How does disloyalty manifest itself? What can we do to weed out any disloyalty possibly lurking within us?

How’s Your Faith?

David Byrd defines faith through this affirmation: “I am sure of what I hope for and certain of what I do not see!” That’s very similar to the definition of faith provided by the apostle Paul at Hebrews 11:1, which says, “Faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld” (NWT). Thus, faith encompasses an assured hope and a certain belief in the unseen. How does this apply to business? Whether an owner, a high level executive, a manager, or an employee, you hope for certain things and believe in the organization’s ability to achieve that hope.

Disloyalty equates with unfaithfulness. Essentially, for this discussion, it means losing hope and lacking assurance of or confidence in the ability of an organization or it’s members to deliver as promised. If you no longer trust a person or business to do what they say, you take it upon yourself to make things happen, even if that means going around or through them. Therefore, a key component in combatting disloyalty is developing faith.

Knowing the cause, how does disloyalty manifest itself?

It’s All About Me, Myself, and I

In her article, Ms. Stershic listed the top experiential drivers of loyalty. So, presenting their antitheses, disloyalty manifests itself as:

  • A lack of fairness at work
  • A lack of employer care or concern
  • A lack of trust in employees
  • No feelings of employee accomplishment
  • No day-to-day satisfaction

It's all about me!At the heart of all the above is an inherent selfishness. Far from the justified self-interest we all need to manifest, the above conditions stem from a leader that only has his or her own concerns in mind. If you’re focused solely on self, fairness flies out the window because in your own mind you are fair. After all, you’re doing what’s necessary to get ahead! What could be more fair than that? Since your concern is all about you, there’s nothing left for anyone else, including employees, direct reports, peers, or supervisors. Obviously, you can only trust yourself, so why make the mistake of displaying trust in others? As long as you look good and move forward, everything is right in the world. Therefore the only accomplishments that matter are yours…which means there’s no need to share credit with anyone else. After all, you made it happen, right? Thus, at the end of the day, your satisfaction is what matters most. You’re only responsible for you. Everyone else has to fend for themselves!

That thinking is a recipe for disaster, and will derail your career as leader faster than a Wile E. Coyote attempt to catch the Road Runner fails. So how can you guard against developing disloyalty? Just as importantly, how can we weed out any seeds of disloyalty already in our psyche?

Watch for the Little Things

Since disloyalty has roots in selfishness, understand that it’s part of our nature. Thus, we’ll always have a tendency towards disloyal acts. However, like other inherent tendencies, we can guard against it if we know the signs of it in action. What are some things to guard against? Here are a few things to watch:

  • Focusing on the faults of others. All of us are imperfect. If we’re looking for errors, they’re easy to find. Therefore, if you find yourself excessively fault-finding, maybe you’re on the road leading to disloyalty. Why? Because if all you see are others’ faults, then you have no reason to trust them, and without trust, there’s no real basis for loyalty. The challenge is that it’s easy to say be on the guard for excessive fault-finding, but it’s not easy to do. At the moment, you feel perfectly justified in pointing out (mentally or verbally) the shortcomings of those around you. So take stock of yourself at the end of a day and ask if you saw more good in people than flaws. If you find yourself more on the side of noticing errors in others, you may need to work on your attitude towards them.
  • Displaying a lack of empathy. If you find yourself no longer relating to the feelings of others, maybe it’s time to check yourself. Empathy allows you to deal fairly with others, and to display care and concern. Don’t mistake displaying empathy with coddling others. A good leader allows those around him or her to shoulder their own loads. Yet that same leader understands not just what others do but also the circumstances surrounding those actions. This let’s a leader “get in the head” of an individual, thus better judging how to treat them in a given situation. “I hear what you’re saying, but that just opens the door to sob stories muddying the waters. People still have to follow the rules!” True, rules are there for a reason and it’s the responsibility of a leader to enforce them. Yet, if you find yourself focusing on the letter of the law instead of the spirit behind it, you’re in trouble. That’s especially true if you’re enforcing a law with a view towards promoting yourself at the expense of others. Which leads to the next point.
  • Taking credit needlessly. We all want recognition for our work. If you’ve accomplished something significant, naturally you want it acknowledged. So does everyone else. So if you find yourself taking sole credit for collaborative efforts, you’re displaying disloyalty. This increases the tendency of those on your team to distrust you in the future, reduces their sense of accomplishment, and flatlines any sense of satisfaction they have at work. You can bet they won’t push hard to make you look good the next time you head a project. Thus, they lose, the company loses…and you lose. Interestingly, this usually manifests itself in small ways, like not giving proper attribution to the source material used in research. Once taking credit for others work in little things becomes a habit, doing so in big things is just around the corner.

No doubt we can add to this list, but it gives you a broad strokes overview of things to guard against in our personalities. If you find that you’re doing great in these areas, bravo! Keep doing what you’re doing, even while keeping your guard up to ward off selfish tendencies. If you find there’s a problem in any of these areas, what can you do?

First, give yourself credit for making an honest self-examination. That’s huge! I’m betting most who manifest disloyalty never stop to think about their actions, much less seek ways to change them. Then, get to the root cause, which is a lack of faith. In whom or what have you lost faith? What caused you to lose your faith? Is it something over which you have control, and can therefore fix? If so, take steps to restore that faith. If you find you have no control over what caused your loss of faith, then ask the hard questions: Can you learn to live with the situation as it stands? If not, are you in a position to move on? Ultimately, if you can’t restore your faith in a person or organization, you’ll never be truly happy, and you’ll never have the loyalty needed to find success in your efforts.

Disloyalty is a powerful cause of failure in leaders that finds its roots in a lack of faith. By watching for the signs of lost faith in the people and organizations with which we work and taking steps to address the underlying causes, we can prevent disloyalty from taking root in our personalities. Doing this will lead to greater satisfaction for ourselves and others, along with increased accomplishment. In the end, everyone wins when leaders guard against disloyalty.

Have you experienced or displayed disloyalty in the past? How did you handle it? What was the outcome? Share your thoughts and experiences in the Comments below.

For Women, By Women – Blogging Networks to Note!

Featured

Lady BloggerJoel Comm (a LinkedIn rock star and all around great guy) posted about the current blogging landscape (read all about it here). He highlights what anyone whose synapses are firing knows: Women greatly influence the economy. What’s likely less known is blogs lead that influence. He cites statistics from Nielsen that are revealing: Out of 181 million blogs analyzed, the majority belong to women between the ages of 18 and 34, one-third are mothers, and over 50% are parents with children under 18. How does this all help you?

We are She Is Media. Hear Us Roar!

With the rise of women bloggers comes the advent of women’s blogging networks. In his post Joel highlights one, She Is Media. Their goal is simple, as stated on their About page: “Our only goal is to support you and be your partners in the journey of affiliate marketing.” Since women have been sharing with one another long before the term “blog” ever existed, it seemed a natural extension that they would share with one another in a more significant way online. That also highlights another key factor: While the site dedicates itself to helping women maximize affiliate marketing, it’s really all about integrity. You can’t imagine a good friend telling you about a great, unadvertised one-day sale at your favorite department store or a 2-for-1 special on your favorite high-fiber, great tasting cereal at the local supermarket simply because there was a monetary incentive. No, she shares because it’s a great deal, and she wants you to know about it! If she happens to benefit from it, that’s okay because you’re still getting a great deal. It’s that honesty, that openness which makes the recommendations of women who blog so powerful, and She Is Media understands that. Tricia Wackerly and crew saw the need for “a strong, dynamic and supportive platform for women bloggers, so [they] created one.” Keep an eye out for them. They shot out of the blocks running, and I don’t see this passionate group of ladies slowing down any time soon!

Reinventing the Landscape: BlogHer.com

Back in 2009, Lisa Stone, one of the founders, wrote an article about this remarkable network. Four years old at the time, BlogHer.com grew so successfully that they competed with some of the largest women’s magazine publishers for their share of Fortune 500 advertising dollars. The significant thing is this happened at a time when traditional freelance writing markets dwindled, making the network appealing to women writers. However, BlogHer is more than a network. They’re a media company, and those accepted as members and following their guidelines receive compensation for their work. According to their Vision page, since 2009 BlogHer has paid $25M to some 5,000 bloggers and social media influencers. To ensure quality, BlogHer provides a host of services, including guidelines (mentioned previously) and editors to insure authors adhere to them. In return, bloggers receive compensation through ad revenue sharing, and in some cases a flat fee per post. This can create a decent income, and some bloggers earn five-figures, which supports them. Additionally, BlogHer accepts men as part of the network. Finally, BlogHer.com hosts events and invites people to attend, participate, and connect.

Other Resources

Naturally, these are not the only resources out there. Just do a search for “women’s blogging networks” on any of the major search engines and a host of results appears. Right here on WordPress, we have the Arizona Bloggers Network, who describe themselves as “a network of female bloggers, over the age of 21, who share their interests, life, and passions through a blog.” Additionally, you’ll find quite a few women participating in the A.W.O.L. Project which helps people achieve what for many were unbelievable levels of success through blogging.

Each network offers a different set of services. The two mentioned previously focus not just on connecting women but helping them monetize their blogging efforts. How can you take advantage of what’s out there?

Try these simple steps:

  • Decide what inspires you. If you’re looking to earn an income blogging, it can’t be a hobby. It takes a level of dedication and a need to stick to a schedule. The thing that keeps you going when you don’t want to sit down and write (yes, you will experience those days) is your passion about your subject. So pick topics that get your blood racing and your heart pumping!
  • Start writing. The most important thing is getting started. Sure, there are technical things to learn, and guidelines to follow (especially if you join BlogHer). Yet writing good quality articles is at the heart of everything. The technical stuff you can learn along the way.
  • Invest in learning. While content is at the core, you do have to learn some things. Therefore, make a diligent effort to learn. You’ll need to invest one of your most precious possessions: time. Additionally, an investment of money is normal, though typically not at the same level as your time investment. Here are some resources that can help:
    • One Cool Site. Timethief shares some incredible resources and insights on all things blogging. Although she focuses on WordPress.com, her tips are valuable to all bloggers. Make sure to check her out!
    • The Red Ink. Amanda Clark and crew over at Grammar Chic, Inc. maintain this blog about all things related to good content marketing and social media presence. They show you what to do, what to avoid, and how to make a graceful recovery so that putting your foot in your mouth doesn’t leave a lingering aftertaste of shoe leather.
    • Beyond PR. The crew at PR Newswire maintain this blog devoted to crafting great releases, social media involvement, content marketing, and (one of my favorites) their Grammar Hammer feature which helps you avoid grammatical guffaws and other flubs that can foil your efforts at presenting your best side to the online world.

I could list more, yet these are some I find most useful in keeping up to date with all things blogging. You’ll develop your own list in time

There has never been a better time for women to enter the social media marketplace, and blogging is an effective point of entry. As part of a comprehensive social media strategy, it’s a powerful tool in your belt to help you build the business and life you want. Use the networks and resources mentioned to help you claim your stake in this ever-expanding market!

What are some of your blogging experiences? Share your stories and observations in the Comments below.

Cause of Leadership Failure – Lack of Imagination

Quote

Imagination

By Mehdinom (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Without imagination, leaders are incapable of meeting emergencies, and of creating plans by which to guide followers efficiently. – Napoleon Hill

[This is the fifth in a series discussing the causes of leadership failure presented by Napoleon Hill]

It’s a brave new world, one that’s constantly changing. New laws, emerging technologies, and changing workforce demands require careful but rapid evaluation and bold yet measured implementation of new policies and procedures to guide our steps. A decade or two ago, no one thought about implementing social media policies or devising cyber security measures. Today, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Now we have technical innovations that fairly boggle the mind, and a bevy of ethical questions surrounding them. Without the faculty of imagination, it’s impossible for a leader to survive. What exactly is imagination, and why is it’s lack a cause of failure for today’s leaders?

Imagination and You

Wikipedia defines imagination as, “The ability to form new images and sensations that are not perceived through sight, hearing, or other senses. Imagination helps make knowledge applicable in solving problems and is fundamental to integrating experience and the learning process…. It is a whole cycle of image formation or any sensation which may be described as ‘hidden’ as it takes place without anyone else’s knowledge.” Dictionary.com defines it this way: “The faculty of imagining, or of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses.” It also adds that it is the “ability to face and resolve difficulties; resourcefulness.”

Essentially, imagination is that faculty that allows you to see the unseen. In a practical sense, this allows innovation, such as the development of aircraft, the light bulb, and the telephone. At one point, those things only existed in the imagination of their creators. Now they’re as common as breathing. However, imagination isn’t just for creating new inventions. It’s also at the heart of devising new solutions. As mentioned above, it allows you to take your existing knowledge base and apply it creatively in solving new and intriguing problems. That may mean devising new programs to address situations that suddenly arise, like the social media policies mentioned above. In a world where we seem to redefine “status quo” daily, your ability to use imagination to keep in step with those changes is critical.

The issue goes deeper, however. David Byrd discusses the use of imagination in his Next Level Achievement System®, and makes this profound statement: “The use of the gift of imagination is the key to life’s direction, purpose, and power.” So, beyond just having the ability to devise innovative solutions to problems, effective use of the faculty of imagination is the key to everything we hope to achieve in life. No wonder this is a cause of leadership failure!

Can we develop our powers of imagination, especially as they apply in a business setting? If so, how?

Developing our Imagination

Remez Sasson wrote an article discussing the power of imagination. He discusses both the proper use and misuse of our inner vision. For this discussion, we won’t focus on misusing our faculty of imagination as much as not using it. Mr. Sasson notes that no one is without imagination. Rather, people tend to have a poorly developed one. Thankfully, that’s something we can correct. After providing everyday examples of imagination in action (like cooking, decorating, or thinking of past and/or future activities), Mr. Sasson gives some great advice on strengthening our inner vision.

  • Set aside 15 minutes a day and imagine something you know you can achieve, like sharing a special occasion with someone you love.
  • Imagine it in detail; not just images, but sounds, smells, and feelings. Involve all five senses. Granted, you may find it difficult at first to use all senses in the exercise, but eventually you’ll get better.
  • One caveat: Your mind may start to verbalize what you’re experiencing. Don’t allow it to replace imagery with words; the focus is on developing your imagination, not your prose. Read the article for more details.

Napoleon Hill spoke extensively about the power of imagination and how it assisted him in Think and Grow Rich. In the chapter entitled “The Sixth Sense,” he talks about an advisory cabinet consisting of the nine men he admired most: Emerson, Paine, Edison, Darwin, Lincoln, Burbank, Napoleon, Ford and Carnegie. Since the majority were already dead, he held meeting with them in his imagination. After a while, an interesting thing occurred. They took on distinct personalities, and he found himself having free-flowing conversations with them. “Those are the actions of a crazy man!” some might say. Yet they helped him achieve great success and inspire greatness in others. So maybe, in order to accomplish our goals, we all need to “get a little crazy,” as Seal sang.

Be an Imaginative Leader!

There’s no debate: Imagination is a necessity for the successful leader. If you’ve already developed this faculty, then put it to good use. If you need to beef up your inner vision, then get to work on developing your imagination. One thing is certain: With the challenges we face in our world, we can’t afford any lack in the imagination department if we hope to succeed as leaders!

How would you rate your ability to use imagination? What are some success stories and/or cautionary tales regarding this important faculty you have? Please share them in the Comments below.

Causes of Leadership Failure – Unwillingness to Render Humble Service

Quote

Willing to render humble service?Truly great leaders are willing, when occasion demands, to perform any sort of labor that they would ask another to perform. “The greatest among ye shall be the servant of all” is a truth that all able leaders observe and respect. – Napoleon Hill

[This is the second in a series discussing the causes of leadership failure presented by Napoleon Hill]

‘Don’t ask others to do something you won’t do yourself.’ That truism is at the heart of this cause of leadership failure. One of the reasons for violating this statement is the feeling that a task is beneath us. In some ways, that’s worse than simply being too lazy to do the task yourself. It fundamentally shows a belief that you’re superior, and others will quickly pick up on your attitude. Believe me, no one likes to have anyone look down on them. What causes this failure in leadership to manifest itself? More importantly, how can you overcome it?

A Great Leader is a Servant

There are a number of reasons why a leader doesn’t perform certain tasks. Some of them are valid. For example, a person may delegate tasks for any of the following reasons:

  • They don’t have enough time given their other responsibilities
  • They don’t have the necessary skill to perform the task
  • They lack confidence
  • They feel overwhelmed
  • They’re lazy
  • They think they’re too good for that kind of work

The first two are valid. If there are many facets of an assignment requiring multiple simultaneous tasks, you simply won’t have enough time to do everything yourself. Therefore it makes sense to delegate. Similarly, if you lack the necessary skills to perform an assignment, trying to develop the skills needed while on a deadline may not always be the best choice. You may better serve your objectives and benefit all on your team by assigning that particular task to someone with greater ability. Notice I said may; sometimes stretching yourself leads to discovering unknown abilities, as my fellow blogger Jessica mentioned in this post. The next two deal with self-worth and assessment of your own abilities. If you lack confidence, then take steps to increase it. Typically, setting small goals and achieving little wins is a great confidence boost, as David Byrd points out in his Next Level Achievement System® (NLAS). Additionally, a system by which you manage your development process, such as the NLAS, allows you to break down tasks into manageable daily tasks, thus reducing the feeling of being overwhelmed. The last two, however, are more challenging. They deal with a persistent and pervasive mindset, and that’s a tough nut to crack. The first of the two the NLAS addresses. Having you break down your goals into small action steps and then holding you accountable for achieving them often helps overcome any inherent laziness. The last point deals with a feeling of entitlement, that others need to do certain things for you. Once you feel you’re above others, you’re in trouble.

Servant Leader

A good leader is also a servant

Napoleon Hill quoted the words of Christ Jesus (Matthew 23:11) who emphasized a willingness to serve others. This is what leads to greatness. Though speaking to his disciples within the context of their ministry, those words apply to so many other areas, including our professional lives. Instead of a feeling of entitlement, this attitude encourages service to others as the means for achieving greatness. Is it any wonder that a lack of willingness to perform humble service is a cause for leadership failure?

Developing the Right Attitude

One of the simplest ways to get your mind right about serving others is to practice what you preach. I’m reminded of Paul’s words to Christians living in Rome when he said, “Do you, however, the one teaching someone else, not teach yourself? You, the one preaching ‘Do not steal,’ do you steal?” (Romans 2:21) We need to set the right example when it comes to humble service, and this is especially true when it comes to serving the needs of our customers. If you as a leader have a poor attitude towards dealing with the problems customers bring to your organization, you can bet your team picks up on that. Before long, you’ll have a team of people with a similar (if not worse) attitude.

Do you do the things you expect others to do, no matter how great or small? Sometimes we find it easy to do the big things but balk at the small stuff, especially when that small stuff is inconvenient. Since the best way to lead is by example, how you handle the “small stuff” gives an indication of your willingness to render humble service to others. If those you lead perceive you hold yourself to a different standard than that to which you hold them, they won’t follow you for very long. At the very least, they won’t give you the full respect and cooperation necessary to make your leadership effective. So get into the habit of doing the very things you expect of others. Demonstrate your willingness to render service by performing even the smallest tasks and you’ll be surprised at how well others follow your example.

How would you rate your willingness to perform humble service (to do the “small stuff”)? How can you improve in this area? Do you have stories, good and bad, of how you dealt with this cause of leadership failure in your organization? Leave your comments below.

Attributes of Leadership – Cooperation

Quote

Successful leaders must understand and apply the principle of cooperative effort and be able to induce followers to do the same. Leadership calls for power, and power calls for cooperation Napoleon Hill

Cooperation[This is the eleventh and last in a series exploring the attributes of leadership outlined by Napoleon Hill]

Nature tells us that cooperation is necessary. For example, baboons and impalas work together on the African plains to form an early warning system. The impalas’ heightened sense of smell complements the baboons’ keen eyesight, making undetected approach by predators difficult at best. Also consider a colony of ants, arguably the most predominant example of organization. These animals instinctively know what Napoleon Hill states above. In their case, cooperation is essential to survival! (See “The Role of Cooperation in Nature.” Awake! September 8, 2005, p. 3)

Note that Mr. Hill lists cooperation as an essential element of power. Although we’ve all heard of those who “seize power,” in reality it’s given to us by others. They choose to follow us (let us lead) because they find in us qualities they admire. Present any example of the exercise of power (whether positive and negative), and in all you’ll see how those in power receive it from their followers. Therefore, if you want success, you need to engender a spirit of cooperation in others. As John Maxwell said, “One is too small a number to achieve greatness.”

How do we promote a spirit of cooperation in others? What changes will we have to make personally, and are there things we must guard against as we develop this attribute? Let’s find out.

Promoting Cooperation

People cooperate when they have a common goal or belief. Additionally, they must also agree about the methodology and leadership. Thus, as a leader, you must first have a worthy goal, one that inspires others. For an organization, their vision statement embodies this goal. It shows what the organization wants to accomplish and the effect it will have once they achieve that goal. Drew McLellan says a vision statement describes “what the future will be like because you deliver on [your company’s] mission so brilliantly every day.” For example, The Future Project embodies its vision by stating, “At The Future Project, we see the problem simply: Our students aren’t pursuing their dreams. We’re out to turn high schools into Future Schools, where students develop the skills to do just that.” Simply and succinctly, they let us know they hope to transform the school system (what they hope to accomplish) and produce students equipped to pursue their dreams (the effect accomplishing their goal produces). It is an inspiring vision, and they’ve already drawn many people through this compelling vision.

Following the vision is the methodology and the management. In order to have people cooperate, they must feel confident that the manner in which you plan to bring your vision to life is both worthwhile and sound. You can often find this in an organization’s mission statement, a description of “what you do best every day,” according to Mr. McLellan. Yet, even with the best of plans helping to accomplish the noblest of goals, you’ll find cooperation a challenge without a person or persons behind whom others are willing to walk. I realize that’s a bit of a paradox. Here we’re discussing cooperation as an attribute of leadership, and I’ve just said you can’t have true cooperation without an effective leader. Still, if you manage to master the other 10 leadership attributes, you will foster a cooperative spirit among those who follow, provided you have a compelling vision and a worthwhile, sound methodology (mission) by which they accomplish that vision.

Cooperation May Require Change

One key element in promoting cooperation is communication. You may have the most compelling vision ever conceived by man, yet if you can’t clearly relate it to others it’s of no use to you (or anyone else). An article by the Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness (CMOE) discusses the various dynamics of teams and the cooperative challenges they present. To overcome these challenges, CMOE suggests, “To promote teamwork, you must address several critical issues. For starters, you should open the lines of communication within the team” (italics added). If your vision is clearly understood but you don’t clearly tell others what you expect them to do on a daily basis, you’ll promote frustration, not cooperation. If you’re challenged in this area, address the problem. Does it stem from an old school ideal, a “my way or the highway” attitude? Do you avoid confrontation? Perhaps you feel that adults are able to work out their challenges, so all you have to do is give them the basic outline and they’ll manage the details? These attitudes likely are at the root of your problems. While I don’t advocate micro-management, it’s unrealistic that everyone on a team fully understands the needs of a particular project without frank, open discussions.

Identifying the problem is the first step. What are some things you can do to improve your communication skills? Here are some suggestions (read the full article here):

  • Think before you speak. Have the points you want to communicate clearly in mind. This keeps what you say focused, leading to greater clarity.
  • Be an active listener. Don’t underestimate the power of listening! You can hear what others say, and what they don’t say. A principle I always enjoy is found at James 1:19, which says in part, “be swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath.” Sage advice for us all.
  • Make good eye contact. This may not communicate concepts, but it definitely communicates confidence. If you can’t look others in the eyes, you appear untrustworthy. That defeats your ultimate goal of fostering cooperation.
  • Take it slow. Speaking too fast often leads to slurred, unintelligible speech. Slow down so can enunciate well and properly pronounce words.
  • Use appropriate volume and tone. This varies depending on the circumstances. In general, you want to communicate feeling. Varying your pace, pitch, and power makes what you say more pleasant, and emphasizes key ideas.
  • Practice. If you want to communicate better, make effective speech part of your everyday life. The more you do so, the better you communicate.

Cooperation is important, and as leaders you must develop your ability to promote a cooperative spirit in others. Yet it’s not something you can rush. The caveat here is expecting too much too soon. Developing cooperation takes time and effort, but the rewards far outweigh the work. If you have a compelling vision, a worthy and effective mission, and develop your communication skills, you’ll inspire the spirit of cooperation in others.

This brings our “Attributes of Leadership” series to an end, and I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’ll miss knowing the topic of my next article weeks in advance. However, I’m also looking forward to branching out and tackling topics pertinent to small and medium-sized businesses. In any event, let me know what you thought of the series. Also, let me know the topics you want covered. Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.

Attributes of Leadership – Willingness to Assume Full Responsibility

Quote

Successful leaders must be willing to assume responsibility for the mistakes and shortcomings of their followers. If they try to shift this responsibility, they will not remain leaders. If followers make mistakes and become incompetent, it is the leader who has failed – Napoleon Hill

[This is the tenth in a series exploring the attributes of leadership outlined by Napoleon Hill]

Accept Full Responsibility“He did it!” “That’s not my fault!” “If you would have only…” These are some of the most clichéd, and unfortunately popular phrases in society today. Here are a few other popular (and closely related) expressions: Shifting blame, passing the buck, dodging the bullet. They all express the same desire, that of avoiding responsibility.

Assuming responsibility is hard enough when you know you’re at fault. It’s especially hard if you believe someone else caused the problem. Yet a leader knows that responsibility is always and completely his or her own when it comes to any undertaking he or she shoulders. It’s also cliché, but a great leader embraces the phrase “the buck stops here.” How do we get past the natural ruffling of our proverbial feathers resulting from accepting responsibility for things gone wrong? How can our assuming full responsibility lead to better results for us personally and those we lead?

The Challenge of Accepting Responsibility

It starts in youth. We knock over a cookie jar trying to get what’s inside, and our mother walks in. We’re standing, cookie in hand and shards of pottery mixed with cookie crumbs strewn at our feet, and sheepishly declare, “But mom, it’s not my fault!” Thus begins a cycle of shifting blame. This doesn’t apply only to children. Adults are just as guilty. Take the case of 20-year-old David Martinez of Bethlehem, PA, accused of raping 14 and 17-year-old girls. What was his reason for committing this crime? His hormones were out of control and he couldn’t help himself.

We see a rise in groups dedicated to people with addictions, whether it is overeating, heavy drinking, sex, gambling, being a workaholic, being too messy, and the like. I’m not here commenting on whether or not these are real issues, the efficacy of support groups, or discussing the relative severity and impact of the actions here mentioned. What is significant is that labeling something an addiction potentially removes responsibility from the person. They are now defined by their addiction. It controls them. It’s the addiction’s fault; you’re not to blame. As one psychologist puts it, “Creating a world of addictive diseases may mean creating a world in which anything is excusable” (“‘It’s Not My Fault!’ – The Age of Excuses.” Awake, January 22, 1991, p. 8).

If that’s true, you’re in a really terrible situation. Why? If the addiction (or whatever it is we choose to blame) is at fault, then it is also responsible for the solution. I’ve never heard of an addiction or any other intangible stepping up to the plate and correcting itself. On the other hand, if you accept responsibility for your actions, then you also accept responsibility for the solution. You are now in control. That’s why a successful leader assumes full responsibility. It allows him or her to seize control of the outcome rather than leave it in the hands of uncontrollable and often unquantifiable sources.

Advantages to Ourselves and Others

I already mentioned one personal advantage above: You take back control for fixing the things that aren’t working well in your life. Jennifer Wilson lists six other benefits:

  1. You stand out as someone different. Most people try to pass the buck. When you accept full responsibility for everything you promise to deliver, people immediately know you’re unique.
  2. You mark yourself as “coachable.” The best mentors want to work with the willing, that is, those who can admit mistakes and accept direction. Admitting you’re at fault and seeking advice on how to improve shows everyone you’re willing to learn. You’ll attract the attention of the best and brightest in upper management and/or your industry.
  3. You are trusted. Taking personal responsibility gives people a good feeling about you. People see your honesty, and that helps to develop trust. Additionally, those on your team learn that you won’t throw them “under the bus,” so to speak. That develops a level of confidence in your integrity. Those qualities are the earmarks of a great leader.
  4. You show that you’re growing and changing. Owning your mistake is a great start. Figuring out how you can fix it allows you to improve and grow. That growth leads to positive change. Granted, you may not always know how to fix things right away. Yet knowing the power to change lies with you motivates a desire to research the matter and to seek out constructive criticism.
  5. You become more powerful. How can accepting responsibility make you more powerful? First, it allows you to stop expending energy in denial. Figuring out who and what to blame is tiring! It’s emotionally draining. Additionally, as I noted above, accepting responsibility gives you the power to effect changes, instead of waiting for someone else to “do their part.”
  6. You are followed. You’re setting the example of what’s expected in your organization when you accept responsibility. Others see what you do and, just as importantly, see that you didn’t implode. Your career is intact. They’ll learn to do the same. This leads to a team with high integrity, and a desire to not pass the buck but find solutions. That’s a great result for assuming full responsibility!

The only person you can control is yourself. Things will happen, and people will let you down. That’s okay. Since you can’t control those factors, stop worrying about them. Focus on what you can do. When you get results that are less than expected, figure out what you can do differently next time to get the right results. Playing the “blame game” may make you feel better short-term, but will not allow you to achieve great things. So stop playing that losing game, and start accepting full responsibility.

Do you accept responsibility for the results of your endeavors? If not, what do you think are some ways you can improve? (Note: You’ll find some great suggestions and a worksheet here) Leave your comments below (and don’t forget to “Like” us).

Attributes of Leadership – A Pleasing Personality

Quote

No slovenly, careless person can become a successful leader. Leadership calls for respect. Followers will not respect leaders who do not score highly on all factors of a pleasing personality – Napoleon Hill

Do you have a pleasing personality?[This is the seventh in a series exploring the attributes of leadership outlined by Napoleon Hill]

Some people are just a joy to be around. It’s not that they’re necessarily smiling all the time, or that they’re bubbly and giddy (although you probably know a few that are). Rather, they have a way of making us feel better by how they carry themselves, how they handle situations, and by their consistently positive viewpoint. These people have a pleasing personality, one of the traits necessary to a successful leader. What is a pleasing personality? Is it something a select few have? Most importantly, can I develop one? Let’s find out.

What is a Pleasing Personality?

The first definition for personality on dictionary.com is, “the visible aspect of one’s character as it impresses others: He has a pleasing personality.” Primarily, it focuses on what people perceive about us. This is in keeping with what Mr. Hill mentions regarding this attribute. He speaks of a “slovenly, careless” person lacking the necessary personality to lead others. Yet, there is more than just what one sees. The website also offers modern psychology’s definition, which is “the sum total of the physical, mental, emotional, and social characteristics of an individual.” Therefore, our personality is both what people see and what lies beneath the surface. The latter is just as important, because it motivates or influences what others see, and therefore helps determine their perception of us. Granted, the values others have

Continue reading

Attributes of Leadership – Self-Control

Quote

People who cannot control themselves can never control others. Self-control sets a mighty example for one’s followers, which the more intelligent will emulate. – Napoleon Hill

[This is the second in a series exploring the attributes of leadership outlined by Napoleon Hill]

Self-control is an essential quality. By demonstrating it, you separate yourself from the majority of those around you. The Bible centuries ago described our time as “critical” and “hard to deal with.” Part of the reason is people in general are “without self-control” (2 Timothy 3:1-3). Whether you accept the source, the assessment is readily proven. In fact, modern science agrees that a lack of self-control can significantly affect your happiness, even among infants.

Andrew Reiner, writing in the Washington Post, cited a study known as the Marshmallow Study from the 1960’s. It presented 653 four-year olds with a choice: eat the marshmallow in front of you now, or wait until the researcher returns to the room and receive a second marshmallow. The study found that those able to resist the urge to eat until the researcher returned enjoyed higher SAT scores and, as they aged, remained thinner, less prone to divorce and drug addiction than their more impulsive counterparts. Is that ancient history? Not at all. The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study (Dunedin Study), an ongoing study for the past 40 years, published some astounding findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2011. The study followed 1,000 New Zealanders over 32 years, starting at birth. Researchers found that children as young as three who showed lower self-restraint were “much more likely to face future struggles with high cholesterol and blood pressure, periodontal disease, chronically empty savings accounts, debt and single parenthood. Those with less self-restraint had much higher incidences of drug and alcohol dependence. And ‘43% of least disciplined children had a criminal record by age 32, compared with just 13% of the most conscientious.’ If this isn’t disturbing enough, ‘one generation’s low self-control disadvantages the next generation,’ the researchers stated.”

Do media and ads affect self-control?What does all of this mean for you? Without self-control, you can’t hope to succeed. So, if we’ve known about the need for self-control for centuries, and studies have clearly documented the ill effects a lack of self-control brings, why is it so hard to master? Part of this stems from the fact that we’re imperfect. That makes us prone to do things that are not in our best interests. Add to that the many distractions we have in modern society, from social media, online gaming, and many other forms of entertainment. Let’s not forget mainstream media with its appeal to instant gratification. Taken all together, it’s not hard to understand why we exist in a society where “get it now!” is the norm. Thus, those of us hoping to accomplish anything significant have an uphill battle, like salmon swimming against the stream. I know; I constantly have to fight the urge to do the “easy things” which appeal to my desire for fun and enjoyment (like spending time surfing the web without definite purpose or engaging in online social interactions that don’t promote more major goals) rather than doing the things that help me accomplish my objectives. So, I hear ya; I feel your pain!

What Can Help Me Develop More Self-Control?

Self-control is one of several qualities that work in concert to help us become better people. When linked to faith, virtue, knowledge, endurance, godly devotion, brotherly affection, and love, self-control helps us become a well-rounded, productive person (2 Peter 1:5-7). However, none of those qualities are wholly inborn. We have to work at cultivating them. Since we’re focused on self-control in this discussion, what are some things we can do to more effectively develop this quality?

  • Control your thoughts. The things we think about control our actions. If we’re focused on positive things, that will dominate our thinking. Thus, our decisions filter through the thoughts we put in our minds. The media is constantly bombarding us with the idea that instant gratification is the way to happiness. To counteract that, focus on books, magazines, and audio recordings that helps you see things the way they really are. Read about people who’ve accomplished the things you want to accomplish. See the sacrifices (aka ways they exercised self-control) they made and how it contributed to their success.
  • Control your associations. The company we keep has a powerful effect on us. The old wisdom holds true: Look at your five closest friends and chances are you’ll see yourself reflected in them. The thoughts, motivations, and activities of our friends exert influence on us, and sometimes it is not subtle. So, are you surrounded by people who show self-control, or by people who give in to every whim and emotion that hits them? If the former, fantastic! If the latter holds true, then remember this sage advice: “If you can’t change your friends, change your friends.” – Jim Rohn
  • Know yourself. We all come from various backgrounds. Some were more nurturing than others. If we had good guidance that helped develop in us a respect for and appreciation of the exercise of self-control, that’s wonderful! For some, though, this wasn’t the case. If that’s your situation, know you’ll have to work harder to develop this quality. That’s not a bad thing; it’s a life thing. In a classroom, some students may excel at math while others struggle. Yet nothing prevents the one struggling from putting in extra effort and achieving or even exceeding those with natural ability. Once you understand the point from where you start, you can map out a path to your goal.
  • Seek the help of others. We all need help, because none of us are perfect. Asking others to help us demonstrates appreciation of this fact. However, I’m not saying everyone is a good candidate to offer assistance. By encouraging you to seek the help of others, I mean seeking the help of those who understand what you want to accomplish and will support your efforts. As noted earlier, self-control is not so common anymore. Therefore choose your confidants wisely. As mentioned before, those who have accomplished the things you wish to accomplish and demonstrate a desire to help others (both qualities are necessary) make great choices.

Exercising self-control is a challenge. Thankfully, it is one you can successfully meet. By controlling your thoughts and associations, knowing yourself, and seeking the help of those qualified to assist you in developing this necessary quality, you can succeed. This will help you achieve your goals and live the fulfilling life you can and should enjoy.

What are some of the challenges you face when it comes to self-control? What steps will you take to overcome them? Let me know in the Comments below.

You’ve Got Stories. We Want to Share Them.

Image

You've got stories. We want to share them.We absolutely love hearing from you, our readers. That’s why you’ll often find a call at the end of our posts asking you to share your insights, experiences, and ideas. Let’s face it, in today’s social world it ain’t about us (and definitely not about me). It’s about you, and we wouldn’t have it any other way!

Not that long ago, we started a feature on our Facebook page called “Writer’s Monday.” We hoped to feature the work of some readers, whether it be a blog post, musings on a popular topic, or excerpts from your work (whether fiction or non-fiction). Although we got a little (*ahem!*) sidetracked in recent weeks, we still think it’s a sound idea. Heck, I happen to think it’s a great idea. However, we need it to get more traction, and that’s where you come in.

I enjoy searching the web to find pieces of work that can inspire, transform, and entertain readers. But I’m not above getting some help. Therefore, please send an email or leave a Comment letting me know that you want to be part of “Writer’s Monday.” I’ll get back to you as quickly as possible, and we can get you in on one of our upcoming Monday calendars. You’ll not only appear on our Facebook page but your work gets tweeted to all my followers. That means more eyes potentially see what you’ve written. Not to mention it can work seamlessly along with your other social media branding efforts, and even help in your personal marketing. Talk about a win-win situation!

Closely related to Writer’s Monday, consider this a reminder that we still accept Guest Bloggers. Now, I know there’s a lot of debate over whether guest blogs help or hurt your SERP standings. You’ll have to make a call on that score. In my book, the bottom line is this: If you write great content and share it with many people, you’ll end up not only attracting but also engaging followers. That’s always a good thing. For more info on our Guest Blog Guidelines, click here.

WOBD Was a Huge Success – But Was it a Success for YOU?

Image

WOBD-2May 1 was the first Women-Owned Business Day (WOBD). By all accounts, it was a huge success! UrbanGirl owner Dyan Condry and Marketing Coordinator Hannah Diamond were the driving force behind the event. In true grass-roots fashion, they galvanized other women entrepreneurs into supporting one another and other women business owners. How successful were their efforts?

According to their press release, 500 women owned business participated. Of those surveyed, 80% say they benefitted from the buzz generated by the event in the form of increased sales and greater social media engagement (they had a significant bump in followers on their social channels). Just as (if not more) importantly, those same women reported feeling more empowered and supported. 98% want to participate in future events. What does all this mean?

First, the event had a tangible impact. It affected the social media presence and the pocketbooks of those who participated. Second, it provided a much-needed boost to those women business owners that participated. They and the many others who patronized the participating businesses made a statement that where they spend their dollars matter. Yet there is a deeper meaning behind the event.

The Reason Behind It All

I may slightly offend and possibly alienate a few people with what I say next. If so, I apologize in advance. However, most people who know me realize that I’m about the most anti-“day” person there is. While I do see the importance of commemorating certain events on their anniversaries (like a wedding or the Memorial of Christ’s death), I don’t generally celebrate special days. “Yeah, but you’re one of Jehovah’s Witnesses; you guys don’t celebrate anything!” True enough that I’m a JW, and that in general we don’t celebrate many holidays. However, the first person I remember ever objecting to celebrating special days (Mother’s, Father’s, etc.) was my father – and he was definitely not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. His objection was we treated a person as special on that day when in fact those people deserve that type of treatment every day. I can relate to how he felt. So then, why in the world would I support the WOBD??

In her video introducing the WOBD concept, Dyan said the purpose was to highlight the discrimination women business owners experience when seeking funding for startup or expansion. That’s a serious problem, one that’s only entering the fringes of our collective consciousness. Thus, the WOBD has at least three significant effects:

  • It boosts income. Since women business owners have to fund their own startups and expansions, it makes sense to send more business their way since they’ll need it to grow.
  • It builds confidence. As noted in the press release, most of those interviewed felt empowered and supported by the event. That confidence boost may encourage them to tackle even greater projects in spite of the discrimination when it comes to traditional financing options.
  • It raises awareness. This is the biggest benefit by far. As more people become aware of the present mindset, it opens the door to changing the paradigm. When those in a position to approve funding become enlightened to the discrepancy, whether they are women or men sympathetic to the situation, then real change begins.

The WOBD finds its roots in a very positive purpose, and that’s something I can support. Of course, like my father suggested, it’s not enough to remember women-owned businesses on just one day out of the year. However, if you use the day (and all the days thereafter) to build relationships with the women behind the business, that will have a profound effect on how you spend your dollars from that point forward. That was the real focus behind my first post on the matter.

So the first ever WOBD came and went and was a huge success for many. But was it one for you? Even though the day passed, it can still be a personal success. For one, if you’re a women business owner, get your business listed on the UrbanGirl Directory of Women-Owned Businesses by emailing Hannah. Additionally, get yourself listed as women-owned business with your local and state governments where possible. That may lead to opportunities you couldn’t receive otherwise. Most importantly, reach out to the women-owned businesses in your area and start building relationships. Whether you do it in person, over the phone, or online, it’s a start towards shifting the balance towards more equitable dealings for female entrepreneurs everywhere. Then they’ll be sitting pretty (like in the opening picture), and that’s the biggest win of all.

Why Legal Access is Vital for Entrepreneurs

Image

Are you your own Legal Deptartment?There are over a hundred thousand articles on the topic of what an entrepreneur needs to get started in business. Literally! Many of them incorporate the legal aspects of business ownership among other things (see the links below). So when Coline Walther, the Virtual Virtuoso, invited me to write an article on the legal issues involved with starting a business, my first thought was “Great! I can do that!” It was quickly followed by panic as I thought, “Wait – hasn’t that been done to death already? So…what will I write about?!”

That’s when I decided to focus on legal access. What’s the difference? The former focuses on legal matters which appear before a business opens its doors. The latter handles the day-to-day legal situations affecting a business. As you can imagine, legal access is much more powerful since it covers the planning, operating, and even the sale of an enterprise. Thus, this is the access all entrepreneurs need.

Legal Access: More Than a “One Time” Thing

For example, in the article “Starting a Business? 10 Steps Every Entrepreneur Should Know,” Caron Beesley, a Community Moderator for SBA.gov, listed the following as necessary steps an entrepreneur must take before ever opening his or her doors:

  • Deciding on a business structure
  • Registering your business name, getting a Tax ID
  • Registering with the appropriate tax authorities
  • Applying for permits and licenses
  • Hiring employees

A business owner benefits from getting legal advice in each of those areas, and in some (like hiring and dealing with employees) likely needs ongoing access to consultation with qualified attorneys. Take deciding on a business structure. You’ve heard of a Sole Proprietorship, C Corporation, S Corporation, and Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). You do some research, get a general idea of what’s best, and decide on a LLC. However, is that better than, say, an S Corp in your situation? Chrissie Mould wrote an excellent article outlining the differences between a S Corp and a LLC, comparing both the advantages and drawbacks of each business model. So isn’t that enough information to make a decision? Perhaps it is. Yet with the number of new federal, state, and local laws enacted yearly, and updates in understanding to how these codes apply, would you really want to take the chance? I always tell people, every article on the Internet (including this one) provides information. Lawyers can give you business advice on the legal ramifications of your decisions that is both timely and locally applicable.

Unfortunately the typical scenario is a fledgling owner seeks access for only a few of those situations. There are many reasons why this happens. Perhaps the owner feels some matters aren’t important enough to consult an attorney, or may feel he or she has enough experience to deal with the matter personally. However, in my experience, the main reason entrepreneurs don’t consult attorneys more often is money. What’s the solution? We find it by answering the following question…

What’s the REAL Cost?

What does an attorney cost? The simple answer is $200-$300 per hour…on average. That number increases with the number of years the attorney practiced law and sometimes on the particular area of expertise offered (for example attorneys who specialize in tax and entertainment law charge more than general practitioners). That can add up. So what’s a cash-strapped business owner to do? Recognize that there is a cost to using attorneys, and a cost to not using them.

Sometimes the cost of not consulting an attorney is greater than using one. Time and again, businesses find themselves in serious financial straits because they made a decision without having all the facts available – facts easily obtained if they consulted an attorney. Even if we acknowledge this reality, it may still cost too much to consult with an attorney on every matter. Therefore, many will resort to the following:

  • Let Google be my attorney. Confident that “everything is available online,” a person will research a matter using a search engine. While this approach has no out-of-pocket expense attached, it is time-consuming, often confusing, and comes with no guarantees that you’ve properly addressed all the factors in your particular situation. Together, those factors often make it very expensive in the long run.
  • Consult the SBA/SCORE. The Small Business Administration provides help to business owners. They have mentors with expertise in various industries, including attorneys. You can make an appointment and sit down for a consultation. The challenge is getting the time to visit, and of course hoping the area of legal expertise matches your need.
  • Pick and choose which issues merit attorney attention. Rather than getting no help, some opt to bring the “big items” to an attorney. That’s commendable. The caveat is that governing laws change constantly, as mentioned above. Therefore you can’t always be sure which items are the big ones.

One option gaining popularity among savvy business owners is purchasing a legal service plan. For an affordable flat monthly fee they receive unlimited legal advice along with a suite of commonly used services. The model is similar to that of health insurance, where many pay into a pool, covering the attorneys’ costs. Since everyone doesn’t need help at the same time, it works out to be a “win” for everyone. Additionally, a business gains access to attorneys with multiple disciplines. This is important because when it comes to your business, one attorney is probably not enough.

There are many issues facing startups and established businesses. We’ve discussed some of them, and the resources below list more. Addressing them in a timely manner is critical. Make sure you aren’t hit by the “hidden” costs resulting from not having legal access and give your business a better chance to thrive. It’s vital that you do!

Do you have legal access for your business? If so, which method do you use? Could you benefit from more access? Let us know what’s on your mind.

(This post originally appeared on The Virtual Virtuoso, January 22, 2014. Comments closed for this post. Please join the discussion here)

Related articles

Company Spotlight: Accion East

Image

[As part of an ongoing series on small business finance, I present the first Company Spotlight. I’ll highlight various individuals and organizations helping meet the financial needs of small businesses and entrepreneurs]

Company Spotlight: Accion EastAccion is a microfinance organization whose goal is to empower business owners by granting access to working capital as well as financial education. Particularly since 1991 Accion focuses on serving small business owners in the United States who cannot borrow from banks due to the type of business they’ve established, operating for too short a period, or having insufficient credit history. I recently sat down with Erica Dorn, Manager of Lending for Accion East in their Maiden Lane offices here in NYC to discuss how Accion works with small business owners and what owners can do to make themselves more attractive to lenders. The following is a summary of our meeting:

Accion’s International’s Mission is to give people the financial tools they need to improve their lives. This supports its Vision of helping to build a financially inclusive world with economic opportunity for all. Tell us how the organization started. You originally focused on MFIs (Micro Finance Institutions), right?

Erica Dorn: Accion started 50 years ago in Latin America – internationally we expanded to be an investor in microfinance. However, in the U.S. it’s a different model. We lend directly to micro-entrepreneurs; we are the MFI. We’ve been in New York for 20 years.

How would you describe your target market here in the U.S., and is your focus a little different here in New York?

Erica: In the last 20 years Accion East has lent over $180 Million in average $8,000 increments. The fact that we lend from $500 to $50,000 allows us to lend to entrepreneurs that generally have fewer than 5 employees. So from a big scope we lend to those micro-enterprises. Within that scope, we lend to any business that can’t access bank financing, and generally their needs are within the $10,000 range. I would say our “sweet spot” lies between $5,000 – $25,000.

Eric Dorn

Erica Dorn, a microfinance professional with experience in small business financial analysis, marketing, sales, and mission‐driven strategy

As an example, last month (January 2014) I gave a loan to an immigrant from Ghana that started a beverage company. He wanted to install slushy machines in bodegas so that they serve more smoothies. Because he has no credit history, it’s difficult for him to get financing through the bank. Therefore he didn’t have the capital to get his first machine even though he spent time on his business plan, had a second source of income – he basically was in a good situation. He wasn’t jumping off a cliff into entrepreneurship, but was tip-toeing into it. So, despite the fact he had no credit history and was zero months in business, we were able to do a $2,500 loan to help him buy his first machine. So we take those risks that banks aren’t able to.

On the other end of the credit continuum that we work with is a small retail business, a year in operation, really growing fast, and may have a quarter million in revenue, but they still don’t have those two years of profitable tax returns that banks want to see. Because every entrepreneur is different, they may have a strong credit score but little credit experience, which means it’s hard to get a loan from a bank or even a line of credit. Accion gave a $10,000 loan to a company called Brooklyn Home Brew where the two owners were less than a year in operation. That loan enabled them to boost their credit score, and obviously helped them increase their sales as a loan should. That led to them getting a larger low-interest loan from the bank six months later. So we work with businesses trying to bridge them into financial inclusion, and we help them get bank financing eventually.

Kerwyn: I can attest to that. You helped one of my customers with a loan. They’re a small bottled water company providing alkaline ionized water, going head-to-head with the larger companies like Poland Spring. The loan helped them expand their operations and now they’re looking forward to moving into a new home. Accion was an integral part of that growth.

Erica: That’s a great example. I was mentioning two beverage companies, and food/beverage represents about 20% of our portfolio. Another 20% comes from service companies such as massage therapists, acupuncturists, even dentists, doctors and lawyers. Then retail represents a huge sector, such as fashion; a lot of fashion businesses are common clients. And then we serve anything and everything in between. If a business can be run from home, that’s also a lower barrier to lending. So, we work with any business that can’t get bank financing.

Since you’ve worked with so many businesses over the years, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve noticed small to medium-sized businesses face with which you can help?

In terms of accessing capital, the challenges stay the same – and have remained the same for the last 20 years. Limited credit history, fairly low loan requests (if the loan request is less than $250,000 banks typically won’t consider it), under-reporting on taxes (this makes it a huge challenge getting larger financing dollar amounts), and informal documentation. For immigrant businesses especially is documentation a challenge. If we can’t prove cash flow it’s really hard to underwrite a loan. We’re really flexible though, compared to a bank. If someone walks in with a bag of receipts, we start the process. Often that caps the size of the loan we do. If someone is purely cash based and not depositing those sales, we have a limit – $5,000; we can’t do more. We obviously need them to open a bank account in order to even get a loan, but we deal with a lot of cash based businesses.

One of my questions concerns what a business can do to make itself more attractive to you as a lender, and you mentioned establishing a business bank account and getting their documentation in order. Is there anything else a business can do to make it more – financeable?

Erica: If a client comes to Accion with a half-baked idea, I’ll send them to a SBSC (Small Business Solutions Center) to help them finish thinking through the idea. We’re really meant to serve businesses that are ready for financing. We’re not a business planning organization. So to prepare, it really helps to talk to a free counselor available here in NYC, find a mentor or many mentors, get to know a lot of the people who are working in your industry and learn their pitfalls – listen to their pitfalls. I think a lot of business owners see what they want to see and they don’t listen to anything that [they perceive] might impede their progress.

Kerwyn: I know what you mean. They get blinders on because it’s their baby and they have an idea of where they want to go. They have a “you don’t understand where I’m coming from” mentality, and that sometimes hinders them.

Erica: Which can also make them very entrepreneurial, and that’s exciting but also sometimes the bane of their successful existence. So I suggest that they really tap into the resources available to them as an entrepreneur, and start by being entrepreneurial. Get to know everyone that can benefit you and make some connections. Open a bank account. Go for success early on. A lot of businesses think, “Oh, I won’t start reporting now but later when I grow, I’ll figure it out.” They’re just going to stunt their growth, basically. I would go in with a clear vision of how much you want to earn, do your production, and start from scratch reporting correctly. It’s ultimately going to lead you to the best outcome.

You touched on many of the things that would prevent a business from receiving financing. Is there anything else you can add to that list?

Erica: The elephant in the room this whole time has been credit score. We talked about it a little bit, but the number one challenge is credit score. A lot of people ignore their credit scores. I’m not saying everyone, but it’s common. A lot of people do pay attention, so it’s great. But it’s frequent where I see people who sort of avoid things that are happening on their credit history. I had a client who had a great business but we couldn’t fund her because 6 years ago she racked up credit card debt and vowed never to pay it. She’s totally past that phase of her life, but it’s there and it’s not going to go away. So check your credit score and know what’s going on. Try not to avoid it. Don’t be in denial.

Kerwyn: That’s good for a lot of other reasons, with the prevalence of Identity Theft. One of the first places you’ll find things is on your credit report. Not everything appears there, but it’s a good first step. That can really mess up a business or an individual’s chances of securing funding.

Let’s bring things down to New York, because it’s a different beast. With New York specifically, what are some things that businesses here need to know in order to work with you?

Erica: First of all, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone Accion. We are always available to have a 10-minute conversation to start with someone. We like to fire off some quick questions and just get to the point so we can all get on with the next steps. Often people think, “Oh, I was going to call…” We’ve got to hustle in this city. So I would say call us at 646-833-4556 or email Kevin McLoughlin, Number 1. Number 2 would be, beyond the challenges, there’s just so much available to you in NYC. You have everything you need – and beyond – in resources here. I think the biggest challenge is always going to be getting capital, but beyond Accion there are a lot of resources. So even if I can’t help you, we’ll refer you to an organization that  can. Because we have a 20-year lending history, we have an incredible network that we can connect our clients with. Obviously, when you come to us you get access to our events, which is very exciting. We have a partnership with Tory Burch Foundation. We have a partnership with Sam Adams. We do events with corporations like Groupon and other resources to help educate small business owners about growing their businesses. For example, with the Tory Burch Foundation we do events where we match the CEO of J. Crew with clients to coach them in short sessions. Russell Simmons was at an event, as was Bobbi Brown the makeup artist. So we actually do have some high-profile connections that can help businesses.

Working with Accion is as easy as it is enjoyable. With a dedicated team of professionals like Erica, you can get your funding request started with a simple phone call. If you’re serious about expanding, have a plan in place on how to use financing to accomplish your goals, yet have trouble securing a loan from banks, definitely give them a call.

It’s Not ALL About the Money – But it Sure Helps!

Image

It's Not All About the MoneySometimes focusing solely on money is like playing Russian Roulette with a six-shooter that has five rounds chambered. It tends to not end well. A typical scenario that exemplifies this is the salesman who is so focused on the sale (aka the money) that he forgets to be a human being and show fellow interest in his potential customer. That attitude almost guarantees the person won’t be a customer – ever.

However, sometimes money is the key thing. No, it’s never the most important factor, but it’s often an essential one. Just ask anyone looking to start a technology driven or manufacturing dependent enterprise, or an intrepid ‘trep looking to expand his or her existing operations. Without money, it’s nearly impossible to do these things.

The challenge is finding money, or more specifically, finding someone willing to lend money. When a business or individual needs capital for startup or expansion, their available options fall into three broad categories:

  1. Traditional Financing (aka Banks)
  2. Alternative Financing (Microfinance, Factoring, Angels, Crowdfunding, etc.)
  3. Bootstrapping

If you’re in a position to fully fund your startup or expansion personally (bootstrapping), that’s a great position in which to be. For the majority of entrepreneurs that isn’t the case. While they likely have some cash on hand, they don’t have enough to realize their vision. Some choose to do what they can with the cash available, trusting that they’ll earn additional funds to complete their plans in the future. Yet that often isn’t a realistic option. Sometimes you have to establish certain elements of your plan before you can realize your vision. For example, if you’re bringing a new product to the market, you must invest in sufficient research and development prior to its release. Having funds for partial research or mediocre development simply won’t cut it. In those cases, you need money, and you need it now. That means turning to the first two options.

Traditional vs. Alternative Financing

Local and national banks have long been the mainstay of small business financing. In recent years, however, economic upheavals and bank failures affected the criteria used by those institutions when approving small business loans. The result is a lending landscape that makes obtaining bank financing more difficult for the average entrepreneur. More and more, small business owners turn to alternative lending options as a means of meeting their startup and expansion needs.

  • Brock Blake recently wrote an article appearing on Forbes website discussing the need for the SBA (Small Business Administration) to embrace alternative lenders as part of their loan guarantee program. He notes that alternative lenders have outpaced traditional sources in recent years when it comes to the total dollar amount of approved loans. Part of the reason is that alternative lenders are more flexible in their requirements for loan origination. They’ll work with businesses that banks don’t consider credit-worthy due to factors such as not being in business long enough or because the principals have a less-than-desirable credit score. Yet their repayment rate is high. Accion, a microfinance lender I’ve connected customers with in the past, boasts a repayment rate of over 95%. This simply means they’re successful at helping businesses accomplish their goals.
  • Factoring, which allows a business to be paid now based on future receivables in hand, can provide immediate access to funds for expansion. In a similar manner, some lenders extend money based on projected future income, such as credit card sales. AmeriMerchant has a few programs that help businesses leverage those future sales to fund current projects. Often businesses use them to extend operations, purchase inventory and/or equipment, or beef up their infrastructure to capitalize on emerging trends and technologies.
  • Angels represent another source of startup/expansion capital. These are savvy investors with cash-on-hand they’re willing to pour into business ventures they feel have merit. Angels require a decent return on their investment, which may come in the form of lucrative repayment terms, a stake in the business, or both.
  • Crowdfunding existed in rudimentary forms throughout the years. With the advent of the information age, however, it has come into its own. In our digital age, an entrepreneur can figuratively take their idea “to the streets” and let average people invest in their project, whether a startup or an expansion. Using sites like Fundly, Indiegogo, and Kickstarter, you can post your project and give people a chance to invest in your venture. Depending on how compelling your story, you’ll attract the capital needed to accomplish your goals.

Which Source is Right for You?

Angels are one way to fund your business

Find the source that’s right for you

Each of the options above has merits and limitations. You’ll have to weigh each of them carefully to see which aligns best with your goals, the level of inclusion you want to grant investors, and the repayment terms and/or fees you’re willing to accept. Naturally, it’s in your best interest to speak with both your financial and legal advisers to make sure you protect your rights and best interests. Additionally, do your homework to insure you don’t underestimate your financial needs. While requesting more money than needed increases your debt service, you can normally return any borrowed funds early without any prepayment penalty. On the other hand, not having enough may make it necessary to scramble at the last minute trying to raise additional capital. Don’t sell your vision – or yourself – short.

Whichever method you choose in terms of financing your efforts, be sure to get enough for your needs. Life isn’t all about money, but when it comes to the matter of business startup or expansion, money sure helps!

Is it Time to Change Your Hat?

Image

Is it time to change your hat?

“Take off your selling hat and put on your helping hat.” – Nick Serba

There’s a principle stated nearly 2,000 years ago that is as timely now as it was then. It’s a secret ingredient in any recipe for success. Applying it helps shoot you to the top of the charts in the minds of your present customers (clients) and future prospects. What is this amazingly simple yet oh-so-effective principle? It’s found in this statement:

“Whoever wants to be great among you must be your minister.” – Matthew 20:26 NWT

Stop and think about that for a moment. Jesus coupled greatness with being a minister to others. According to D. Edmond Hiebert in the Bibliotheca Sacra, the Greek word used in that verse (dia´ ko·nos) carries the meaning of “one who reaches out with diligence and persistence to render a service on behalf of others.” Thus, if you minister to others, you put your needs aside and put theirs first. This allows you to diligently and persistently work towards serving them in a meaningful and effective way.

How does all of this relate to changing hats and business success?

You Need to Let Go

Old Hat

Old, Busted Joint

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is by sharing a story about some literal hats I own. The first is a leather hat made in Australia that I bought…decades ago when a rainstorm caught me. Sure, I could have bought an umbrella. Yet the rain wasn’t falling that heavily, and – let’s face it – the hat looked cool! I wore that hat everywhere I could until one ill-fated trip to New Orleans (ill-fated for the hat, that is). While I was club-hopping on Bourbon Street, my hat somehow ended up on the dance floor where it was thoroughly trampled for the better part of five minutes. That may not seem like a long time, but believe me – there was a LOT of foot action! You won’t believe how much people love dancing to the grooves of a good band!

New Hot List

New Hot List!

Anyway, the hat survived…but it wasn’t the same. It no longer retained shape like before. Still, I loved my hat and wore it on various occasions over the next few years with ever decreasing frequency. I recently started wearing it regularly again, much to the chagrin of my family (mainly mom). At first she suffered in silence, but the hat bothered her. So she started making comments – infrequently at first, but with increasing regularity until she took every opportunity to remind me the hat needed a retirement. So I eventually broke down and bought a new Fedora Trilby Derby hat. Now I can’t imagine wearing anything else.

What’s the point of all this? I had to let go of my attachment to what I knew (my old hat) and embrace a new paradigm (the Trilby). When it comes to the way we approach prospects, we may need to do the same. Sometimes you simply need to let go of old habits and ways of thinking.

The New Paradigm

My old hat corresponds to what Nick Serba refers to above as “your selling hat.” It’s a system of approaching a prospect and telling them about the value of what you have, extolling the many features of your product and service. Unfortunately, most prospects don’t care. I’m not saying the value of what you’re offering has little importance. Rather, I’m saying the average person doesn’t really care about all the nifty features of whatever it is you’re offering. What do they care about? A prospect’s only concern is his or her problems and/or needs. In order to reach them, you need to become a minister and help service those needs.

This is the foundation of Ari Galper’s Unlock the Game system. In it he teaches sales professionals how to find and meet the needs of their prospects. You’ll see that he embraces the idea of serving others in the foundational concepts upon which he builds his teachings. Here are the three that I took away:

  • Defuse Pressure: The way we start and end our calls, and even the way in which we handle objections are all key moments where we can put our prospect at ease. If we defuse pressure in our interactions, the prospect is at ease. This puts them in the best position to help us accomplish the next step, which is…
  • Get to the Truth. You can’t serve a person’s needs if you don’t know what they’re really thinking. For example, if a person says, “Send me some more information,” what are they actually asking of you? Are they saying, “Go away?” Are they still shopping around? Or do they truly want more information in order to make a final decision? Ari suggests asking about the one or two core problems they’re facing as a way of determining their real needs.
  • Be a Problem Solver. Stop pitching the value of your offering. Instead, turn those features into problem statements. That is, take the problems your prospect faces (which you learned from the previous step) and show how your offering solves them. Now you’ve caught their attention, build trust, and establish yourself as someone who can help them accomplish the things most important to them.

These concepts force you to stop thinking of the features of your product or service and look at the problems and needs of your prospect. By shifting from being a pitch-person to becoming a problem solver, you take a customer-centered approach. You minister to the needs of your prospects. Yes, you change your hat.

Embracing this new paradigm isn’t always easy, but it is definitely rewarding. You’ll see the results in your bottom line. More importantly, you’ll create loyal customers (and sometimes raving fans) who can become brand evangelizers for you. That kind of earned media is priceless.

Is it time to change your hat? If you find yourself chasing prospects, it may very well be. Instead, learn to minister to those prospects needs, thereby attracting them. You’ll soon find that more of them become customers, and you’ll both be happier as a result.

Have you had to “change hats” and embrace a new paradigm? If so, how challenging was it? What was the result of making the change? Share your thoughts and experiences in the Comments below!

All My Problems are in My Head

Image

My problems are in my headSome who know me personally probably read that title, smirked, and thought, “Yeah, we know.” (Smarta$$!) So, maybe I have issues. That’s not the point of this post. Today I’m talking about the differences between challenges and problems as defined by me. Yep, this is all about connotation – but the distinction between the two is important. So let’s start with some definitions.

According to the always popular Dictionary.com, we get the following definitions for these words (along with my subjective take on them):

  • Challenge: 5. difficulty in a job or undertaking that is stimulating to one engaged in it. (This is something we relish facing, something that allows us to grow, pushing the boundaries of personal accomplishment)
  • Problem: 1. any question or matter involving doubt, uncertainty, or difficulty. (I take this a step further; problems are not just difficult, but we judge them too hard to handle)

Here’s the interesting thing: Neither of the definitions has much to do with facts. They both have everything to do with our interpretation of the facts. Therefore, in my book, all my problems are in my head.

Your Viewpoint Determines Your Reality

Facts are funny things. Take a conversation between a mother and daughter, for example. Both say certain words. They speak at varying decibel levels and rates of speed. They stand in certain positions in respect to each other. We can quantify those facts and describe them in minute technical detail. Yet as incontrovertible as they are, you’ll often find the parent and daughter interpret those facts in vastly different ways. The mom feels the child is disrespectful and refuses to listen to her counsel, which she gives lovingly but insistently because she doesn’t want her daughter to suffer the pain sure to result from continuing in a wrong course. On the other hand, the daughter feels her mom just ‘doesn’t get it.’ Instead of listening, her mom is yelling, telling her what to do instead of trying to understand her point of view. The facts previously mentioned remain the same. The interpretation of those facts widely differs from mother to daughter.

The same is true when it comes to circumstances we face in life. Certainly, people go through difficult circumstances. Some suffer financial reversals, failing health, career setbacks, and the loss of loved ones. I’m not minimizing the gravity of the situations people face. Yet, given a particular set of circumstances, we can all think of some people who succumbed to and others that rose above the situations they faced. What made the difference? It was their viewpoint (or attitude). Some chose to view their situation with positive expectancy and sought to overcome the obstacles. They viewed the circumstances as a challenge. Others gave in to despair and let the obstacles overwhelm them. They saw the situation as a problem.

The trick, then, is to look at obstacles in our life as challenges, not problems. That’s a simple solution. However, as we all know, Tweet: simple ain't always easy. http://ctt.ec/47z2y+simple aint always easy.

Getting Our Minds Right

We can’t physically go in our own heads and change the structure of our brain (some may debate this point, but in general let’s take radical neurosurgery off the table). So if we want to get our minds right, we need to work on the software, not the hardware. We need to change the way we think. For all our advances in science and technology, the process we humans go through is reminiscent of a very old system – keypunch cards.

In order to compile and execute a program, people typed a line of code on a card with holes punched in that corresponded to the appropriate binary equivalent of each letter in the instruction. With all the cards assembled in the appropriate order, you feed the entire stack into a reader which then converted the instructions into binary, allowing the computer to execute the commands. Then a programmer would test the results to see if there were errors. If there were, the programmer would take a printout of the program, identify the trouble spots, make corrections, and adjust the appropriate cards to reflect the changes. Then it was back to feeding the updated program into the reader and testing the results again. It was painstakingly slow.

Mountain-like problem or hill-like challenge?

Do you see a mountain you can’t pass or a hill waiting to be climbed?

To change our programming, we have to do the same. If we only see problems in life, then we know our program isn’t working. So we have to identify areas that need changing. Then we work at changing those items, often one at a time. Slowly, through a process of repeatedly implementing changes, we get our program to work the way we want. There’s an excellent wikiHow article on how to do this, and I encourage you to read it. I personally break the process down into three general steps:

  • Make positive connections. You are the sum of the people with whom you most closely associate. So form attachments with people who have a positive outlook on life, people who see challenges rather than problems. While you can’t completely avoid all negative thinkers, you likely can reduce the amount of face time you have with the Debby and Danny Downers of this world.
  • Take in positive ideas. Just as you are what you eat, your mind is what you read, watch, and listen to. Feeding your mind positive thoughts requires diligent effort. We see, hear, and read so much negativity from the news media that we don’t even recognize it as being negative. I’m not encouraging you to live under a rock. I am saying you need to offset that influx of negativity with a steady flow of positive thoughts. So make positive mental input a part of your daily routine.
  • Do positive things. Nothing trumps good activity. When coupled with the preceding steps, doing things for others, or even doing good things with others (like making the most of your down time) can have an amazing, galvanizing effect on your state of mind – which has a direct positive effect on your viewpoint.

I’ve written previously about my battle with the “Big D” – Depression. It’s an ongoing battle, and generally I’m on the winning side. I’ve had relapses, but I manage to keep going. My biggest defense is keeping my mind focused on positive things. I genuinely love the work that I do, which is a huge benefit. I also take in positive thoughts through reading the Bible and Bible-based literature, listening to upbeat music, and catching up on authors I admire and respect (currently I’m reading Kathy Caprino’s Breakdown, Breakthrough). I also engage in volunteer work, and make sure to spend time with friends. If you need to make over your mind, you’ll find your own list of worthwhile things to consider (Romans 12:2; Philippians 4:8). By focusing on those things and keeping busy with worthwhile activities, you’ll find yourself feeling better and thinking better. When that happens, the situations in life will no longer seem like impassable mountains but simply hills waiting for you to climb them.

Have you managed to change your programming? Do you now see things as challenges rather than problems? What helped you to make the adjustment? Tell us in the Comments!

Down Time: Make it Count!

Image

Down Time: Make it Count!When I started this post, it was the weekend! Loverboy wrote Working for the Weekend, and let’s face it – most people do (check out the video at the end). After five grueling days in the trenches, we look forward to taking a break, spending time with family and friends, and recharging our batteries so we can get back to work on Monday.

There are a select few who don’t look at work as ‘being in the trenches.’ Those fortunate people truly enjoy what they do and feel excited about the possibilities that a new week brings. So you may be surprised to learn that even they enjoy time away from work.

I’m in that group. I love what I do, because it truly helps change lives. It’s a great feeling knowing that I get to help people, whether individuals or business owners, on a daily basis. Yet I also need to get away and do things that help me to relax. No matter how much I love my work, my mind needs a break. That’s where the weekend (or any day of the week that works for you) comes in.

Get Your Game On

Last weekend a  fantastic, fun-loving couple whom I admire greatly invited me to their home. Though relatively young, they work at keeping their marriage exciting while still managing to include others in their lives. The husband has a reputation of being a game master, and he certainly lived up to it that evening! When we first walked in, he had a greeting on a whiteboard – written in pictures we had to decipher in order to understand the message. That rebus was just the start of our fun. He also had everyone write a question (no holds barred, but still maintaining Christian decorum) on a piece of paper. The questions went in a box, along with some interesting ‘challenges’ he prepared. Later that evening, we all took turns pulling out either a question or challenge and then answering it or performing the task indicated respectively. Prior to that, he divided the guests into two teams (there were about 18 of us) and we played a game of Pictionary with a twist. Each team rolled a die to determine the points they received – but could double the points if they chose to accept a hard phrase as opposed to an easy one. I know, “hard” is subjective – but we all had fun! At the end of the evening, we were all laughing, had learned a lot about one another, and there are some – incriminating – pictures floating around.

Sometimes you need to get your game on. Embrace the inner child. Let your hair hang down (or tie it up in a ponytail) and cut loose. Those periods of refreshment are essential to our well-being. Why? It’s all about being balanced. You can’t have success in one area of life at the expense of other areas and still enjoy a life of abundance. Don’t think that’s the case? After all, someone who currently faces major financial hurdles may believe that some extra income would solve all their problems. They may believe that so firmly that they put their entire focus on creating wealth – and may achieve that goal. Yet, their situation is no different from that of the savvy businesswoman mentioned by Marc Chernoff (see point 12). She earned over a $1M with her online business in a year. That success elevated her status in the eyes of other entrepreneurs. How does she feel? She feels depressed. As she puts it, “I’m burnt out and lonely.  I just haven’t taken enough time for myself lately, and I feel like something is missing in my life.” The bottom line is this: To truly enjoy life, you need to keep things in balance.

The Challenge

All of the above is easy to say, but not-so-easy to do. We live in a world that puts inordinate value on arbitrary things to define “success,” such as the neighborhood in which you live, the kind of car you drive, or the clothes you wear. Therefore, we’re overtly and subtly pushed to acquire those things, often at the expense of our personal lives. Granted, sometimes we make necessary sacrifices. The problem starts when “sometimes” becomes all the time.

Therefore, I challenge you to do something suggested by a mentor, David Byrd:

  • Set a goal. As you plan the upcoming month before it begins, set one recreational goal for yourself. It could be to spend an evening with friends, take in a performance, or take the family on an outing. Make sure you set a date by which you’ll accomplish this goal
  • Make it happen. Whatever it takes, make sure to accomplish that goal. Just as you sometimes have to sacrifice to accomplish business and career goals, you must also make adjustments for this goal. It’s that important. Since it’s a single goal, which means it’s also a single event, even us workaholic types can wrap our minds around taking one weekend, or even just a weekend day to do something fun!

One last point: When you’re enjoying your down-time, be ‘in the moment.’ While I won’t tell you to turn off your mobile devices, if you could put them on silent (not even vibrate) you’ll get so much more out of your well-deserved periods of recreation. Learn to simply enjoy those precious moments when you can relax and unwind.

Keeping our balance in this world is challenging, but oh-so-necessary. You’ll find the rewards from doing so are much greater than anything you’ve sacrificed to enjoy some down time. Remember, it’s all about balance. All work and no play makes Jack (or Jill) a dull boy (or girl)!

What do you like to do with your down time? Do you schedule time for relaxation, or do you prefer to let things happen? Do you feel you make the most of your time away from work when it comes to recreation? Share your thoughts in the Comments below!

Why Is This Phone So HEAVY?!!

Image

Why is this phone so HEAVY?!!We’ve all had them. You know what I’m talking about; those days when the phone is simply too heavy to use. Usually, that’s a rookie symptom. A new person hasn’t developed skin thick enough to brush off the certain rejection that is inherent in sales. In order to avoid that feeling, they simply decide to not make calls (whether consciously or subconsciously). However, even those of us that have been around the business for a while occasionally face bouts of “phone fear.” When that hits, your phone feels like it weighs 500 pounds when you’re calling to schedule appointments or make follow-up calls. Why does this happen?

The Roots of Sales Call Reluctance

Nancy Drew (no, not the teenage girl detective) is the CEO of Drew & Associates International Inc. a company devoted to empowering small businesses and sales professionals throughout North America. She says the roots of sales call reluctance lie in two factors: Repeated Fear and Rejection. When you make sales calls, you’ll get rejections. Sometimes that has to do with us. We may come across sounding stiff, lacking belief, uncertain, or just plain sales-y. Yet even if you overcome all those traits, you’ll still get a measure of rejection. Are all your leads properly qualified? You may find yourself speaking with someone who has no interest or no use for what you offer. Did the prospect have a bad day so far? Were they in a shouting match with the wife/husband, girlfriend/boyfriend last night? Then they’re probably not in the mood to deal with you, no matter how useful your product or service. We could list potential scenarios all day, but the point is clear: You will hear “No.” Rejection is part of the game.

Repeated rejection can wear you down. You begin to lose sight of the fact that the only way to reach “Yes” is to go through “No” enough times (See Richard Fenton and Andrea Waltz Go for No website for details on how to embrace this concept). That rejection leads to dejection, and can lead to fear. That’s when we start giving “reasons” for not making our calls. Ms. Drew notes some of these:

  • “I’d love to see new customers but I’m too busy putting out fires.”
  • “I’m too established to be chasing customers.”
  • “I think calling people to promote my product or services is demeaning – I’m not a telephone solicitor.”

If you’ve ever heard or, worse, said something similar to the statements above, then someone is a prime candidate for sales call reluctance. How do you fix this? Theories vary, but here are some general principles you can apply.

How to Put Your Phone on a Diet

How to make your phone less heavy

It’s time to trim the pounds off your phone!

From everything above, clearly sales call reluctance stems from your mental perception more than anything else. In order to overcome it, you need to change the way you think about the calls.

Two major principles that most experts embrace are:

  1. Divorce yourself from the results, and
  2. Approach things from the customer’s perspective

Maria Brophy incorporates both these points in the tips she offers for overcoming fear of making sales calls. She knows from personal experience how devastating the wrong mindset is to sales call success! She shares the tips she learned when faced with either overcoming her fear or shutting down production of her newly created TV show:

Before making the call, change your mindset by:

  • Setting an intention to provide value. If you have the mindset of helping, you’ll always seek to give the prospect something useful. This means being willing to walk away from the sale if what you’re offering isn’t a good fit for the prospect.
  • Seek information FIRST. Find out what your customer needs. You wouldn’t respect a doctor who simply started prescribing medication without first learning what’s wrong with you. Similarly, people don’t want you to sell them a product or service without first learning if it actually helps them where it hurts.
  • Release your attachment to the outcome. Sure, we want to make sales. However, that should come as an extension of providing value. If we’re too attached to the outcome, people sense it – somewhat like an animal senses fear. Even if it’s over the phone, they can hear your desperation, and it ain’t pretty!

During the call, maintain your mindset by:

  • Getting to the point. People are busy, especially if they’re business owners. So have what you want to say well in mind, limited to one or two planned and practiced sentences. And please – make it about them, not about you (Avoid “I really need you to…”)
  • Be prepared. In addition to practicing your opening, have your questions in mind and then ask them. That lets you take up less time (as noted above) and sound more convincing.
  • Have a conversation. This implies a free flow of expression. It shouldn’t be about you just telling them what you have and what you’ll do. Engage your prospect. It’s amazing what you can learn by doing so.
  • Speak from the heart. If your intention to help your prospect is genuine, they’ll sense it. You’ll connect on a personal level. When that happens, they open up and now you can talk to them about your product or service.
  • Find out what they need. This is critical. When you get a prospect on the line, you really don’t know what they’re facing. To learn where it hurts, ask questions. Using questions skillfully is the best way of finding someone’s pain points.

Finally, after learning what the prospect needs and determining that what you offer is a good fit, include a call-to-action at the end of the call. It can be getting permission to email information or follow-up at a later (hopefully specified) time. And remember to be courteous and thank the person on the line regardless of how they respond to what you’re offering.

Nancy Drew adds to the discussion by mentioning that in every sales call, you have to win over two people – yourself and your prospect. Make sure you are 100% sold on what you’re offering. She also suggests the following:

  • Set a time to get out started. Although she was speaking of getting out of the office to make in-person presentations, it can also apply to phone calls. This helps eliminate procrastination in the form of over-preparation.
  • Take a course to improve your craft. Joining an organization like Toastmasters helps develop better speaking/presentation skills which, in turn, can help boost your confidence.
  • Role play. Sure, most of us hate the thought of doing this, but as Ms. Drew states, “it’s the most effective way to expand your comfort zone.”

Finally, to round out the approaches towards overcoming sales call fear, we have an interesting approach pioneered by Ari Galper. He bases his method for helping salespeople get over sales call reluctance on the following three principles:

  • It’s not your fault. There’s a lot of sales call training centered on the traditional approach of introduce yourself, explain what you do, suggest a benefit to the prospect…then hope and pray the prospect doesn’t hang up. This isn’t a prospect-centered approach, and most often gets the dreaded “No.” [Note: While it may not be your fault others taught you dated techniques, it IS your responsibility to correct them. Therefore don’t be lulled into complacency]
  • Are your self perceptions passive or aggressive? Most sales people don’t want to come off sounding too aggressive, and as a result are awkward when making calls. On the other hand, passivity benefits no one. You need to find a middle ground, and that is very possible thing to accomplish.
  • Learn to let your language match your thinking. If you change your mindset, the way you communicate needs to change as well. Coming from a place of helping rather than selling allows you to have more natural conversations with prospects.

It sounds like a lot, but remember the two guiding principles mentioned at the outset of this subheading. If you keep those in mind, you’ll find a method that works for you. More importantly, it will work for your prospects, which will increase your success and help you feel better about making your calls.

No one likes rejection, but if you put these best practices in play, you’ll soon find that the phone isn’t so heavy anymore.