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Business Fundamentals

eddieyosemiteThe term “common sense” is often used to describe what we think of as obvious to most people.  However, as some have quipped, “common sense isn’t always common.”

I feel that way when I see people and businesses violating the most fundamental rudiments of business, without any realization they are doing so.

Here are a few:

  • Ignoring Cash:  Out of cash, is out of business.  It’s really not more complicated than that.  It’s a business fundamental, that while obvious, is commonly violated.  When I was flying airplanes, we were often told the first rule of flying was to watch your airspeed, and the second rule of flying, was again, watch your airspeed.   The reason is the moment air is no longer flowing past the wings at a sufficient rate, you stall.   In business, that rule is cash.
  • Look at your business through the eyes of your customers:  If they say your service is bad, your service is bad.  It makes no difference what you or your employees think.  Violate this business fundamental, and your customers will put you out of business.
  • Price your products and services properly: Prices should be set by the value that customers assign.  Many businesses fall into the “markup” trap.   You pay $100 for a part; you figure 10% is a reasonable return, so you sell it for $111.11 (by the way, you divide your cost by .9, you don’t multiply by 1.1 to achieve a 10% margin) .  However, that part has a value of $1000 to the customer.  Sell the value, not the cost.   Not every job or sale goes well, and if you are pricing yourself with little or no margin, it will eventually catch up.  Price by value, as determined by the customer.
  • Your job is to create and keep customers:  It is not to have nice furniture, or a snazzy website.  All of those may be nice, but the fundamental priority is to create and keep customers.
  • Hire the right people:  I learned this the hard way.  At one time, I hired strictly based on skills, paying little or no attention to personality, temperament, or values.  I was often surprised, naively, that employees weren’t as nice to customers or their colleagues as I’d hoped.  Hire honest people that have the skills to help you grow the business, that fit your culture, and are friendly.  A bad hire costs you a lot more than a wasted salary, it can cost you your business.  I go a step further, hire people that you enjoy being around.  It sure makes running a business a lot more fun.

Eddie Mayfield

Driven to Business, hosted by Eddie Mayfield, airs at 11 AM every Saturday on WAFS, Atlanta’s Biz 1190 AM.  The show is podcast on eddiemayfield.com and itunes, and streamed live on biz1190.com 

Simply the best business radio in Atlanta..  Driven to Business.

 

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Career Burn Out

jordandesertThe alarm goes off, and you get a sick feeling in your stomach.  You do NOT want to go to work.  There’s only one problem, it’s your company.

That happens more often that you might think.  Most entrepreneurial types face burnout.   I don’t mean the feeling of being overloaded or frustrated, I mean burnout.

Per consultant Erica Diamond,  burnout is powerful and all consuming.  It’s the inability to feel at ease, happy, or restful.  Your mind is no longer your own, and for most, you can’t sleep.

I ran into this about two years after founding my industrial services company, EMA Inc. It seemed that despite my best efforts, I could never see the light at the end of the tunnel. My dreams and enthusiasm for growing a company had faded.  Just keeping up with the details, personnel issues, financial problems, sales, customer demands, and vendor problems consumed all my energy.

I was exhausted; I wasn’t running a business, it was running me.

I found myself, for the first time in my life, in a state of depression.  Something had to give.  I talked with my wife Vicki, with one of my Pastors, and with several other businessmen.  I prayed and thought about it and reached a conclusion.

I made a conscious decision to pull back from the business.  If it failed, it would fail, I just wasn’t going to lay awake at night worrying about it.

Amazingly, to me at least, after I did this, EMA began to prosper, and so did I.

I am thoroughly convinced that one of the primary causes of small business failure is founder burnout.

Erica Diamond gives 5 steps to combat it.

  1.  Get help:   Find an objective ear and shoulder to lean on.  This may mean learning a bit of humility,
  2. Get some balance:  You don’t have to stop, but you do have to balance.
  3. Create a “worry” list:  She suggests that when something pops into your mind after hours, write it down and forget it till the next day.  Give yourself some mental space.
  4. Learn your limits, know your needs:  I have learned what will set me off, and especially at night, I just will not read an upsetting  report or email till the next day.  You can’t hide (nor should you) from your responsibilities, but you do them on your time schedule.
  5. Sleep: Sounds so simple, but one of my biggest issues was lack of sleep.  Lay off the caffeine a bit, get some exercise, and set a cutoff time an hour or so before bedtime for business.

I’m all about business success, and have been blessed to experience quite a bit of it.  But, life has value and meaning because of relationships; primarily those with God, family, and friends.

The investment of yourself into those areas, must not be allowed to decline in order to keep a business running.

We are geared in our culture to arrive somewhere, including success.  It’s kind of like going on vacation; we’re in such a hurry to get to the beach.  But, the vacation doesn’t start when you get to the beach, it starts when you leave the driveway.  The trip is part of the vacation.

Many business owners will tell you the most enjoyable and memorable times of their business life was before their businesses had any great success.  The trip was fun.

None of this is to suggest that you not work hard.  In fact, if you don’t your business will likely fail.

But, while you’re working..   “it’s only life, enjoy the ride.”  (Ricky Skaggs song)

 

Eddie

 

 

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WWII Career Paradigm.. does it still work?

eddieMany of us grew up with the assumption that if you went to college, you could land a job with a corporation and  live well until retirement.   That was etched into the American landscape after WWII, when so many young men went to college on the GI Bill, and made America great.

The question is: does that paradigm still work?  My suggestion is, in many cases, “no.”

In 2011, a number of underemployed lawyers filed class action lawsuits against several law schools, alleging the schools had misrepresented employment and salary prospects.  The graduates charged the schools had knowingly painted a more rosy picture of how much money they would make than was in fact the case.

Some of those cases are still going on, although in general, the lower courts have taken a dim view of their claims.  Similar charges could be made against almost all colleges and Universities that lead students to believe a particular degree will result in a good salary.

All of us know college grads that are either unemployed, or working in fields that do not require a college degree.  Per the Huffington Post, college costs have increased 12 fold over the past 30 years, far outpacing the rest of the economy.  This is, in my opinion,  inexcusable. It has been driven by a number of factors, among them a lack of accountability, and easy access to federally backed student loans.  Loans for studies that are very unlikely to result in a successful career. It is to the shame of political leaders and educators this hasn’t been aggressively addressed.

Students that acquire loans to finance college owe an average of $27,000 upon graduation. That’s an average, many owe much more.  One in 10 will default on the loan.  That’s a huge debt load for a young person starting life, especially if they can’t find suitable employment.

Mike Rowe, the host of Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs” says that “in reality, a four year degree won’t make you successful any more than a gym membership will make you healthy.”

Rowe says that less than 12 percent of all jobs require a four year degree.  He thinks the country needs to stop selling the notion that “higher” education is superior to alternates, such as Trade Schools.

And, there is a big demand for skilled trades, and that demand is only going to increase as older tradesmen retire.   And per the research, job satisfaction among trade workers, is every bit as high, and often higher, than white collar jobs.

The economics used to strongly favor white collar jobs, but no more.  Experienced tradesmen can make six figure incomes, and they rarely graduate trade school owing any money.

As an entrepreneur, I take this a step further.  An experienced tradesman, that learns the business of his trade, as well as the skills, can open his own business and enjoy an income level comparable to a successful attorney.

This isn’t to denigrate a college education.  In fact, education is in my mind, a value unto itself, completely aside from career earnings.

I do think however, that parents and students should consider Trade Schools along with college.  And who is to say, that you can’t learn a trade skill, begin earning a good living, and THEN pursue a standard four year degree.?

In fact, that’s exactly what I did.  Wise people consider the times, and consider the options.  Be wise.

 

Eddie

 

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George Wendt, founder of OARS on Driven to Business

george wendt OARSGeorge Wendt is the founder and President of Outdoor Adventure River Specialists (OARS –www.oars.com)

I love talking to business people of all types, but I especially enjoying talking to people whose passions have become their business.    OARS specializes in adventure river trips all over the western United States, and even does some international trips.  I’ve had the chance to travel with OARS on three different occasions, and it’s a blast.  I wrote a blog about a Grand Canyon rafting trip with them, and you can see that HERE.

rafting tunnel chuteGeorge is an interesting guest, and he’s managed to build a highly rated and exciting  business.  He’s done this by having a sterling reputation, providing an excellent service, a great team, and smart business practices. George and I talked about the importance of a company’s reputation, about surrounding yourself with top notch people, and about treating customers well.

Business people of all stripes will enjoy and benefit from hearing George share his business philosophies and success methods.  George is also a person unashamed of his Christian faith, which  plays a big role in his life and business.

I told George that I’m not only a returning customer of OARS; I’m a fan of the company.  Visit their website, and listen in to the  Broadcast  of Driven to Business with Eddie Mayfield at 11 AM.  The program will be streamed live on biz1190.com and podcast on eddiemayfield.com . Don’t miss this broadcast.

Eddie Mayfield

Driven to Business with Eddie Mayfield airs at 11 AM every Saturday on Atlanta’s Business Radio, WAFS, biz 1190 AM.  Simply the best business radio in Atlanta..  tune in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We are Citizens, not Subjects: Declaration of Independence

In Philadelphia, in 1776, the Continental Congress of the 13 Colonies argued fiercely about how to deal with an increasingly hostile British monarchy. Many, if not most, of the new world’s inhabitants considered themselves British subjects, and the idea of rebelling was unthinkable.

But continued provocations from the crown, including onerous taxes began to take their toll, and the unthinkable became the inevitable. They appointed a 5 man committee to write a declaration of their intent. One of the obvious appointments was Dr. Benjamin Franklin. Franklin was one of the most well known men in the world, and highly revered as both a philosopher and scientist. They also appointed a fiery outspoken attorney, John Adams. Additionally they appointed Roger Sherman from Connecticut, and Robert Livingston from New York. Perhaps their most unusual appointment was the youngest member of the congress, a shy Virginian, who rarely spoke publicly, named Thomas Jefferson.

When the five men met, they asked Jefferson if he would draft the document. Jefferson felt that it would be better if one of the older and more experienced men wrote it, but Adams insisted. Jefferson asked him why?

Adams replied, “Reason first: you are a Virginian and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second: I am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third: You can write ten times better than I can.”

Jefferson then agreed, and sequestered himself to write. Jefferson penned the phrases that came to represent the cause of not only a new country, but a new way of looking at the relationship between government and the governed.

He wrote that governments governed only by the consent of the governed, and that human rights came not by government grant, but from God.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It would be difficult to overstate the impact of what this brilliant young man wrote. It gave a moral compass to the fledgling nation’s struggle for independence, and has for centuries been an inspiration and encouragement for people all over the globe.

On July 4th, 1776, the congress unanimously approved and signed the Declaration of Independence. They signed it knowing that it meant a hangman’s noose if they were captured by the British.

As Americans, every July 4th, we celebrate the genius of Thomas Jefferson, the bravery of the patriots that signed it, and give thanks for our nation. A nation that God has blessed far beyond what the signers envisioned. Whenever we begin to lose our moral compass, the Declaration of Independence calls us again to the revelation that we answer to God, and governments answer to us.

We are citizens, not subjects. Happy 4th of July, and God bless America.

 

Eddie Mayfield


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Growing Pains and Considerations

Courtesy of Lumen Strategies
Courtesy of Lumen Strategies

Growing should be a decision, not a given (see Grow or Die, is that true?) but IF you choose to grow, there are pains and considerations.   To be sure, there’s pain associated with not growing, but we tend to expect that.  What’s often unexpected, are problems that accompany growth.  Many would argue these are problems they want, but they’re problems nonetheless.

Tim Keller wrote an article- The Process of Church Growth- aimed obviously at growth strategies and considerations for the growth of a church.  But, I find his ideas helpful in terms of business growth.

  • A large business is not simply a bigger version of a small company.  They are two different creatures. 

The leadership skills, communication methods, team building, and decision making processes required are very different.  This is why many businesses plateau in growth; they don’t recognize or incorporate the changes necessary.

  • Imposing a “size culture practice” on a business that does not have that size will wreak havoc, and eventually force the business back into the size with which those practices are compatible. (Keller, loosely paraphrased)

I notice this more with founders and leaders who cannot bring themselves to relinquish control.  This reticence is understandable.  Many small business founders poured everything they had into starting the business, working long hours, and pinching every penny. In fact, that micromanagement  was essential to survival.

Now, their business has grown, they have other people employed, and they still want to minutely manage every aspect of the business.  Two things happen:

  1. You cannot keep highly motivated and energized employees
  2. You overlook business opportunities. 

I managed a growing and very profitable service department for a company.  The founders of this successful company had founded it on a shoestring, and had worked hard to build it up.

On one occasion one of them came to me furious after discovering that we’d overlooked invoicing some overnight freight bills.  It amounted to about $100.  He insisted that I go through boxes of invoices to determine how many others we’d overlooked.

After spending about an hour doing this, with no results, I went to his office.  I asked him to reconsider whether  he actually wanted his national service manger spending time hunting down small amounts of overlooked freight bills?  Thankfully, he said “no, just please make sure we have systems in place to ensure they are being invoiced.”

His initial response is emblematic of the issue many founders have to face.   You can’t run a company with numbers of employees like you ran one with two.  The economies of scale simply don’t work for chasing pennies and overlooking large dollar opportunities.

Delegation is more than assigning jobs; you have to trust the people to whom you delegate.  And that means trusting them to make decisions.  If you think that’s easy, then you’ve never founded a small company and watched it grow.

Changes are necessary for growth.  Stacy Karacostas says she uses three rules of thumb to know when changes need to happen.

  1. I have months of data showing me I am not on track to meet my goals.
  2. I find myself complaining about the same problem three or more times.
  3. When presented with a better idea or system for my business.

Want to grow your company?  Great, have fun; just be aware of the issues.

 

Eddie

 

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Leadership: The difference between success and failure

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart  is famous for saying that while the definition of pornography might be vague, “I know it when I see it.” Not to equate leadership with porn, but most of us know it when we see it, whether we can define it or not.

John Maxwell, author of “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” says that “everything rises and falls on leadership.”  He’s exactly right.

All of us have experienced bad leadership in some form.  Napoleon Hill wrote “Think and Grow Rich” many years ago, in which he interviewed the most successful men and women in America over a twenty year period.  Many people have noted the attributes that Hill detailed for being successful.

But he also listed 10 major causes of failed leadership.  They are:

  1. Inability to organize details
  2. Unwillingness to render humble service
  3. Expectations of being paid for what you know, rather than for what you do.
  4. Fear of competition from followers
  5. Lack of imagination
  6. Selfishness
  7. Intemperance
  8.  Disloyalty (to his associates, those above him, and those below him)
  9. Emphasis on the ‘authority’ of leadership
  10. Emphasis on title

I want to talk about a few of those, but add something related: Leaders that fail to lead.

It’s frustrating to attempt following a leader that refuses to lead.  Advanced Business Consulting cites a study that says 70% of employees have the feeling their leader has no idea of what they’re doing.

Leaders MUST lead.  They need to equip their followers with the tools and information they need to do their jobs efficiently.  Leadership is not a passive occupation, it’s hard work.  It’s also the key to success for any enterprise.

Leaders must be genuine.  

If you look over the list that Napoleon Hill compiled of failed leadership traits, you’ll note that many of them can be lumped under this.  The arrogant know it all,  lording it over subordinates, leaning on his title, and suspicious and jealous of his followers is precisely the person that no one wants to follow.

Many of us, including me, grew up with sort of a military philosophy of leadership.  The strong stalwart leader, standing alone, barking orders that are to be obeyed without question.

Interestingly, there are actually times when that kind of leadership works, at least temporarily.  Those times are always crisis situations. If an infantry platoon is ambushed, the leader doesn’t have time to be nice or seek consensus.  And everyone in the platoon accepts this because their lives depend upon it.

But, even in the military, that brand of leadership is not encouraged or practiced by successful officers outside of a crisis situation.  One of the reasons the soldiers obey his orders during an ambush, is that the officer has helped to prepare them. He’s trained alongside and helped them become proficient at their tasks.  He’s promoted an esprit de corps, and a shared vision.  The soldiers have come to see their platoon officer as a genuine leader whom they trust.

In Stephen Ambrose’s great book “Band of Brothers” he interviews members of Easy Company  about their beloved commander, Major Winters. One told him, “we would do anything for him, we just hated to let him down.”  That’s leadership.

Winters, a courageous tough commander, was also an humble servant, who viewed his job as helping his men be successful. This led to the organizational success he was vaunted for.  Look over the list of failing leadership traits listed by Hill again;  Winters exhibited none of them.

Be genuine

Leaders MUST communicate.  

I often joke and say that whenever I see two people in a fight, I always coach the one on the bottom, because that’s where I have the most experience!   I can coach leaders that communicate poorly, in part, because I’ve often fallen so short in this area myself.

Many people in leadership positions enjoy talking about their “vision.”  Here’s the problem, as long as it is your vision, getting it implemented is an uphill battle.   This where the dirty little work that all type A personalities hate comes into play, and that word is “process.”

You can not just “tell” your vision, you must move the ownership from you to your team.  The way this happens is that you open yourself up to input from others, and allow changes so that it becomes a shared vision.  Once that happens, great things can occur.

You must communicate, communicate, and communicate again to your team members and employees, and don’t overlook the less obvious team members.

Many years ago, I planned and promoted a significant  church event which involved considerable advertising.  I did a great job of assembling a team to help, went through a process, got buy in from everyone, and thought I had it nailed.

But.. I forgot to tell the people in the office that would be answering the phones.  People began calling in response to our considerable promotional activities, and the people answering the phone knew nothing whatsoever about. Very embarrassing.

We live in an age where people are bombarded with messages all day every day.  The idea that you can issue a memo, or an email and think you’ve adequately communicated anything, is a huge mistake.

Empower People

Empowerment is an amazing leadership tool.   Your legacy as a leader is not so much in what you accomplish, as it is what the people you lead accomplish.   Employees will gladly assume ownership once empowered.  It adds meaning and significance to their lives.

And finally..  learn to be humble.   

Renowned author and researcher Jim Collins says that the number one attribute of great leaders is humility.  In fact, in his book “How the Mighty Fall” he says the number one step to failure, is “hubris born of success.”  In other words, arrogance.

Arrogant people don’t learn, because in their minds, they already know everything.  The leaders most susceptible to this are those that have experienced some degree of success.  Because of their accomplishments, they assume they now know it all, and therein lay the seeds of failure.  The old Testament says that “pride goes before a fall,” and many leaders have learned that lesson the hard way.

Be successful, let your organization rise, not fall, on your leadership.  View yourself as an humble servant, work hard, and measure success by the accomplishments of those under you.

Famed Alabama coach Bear Bryant would always give his team players the credit when they won.   But when they lost, he always shouldered the blame. That’s the mark of a great leader.

Eddie

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Curiosity.. as a precursor to success?

curiosityEinstein famously said, “I have no special talent, I’m just passionately curious.”   Children are incredibly curious, and adults that are great learners retain this childhood trait.   Einstein said a number of times, that he had a childlike passion to know how things work.

Erika Anderson wrote “Learning to Learn” in the March 2016 issue of the Harvard Business Review.   She lists four traits that lifelong learners exhibit.

  1. Aspiration
  2. Self Awareness
  3. Curiosity
  4. Vulnerability

Aspiration simply means to aspire, or want to learn.  First step to learning guitar?  You must aspire to play.  The good news is, you can raise your aspiration level.

Think of the last time you were asked to adapt to something new.  Were you happy about it?  For most of us, the answer is “no.”  That’s because, according to Anderson, we focus on the negative.  When we do want to learn something, we focus on the positive, and therein is the key to raising your aspiration level.

Focus on the benefits, and envision the rewards that will come once you’ve mastered the change.  Picturing yourself as successful at this will go a long  way toward motivating your aspiration for it.

Self Awareness is something that most of us understand.   We get the value of soliciting feedback and understanding how others view us.  But the majority of us are woefully poor at it.

A Cornell University study found that 94% of professors reported doing “above average” work.   At least half of them, by any reasonable assessment; were wrong.

Let’s face it, all of us have a hard time seeing our own weaknesses, and it takes effort and commitment to overcome.

The New Testament admonishes to “let a man examine himself.”  That ancient advice remains relevant.  Arrogant people do not learn, it’s only when we are able to see ourselves truly, that we become teachable.

How to improve?  First of all, start talking to yourself.  My wife often kids me about doing this, but start by admitting- to yourself – that your opinion of yourself is biased.  Jim Collins says the first step to failure of an organization or its leader is “hubris born of success.”  In other words, arrogance.. even arrogance that comes from being successful.   I once heard Zig Ziglar say that while “we judge others by their actions, we judge ourselves by our intentions.”

Strive to become more self aware.

Curiosity:  I got interested in electronics as a kid, and was eager to learn everything about it.  I remember after reading a book about how television worked, laying in my bed that night thinking what genius it took to come up with that circuitry.

We should never lose the wonder of all  that’s around us.

Want to get old?  Stop being curious.

People that retain a passionate curiosity not only tend to be more successful, they tend to be happier.

And finally, the trait of vulnerability.  Everyone knows the discomfort of not being good at something.  I remember learning to fly.  I was a reasonably successful businessman at the time and it seemed everything I did was wrong and awkward.  That wasn’t true in many other aspects of my life, but in that area, I was not good.

Eventually, I learned the skills, and even had the chance of coaching some others as they learned.

But here’s the point;  anything you begin to learn requires that you become vulnerable.  Refusing to be vulnerable just means you can’t learn.

So to recap what Erika Anderson’s HBR article says..  in order to learn to learn, you must aspire, be self aware, be curious, and be vulnerable.

Here’s the good news, you CAN improve in every area.  In my experience, people that exhibit those traits are the kind of people others enjoy being around.

Most success in business and life flows from relationships.  People that cannot learn, tend to be poor at building deep relationships.

Back to the curiosity trait for a moment. (After all, it is the title of this blog)

Columbia Professor Tomas Chamorrow-Premuzic makes the startling claim that curiosity is as important as intelligence as a determinant of success.

He talks about IQ (intelligence quotient) of which all of us are aware.  IQ is essentially the brain you were born with.  There are some things you can do to boost IQ, but in general, you have what you have.  IQ alone doesn’t mean you’ll be successful.  All of us know intelligent losers.

EQ (emotional quotient) is the ability to perceive, control, and express emotions. EQ is key to the interpersonal skills that are so important in success.  You CAN improve your EQ.

Then he talks about CQ or curiosity quotient.  Basically,  people with high CQ have a hungry mind.  I’ve been in the electronic motor drive business for decades.  I got hired into the field following a period of unemployment.  In the first place I was so thrilled to have a job, that I was “hungry” to learn the skills necessary to ensure my success.  But, along the way, I became fascinated with the technology and my CQ (although I never used that term) went through the roof as I became passionate about learning everything I could.

Want to increase your CQ ? (you should, its a great way to keep your mind viable)..

Start by looking at the world around through the eyes of a child.  How does water get to my kitchen sink?  How does a refrigerator work?  How did that company know I was interested in that product?

Try it..  life is a lot more fun for the curious.

 

Eddie

 

 

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Want your business to Succeed? Focus!

eddiealaskaYou’ve heard the saying that men don’t really care what’s on TV, they just want to know what else is on TV.  Most of us have developed the skill where we channel surf like there was a reward for it.

Unfortunately, many of us bring that mentality into our business life.   Per University of San Francisco professor Dr. Jim Taylor, research shows that those who claim they are great at multitasking (which applies to most business people) are in fact, worse than others at it.

Per Taylor, there is in fact no such thing as multitasking, at least when it comes to work.  The best thing to do when you need something done, is turn off everything else, and work on the job in front of you.

Think about this for a moment, since when is starting anything an accomplishment?  It’s fairly easy to start anything.  I could get up from my chair right now and start a marathon, never leaving  the room.  It’s finishing that matters, not starting. And finishing requires focus.

There’s an old saying that the hunter trying to shoot two rabbits at once will get neither.

Country music star and record producer Vince Gill said that the title “producer” should really be “reducer,” because his job is to determine what will NOT be on the album.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said that the hardest decision in business was what NOT to work on.

It’s the same with us.  Who are your customers and prospects?  If you say “everyone” you are dooming yourself to frustration and failure.

Focusing is hard work.  Bain and Company published a white paper in 2012 called “The Focused Company.”  They contend that complexity is a natural trait of any large organization, and requires concentrated efforts to combat.   A focused company does not invest to win in every element of its business; rather it invests primarily in its core, the business in which it can outperform everyone else.

How does one go about this?  First, identify your core.  I find that many business leaders cannot do this.  If it takes more than a few sentences to describe what your company does, then YOU don’t really understand what you’re about.

Once you do identify it, focus on it like there’s no tomorrow.  When deciding how to spend your time, just ask, does this help strengthen our core business?  If the answer is “no.”  Then don’t do it.

I love what the character Dwight from the television series “The Office” said:  “I just ask myself, ‘would an idiot do this?’ If the answer is ‘yes’ then I do not do that thing.”

Here’s other hard part, your core may need to adjust and change over time.  If you’re selling sliderules, maybe it’s time you changed your core competency.

Focus.. and be successful.

 

Eddie

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Finding Opportunities: A mindset

1edlostWhere do business ideas come from? My observation is they often come from what you already know. At least in my experience, the genesis of the opportunity rarely comes from a disciplined search process, rather it emerges from experience, background, and attitude.

The most successful ideas come from recognizing an opportunity while it’s in the process of forming.  Entrepreneurship University notes that this often springs from an observation of:

  • A process that can be more efficiently performed
  • An attractive new service or improvement in an existing service
  • A business or geographic niche that is presently underserved

Opportunities can even spring from failure.  Perhaps the most famous example of this is from 1968 when 3M chemist Spencer Silver was attempting to develop a better, stronger  adhesive.

During his experimentation, he came up with microspheres, which allowed attached surfaces to be separated easily without tearing either surface.  Hardly the new strong adhesive he was searching for.

Several years later, one of his colleagues. Art Fry approached him about a possible use.  Fry sang in his church choir, and found it frustrating that the pieces of paper upon which he made notations about the songs fell out of his music folder.  He’d heard Silver talk about his microsphere adhesive and wanted to see if it would make his notes stick a little better.

postitnotesFrom that came the now ubiquitous Post It Notes.  One of the most profitable and well known products ever developed by 3M. And it came from a failure.

 

Seeing opportunity in a field: Some years ago my good friend and colleague Larry was driving through North Georgia when he noticed a number of mobile homes parked in a field.  Most people would have just driven by, but Larry pulled over and determined who owned them and why.  Turned out they were left over from a government relief project.  Larry bought them at a great price, put them in a mobile home park, and began renting them.  Larry, who had a background in property management, saw opportunity where others just saw abandoned mobile homes.

John D. Rockefeller grew up in poverty, and never forgot his roots, even after acquiring great wealth.  He had a lifelong aversion to waste, and one of the things he hated wasting was a noxious by product of his kerosene refinery, known as gasoline.

Most refiners simply dumped the volatile and highly flammable liquid, some into rivers.  It is said that at one time, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio was so polluted with gasoline, that coals dumped from a passing steamship could set the river on fire.

Rockefeller began using gasoline to provide heat for his refining process, and developed methods of storage and processing.  When the automobile era began, Rockefeller’s Standard Oil was there to provide the fuel.  As the worldwide market for Kerosene declined, Standard Oil developed even more products such as paraffin and plastics from oil, as additions to his now burgeoning gasoline business.  A great example of spotting an opportunity all of his competitors missed.

We’ve seen this time and time again at our company, EMA Inc.  Where noticing opportunities to provide better service, led to new business opportunities, and in some cases, a completely new revenue stream.

What about you?  As Zig Ziglar used to say, “no one stumbles over anything sitting down.”  So, first of all, be engaged, and pay attention to the world around you.

When you see an inefficiency in your market, ask yourself “is there any way I can resolve that?”  Is there some niche that’s under served in your business category?

Be alert, stay positive, and seize opportunities.   If you don’t, your competitors will.

Eddie