About anentrepreneurswords

R. Lee Harris grew up in Manhattan, Kansas and has lived in the Kansas City area since 1977. A 1975 graduate of Kansas State University, Harris began his career with Cohen-Esrey, LLC as an apartment manager two weeks after he graduated. Now president and CEO, he is involved in apartment management, development and investment; construction and tax credit syndication on a nationwide scale. Over the course of his career Harris has overseen the management of more than 27 million square feet of office building, shopping center and industrial space and nearly 60,000 multi-family units. He has started dozens of business enterprises over the past 40+ years. In 1991, Harris wrote a book entitled, The Customer Is King! published by Quality Press of Milwaukee. In 2012 he authored the book, An Entrepreneur's Words to Live By. He has mentored a number of business people over the years and has been a long-time participant in the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program. He and his wife Barb have two grown daughters and one grandson. They are active in their church, community and university.

The Reactionary Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship is all about innovation and being on the cutting edge. It’s about dreaming, creating and doing things our own way. Sound about right to you? Then what would you say if I told you that another aspect of entrepreneurship is being a reactionary? Actually I’m taking liberties with the term. When I was reaching adulthood in the late sixties and early seventies, a reactionary was usually associated with a person who was protesting the Vietnam War, and might use extreme measures to do so. To be sure, I’m not referring to entrepreneurs as this kind of reactionary. Entrepreneurs are reactionary in the sense that we are often reactive. What we react to can be make or break for our enterprise. Let’s look at two different aspects of being reactive.

Many entrepreneurs react to their competition. This is evident every day as we watch companies raise or lower prices based upon what they see their competitors doing. But there are many other examples of how this is being done. Company A produces a wearable device that measures the steps taken by a consumer. Company B produces a similar device that measures steps, but it also measures sleep patterns. Executives at Company A become concerned that it will lose market share, so they order the  production of an upgraded device that measures, steps, sleep and calories consumed. This is the additional “bells and whistles” approach. This arms race continues unabated – we’ve all seen it over and over.

While it’s important to know what our competition is doing, there’s something even more important to which we must react. Smart entrepreneurs react to their customers. Just because Company B produced a wearable device that measures steps, sleep, calories, plays music, allows the viewing of text messages AND counts the number of black cats that cross our path, it doesn’t mean that their customers actually want such features. Rather than participate in the aforementioned arms race with his/her competition, the smart entrepreneur drills down to understand what customers want and need, and then focuses on producing a product that responds accordingly.

Normally we say that we want to be proactive. We tend to think that being reactive is somehow “behind the curve.” In many areas of entrepreneurship this way of thinking is absolutely correct. We may equate being reactive to being unprepared, slow to respond or being a step or two behind. As entrepreneurs we need to be proactive when it comes to our production methods, marketing and sales ideas, and in all areas of human resources. But, being reactive to our customers is just plain good business.

Let’s break this down further. If we are totally and continuously connected to our customers, we are going to know immediately when they perceive issues with our products and services, giving us the opportunity to make the necessary adjustments. For example, maybe we make a thing-a-ma-jig that is blue. But we learn from some of our customers that they really want it to be red. We react and begin making a red version. This is good. Suppose that our delivery time used to be one week and now is two. Our customers begin telling us that two weeks is too long. So we react and tighten our delivery schedule. This is not good. Why? Because we should know that customers don’t want to wait two weeks for anything – everyone wants everything yesterday. We should have been proactive in this instance and never let the delivery schedule push out to two weeks. Instead, we should have been proactively trying to figure out how to shorten the timeframe from one week to a couple of days.

The entrepreneur who is constantly reacting to his/her competitors is the one who is behind the curve. Always trying to one-up the competition is a dangerous game to play unless it is done in concert with understanding the needs and wants of the customer. And then, the focus actually shifts from the competition to the customer. In the end, this may result in besting the other competitor in the space – but that wasn’t the primary objective.

Being an entrepreneurial reactionary makes sense when we are reacting to what we can do better for our customers. Then we can be proactive in all other aspects of our enterprise.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 110 – Exciting Disappointment.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Bedlam, Chaos and the Slammed Entrepreneur

Tony owns a five-year old company that produces several different flavors of a healthy energy bar. Business is booming and the company is flirting with profitability. The business will soon reach a scale where profitability is consistent. Sales have been growing at 50% per year and the team has now expanded to 75 employees. The production facility runs two shifts and plans are in the works for a third. Sounds like a dream situation – right?

Here’s a look at the other side of Tony’s operation. A piece of machinery in the plant seems to be on its last legs with periodic breakdowns at the most inopportune times. Capital is needed to add two more pieces of equipment to accommodate the planned third shift. Tony’s not exactly sure what the source of those funds will be. His marketing director quit and the position hasn’t yet been filled. Also, the company needs to hire 15 new employees for the upcoming third shift – but it’s been very hard to find people that are willing to work all night long. On top of all that, a product recall may be in the offing due to a problem with the packaging. Tony has been working 12 to 14 hours a day, six days a week for months without a break. He’s stressed and badly needs some time off. But he’s worried that if he steps away – even for a long weekend – the business might go off the rails. Tony is experiencing bedlam, chaos and is overwhelmingly slammed.

If you are an entrepreneur can you relate to this not-so-hypothetical scenario? Everything is go-go-go and seems totally out of control. We find ourselves spending the vast majority of our time working “in” the business rather than “on” the business. We know we probably need to add another key staff position or two to allow us to work more strategically, but we worry that profitability and cash flow might be too tight if we do. We figure we can “muscle through” for a few more months and eventually the profit picture will improve to the point that bringing on the key personnel will be easier. Unfortunately, the “few more months” stretches out a big longer than expected (or desired).

What we are solving is not how to cope with the chaos, bedlam and stress, but how to move out of this mode as quickly as possible. Every minute we spend mired in this mess is another minute that is added to the ledger of total frustration and wheel-spinning. We all know the eventual outcome of this – a loss of passion, burnout, health issues and potentially much worse.

Step OneStop the madness. Seriously, stop and step away for 24-hours. Without a clear head we can’t fix a thing. We don’t check our e-mail; we don’t call the office; we go dark and do something – anything – that will turn our attention away from the bedlam, the chaos and the stress.

Step TwoAssess. We catalog all of the pieces to this crazy jigsaw puzzle. What is working and what isn’t. What are the biggest issues we are facing? This is not a time to find solutions. We have a single focus and that is to take stock of our situation.

Step ThreePrioritize. Once we have identified all of our issues we next prioritize the swamp. In other words, which alligator is the largest and most likely to eat us and which is the smallest.

Step FourDelegate. Look, we can’t do this all by ourselves. If we have key members of our team that can help, we bring them into the picture at this point. If we don’t have key people, we may need to turn to outside consultants to provide assistance.

Step FivePlan. We take each issue and create a project plan in collaboration with our key team members or consultants. The plan needs to take a step-by-step approach that identifies what resources will be needed for successful implementation as well as a specific timeline to get there.

Step SixExecute. With a plan in hand and the workload delegated, it’s the entrepreneur’s job to pull the trigger and turn everyone loose to execute. Then he or she must monitor the activity and hold people accountable for the desired results.

You may be thinking that this is a pretty obvious process. Except that it’s not. When we are stuck on the treadmill of bedlam, chaos and stress, it’s hard if not impossible, to rise above it all and take the six steps I just outlined. Discipline is needed to stay on course – that’s another responsibility of the entrepreneur. Gradually sanity will be restored and our enterprise will hum like a well-oiled machine.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 109 – Super Powers.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Just Figure It Out

Recently my wife and I attended her high school class reunion. For her sake, I won’t say which one, but let’s just say that it’s been several decades since her high school days. The event was well planned and quite enjoyable. As we were eating dinner at the banquet, I learned that the restaurant originally scheduled to cater the food bailed out just two weeks earlier. I inquired as to how this possibly could have happened and it was explained that apparently a new manager had recently been hired and there may have been other staffing issues. The restaurant is well-known and long-established in the community and it’s shocking that it reneged on its commitment. Fortunately another restaurant was able to step up at the last minute and cater the class reunion.

I understand that things happen. Hiccups occur in the entrepreneurial world. However, it’s times like these where the real entrepreneurs shine. When we make commitments we do whatever it takes to honor them. Sometimes this requires a great deal of creativity. Sometimes we actually lose money. But no matter what, we always honor our commitments. In the case of the original caterer for my wife’s class reunion, I don’t know what prevented them from following through and providing the food for the event. I found it interesting that while the reunion was in full swing, this restaurant was open and serving dinner across the street from the reunion site.

Real entrepreneurs have a “we’ll figure it out” attitude. Our word is our bond and we’ll die trying to deliver what we promise. Since I don’t know the exact circumstances surrounding the failure of the caterer, let’s game out some scenarios. Perhaps the restaurant found itself with an unexpected labor shortage. The management may have felt that when understaffed, it could not deliver on the catering assignment. I happen to know that this restaurant has locations in other towns that aren’t too far away. One entrepreneurial approach might have been to pull staff from another town to make it possible to honor the catering commitment. I realize that this might have cost the restaurant an extra amount of money, but that shouldn’t enter the equation where a commitment is concerned.

A second scenario might have been one where the former manager made the commitment at a price that caused the restaurant to incur a loss. Maybe that’s why there’s a new manager! Regardless, if the commitment was made at the specified price, it should have been honored. A third scenario might have been one where there was a problem in the supply chain. I find this rather implausible because the cancellation occurred approximately two weeks before the event – more than enough time to resolve an issue with a supplier. However, should that have been the case the restaurant could easily have made other arrangements to procure the necessary ingredients even if it meant buying the items at the grocery store.

The point is that a real entrepreneur would just “figure it out.” Sometimes we do things with bubble gum and baling wire. At other times we deliver a result that is a work of art. The main thing is that the job gets done and the customer is thrilled. Welching on a commitment is simply unheard of to a real entrepreneur. In the case of the caterer, they are running a great risk as a result of their actions. I overheard some of my wife’s classmates who were so irritated that there was talk of boycotting the restaurant and writing negative reviews on social media. I’m sure the word will spread throughout the city and other high school classes will avoid using this restaurant for catering their reunions.

There is a caveat to all of this. It’s important to understand that “we’ll just figure it out” is a fine approach for entrepreneurs at the early stages of our ventures. Eventually we need to refine our systems and processes and create redundancy in every area of our operation. It’s not possible to reach a level of scale if “we’ll just figure it out” is our long-term strategy. While it may sound laughable that any entrepreneur would do this over the long haul, I can tell you from personal experience that I’ve seen many, many companies that are in this mode for years.

Real entrepreneurs always honor their commitments. And sometimes this requires them to “just figure it out” through unconventional means.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 108 – Entrepreneurial Insecurities.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

You’re Fired!

I was listening to a friend talk the other day about a period in his career where he was firing lots of people. His manufacturing company had a number of employees and sometimes he would fire as many as five in a day. It appeared that he kind of enjoyed this task. He liked to make a public spectacle of a termination. He’d yell at someone in front of their co-workers and then tell them they were through. And I quote, “There was none of this ‘you’re just not a good fit for this job’ nonsense. Very simply – you’re fired!” Whoa! This sounds pretty cold – maybe even cruel. I don’t agree at all with his approach, but the conversation was positive from the standpoint that it crystallized a concept for me.

Firing equals failure. You may think this is an obvious thing to say – of course the employee who is fired has failed. But actually I’m looking at it as a failure on the part of the employer. This is a critical distinction for entrepreneurs. The reasons for terminations are numerous. Poor performance, lying, misappropriation of company property, behavior that is contrary to company policy, insubordination, being tardy or excessively absent, drug (or alcohol) abuse during the work day – the list goes on and on. Still, the failure mostly falls on us as entrepreneurs when an involuntary separation occurs.

For starters, it’s quite possible that we hired the right person for the wrong job. The current labor market is very difficult for employers, and there can be a tendency to hire job candidates that simply aren’t the right fit. We resolve not to fall into this trap, but weeks later we’re hearing the rumblings from our team that they are overworked as they are covering the vacant position. Productivity is suffering and we finally hire someone who we know is probably “iffy.” We rationalize that we can make this person a project, and with a little mentoring they’ll be fine. The outcome is predictable. It seldom works out – both the mentoring and the new employee.

Hiring the right folks is hard work. Our company needs to at least have a neutral to positive reputation if we expect to attract the kind of talent we need. A negative reputation will likely result in driving away quality talent. A strong positive culture supported by authentic core values will bolster our reputation. Creating comprehensive roles and accountabilities is an absolute must. Actively recruiting for new team members is mandatory. Simply posting a position on an online recruiting website isn’t enough anymore. We must do everything in our power to create a large pool of qualified candidates from which to choose.

Once we have prospects for a vacant position, we need to pull out the stops to find the sparkling diamond that adds value to our organization. Testing, psychological profiling and multiple interviews with different members of the management team, are standard fare. Background checks and drug screening are also part of the process. Interviews must be carefully crafted to develop the full picture of an individual – strengths, weaknesses, traits, tendencies and even danger signals. Here’s the bottom line. It’s on us if we don’t hire the right person to begin with. And if we have to fire someone because they weren’t the right person, that firing is our failure.

When we terminate someone’s employment we must also take an introspective look at our own performance. We may have hired the right person for the right job, but did we do our part? How well did we train our new team member? Or was it the famous, “here’s your desk, here’s your phone, lots of luck, you’re on your own?” Another common rationalization for lack of solid training goes like this, “John Doe was in a similar position at Company X. We’re a fast-paced organization and we don’t have time to train people who ought to already know what to do based upon their level of experience.” There may be a grain of truth to this but for the most part, every new team member needs to be trained. The training may be less focused on the mechanics of doing the job and more centered around our company’s way of serving the customer, maintaining efficiency, being safe and increasing productivity. If we have to fire someone because they weren’t sufficiently trained, that firing is our failure.

Finally, we must ask ourselves whether or not the team member we are terminating had the proper tools and/or resources to do their job. How unfair is it to fire someone when we haven’t provided such basic elements to ensure his or her success? You probably wouldn’t be surprised to know how often this happens due to budgetary constraints. We expect someone to do their job perfectly, but then we hold the purse strings so tightly that they can’t even meet minimum standards. If we have to fire someone because they didn’t have the necessary tools and resources, that firing is our failure.

Firing a member of our team is nothing to celebrate. In fact it is often a failure of our leadership and can be prevented by putting the right person in the right job; providing sufficient training, and making sure to provide the proper tools and/or resources.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 107 – Whale Sharks.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Entrepreneur Who Cried Wolf

Harkening back to my childhood days, I remember a wonderful Aesop’s Fable called The Boy Who Cried Wolf. As the story goes, a little boy had a tendency to sound a false alarm that a wolf was attacking a flock of sheep. After doing this repeatedly, the villagers eventually stopped taking him seriously. Then when the wolf actually did eat the sheep, the little boy’s cries fell on deaf ears. In some versions of this story, the wolf also eats the boy. I believe that this fable is more apropos for our society today than perhaps at any time in recent memory. The current state of political affairs comes to mind as a perfect example of how over-the-top proclamations about how our country is doomed are being bandied about on a daily basis.

We can expand a modern-day Aesop’s Fable to include entrepreneurs – more specifically, entrepreneurs who engage in lying and distortion. There’s a distinction between puffery and lying. Puffery involves hyperbole which by definition is “obvious and intentional exaggeration not intended to be taken literally.” For example, if we say that our widgets are the “best,” there’s no objective way to measure this claim and the public generally understands the context to contain a degree of hyperbole. On the other hand, if we say that 99% of all our customers agree that our widgets are the “best,” then this is a factual claim that can be verified. And it becomes a lie if this fact is manufactured or we can’t prove that 99% of all our customers agree with our statement.

Where this gets really dicey for entrepreneurs is when the integrity line is crossed. Alex is the CEO of a start-up company and is pitching a group of investors for funding. During an interview with the investor group, he says, “Our firm has 35 customers and we’ve generated $500,000 in revenue.” What he doesn’t reveal is that he doesn’t really have 35 paying customers. He actually has 25 prospective customers that are using a beta version of his product for free; five current customers that are currently paying for his product, and five former customers that quit because they had issues with the product. What he also neglected to say is that his company has been in business for three years and $500,000 is the cumulative revenue generated during that time period. Did Alex lie about his company’s progress or did he engage in a form of puffery? While it’s not quite the false cry that a wolf is eating the sheep, Alex has definitely crossed the line through omission of key facts. Any savvy investor will drill down and quickly learn that Alex has misrepresented his situation – which will probably cost him the investment.

As entrepreneurs our integrity is our most valuable currency. When we go to the bank for a loan, it’s important that we put our best foot forward, but in an honest manner. We should be fact-based with our approach and present a true picture of our operations. At the same time, there is nothing wrong with sharing data trends that portray our company in a growth-mode. When we are reporting to our investors, we share the true, unvarnished facts. If things aren’t as rosy as we’d like, we provide an explanation about the issues we are experiencing. We have a real estate fund and write a quarterly report for our investors. Periodically I like to include a section called, “What’s Not Working.” In it, we discuss some of the challenges we are facing and what we are doing to overcome them. We’ve had feedback from investors who appreciate the fact that we’re not always trying to sell them on unicorns and rainbows.

Another problem area for entrepreneurs is that of overpromising and under-delivering. In fact, we would be much better off doing the opposite. We would do well to find one of the most skeptical members of our team and have him or her help set expectations. It’s likely that our optimism would be dialed back to a more realistic degree. Overpromising once may be forgivable. But if it happens over and over then we’re probably moving past the realm of hyperbole and into the arena of deception.

We all want to win which is a critical element of entrepreneurship. Doing so in an honest and forthright manner may not be the easiest path to take, but it will likely keep us from being eaten by the wolf.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 106 – A Boomer’s Advice to Millennials.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Modern Day Entrepreneurial Leader

Are you an entrepreneurial leader? Leadership is such a broad topic that there are scores of books and blogs that focus on nothing else. Let’s scratch the surface by focusing on what leadership means in an entrepreneurial environment.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is humble. He or she happily gives credit to others for successes realized by the enterprise. By being comfortable in his/her own skin, this entrepreneur delights in shining the spotlight on members of the team who achieve and excel. He or she is also quick to take the blame if something goes wrong. And there’s no pointing of fingers at team members who failed when this happens. This entrepreneur realizes that leadership is all about building other people up – not tearing them down.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is always aware of others with whom he or she is interacting. This entrepreneur acknowledges them and shows genuine interest in their wellbeing. Expressing gratitude and appreciation is first nature for this person. Regardless of another individual’s station in life, the modern day entrepreneurial leader treats everyone in the same positive and uplifting manner. A smile, eye contact and a heartfelt “thank you” are equally extended to the barista in the coffee shop, the checker in the grocery store and the Fortune 500 CEO.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader always eats last. This may occur literally at the company’s annual picnic, or metaphorically on payday. If a venture is struggling to gain traction and is short on cash, this entrepreneur will make sure everyone else on the team gets paid first. In some instances this leader will even max out a credit card to bridge the gap until revenues from the enterprise provide the necessary cash to keep going.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is strategic. He or she understands the difference between strategy and tactics and works tirelessly to refine a winning strategy. This strategy is then communicated effectively to each team member who understands exactly how they fit in the organization and what their roles and accountabilities are. The entrepreneur spends more time working “on” his/her business than working “in” it.

While being strategic, the modern day entrepreneurial leader isn’t afraid to get his/her hands dirty either. If there’s a job to be done and no one to do it, this leader jumps in to fill the gap. This could mean anything from answering a phone on the switchboard, making a sales call, spending an hour on the production line (because the individual normally assigned suddenly became ill), to cleaning snow off the front entry stoop. The entrepreneur never believes that any of these tasks are “beneath” him or her.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is a visionary. He or she can clearly articulate the organization’s vision in a way that is understandable to all involved. And this leader is constantly looking at the industry, the enterprise and the customer to find new ways to innovate. The result may be the creation or refinement of products and services as well as ideas for streamlining the way those products and services are delivered.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader understands the value proposition and can differentiate his or her products/services. This can be a major problem for businesses at all stages of the lifecycle. A muddled approach to the value proposition can lead to confusion and apathy in the marketplace. This leader makes certain that the benefit of his/her products or services is very clear to the customer, and it’s easy to see that such benefits are significantly greater than with competing products or services.

Finally, the modern day entrepreneurial leader is the leading advocate of core values for the enterprise. He or she is always modeling them and high-fiving team members who do the same. These core values aren’t window dressing, but instead are foundational elements for the daily operation of the organization. This leader is also laser-focused on building a strong and positive culture. There is a realization that having the right team members on the bus is paramount and the entrepreneur works tirelessly to ensure that individuals who are not a cultural fit are excused from the enterprise. Further, each team member always knows where he or she stands from a performance perspective. This leader does not use blunt honesty that could harm morale. Instead he or she practices the approach of warm candor where a team member understands where improvement is needed without being destroyed in the process.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is the complete package. He or she is humble; easily expresses gratitude; puts his/her needs secondary to other team members; is strategic; isn’t afraid to get dirty hands; is a visionary; understands the value proposition, and is the leading advocate for core values and culture.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 105 – The Case of the Frozen Hostage.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Expert Entrepreneur

As an entrepreneur, do you know it all? Most people will answer that they don’t. But guess what – we should! I’m speaking metaphorically of course. The point is that if we expect to win over the long haul, we had better be expert at what we do. When we are in command of the facts, we project confidence to others and feel it for ourselves. Malcom Gladwell famously said that it takes 10,000 hours of continuous and deliberate practice to become an expert. That’s five years of plying our craft before we become truly proficient. So, does this mean that after five years of working in the same profession that we are officially an expert? Not so. How much of our day is truly consumed with “continuous and deliberate practice?” I submit that there are several things we can do that put us in such a lane . . . and many more daily tasks that don’t qualify at all.

Study! One of the first steps in our quest toward entrepreneurial fluency is that of study and research. We read every trade publication we can get our hands on, and every book that is even semi-related to our industry. We surf the internet for the latest trends and news that might be salient. In the earlier days of my career, there were many articles that were ripped out of magazines and circulated throughout our office. Today it’s much easier to share information with others and here’s the key. We NEVER stop studying and researching. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been in the business for five years or 45 years, we continue to be a sponge for knowledge.

Professional designations! Earning a professional certification or designation is another step toward becoming an expert. One of the first things I did after I entered my industry was begin taking the coursework necessary to attain a professional designation. I was only 25 when I received it, and it helped overcome my obvious youth in establishing credibility within the industry. I also made some lifelong acquaintances that have been very helpful in my career.

Experiment! Part of the process of continuous and deliberate practice is experimentation. Through experimentation we find out what works and what doesn’t. It’s comforting to know that the aircraft in which we fly were developed by experts. When we have surgery, we know that experts developed the procedures and techniques. These experts perfected the airplane and surgical techniques through literally millions of iterations. We entrepreneurs should be bold and unafraid to continually experiment to discover new innovations.

Collaborate! Hand-in-hand with experimentation is collaboration. We look for every opportunity to work with others who may have solved similar problems or are seeking answers in the same manner as are we. Being willing to collaborate is a sign of strength – not weakness. Rather than having to figure everything out on our own, we can shortcut the process of becoming an expert by joining forces. This is a leverage play and one that should not be overlooked.

Teach it! Teaching others is a terrific way to cement our own knowledge and to learn from others. During the teaching process many questions are asked by the “students” which can be stimulating for the teacher. Mentoring falls in this category as well. When we can explain things to others in a meaningful way and challenge them to think critically; and when it’s clear that they are realizing true value from what we are sharing, we are achieving expert status.

Participate in the discussion! This entails writing articles, blogs and books. It involves attending industry conferences and sitting on panels of – yes, you guessed it – experts! Who does the local or national press contact for information about an industry? If they are calling you, then you are probably regarded as an expert. Take full advantage of this opportunity and become the go-to person for as many newspapers, trade publications and other information sources as possible.

Know the answers! Finally, a real expert knows the answers and is right the vast majority of the time. We should have a deep understanding of the macro and micro elements of our industry and be able to explain how our product or service is capitalizing on these elements. Being able to construct logical fact-based arguments that persuade others is a priceless quality. And it unquestionably demonstrates expertise.

Becoming an expert in our field takes thousands of hours of study and research; is aided by earning professional designations or certifications; experimenting, collaborating and teaching; participating in the discussion and knowing the answers. And being an expert often provides a clear pathway to high levels of success.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 104 – Sliced Tomatoes.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.