The Credible Entrepreneur

I’ve had many aspiring entrepreneurs express frustration over their inability to gain traction in the marketplace with their products or services. Sometimes they tell me that others in their organizations won’t take them seriously. I can remember my early days in business – especially during my twenties – when I was treated like a little boy and being patted on the head periodically. I would work my tail off only to have the client want to talk about his property with our CEO and not me. At times it felt downright condescending.

I finally (and painfully) realized that everyone at my age was experiencing the same thing and much of this treatment was simply a function of youth. But the other lesson I learned was that of credibility. While there are many elements to credibility there is a primary formula that I discovered.

Results + Consistency = Credibility

Let’s break this down further. Results do not necessarily correlate with effort. Yes, I like members of our team to work hard and make a great effort but that doesn’t mean the job gets done. There were times in the past where it was difficult to terminate an employee because I knew that person had given his all and no one had worked harder. Unfortunately, even with all of the blood, sweat and tears this person still wasn’t getting the necessary results. It was kind of like studying diligently for an exam in school and still getting an F. The professor really didn’t care about the three all-nighters; only that in the end the answers were wrong.

Results are produced through a combination of skill, perseverance, creativity, timing, risk management, training, attitude and yes, effort. If any aspect of this combination is out of whack we might fail or barely produce an acceptable outcome. This leads us to the second factor in the formula – consistency.

Here’s an obvious statement. When we are hit or miss with our results we are thus inconsistent which damages our credibility. The goal is always to produce high quality, consistent results. How does McDonald’s turn out the same identical hamburger no matter what store we visit? It’s accomplished through a fanatical adherence to specific standards and delivered through comprehensive systems and processes. McDonald’s uses the very same equipment at every location. They purchase in bulk the ingredients used to make the hamburger and are extremely exacting in their specifications for the quality and composition of these ingredients. Employee training is intense and standardized. Quality control measures are baked into their culture. Everything they do is geared to providing a consistent high quality customer experience.

When we can “McDonaldize” our operations we greatly improve our chances to achieve consistency. But it’s not enough to just be consistent. There are some companies that are consistent . . . they are just consistently terrible. For example, why is it that so many of the cable television providers receive consistently terrible customer service ratings? Ditto the U.S. Postal Service? When I send a document via FedEx or UPS I know that it will arrive exactly when it is supposed to. But a similar delivery by the USPS has always been consistently inconsistent for me. I speculate that this may have something to do with business models and customer focus. A business model that is designed around selling a product or service – i.e. cable TV or overnight letters, is less likely to generate consistent quality results. By contrast, an enterprise dedicated to delivering an amazing customer experience is more likely to far and away be the winner.

Our credibility is built on a foundation of producing consistent high quality results. Implementing strong systems and processes focused on wowing the customer helps maintain our hard-earned credibility.

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.

A Dirty Word

What two words in the English language couldn’t be further apart in their meaning, but are often intertwined for entrepreneurs? The first word by itself is part of the everyday life of an entrepreneur – and every other person in the world as well. This word is relatively innocuous. But when connected with the second word it’s like adding the primer to dynamite. The resulting explosion can have all sorts of detrimental effects on our lives.

That first word is “failure.” Many entrepreneurs (and others) fear failure. But successful entrepreneurs have almost always experienced failure in different ways and multiple times. They use their failure to recalibrate or pivot, and find a new way to make something work. David H. McConnell was a door-to-door book salesman who offered a little gift of perfume to female customers. Selling the books didn’t work out so well, but there was great demand for the perfume. So McConnell ditched the books and turned the perfume concept into what is now known as Avon. Ever heard of Traf-O-Data? It was a partnership between Bill Gates and Paul Allen for the purpose of developing reports from traffic counters for traffic engineers. Needless to say the business was not a success. But Gates went on to launch another venture called . . . Microsoft. And then there’s the famous story about a man named Fred Smith who wrote a paper for his Yale University economics class involving overnight parcel deliveries. The professor wasn’t impressed and gave him what Smith recalls was a C. Undaunted, Smith pursued the idea which today is known as Federal Express.

This brings us to the second word. The word is toxic to entrepreneurs for it can easily become a mindset. The word . . . “defeat.” Failure is part of a process of experimentation and discovery. Defeat is the end. Once defeat is admitted, there’s nothing more to be done. I knew a man who worked for someone else for several decades. Then he decided to spread his entrepreneurial wings and bought a business. He labored mightily but eventually had to close his doors. But rather than lean into the experience and use it as a stepping stone to success, he withdrew. His confidence was shaken and he began making unhealthy choices. He tried working for someone else again but eventually ended up driving a taxi. Now there’s nothing wrong with driving a taxi if it’s for the right reason. But in this case it was his way of curling up in the fetal position and saying, “I can’t.”

I think that it boils down to whether or not we have a “die trying” mentality. It boils down to whether or not we have a positive image of ourselves. It boils down to moving as fast as we can to kill our own bad ideas so we can make room for the good ones! When we are afraid to fail, we are setting ourselves up for defeat. One of the most important things about failure is making certain that it’s not so monumental that we can’t right our ship. A mindset of defeat occurs when we are convinced we’ve lost it all – forever.

Here’s what I’ve learned. I don’t set out to fail at anything but accept the fact that I will and I must, if only to find the good ideas that work. I always make sure there’s enough of a margin of safety that my failures aren’t going to “kill” me. This leaves room for a pivot or a more significant shift. Regardless of my failures I will always remain positive and optimistic. Sometimes this can be very hard but it’s fundamental to avoiding defeat. When I do fail I look for what can be salvaged from the experience to bolt onto the next iteration of whatever I’m doing. And finally, I know that I’m a step closer to success by eliminating a step in the process that didn’t work.

Failure and defeat are not connected in any way, shape or form. Great opportunity and great success can rise from failure. Nothing good comes from defeat.

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 57 – Headwinds

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.