Never Let Up!

There’s an interesting aspect of human nature that can be a devilish problem for entrepreneurs. Unfortunately I have experienced this issue a multitude of times throughout the years. Let me offer an example that happens too often in our business. Let’s say we have a large apartment community that has been suffering with poor occupancy. We develop a creative and aggressive marketing program that produces results, and in a short period of time the property has reached 95% occupancy – in our industry this is considered to be stabilized occupancy. We pop the corks and celebrate this accomplishment in high style. So far, so good. But this is where the trouble begins.

Over the next few weeks we see an ever so slight downward trend in the occupancy. After two weeks, the occupancy stands at 94%; after three weeks it’s 93%, and after four weeks the occupancy stands at 92%. Now this may seem like no big deal – the occupancy still sounds strong. But a deeper dive shows something that really is disturbing. Our on-site leasing team is resting on their laurels. When we were pulling out the stops to push the occupancy up, the team was visiting major employers and area businesses on a daily basis to promote our complex. They were posting multiple times each day on social media and encouraging existing residents to refer their friends and family. But once the property reached 95% occupancy the on-site team dialed back their marketing efforts and started “coasting.” This resulted in the occupancy beginning to slip.

I have always advocated that our on-site teams should be aggressively marketing 365 days a year regardless of the occupancy level. If a property achieves high levels of occupancy, we can raise the rents and build waiting lists. There’s absolutely no downside to continuing to market as if we were suffering from low occupancy. In other words Never Let Up.

This concept can be seen in a high profile way with sports teams. A team in any sport gets a healthy lead and then there’s a letdown. The players don’t play with the same intensity as earlier in the game. They aren’t as sharp and aware. The other team chips away at the lead and eventually wins on a last second play. How many times have we seen this happen?

In the entrepreneurial world we see this all the time. Perhaps we let up on our marketing efforts much in the same manner as the apartment property example cited earlier. Recruiting can also be a problem area. We fill an open sales position and think we’re done. But six weeks later we find that another sales position is open. And guess what? We had shut down our recruiting effort and all of the quality candidates we considered for the last position have found new jobs. So, we have to gear up and begin recruiting again. The same thing can happen with product development and product improvement. We’ve had a great run with the creation of new products. The public has loved these products and our team has rightly been proud of its success. But . . . it’s been a while since we put any new products in the marketplace. And not much has been done to improve our existing product suite. Sales begin to slip and customer satisfaction has dipped as well.

What can we do to combat psychological let downs? Maintaining a constant focus on the basics and fundamentals of our business enables us to continue achieving the highest levels of success. As entrepreneurial leaders we must emphasize this every single day. Members of our team should be held accountable for practicing the basics and fundamentals. I know a commercial real estate broker who has specialized in office leasing for more than 30 years. He has made a ton of money and has been one of the top brokers in the business for his entire career. Nevertheless, he continues to make his cold calls every day and build new relationships – just like he did as a rookie. By continuing to focus on the basics and fundamentals, this real estate professional has Never Let Up.

The other thing that is critical for us to stress is a mindset that the game is never over. We may be winning at the end of the quarter or the half, but in the entrepreneurial game (unlike sports) the clock never runs out. We can’t get tired or lazy. We must maintain the same level of discipline at the end of the year that we had at the beginning.

We entrepreneurs cannot afford to rest on our laurels or we will surely lose in the end. Instead, we must have a Never Let Up mindset that occurs with a relentless and disciplined focus on the basics and fundamentals of our business.

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 122 – A Dirty Word.

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 Sweaty Entrepreneur

We entrepreneurs sweat a lot. Our perspiration is the result of a lot of heavy lifting. It’s the byproduct of many a nervous moment whether it be scrambling to make a payroll or waiting to find out if we won a major contract. We’ve all heard the phrase – “don’t sweat the small stuff.” But what exactly does this mean? Someone needs to write a handbook for entrepreneurs on what we should sweat about! So here goes.

Don’t sweat what type of new office furniture to buy. Do sweat whether or not sales people are spending too much time sitting on the new office furniture instead of meeting face-to-face with customers. Don’t sweat whether the receptionist is wearing a sundress that is an inch too short. Do sweat how the receptionist is greeting customers in person and on the phone. Don’t sweat whether or not the expense report format is just right. Do sweat whether it’s clear to the team what expenses are eligible for the expense report.

Don’t sweat the design of the uniforms for the company softball team. Do sweat a bad Google customer review. Don’t sweat that someone parked over the line in the parking lot. Do sweat the cleanliness of the public restrooms in your place of business. Don’t sweat the fact that a team member seemed snippy to you this morning. Do sweat whether or not you made eye contact with and cheerfully greeted every team member you saw this morning. Don’t sweat the proposal binder that started to come apart in your client meeting. Do sweat the manner in which you differentiated your product or service in that proposal. Don’t sweat the naming conventions for your electronic files. Do sweat the critical documentation that needs to be in those files.

Don’t sweat those e-mails from colleagues that ramble on forever. Do sweat the content of the e-mails and what might be discoverable in some future litigation. Don’t sweat how much it cost for lunch with a customer. Do sweat how much that lunch helped to improve your relationship with the customer. Don’t sweat how you looked in a candid photo at the company picnic that was posted on your company’s Facebook page. Do sweat whether you made sure that every member of your team felt appreciated and valued at the company picnic. Don’t sweat it that you could only afford $25 gift cards for your team at Christmas. Do sweat whether your team members see you as a genuine and authentic leader.

Don’t sweat not taking credit for the successful completion of a project you led. Do sweat sharing the credit with members of your team that ensured the success of that project. Don’t sweat being a little late for the weekly game of pickle ball with friends. Do sweat being a few minutes early for a client presentation. Don’t sweat the fact that the restaurant mixed up your dinner order. Do sweat the note of condolence to be written to a team member who just lost a loved one. Don’t sweat that your name wasn’t mentioned in a newspaper article about your company. Do sweat whether or not your company will be mentioned in a newspaper investigative report for mishandling a customer complaint.

Don’t sweat the details of the co-pay on your company’s new health insurance plan. Do sweat the details of your company’s ten-year vision. Don’t sweat the wording of your personnel handbook’s section on the dos and don’ts of copy machine usage. Do sweat the wording of the contract you are about to sign for a major equipment purchase. Don’t sweat trying to look like a hipster in your new clothes. Do sweat looking to your team like a confident and competent leader. Don’t sweat bailing out on the umpteenth all-hands conference call to discuss (ad nauseum) the final changes to the company training manual. Do sweat making it to your daughter’s school musical in which she is performing.

Yes, there are plenty of things to sweat about and plenty of things to not. The trick is figuring out that which is important. The best measure is to focus on what is best for your customers and your team members. Much of the rest may be superfluous.

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 115 – Overflowing.

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.

Tunnel Vision

During the days when I was flying an airplane, I learned a very important entrepreneurial lesson. I’d be approaching a large airport and the situation became very busy. I had Approach Control giving me vectors and altitudes which required regular attention to the instrument panel. I had a landing checklist to review. If there were passengers, I needed to make sure they were buckled in and loose objects were secure in the cockpit. I also had to dial in the radio frequency for the airport tower to be ready for the hand-off from Air Traffic Control. Whew! With all this activity it was easy to forget to do one very critical thing – and that was to get my head up and look outside the airplane. Pretty obvious, right? You have no idea how even the most experienced pilots can make this mistake. We’re focused on everything else – and yes, we are looking straight out in front of us to line up with the runway. But there are other objects in the sky – aircraft that might be unaware of our presence, radio towers, drones, birds, etc. I quickly came to understand (under the penalty of death) that I needed to avoid Tunnel Vision at all costs.

What does Tunnel Vision look like in the entrepreneurial world? Here’s a hypothetical example. Jeff owns a three-year old company that provides IT services to small and medium-sized businesses. He has 27 members on his team and his top line has been growing at 60% annually. Needless to say, Jeff is crazy busy right now. He’s up at the crack of dawn and after a quick workout he heads to the office. Many nights he’s not home until after 9:00. At work he’s consumed with an endless stream of team members who catch him for a wide variety of reasons. He attends meeting after meeting. E-mails pile up and phone messages go unanswered. During the few moments Jeff has to breathe he wonders why time is flying by so fast and why it seems that he has accomplished so little.

You probably already know the rest of the story. Jeff and his team are so consumed with trying to keep up with their meteoric growth that a competitor sneaks in and steals some of their best clients. Instead of focusing on the customer, Jeff and his company have fallen victim to Tunnel Vision – and what they are seeing are systems, processes, recruiting, hiring, training, HR issues, accounts receivable, accounts payable – everything except the customer.

There are several ways we can be vigilant about keeping Tunnel Vision at bay. First, we need to make certain that every member of the organization has well defined written Roles and Accountabilities – let’s call them R&As. The R&As need to be of sufficient detail to identify all of the areas on which each of us should be focused. It’s kind of like a position description on steroids. Next, we should regularly review our R&A. I recommend that this be done at least once each week. Perhaps we have an “accountability buddy” with whom we review our respective R&As. I have gotten into the habit of doing this at least weekly and can see how easy it is to fall into a rut by just paying attention to one or two specific roles, sometimes to the exclusion of others. Part of this review is determining what I’m going to do during the coming week that involves each of my R&As. This helps keep me from falling into the ruts in the road.

As leaders, we must model how to avoid Tunnel Vision. After doing this for ourselves, we then need to encourage others to follow the same process. Often when Tunnel Vision is prevalent, I hear the same refrain – “there’s just not enough time in the day!” What this means is that we have lost control of our schedule and are allowing ourselves to be pushed and pulled by others. Tunnel Vision is inevitable when this is happening. Regaining control of our schedules is paramount and can be accomplished by planning what we are going to do rather than reacting. Ultimately, this planning initiates the R&A review and subsequent determination of our actions to be juggled in all areas.

Tunnel Vision can have fatal consequences for an organization. It can be avoided by reviewing Roles and Accountabilities at least once a week, and planning action steps that impact all areas for which we are accountable.

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 87 – Ted’s Song.

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.

Do the Hustle

The legendary Sir Richard Branson was 16 when he launched his first business venture in 1967 – a magazine called Student. He followed this with a business selling records through the mail. Thus was born Virgin Records and ultimately a multitude of companies under the Virgin brand.

Mark Cuban was 25-years old when he started software company, MicroSolutions. Seven years later he sold it at a price that put $6 million in his pocket. He reinvested his winnings into another of his start-ups, Broadcast.com which netted $5.7 billion when sold.

John Paul DeJoria bounced around in the foster system as a boy. He was involved with crime and spent time in the military before he borrowed $700 to start John Paul Mitchell Systems. His humble beginnings included door-to-door sales and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Later he founded Patron tequila, another killer brand. Today he’s worth more than $3 billion.

What did all three of these entrepreneurs have in common? They were all “hustlers.” I know that when many of us hear that term, it doesn’t have positive connotations. We have images of a smarmy, greasy, fast talking character who is constantly trying to run a con. But this isn’t the kind of hustle to which I refer. Instead, this kind of hustle is all about a desire to win.

Entrepreneurs who have hustle are resilient. They are creative and they are fearless. The easiest way to describe an entrepreneurial hustler is to look at the parallel of a hard-fought basketball game. We’ve all seen players scrambling after loose balls, flying into the stands and throwing themselves onto the floor. They are willing to sacrifice their bodies with reckless abandon in their quest to achieve victory.

When we hustle we have a warrior’s mindset. Our initial focus is on survival. How many successful entrepreneurs started from deep and dark places? Remember how J. K. Rowling faced tremendous adversity in the early days before her celebrity as the author of the Harry Potter books? Her mother passed away; she gave birth to a child and went through a divorce; was clinically depressed, and lived on welfare for a time. But her only choice was to write to survive. When we are ready to curl up and hide from the world we should remember how others were able to make it through the tough times and come out the other side stronger and ready to whip the world. Resilience is a major key to survival.

Perhaps our business isn’t growing like we planned. Maybe we’ve even seen it slide backward. Now is the time to get into “hustle mode.” This can take many forms but the most important is a mindset of renewed determination. We examine our strategy and tactics so that we can make the necessary adjustments . . . with renewed determination. We push to new levels of innovation . . . with renewed determination. And we may even do things we’ve never done before . . . with renewed determination, so that we can survive.

Eventually we begin to achieve momentum. We begin to win. And we continue to hustle. Our mindset shifts away from simple survival, and the focus is now on how to thrive. We are relentless in discovering ways to become even more creative. We absolutely, positively know that we are going to succeed. Our “hustle” now involves an even greater sense of urgency along with commitment and dedication to setting our goals even higher. We ignore our critics and all the naysayers. We work hard and we endure the pain. There is no question we’ll make many sacrifices along the way. I can remember in the early years of my career when we were building our business. We had passed the point of survival and were beginning to thrive. I would sometimes arrive at work very early – 3:00 AM. And I would meet another colleague who was leaving to go home for a few hours of sleep. We were hustling and we were winning.

The entrepreneurial hustle often begins with survival and eventually results in a breakthrough where we thrive. Resilience, hard work, creativity, a fanatically positive mindset and laser like focus are some of the more important factors to this equation.

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 65 – After the Love is Gone.

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.

Hall of Famer

“Just concentrate on throwing the ball over the plate rather than breaking the sound barrier, and be more varied and selective with your pitches.” That’s the advice catcher Norm Sherry gave to future Hall of Fame pitcher, Sandy Koufax, in 1961. Prior to that Koufax had labored through several seasons of mediocre pitching. Once he solved his control problem he became nearly unhittable striking out 2,396 batters in his relatively short career. Koufax retired from the game in 1967 at age 30. Without a doubt, he went out a winner.

When we think of winning, what comes to mind? Most of us would say that we have achieved the success of victory – that’s the obvious answer. But when we’re asked how we won, the answer becomes a bit murkier. So, exactly how do we win? Do we simply throw the ball harder than anyone else? Or is there something deeper?

As we study great winners in sports and other walks of life one thing becomes abundantly clear. Great winners are fanatical about the basics and fundamentals of what they do. We’ve all heard how the basics and fundamentals are the foundational elements to success. And yet many times we just want to swing hard and hit the ball into the left field seats. The result is that we often strikeout. Lesson #1 – we’ll strikeout less and win more if we pay attention to how well we are executing the basics and fundamentals of our game. In business, perhaps we have enjoyed a winning streak lately. Human nature may cause us to take our foot off the accelerator and start enjoying the ride. What happens then? Maybe our winning streak comes to an end. We haven’t spent the time and energy continuing to cultivate relationships. We aren’t making the follow-up calls that we used to make. And we aren’t doing the homework necessary to understand what our customers really need and want.

Sandy Koufax would be an anomaly in today’s sports environment. He shunned the spotlight and stayed out of the public eye. He loved violin music – it’s said that Mendelsohn was one of his favorite composers. He chose not to chase the money and quit the game rather than risk further injury to an ailing arm. He was his own man which in itself is a special mindset. Lesson #2 – ignoring the noise in the world around us and maintaining our focus puts us on the path to winning.

Winning is seemingly about competing – right? Well, yes and no. If we are out to “beat” someone else the chances are higher that we won’t. In other words, if we become fixated on how to beat the competition we’re really ceding our power to someone else. Why? Because our focus has shifted away from what we need to do to execute in the necessary fashion, and we’re now conjuring a methodology that we think will give us a competitive advantage. Unfortunately we’ve forgotten that the way we win is to ignore the noise around us and execute our game plan in a flawless manner. Lesson #3 – don’t allow our competition to dictate the terms and conditions for winning.

Zig Ziglar famously said, “You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win.” I used the term “special mindset” in this blog. The only thing really special is the absolute, 100% core belief that we deserve to win and we will win. But there’s one more piece to this puzzle. We must relax into winning. If our intensity is too great, we can easily deviate from the basics and fundamentals and overcompensate. I’ve seen terrific baseball pitchers that start losing because they are so amped up that they try to “throw” the ball and over-control it, rather than relaxing and “pitching” the way they know how. Lesson #4 – to win, we must believe that we will and we must remain relaxed while doing so.

Winning is a relatively simple formula that involves always executing the basics and fundamentals; ignoring all the noise that is going on around us; playing our game and not trying to beat the competition, and believing without any doubt that we’ll win. Oh, and yes, relax. Putting it altogether ensures that we’ll be Hall of Famers in our own right.

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 6 – A Right Way and a Wrong Way.

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.

sandy-koufax

Balls in the Air

Have you ever heard of Anthony Gatto? I hadn’t either. Gatto has been on the list of the world’s best jugglers every year since 2003 when the list was first compiled. He started juggling when he was almost four years old and is the only juggler ever featured on a Topps trading card. Among his amazing performances were juggling eight balls for one minute and 13 second; nine balls for 54 seconds; seven rings for 15 minutes and six seconds and 12 rings with 12 catches. All are world records. I’ve tried many times and can’t even master juggling two balls – much less eight. I did notice that Gatto doesn’t hold any records for juggling chainsaws – so he must be a pretty smart guy!

For entrepreneurs the obvious metaphor here involves the juggling act that we perform every day. But I want to talk about it in a bit of a different context. The question I want to pose is that of focus vs. diversification. What do I mean by this? I’ve said before that I don’t like to take risk, but I’ll manage risk all day long. This is a Grand Canyon-huge distinction. Taking risk for me is akin to gambling – and I’m not a gambler. Managing risk is a process and allows me to stack the odds in my favor. So what does focus vs. diversification have to do with managing risk?

There is a school of thought that says we should focus on what we do best. And we should hone our craft to the point that we then are the best at what we do. Several very successful companies are focused on a single product. Crocs, Spanx, Michelin, Roku and Gorilla Glue are all such companies. They have developed their product to the point that it’s in such high demand that there is no need to add to their product mix. Southwest Airlines has focused for decades on solely flying the Boeing 737 aircraft. The advantages for them are numerous including the manner in which they stock spare parts, train their mechanics and flight crews, route and position planes, etc.

I believe that there is an inherent risk to being so focused on a single product line. This risk includes business cycles where a particular product type might fall out of favor. Technological advances have been known to make many products/services obsolete. Remember Blockbuster Video? It was a high-flyer for a long time and was pretty much focused on a bricks and mortar delivery of videos. But it became so focused that it failed to realize that it needed to change its entire business model and product suite to adapt to rapidly changing consumer preferences. Now the company is out-of-business.

This brings me to the strategy of diversification. Our organization has always had multiple product lines. In the 1970s through the 1990s, we were primarily involved in the commercial real estate industry with leasing, brokerage and property management. And we handled office buildings, shopping centers, industrial facilities and apartment communities. In some years the leasing and brokerage business might be slow, but the property management business would be booming. Then there were times when the opposite occurred. Yet we were able to maintain fairly consistent revenues and margins throughout the various cycles we encountered.

Since 2000 we’ve diversified even more extensively including construction, maintenance service, building components distribution, tax credit syndication, apartment acquisitions, apartment development and venture capital investments (outside of the real estate world). We’ve organized into business units specializing in these areas with a managing director leading each. With this structure each leader is able to focus on being the best in class. The overall enterprise benefits from a highly diversified product/service offering balanced with a focus sufficient to excel. To accomplish this, a considerable investment was made in human resources to enable the focus and specialization. Our organization also wins with the vertical integration that has resulted. Multiple business units are able to participate in various internally generated projects as well as provide products and services to third parties.

Keeping a lot of balls in the air actually requires considerable focus. When we can do both successfully we are able to minimize the risks that we face as entrepreneurs.

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.

juggling

The When Affliction

The minister in church one Sunday talked about his anticipation of future events and it got me to thinking about the subject in a different way. How many times have you heard someone say, “I’ll be happy when . . .” or “I’ll have plenty of money when . . .” or “I’ll have more fun when . . .”?

As a classic Type A entrepreneur I tend to focus on the future. Oh, I do live in the now, but I am constantly thinking about the next steps in building my businesses. But it goes beyond that. If I am going on a trip in a few days I’m thinking about what all will be involved in the travel process. I’m thinking about what I’ll do when I get to my destination. Once I’m on my trip and have reached my destination, I think about where we’ll eat dinner or an event that we’ll attend. I don’t think that it’s necessarily a bad thing to be planning ahead though I can easily flip over into the realm of obsession with planning. What’s more problematic is when the thinking ahead becomes the “When Affliction.”

The When Affliction manifests in several ways. It can occur when we are so focused on thinking about something that is to happen in the future that we don’t pay close enough attention to something critical that is happening right now. This is the perfect environment for mistakes to be made. The other day while driving I was so engrossed in thinking about an upcoming meeting that I nearly caused a wreck. I was changing lanes, turned on my blinker and quickly looked over my shoulder. There was a car in the other lane – I know I saw it – but it didn’t register as I pulled over anyway. Horns blared and my heart leapt into my throat. My focus on the moment was blinded by my focus on the future.

The When Affliction can have us so wrapped up in getting past the next milestone that we are unable to truly appreciate what we are experiencing in the process of getting there. So here’s a question. How many magical moments do we miss with the When Affliction? I remember my youngest daughter’s wedding. It was a splendid affair and one where I was truly present every second of the day. I simply allowed myself to be swept up in the pomp and pageantry that is often woven into such an event. Not once was I contemplating a future action. And I am able to treasure the memories because I really was a part of making them. There are so many other things I don’t remember about what has happened in my life because I was looking forward so much of the time.

It’s OK to plan ahead. If we simply allow ourselves to float along the river of life without regard for the snags and rapids in front of us, our boat could easily be swamped. The key is to find the right balance between thinking ahead and maintaining a “now presence.” To accomplish this, I have discovered a game that I play with myself. Let’s say that someone is coming to my office to meet with me. Before the meeting I identify several things that I want to notice during this meeting. What color are the clothes this person is wearing? What color are his or her eyes? Is the person right handed or left handed? Sharpening my observation skills in this manner helps me focus on the other person and the moment, thereby avoiding the When Affliction.

We intuitively know that tomorrow never comes because there always is another tomorrow. Thus we can avoid becoming obsessed with the future if we limit our planning to that which really matters.

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.

Huckleberry Finn