The Enamored Entrepreneur

Let me set the scene. You just hired a young new hotshot. This person has had a meteoric career to date, and you spent months recruiting him. He went to Harvard for his undergraduate degree and Stanford for an MBA. Right out of the blocks he has been hitting it out-of-the-park for you. His creativity and innovation are off the charts and he’s a real charmer. Everyone loves him and he is generating one success after another. What a dream situation – right?

There is no doubt that this is a dream situation. However, there’s also danger lurking. Why? Whenever we become enamored with someone, we run the risk of being blind to their shortcomings, and we all have shortcomings. Further we also may not be looking critically for coaching opportunities which shortchanges our new team member. How is it that we smart entrepreneurs fall into this trap? Actually, it is very easy. Perhaps we had a less than satisfactory experience with someone our new hire has replaced. Or we may never have had talent like this in the organization before. It is very refreshing to have a smart person in our midst that can seemingly do no wrong. We never want the honeymoon to end, nor do we want to throw cold water on our new team member, lest we demoralize him or her early in the game.

Over the course of my career I have seen plenty “golden haired boys and girls.” And after a while, the luster wears off a bit. Always. By no means does this indicate that we made a poor hiring decision. Walking in the front door for the first time, seldom is anyone really as good as they may seem – a fact for which we need to be reminded periodically. It is all about setting expectations. On Day One we are well-served to establish an understanding with our new team member whereby we will be providing continuous feedback. This will include both praise as well as constructive coaching. And, we must have a mindset that no matter how wonderful this individual might be, there’s always room to help him or her become better.

Here is how we might create a feedback process that works well for all parties. During the first 90-days we hold a short weekly meeting with our new teammate. We will structure it into four parts. First, we share our positive observations about what this individual has done well during the previous week. If something notable has been accomplished, we celebrate accordingly. Second, we share one or more areas where we would like to see more progress. This does not necessarily mean that we are being critical, but we should not hesitate to offer constructive criticism if warranted. Third, we provide information that may be pertinent for the coming week. Perhaps we want to lay out some new objectives, or maybe there is some company information to be conveyed. Finally, we allow time for our team member to ask questions or offer any observations he or she might have. After 90-days these meetings may be less frequent. The bottom line is that our rising star is conditioned to receiving feedback and we have been able to build a strong relationship from the very beginning.

Maintaining an objective perspective on new team members – especially those who show great promise – will help turn good talent into franchise-quality players. And it helps us remember that we can always be better tomorrow than we were today.

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 “Right Way” Entrepreneur

I have written before about the sales mindset. But I would like to expand on this subject with some additional thoughts. Entrepreneurs are always selling whether it is raising money, peddling a product, or convincing a new team member to come on board. We have all heard the adage, “he could sell ice to an Eskimo.” This conjures up an image of a slick, fast-talking huckster who cons his “marks” into purchasing something they really do not need. Obviously, this is the antithesis of how we want to be perceived as entrepreneurs.

I am trying to expunge the terminology of “selling” from my vocabulary. Why? In my opinion the traditional notion of selling is product-based. In other words, I have a product and I am going to do everything I can to convince you to buy it. What goes unsaid here is, “I’m going to do everything I can to convince you to buy it whether you want it or not.” Maybe this is just my personal bias, but I have observed others over the years that act in similar fashion when they get into the sales mode. Instead of “selling to” I’ve moved into a “buying from” mindset. I submit the following:

  • When we sell something to someone else, we’re product-focused.
  • When we help someone buy something, we’re customer-focused.

The difference in these two approaches is night and day. When we help someone buy, the product takes a back seat. We are more interested in building a relationship and creating trust with someone else. We are more interested in understanding exactly what they need. Through this discovery process we may find that our product is not best suited for this individual. But that is OK because we are helping them buy what they need – not what we want them to have. You may be thinking, “This flies in the face of so many of the selling techniques that are time-tested and proven.” And you may be right. But I am willing to wager that an entrepreneur who genuinely wants to help people buy what they need is going to win far more often than a salesman who just wants to move product. When relationships take precedence, they can produce unanticipated results. I have experienced numerous instances where I determined that what we were helping a customer buy was not right for him or her. But it was clear that the relationship was more important than the sale. And ultimately, we received referrals from those customers that did result in someone else buying from us.

When we absolutely must make the sale, we are less likely to focus on the customer. We are desperate to close the deal. One of my colleagues told me about an encounter she had with an individual who had called her to set up an introductory meeting. From the outset he was selling. He made no effort to learn more about her and establish a rapport – much less build a relationship. He made no effort to understand what she needed to purchase. He simply launched into his pitch and barely took a breath. By the end she was worn out listening to him and told me how off-putting the whole encounter had been.

There are some very simple rules that we can follow to ensure that we avoid the “selling to” approach.

  1. Always start the process by asking questions of the customer. This will help to establish a rapport and to determine his or her needs.
  2. Eliminate the terms “sales” and “selling” from our vocabulary.
  3. Genuinely care about the customer and find a way to meet his/her needs even if it involves a product that is not our own.
  4. Make certain that it is clear to the customer that it is his/her best interest that we have at heart and not our own.
  5. Remember the only way to develop long-term satisfied customers is to help them buy what they need. And the endorsement of long-term satisfied customers is worth its weight in gold.

When we always focus on the customer, we win. Sometimes this requires us to look past an immediate transaction. But it will always pay big dividends in the end.

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 “Loyal-to-a-Fault” Entrepreneur

Think about how much loyalty is a part of your life. How loyal are you to others? And how loyal are they to you? Do you have loyal customers; loyal partners; loyal employees, loyal friends and loyal family members? Loyalty is a strong and positive quality. It’s a key element in building and maintaining relationships. So, everything must be peaches and cream, right? Ah, but there’s a bit of a dark side to loyalty.

You probably have heard the term, “loyal to a fault.” This is when we may be too loyal to someone else and that loyalty clouds our judgment and may even be damaging to our business. Whether or not we’re being too loyal can be a tough call. It requires us to be very objective about a particular person and their performance. This can be exceptionally difficult for anyone and nearly impossible for someone who places a very high value on the loyalty trait.

Here’s a scenario that may be familiar. Perhaps it’s even happened in your own organization. A high-level executive has been with a firm for 30-years and reports to the founder and CEO. This executive is part of the CEO’s inner circle and his advice and counsel are often sought by the CEO. Unfortunately, this executive is also a flaming jerk. He’s very nice and thoughtful to other senior level executives, but when it comes to those who don’t have as prominent a position in the organization, he can be unreasonably demanding and thoughtless. Because of his tenure with the CEO, his behavior is tolerated. The employees of the firm have learned to steer clear of him and know that he is “protected” by the CEO. Complaints were lodged about him in years past but it’s well-known by everyone working for this company that he will always get away with whatever he wants.

If asked about this high-level executive, the CEO would undoubtedly say, “I know that he can sometimes be a bit abrasive, but overall he’s done a great job for this company.” The CEO might also say something like this, “He and I were fraternity brothers and he’s always had my back.” Sound like something you might have heard before? In this situation, many of the employees of this company have lost respect for the CEO because he won’t fix the problem. If this was a family business, it could very well be that the CEO and high-level executive are related – brothers perhaps. The bottom line is that the organization cannot function effectively because the CEO has misplaced loyalty to a problem individual.

As entrepreneurs we must learn how to maintain our objectivity, especially when it comes to employees and team members who are key to us. We have to be able to separate our feelings of loyalty from what is best for our organization. Loyalty can easily become a blind spot for us unless we have a method to deal with it. In a larger organization this can be done through a human resources department. The HR director must be given permission by the CEO to lay the facts on the table about each and every employee. In a smaller firm, it may be helpful to hire a consultant who can facilitate the performance of a 360-degree review of senior executives or even all members of the firm. In both cases, the HR director or the consultant should provide an honest perspective to the CEO that one of his or her reports needs to be coached, disciplined or even dismissed.

Loyalty is generally a good thing. But when there’s loyalty to a fault, we need to be willing to listen to someone tell us when we have a problem. And then we must deal with it accordingly.

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 Cold Calling Entrepreneur

My cell phone rang the other day. The person on the other end started by introducing himself but did not speak clearly so I couldn’t catch his name. He immediately launched with a hearty, “Mr. Harris, how are you doing today?” This sort of greeting is always a warning signal for me that someone is going to try and sell something. Being a polite person, I responded by saying that I was fine. Before I could say anything else, he began reading from his script. He was peddling the most amazing product since the invention of the light bulb and it was going to save me millions of dollars . . . or something like that. This guy literally filibustered for more than 30 seconds without taking a breath. He obviously had a lot of practice doing this.

Does this sort of old school cold calling really work? Perhaps it does to a point, but I question whether it is the most effective approach. Let’s examine all the ways I found this conversation to be off-putting. #1 – Failure to speak clearly – the fact that he spoke so fast that I couldn’t understand his name was certainly not the right way to get started. #2 – Cliché greeting – asking how I was doing is incredibly trite and inauthentic. #3 – No need-determination – this was at the heart of his ineffective approach. He arrogantly assumed that I needed his product or service and made no attempt to validate this assumption. #4 – Reading from a script – I had no confidence that he understood what he was supposed to be selling. After listening to him tout his product for a while I finally interrupted him and said, “I’m not interested, thank you.” And then I hung up. I wonder how many times this happens to him every day.

This type of cold calling utilizes a classic high-pressure technique and I’m surprised that in today’s business world there are still companies (and salespeople) who use it. Cold calling can be a thankless task yielding poor results except for a high degree of discouragement. Cold calling should be less about the product or service we are selling and more about building and collecting relationships that we can serve. The problem is that many companies still expect salespeople to meet quotas and apply extreme pressure to sell, sell and sell. The alternative (and much more effective) approach is to call without making any attempt whatsoever to sell anything. Instead the call is to introduce one’s self and build a rapport with the customer. This process includes attempting to understand how the customer does business and to identify his points of pain.

I would begin a call like this by indicating that I’m not calling to sell anything. This statement is usually somewhat disarming and increases the chance for a customer to stay on the phone. Instead, I’m doing some research to learn more about how customers are dealing with a certain issue. If my product is inventory management software, I’m going to ask open-ended questions that get the customer to talk about what problems he might be experiencing with his current inventory management system. And I’m going to carefully listen to his responses and ask pertinent follow-up questions based upon what he has told me. I will not read from a script. Once I have a greater understanding about my prospective customer and his needs, I’m going to thank him for his time and hang up.

I’ll follow-up with a handwritten note expressing appreciation to the customer for his time. Very few people write notes anymore. I won’t send it by e-mail because I won’t stand out as much. I may wait several days and send him something relating to the conversation we had – perhaps it’s an article that is applicable to his situation. But I’m still not selling him anything. Instead, I’m working to build a relationship. By the time I call him again, he knows who I am. And there’s a reasonable chance that I’ve differentiated myself from the high-pressure cold callers he hears from every day. When I finally call him days or even weeks later to help him buy my product, it’s now a warm call.

Effective selling isn’t about the product we’re pushing. It’s all about the customer and his or her needs. And while this premise seems so basic, it’s not practiced extensively. Thus, when we take the personal approach rather than the product approach, we have a real opportunity to stand out from our competition.

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 Wealthy Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship has long been the proven path to wealth – great wealth in fact. For decades we’ve heard the rags-to-riches stories about men and women who have had an idea and built a successful company around it. I don’t need to cite these examples because you have already heard them over and over. Normal, ordinary people have become billionaires and centimillionaires through their entrepreneurial endeavors. But I want to focus on wealth differently in this blog.

Early in my career my focus was on making a lot of money. I don’t think I was a whole lot different than many other young, driven, Type A people. I went about my business always checking my bank balance and trying to figure out how to add another zero or two. And the harder I tried, the more elusive the result seemed to become. I scrimped and saved and eventually enjoyed a nice material lifestyle – but the big dollars that I coveted never seemed to come.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when the shift occurred or what triggered it, but one day I found myself less obsessed with the end result (a large net worth) and more focused on the process of what I was doing and the joy it brought me. The money and wealth accumulation became secondary to actually building the business with my partners. Once I did this, the dollar rewards appeared – and sometimes in ways I’d never dreamed. There’s a constellation in the night sky that illustrates this perfectly. When we try and look directly at the Pleiades (also known as the Seven Sisters) it’s hard to see all the stars. But when we focus on a nearby star or constellation, the Pleiades can be vividly seen in our peripheral vision. In other words, trying to see the Seven Sisters head-on is frustrating and nearly impossible with the naked eye. But when our focus is elsewhere, the star cluster comes into view with greater clarity. This became a perfect metaphor for my situation.

Along the way I have discovered there are many more elements to wealth than simply money. The entrepreneur who thinks that life is only about making tons of money is going to miss many opportunities to become fabulously wealthy in other ways. Let’s explore some of these possibilities.

At this stage of my life I value the relationships with which I’m blessed as much as the dollars that come my way. I’ve long believed in collecting as many relationships over the course of my life as possible for the purpose of serving others. These relationships have been developed without quid pro quo. In other words, I serve my relationships without any expectation of something in return. The results have been incredible with countless friends and acquaintances whose lives I have hopefully impacted in a positive way. I consider myself wealthy beyond my wildest dreams through the knowledge that I am helping so many others.

Another aspect of wealth for me is the pride of accomplishment. Yes, I’m extremely proud of all that I’ve accomplished whether it be in my career, civic activities or avocations. This pride is not something for which I need to be recognized outwardly. Instead, it comes from the satisfaction of knowing that I succeeded at something – often something very difficult. Over the years, this success adds to my overall wealth of being.

I am a very wealthy man when it comes to the diverse and active life I’ve led. I can honestly say that I’ve never experienced a day where I’ve been bored. My waking hours are filled with creativity and new experiences. I always see life in full and glorious color. There is no such thing as monotony in what I do. Also, my health is my wealth. I was adopted and have no idea my genetic history. So, I have worked very hard to maintain great health as though I am constantly at risk. Exercise, eating right, maintaining an optimal weight level, and regular consultations with medical professionals has enabled me to remain vibrant and physically fit.

Finally, my family is a huge source of my wealth. I’m blessed to have had a nearly 50-year relationship with my wife; two amazing and talented daughters and a son-in-law; three beautiful grandchildren, and a host of cousins and in-laws. Unfortunately, both sets of our parents are gone, but we had wonderful relationships with them while they were alive. Love abounds every single day and has generated pleasant memories that will last a lifetime.

Truly, I believe that I fit the definition of the Wealthy Entrepreneur. Money is a part of the equation but there’s so much more including relationships with friends and acquaintances, pride of accomplishment, a diverse and active life, great health and an incredible family. I hope that you too can enjoy such bountiful wealth!

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 Triangulating Entrepreneur

Allow me to set the stage. Don, Shirley, Frank and Jessie all work for the same company. They are peers and interact on a daily basis. Let’s pull back the curtain momentarily and observe what is happening.

Shirley has stopped Frank in the hall. They have an exchange that goes like this.

Shirley: “Frank, you won’t believe what Don did. I’m so frustrated with him! He was supposed to prepare graphs for the PowerPoint slides to insert into the Magruder presentation and he totally blew it off. How are we going to get these graphs?”

Frank: “Wow, Shirley! It’s incredible that he didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. You know, he’s done that before. What a bozo!”

Later, Frank runs into Jessie and their conversation went like this.

Frank: “Jessie – Shirley told me that Don completely booted the graphs for the Magruder presentation. She’s about to blow a gasket. I wonder if Don should even be on our team.”

Jessie: “That’s awful! Don seems to have a history of doing things like this. He’s being extremely selfish and doesn’t care about anyone but himself.”

What is happening here? I call it The Bermuda Triangulation Effect. The Bermuda Triangle is a region covering roughly 500,000 square miles in the Atlantic Ocean where ships and aircraft have seemingly vanished without a trace. In other words, it’s akin to a mysterious black hole, sucking in the unsuspecting. Unfortunately, there’s no mystery to The Bermuda Triangulation Effect. Triangulation is a no man’s land where different parties whine, moan and groan about another party without speaking directly with that party. In our example Frank, Shirley and Jessie are triangulating about Don and the problems he has caused. Yet, no one bothered to talk to Don about the issue.

Triangulation is bad for business and bad for relationships. It’s pure poison and can dramatically and adversely impact the chemistry of a team. Why does all this grousing happen among teammates in the first place? I believe that it’s indicative of a team that does not hold mutual respect as a cornerstone. Team members also don’t trust each other to the point that they can have conversations directly with the party who is causing issues. I’ve heard many people explain that they feel like such a conversation could be confrontational and they want to avoid conflict.

Here’s the truth. Entrepreneurial leaders must take all steps necessary to eliminate triangulation. This starts with identifying clear roles and accountabilities for each team member. And everyone must clearly understand how they are accountable to each other. This accountability should include a process for addressing issues and concerns that are encountered from time-to-time. Team members should understand that it is incumbent upon them to speak directly with another team member should a challenge arise with that individual. Discussions among peers should be taboo as they are counterproductive and accomplish absolutely nothing. And team members should be discouraged from trying to resolve their issues via e-mail. E-mail is a one-dimensional form of communication and is one of the worst ways to try and sort out problems within a team.

Team members should be educated on how to speak directly with another team member in what might be perceived as an uncomfortable situation. Had our fictitious team been properly educated, the following exchange might have occurred with Shirley going to Don directly.

Shirley: “Don – I was looking for the graphs that you were preparing and found that they weren’t in shared folder. I need to drop them in the PowerPoint for the Magruder presentation. When do you think you’ll have them ready?”

Don: “Shirley – “I’m so sorry. I spent the night in the emergency room with my daughter and wasn’t able to finish them like I promised. I’ve been working on them and will have them completed in about 30 minutes.”

Shirley: “I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter. I hope she’s OK. If you need any help, just let me know.”

No triangulation occurred. The team continued to move forward to achieve its goals. Feelings weren’t hurt and time wasn’t wasted with angry chatter.

As entrepreneurs we must endeavor to create a culture of mutual respect where team members are totally comfortable having conversations of all sorts with each other. Stamping out triangulation should be a priority to this end.

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’s Zone of Doom

What do we dread most in our business and personal lives today? No, it’s not losing. When that happens, we simply pick ourselves up and go after it again. And it’s not being overwhelmed by our workload. We solve this with a few adjustments to time management and delegating to other team members. Our biggest “dread” is insidious and frustrating beyond belief. Here’s an example of what happens. We’re attempting to do business with someone. We’re past the cold calling stage and actually have been interacting with other party. We send an e-mail and wait a day or two. Then we call and leave a voicemail. Perhaps we even send a text. A week goes by with radio silence. We’re officially in the Zone of Doom.

The Zone of Doom is the black hole of non-responsiveness. Unfortunately, it’s become an epidemic. With caller ID many people simply ignore calls from those of us with whom they do not wish to speak. Blowing off e-mails is even easier. I know I sound like an old geezer, but when I was growing up in the business world, I quickly learned that protocol dictated the return of every phone call the same day or next morning. We didn’t have e-mail back then, so letters and memos were the standard for written communications. The expectation was that the response be immediate. There never was any thought of not responding at all. In fact, when someone slipped and failed to provide a timely response, the word usually got back to corporate leadership and there was hell to pay.

The biggest challenge relayed to me by members of our team is that their interactions with so many people outside the company are one-way. Simply trying to reach people is so much harder than ever before. Long ago, I resolved not to fall into this category. I think I’m about 95% true to this resolution. I do return my phone calls in a timely fashion – though I will admit that there may be a cold call here or there from a salesperson that I miss. I believe most people will attest to the fact that I usually return all my e-mails the same day if not the same hour.

So how are we supposed to deal with the Zone of Doom?  How are we supposed to do business when people are so unresponsive? There’s no question that failure to respond is not acceptable. But we must ask ourselves what might be the root cause for our receiving the silent treatment? This goes beyond the fact that people are busy. It all boils down to priorities. Think about how we develop our own set of priorities. What goes at the top of the list and what goes at the bottom? I find that the things that are most important are those which are most impactful to my business and my life. It’s a pretty good bet that others set their priorities in the same manner. When I’m trying to reach someone else, I try to bear in mind whether communicating with me will make that much difference to the other person. There’s the word . . . difference.

We must be able to differentiate ourselves when competing with someone else’s priorities. Is what we are attempting to communicate really that important to them? If not, then what can we do to push it up toward the top of the ladder. This is where relationship building becomes so important. I’ve written many times that relationships are all about service. I’ve found that the harder I work to establish and serve a relationship the more likely someone will reciprocate my attempt to communicate. You may be thinking, “How can I possibly build and serve relationships with everyone with whom I come into contact?” No one said it would be easy. Relationships take time to build and there’s no time to waste. Any and every little thing that can be done to help someone else builds that relationship. Many businesspeople seek to establish relationships to benefit themselves. If we do it differently and make every attempt to help others, our efforts will be recognized as genuine and authentic.

We can avoid the Zone of Doom by building relationships for the purpose of serving others. And through our relationships, we move up the priority list of those we are serving.

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.

Support for the Entrepreneur

Everyone knows that the entrepreneurial game is tough and unrelenting. Our state of mind often determines whether we’ll bend or break, and those of us with unlimited amounts of resilience will generally persevere and ultimately prevail. I believe more entrepreneurs could succeed were they to take advantage of the various forms of support that are available to the entrepreneurial community. One such form of support is that of an outside mentor.

Mentoring is somewhat different than coaching. Many entrepreneurs might do well with both. Coaching often tends to be for a shorter duration and can be more focused on certain skills and objectives. A mentor tends to build a long-term relationship with the mentee and takes a more holistic approach to their interactions. I have been mentoring for more than 20-years through both a structured program and informal relationships and have found it to be mutually rewarding.

It’s not necessary to find a mentor from the same industry as the entrepreneur. More important is the chemistry between mentor and mentee. Are the parties compatible and do they feel comfortable together? Is the mentor a good listener? Does the mentor refrain from being judgmental? I have found that one of the best ways I can serve a mentee is to ask a lot of questions and challenge traditional thinking. I remember having a conversation with a mentee many years ago who had a business that provided personal services that were charged by the hour. After a lot of conversation, I asked the entrepreneur when the last time the prices had been raised. She was absolutely certain that there was no way she could bump her hourly rate. I challenged her to test the market with a $.25 per hour increase. When she did, she found there was no resistance and that $.25 dropped straight to her bottom line.

A mentor should be a safe haven for an entrepreneur. All that is discussed should be done so on a confidential basis. The mentee must be able to freely share his or her concerns, anxieties, strategies and secrets without fear of having them repeated to others. Entrepreneurs must be willing to “let their hair down” and reveal all that is happening in their lives that could have an impact on their business. As a mentor, I cannot be completely helpful if I don’t understand the various factors that could be causing stress for an entrepreneur. Is the fact that a mentee is having marital troubles any of my business? Of course not. But . . . by knowing that something like this is present may explain why the entrepreneur is distracted. While I’m not a marriage counselor, I may be able to help the mentee cope with such pressures and be able to minimize the adverse effects on his or her daily life.

Here’s the thing about a mentor. We will offer our observations and provide some level of guidance. We’ll tell war stories and indicate whether we think the entrepreneur is on the right track or not. We’re not going to run the entrepreneur’s business. We’re not going to interfere or intervene. We’ll stay completely in the background and avoid overshadowing our mentees. It’s up to the entrepreneur to decide if he or she wants to listen and take the advice given. It’s up to the entrepreneur to do the heavy lifting. The mentoring process can make a profound difference for an entrepreneur or it can be a meaningless waste of time for both parties. Fortunately, I’ve never worked with a mentee who was a “know-it-all.” Every entrepreneur with whom I’ve had the pleasure to mentor has been open and receptive to the learning process and to having someone with whom they can bounce around ideas – good and bad.

With permission, mentors can hold entrepreneurs accountable. We can evaluate products and business practices and potentially identify blind spots that could be fatal from a customer’s perspective. We can help the entrepreneur set goals and create metrics for determining whether those goals are being met. And we can help an entrepreneur press the re-set button when nothing seems to be working.

A mentor can become a lifelong friend for an entrepreneur and serve as an advisor through thick and thin. I have been blessed to have many such relationships in my life and am so proud of the success realized by each of the wonderful entrepreneurs with whom I’ve been able to help.

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.

An Entrepreneur’s Most Valuable Asset

Earth, Wind & Fire recorded a song in 1979 called, After the Love Has Gone. And of course, there was the classic 1976 tune by KISS, Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em. There’s an eerie parallel with these titles and our relationships – with our friends and with our customers. Remember when we were growing up? Most of us had a number of friends during our school years. Then we launched our careers and families, and guess what? Many of those friendships went on hold. We found ourselves burning the candle at both ends and struggling to make the kids’ soccer games, juggle business trips with date nights, and generally keep our heads above water. Sound familiar? Gradually we sort of drifted away from all but a very small, close-knit group of friends. If we are introspective about our entrepreneurial lives, is the same thing happening with our business relationships?  

I’ve written before about my philosophy on relationships. I want to build and nurture as many relationships as possible over the course of my career for the purpose of serving them. And I’ve said before that I try to do this without any sense of quid pro quo. Deep at my core I believe that if we are truly committed to serving our relationships in whatever way possible, the Law of Attraction will bring great good into our lives.

So, what happens after the sale? We work hard for six months (sometimes much longer) to build a relationship with a prospective customer. Then she buys what we’re selling. We’re elated and we make sure that the product or service is delivered in fine fashion. Then what? Six months later, what have we done to maintain the relationship? If the customer is going to buy our product or service on a recurring basis, chances are that we’ll stay in touch and continue “selling.” Maybe we take the customer to a ballgame or out for dinner. But what about a customer that has purchased something and there’s virtually no chance that another purchase will occur in the future? Do we “love ‘em and leave ‘em?

It’s rare that we find an entrepreneur who builds the relationship for the purpose of serving it. Usually there are strings attached. I’ve been on the receiving end of this my entire life. When someone wants to sell me something, they butter me up and shower me with accolades, gifts and other forms of attention. If I don’t buy, they may try for a while, but eventually they drift away. If I do buy and there’s not a reason to buy the same product or service again, I’m usually dropped like a hot potato within a week. The National Sales Executive Association says that 80% of sales are made on the fifth through the twelfth contact. This means that a significant amount of time and effort must be invested to build a relationship sufficient to close the deal. This being the case, why would we not want to continue to maintain that relationship in perpetuity?

Some of us may be thinking, “This makes sense. Even though the customer might not buy again from us, keeping the relationship alive could be good for referrals.” Yes, this may be true, BUT once again we’ve attached strings to the relationship. What if we maintained the relationship because it’s the right thing for us to do? What if we maintained the relationship because we genuinely want to help other people? What if we maintained the relationship because it’s a form of expressing gratitude for all of the wonderful things that others have done for us? If we’re thinking that we just don’t have time to nurture relationships after the sale, then we are working against the Law of Attraction. There’s good flowing all around us – but if we start putting limits on our relationships, we’re preventing that good from flowing our way.

Maintaining friendships and business relationships requires an intentional effort. When we do so successfully, we find these relationships can be our most valuable asset.

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.

Tell Me What You See

When you look at me, what do you see? When you look at others, what do you see? Am I judged by my appearance? Are you skeptical or wary? These thoughts offer an interesting commentary on our society in general and on entrepreneurship in particular. Here’s what I have observed – about others and sometimes about myself. Are we actually looking for the good in our fellow man, or are we focused on finding fault? The political situation has disproportionately magnified this concern. Our country is so divided and partisan that it’s easy to instantly brand another person based upon what we perceive to be their ideology. Rightly or wrongly, if they are branded as a liberal or conservative; a Democrat or Republican, we may automatically draw conclusions that don’t serve us well.

I am renewing my efforts to work harder to see the good in others; to help build others up, rather than tearing them down. Does this sound trite? Think about it for a moment. Jonathan is negotiating to purchase a piece of equipment for his factory. There are major dollars involved and he has located the item that is only slightly used. Jonathan’s first thought is, “I wonder how I’m going to get screwed by the seller?” Right out of the blocks he’s telling the universe that he expects to be taken advantage of. He knows nothing about the individual who is selling the equipment. When asked why he feels this way, he responds, “Well, you can’t trust anyone these days.” Wow! We’ve all heard this before. But why would we set expectations this way? The transaction is immediately infused with negative energy from the start.

Here’s another one. Molly is the 28-year of vice-president of marketing at a consumer products company. While interacting with a prospective client who is in his sixties, he makes a rather inartful comment. Molly is immediately triggered into thinking that she is being harassed. The comment was harmless to the client from a generational perspective, but Molly now sees him as a horrible person. From this point forward, everything he says and does is seen by Molly in a negative light.

Here’s the last example. Henry is interviewing candidates to fill a software development position. One individual had a very pronounced southern accent and was slightly overweight. These traits were off-putting to Henry and he scratched the candidate from consideration. This was a classic case of “judging a book by its cover.”

Now let’s look at the flip side of these encounters. For Jonathan, he had no idea that the company selling the used piece of equipment had a new piece of equipment arriving within two weeks and needed to quickly remove the old piece. To accomplish this, the company marked down the price significantly in order to move it.  The equipment had been maintained in pristine condition and was truly a bargain. Instead of her knee-jerk reaction to the older client, Molly might have chalked it up as a comment that was not intended to be offensive and watched to see if there was any other behavior that warranted concern. Finally, had Henry tested his candidate, he might have found a brilliant mind hiding inside that southern good old boy.

Ronald Reagan once used the term, “trust but verify” when answering a question about nuclear disarmament. This concept remains as viable today as it did back in the 1980s. Rather than thinking the worst about others, we instead genuinely think the best about them and through our interactions, verify that they deserve our positive feelings and goodwill. Instead of being on guard all the time, we embrace others and reject the notion that they intend to do us harm. If at some point it is clear they are intentionally breaking our trust, then we change our feelings toward them.

Our entrepreneurial endeavors are enhanced when we see the best in others. When we establish our relationships in a positive manner they will flourish. When we help build others up, both parties will be the beneficiaries. I recently had the opportunity to begin working with an individual that represents a company with which we’ve done business for years. Another member of our team had previously dealt with him numerous times and had fairly negative things to say about their encounters. I chose not to have preconceived notions about this individual and after several e-mails and conversations, found him to be most pleasant and helpful. He conducted himself honorably and while a little slow with his responses, always managed to follow through. I believe that if I had bought into my teammates feelings, my interactions might have been less positive.

When we adopt the trust but verify attitude, we can build strong and lasting relationships that will flourish over time. Thus, when you ask me what I see, I say that it’s all good.

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.