Our Worst Possible…

american-airlines-us-airways-merger

Seth Godin describes American Airlines as, “our worst possible domestic airline.”

Ouch.

I read that on Seth’s blog more than a week ago, and I can’t stop thinking about it. It resonates more than all of the merger hoopla, all of the rebranding, the pretty plan painting, everything. “The new American” has flooded our television networks, magazines, websites with all their newspeak. And still, they are “our worst possible domestic airline.”

This got me thinking about smaller companies, local startups and companies like mine. If we don’t deliver on our promises of quality, no amount of marketing-speak will change the minds of those we disappoint. We can’t fake it with people that know us, that have taken us up on our promises. So we’d better get it right with them.

If we do get it right, then we can spend our marketing dollars on hoopla to attract new customers. Our current customers will already know us and, if we do it right, maybe even love us. And if they love us, there’s a good chance they’ll talk about us.

Are you keeping your promises? Are you doing it in a remarkable way?

Getting it Right (Startup Clarity is Hard)

ImprecisionI am developing a new startup. It’s fun to think about, fun to work on. I am excited about it and can’t wait to share it. But dammit, it is hard work.

I thought I knew what I wanted to do, what service I wanted to provide, what my “offer” was.

Then I tried to explain it to my friend Tony…

Bewilderment.

Don’t get me wrong—Tony is a smart guy. It’s not that he couldn’t understand what I was saying, it’s that I wasn’t being clear. He asked me some good questions, made some good suggestions.

So I worked on it, thought about it, worked on it some more. Finally, I thought I had it.

So I tried to explain it to my friend Tony…

It’s not there yet. It may be a better idea, maybe a little clearer, but not enough. Tony asked me more good questions.

I’m back to the drawing board, thinking harder about the startup, working on the concept, thinking about how to talk about it.

This is the most important work when starting a company: thinking precisely about what you are going to do and who you’re going to do it for, then figuring out how to explain it in a way that makes your friends, family and prospects go “WOW!”

Your business will grow and change from this initial iteration, but without doing the hard work up front, you won’t ever make it. You need a clearly defined starting place, a place from which to grow.

Send me an email and tell me who you are, what you are going to do for your customers, and who your customers are going to be. I won’t share your ideas or steal them, but I can help you think more clearly about them.

And if you aren’t sure, email me anyway. I can help with that, too.

ron@predictablelaunch.com

Hey, Entrepreneur—What’s Stopping You? [Strategies for Dealing with Fear]

I was just listening to Dan Miller’s excellent podcast, and he mentioned that during a recent webinar for prospective entrepreneurs, the most frequently cited reason for not starting a business was fear. Sometimes fear of failure, often fear of success.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I wish I had an easy answer for that one. I don’t. The truth is, starting a business is scary as hell. It can feel exhilarating and terrifying. It can get you jumping out of bed with a million ideas to make things better, and it can keep you awake at night when you’re not sure how you’re going to pay your people or your bills.

There is a cold aloneness that can sometimes creep in, make it seem like starting a business isn’t worth the risk. The good news is, there are ways to deal with it. Here are four ways I have dealt with fear that worked for me:

1. Start small. Notice I didn’t say, “Stay small.” But when you’re starting a new business, the last thing you want to do is get in over your head before you have a chance to prove your idea is going to be successful. Successful might mean more money, or it might mean more time—you get to decide. But whatever it is, test your business idea before you throw yourself in the deep end.

I have a friend who started a food company. He and his wife invested more than a quarter of a million dollars on production equipment (ovens, packaging machines, etc.). He leased space for production and offices. He bought expensive advertisements. The business didn’t make it, and he ended up with crippling financial stress as they cashed in their retirements to avoid bankruptcy.

I have a friend who wanted to go into the cake/pie/dessert baking business. She asked my advice about leasing space. I told her to sublease space from someone who already had the equipment and test her idea out—she would know within three months if she should move forward. Within a month, she was sure she didn’t want to be in the dessert business. The work was long and tiring. What was fun at home was misery as a business. She saved herself a world of heartache by testing on a small scale.

2. Hustle. All successful entrepreneurs I know hustle. Working hard takes the edge off fear—it’s hard to sit in fear when you’re on the go. It’s hard to think about two things at once, and if you’re thinking about what action you can take to make your business better, you don’t have much time to give in to the fear.

When I started my first business, I worked hard. Crazy hard. 12-16 hours a day, seven days a week kind of hard. Was I scared? Absolutely. I had negligible start up capital, no marketing or sales experience, but I did have two employees and an office. I was afraid a lot at first, so I worked to fight the fear. Eventually the fear subsided, and the days became more normal (it’s all relative for entrepreneurs, as you know. “Normal” meant getting down to 10 hour days, 6 days a week, plus a few hours on Sunday). Still, I doubt that I would have made it if I hadn’t hustled. I would have let the fear take control, and it just might have buried my business.

3. Find a teammate. Sometimes a teammate is a business partner. Be careful with that. It can sound so appealing. Spread the risk, spread the work. But if you don’t pick the right partner, it can be a disaster. I know this from personal experience, but I can’t talk too much about it for legal reasons.

I can tell you this, though—if you are the one burning the midnight oil while your partner is goofing off, you will resent her. If you are the one sacrificing for the sake of the business while your partner is having “business meetings” at the local steak house, you’re going to have a hard time. You think you know someone well? You’d better, because you might be stuck with them for a very long time.

Sometimes a teammate is a spouse or significant other. That’s awesome when it works, but make sure you have complementary personalities. If your stress stresses out your significant other, you’re both in trouble. On the other hand, if your SO is level headed and can encourage you to work through the fear, you’re in luck.

4. Work with a business coach/consultant. If you’re like me, you’d probably try any of the other suggestions on this list before considering working with a business coach/consultant. I get it. I was just like you. I didn’t have money to hire anyone else to help me—I already had two employees to help with the tactical work of my business. I was busying trying to make enough money to pay them, and minimizing expenses seemed like my only option.

Eventually, though, I realized that I was going to go crazy or lose the business or both if I didn’t get some help. Not answering-the-phones type help. Not data entry help. I needed someone to tell me what to and how to do it. I needed someone to guide me as I worked my way through the challenges I was experiencing. I needed someone to show me solutions where I could only see problems; someone to give me perspective and hold me accountable to do what was most important.

Honestly, that’s why I do the business consulting I do now. I know what it’s like to go it alone, what it’s like to be afraid, to have a million questions and a million concerns and not have anyone to talk to. It sucks. It can suck the life out of you. No one should have to go it alone.

I also know the profound disappointment of hiring a consultant who doesn’t understand what it’s like to start a new business and try to grow it from the ground up. So many consultants I know have never started a business, never had to worry about payroll. They have no idea what it’s like to be on the hook for everything and everybody. If you’re going to hire a coach or consultant, make sure they have done what you are trying to do.

Those are four of my favorite ways to move forward in the face of fear: start small, hustle, find a teammate, and work with a business coach/consultant. All four strategies have all made an enormous difference in my life and have allowed me to go from fearful to successful.

How do you deal with fear? Shoot me an email and let me know.

 

Thinking About Starting a Business? Starting Up or Starting New

Questions about Starting a New Business

Image courtesy of Master / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Starting a business is exhilarating and daunting at the same time. So much to think about and so much to do! It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement until the excitement feels like overwhelm. When that happens (and it will), we go searching for answers.

When I started my first business (with a guy who knew even less about business than I did), I would have given anything for a checklist, a hint, a mentor or a clue. I didn’t have any of that, but that was 14 years ago. Today, thanks to the internet, there are way too many checklists, hints, and clues. It’s downright paralyzing.

On the other hand, there are a lack of good mentors for startup owners, which is why I want to be that person for other brave entrepreneurial souls. Instead of thrashing all over the internet searching for magical websites that have (almost) all of the answers, I am able to guide my clients to the straightforward resources and processes that work without the needless distractions.

In order to find those resources and processes, I’ve spent thousands of hours and thousands of dollars, read thousands of articles and more than a thousand business books. I’ve also started and run several companies and learned the priceless lessons of those experiences (which I think of sometimes as battles, sometimes as games). I am going to blog through some of the works that have had the biggest impact on me and my businesses and share insights I’ve learned along the way.

For the next little bit, I will be blogging through some of my favorite resources. There will be lots of opportunities to dig into the nitty gritty, but today I would like to mention just a few.

Michael Port’s Book Yourself Solid. No one I have ever met or read gets sales and marketing, especially for service professionals, as well as Michael does. When I first read his Book Yourself Solid, I was stunned at how simple he made everything. As simple as it could be but not simpler, as the expression goes. It impressed me so much, I read his other books. Then I started to participate in his group calls. Then I signed up to begin the process of becoming a certified Book Yourself Solid coach. The information was/is great, and Michael and his colleagues turned out to be even more warm and helpful in person than I could have imagined. I am reembarking on that training now, after a long hiatus, and I am looking forward to learning and sharing what I learn. In addition to reading my blog, though, I encourage you to pick up Michael’s Book Yourself Solid Illustrated. 

Steve Blank’s The Startup Owner’s Manual. As much as Michael understands the ins and outs of sales and marketing, Steve understands the process of starting a company. As long as I have been reading business books, blogs, journals, magazines, etc., the “experts” have been treating startups like they were small versions of big companies. They aren’t. Not even close. And if you don’t know that, you are in for a dreadful surprise as you try to adapt established-company strategies and tactics to your startup. This, more than anything else I have seen, gets new entrepreneurs in trouble. I will be exploring the process for starting a new business through this blog, but I encourage you to consider purchasing Steve’s The Startup Owner’s Manual.

Michael E. Gerber’s The E-Myth Revisited. It was the first great business book I read, and it changed the way I thought about my business. By now many of the principles in Gerber’s classic are well-known—”Work on your business, not in your business” is a phrase all entrepreneurs throw around these days. But do we do it? And how do we do it? As I blog through the E-Myth system, we’ll be exploring Gerber’s specific advice for how we can go from “technicians suffering from an Entrepreneurial Seizure” to true entrepreneurs.

Those are three business-changing and therefore life-changing books, a good place to start.

If you have a question about starting a new business and don’t want to wait until I am done blogging through all of these books to see if I answer it, feel free to send me an email. I know how scary it can be not to have anyone to ask when you have a question, and I am happy to help if I can.

Also, I should mention that pretty much all of the links on my blog will be affiliate links, so I can make some fat stacks while blogging. If that bothers you, feel free to not click on the link. And if you buy something I recommend and hate it, let me know. I might want to buy whatever it is you bought from you. I am only going to recommend things that I myself have bought/used/loved while starting a business or helping someone else start theirs.

See you tomorrow.