With students about to graduate, it seems like the right time to reflect and give the best advice we can. There have been some wonderful commencement speeches, one of my favorites was by Steve Jobs. We learn so much from our experiences, and many people if given a chance to go back and do things differently, would make some different choices and decisions. There are others that wouldn't change a thing and can give advice from real world experience on what was effective for them.
I have been an entrepreneur since 1986. I have learned, made some errors, and had success. There have been tough times, and glorious times.
The best advice I would give a new grad is to keep learning and working on themselves personally. People very often underestimate what they are capable of and have the belief that there isn't a need to continue learning after graduation. I believe it's vital to take time to identify their passions, and combine the knowledge, ideas, skills and education they have with all the technology available to start their own business so they are not relying on an employer for work. If you learn self reliance, you will never be the victim of lay offs, downsizing, or office politics etc. Do what makes you feel happy and fulfilled, you are going to spend a lot of time working. Surround yourself with great, inspiring, positive people. Prove to yourself what you are truly capable of, and don't let anyone squash your dreams. Only take advice from those actually qualified to give it...you will know by their own results in that area. Realize there will be bumps, challenges, and adversities....it is part of life, business, and simply part of the process. Find solutions in those moments, it can often be the stepping stone to future successes. And finally, make sure you have a balanced life...it's important to work hard towards your goals, but work equally as hard on your relationships, because that is the reason any of us work....we work to live, we don't live to work.
What advice would you share with young grads?
It isn't always smooth sailing when you are building a business! As an entrepreneur is building their business, there will be challenges, and times when you feel you need to make adjustments. This is a NORMAL part of the process! Very rarely do we hit the destination without a few bumps in the road along the way.
Reaching your business goals is somewhat like sailing....it's important to be able to adjust the sail when necessary in order to stay on course and reach the destination. Challenges can be compared to the wind blowing you off course. When you are sailing, it is actually the wind that you embrace to push you towards your destination....the key is to work with the wind (the challenge) to get you there.
Although it's important to have a plan to follow, successful people do not need every single detail to be known in advance, and have learned to be flexible when necessary. There will be times you set out in a specific direction, however, new things come up you may not have foreseen, or new information becomes available. It's important to know when to implement changes to get back on track. This can be compared to detours on a road when you are driving towards a destination. Sometimes you have to turn down a road that takes you around the construction. In sailing, sometimes the wind is blowing you off course and you have to adjust the sail to compensate.....you catch the wind and let it push you in the direction you want to go. These things are just part of the process. You may not have expected the detour, or the winds, however, it's there and you have to deal with it. So follow the new route, go around, make adjustments and get back on track.
Most important is to be solution oriented. One of the reasons that people fail in business is they are not solution oriented and able to overcome challenges that come along. Challenges become stop signs for these individuals. Instead of looking at challenges as a stop sign, ask yourself questions:
-How can you find a solution to get around this?
-What haven't you done?
-Who could you get advice from?
-What else can you do?
Let's take an example. You have a retail shop in a tourist town. You open at the beginning of the season, the tourists keep your shop humming. But then in the off season, you find sales are dramatically down, bills are high, and you are in the hole each month. First, why are you surprised? If walk in traffic dramatically decreases at the end of the tourist season, you should have been thinking ahead on a plan of action to compensate. It is not too late, though, as long as you are willing to make adjustments, innovate and test new things. So ask yourself, what are you going to do about it? This is where a lot of inexperienced entrepreneurs fail, however, this is THE exciting part of being an entrepreneur! This is where YOU can actually DO something about it! Realize that when you work for an employer and this happens, you have no control, and you would be laid off or downsized. When you are self employed, it is up to you to create the business solutions. So ask yourself the questions above.
Cash flow may be low or non existent. What are you gong to do about it? Ask yourself those questions.
What are you going to do to appeal to your local clients? Have you thought about this market or have you been caught up with the tourists?
It's easy to do business when things are flowing easily, clients are coming into your shop, and purchases are being made. Get creative and innovative when things are slower. you could offer a "local's loyalty program". Reach out to the local market and become your local's favorite place to do business. For instance, a restaurant could offer different specials, Monday through Friday throughout the non tourist months.
How about doing business globally? Is it possible to ship your products to people around the world? How can social media and all the technology options allow you to get the message out to create new clients? Are people likely to be repeat clients? How can you generate future business from those tourists that already loved the experience of buying from you? Could you offer a mail order or online special? ASK yourself questions!!!! This allows the creative side of your brain to get to work finding solutions that don't seem obvious, but could be the stepping stones to exploding your business in a direction you hadn't thought of.
The key is to have the attitude "failure is NOT an option". Be solution oriented. Think outside the box. Be willing to innovate, create and implement new ideas and don't just sit around waiting for people to come to you. It is your responsibility to do what it takes to make your business work. Remember, it rarely goes exactly as planned....it is often in the challenges that we have the biggest breakthrough ideas that take the business to a level of success that you never imagined!
Many parents find that they just can't get everything done they want to do because of conflicting priorities that come up with raising children. Although my kids are grown now, I definitely remember the days when there were conflicting priorities, which of course change as our families grow. We feel like we need more time in the day, and don't know where to get it. By the time the kids are in bed and you do have time, you are too tired to get to those priorities that got put on the back burner.
There are all sorts of time management articles written, that give you tips and tricks that are effective. The key of course is to implement what resonates with you.
A very simple solution I implemented many years ago, to give myself more time, was starting my day at 5 am. I had been resisting that idea for years, not being a morning person, and it took some time to adjust my internal clock, however, it is one of the best things I have implemented to get things done that were causing that stress. It is quiet, uninterrupted time that doesn't take you away from family or other business responsibilities and sets you up for the day feeling like you have accomplished so much before you even have breakfast. You are not tired out from the day, you do not beat yourself up because you finished the day too tired to do these tasks, and you get far more done with no interruptions.
The other important key is to keep the commitments you make to yourself. We wear many hats and have lots of priorities. We have careers, family obligations, personal fitness, etc. If you don't have a plan you follow to allocate your time, time does tend to get away from you. The best way I have found around that is use a daytimer, schedule every single thing that is a priority, and stick to my plan. If life happens to get in the way and you don't get to something, take the personal responsibility to reschedule it and don't let it fall through the cracks.
These are both very simple solutions but highly effective. Something else I have learned is to not overlook the simplicity of something...it is often where our solutions are found.
Many years ago, I learned a powerful concept.... that everyone, and everything is our teacher. Good or bad, there are messages in everything we experience, and with everyone we meet. The key is to be open to the message. If you don't understand this concept, you will miss clues for success that are right in front of you....read on for some powerful messages....
Several months ago I was on vacation in Florida and was reintroduced to hula hooping at a drum circle on the beach. Hundreds of people come every Sunday night to drum the sun down on the beach. The play real and handmade drums...everything from children with their sandtoys, to older folks sitting and patting the sound on their knees, to millennials with beer kegs, and everyone in between. It's a massive gathering of so many diverse individuals. Many go in the middle of the circle and hula hoop, dance, juggle, etc. Quite a celebration!
I had made a new friend while there, that took me to the middle of the circle to hula hoop, which I hadn't done in about 40+ years, so saying I was awkward would be quite an understatement! I stayed out there and dropped it at least 100 times, over about 20 minutes. While I kept dropping it, I couldn't help think about how determined I was...I didn't care about the hundreds of people that might have thought I looked ridiculous. I just kept thinking, this can't be that hard, and I am going to stick with this until I get get it...even though my heart was pounding, I was sweating, and becoming exhausted.
When I came home, I decided to take this up as part of my exercise routine. The first week wasn't much better. I dropped it over and over and was huffing and puffing and could barely keep it going for 3 min. Clue #1 - I realized I was forcing it too much, and decided to relax, which helped immensely. Interesting...the less I forced it, the easier it became!
I then injured my neck and had to put it aside for a month. Clue #2 - this is where most people would give up.
I restarted a month later, and stayed at it for 5 min each day, even though I was still dropping it. Clue #3 - I was starting to make a bit of progress, because I didn't give up.
The second week was better, I was up to 10 min and not dropping it as much. Clue #3 - Sticking with something, although you are not getting the result, helps you figure out where you are steering wrong, and you can make corrections to improve.
The third week I increased to 12 min and was becoming more proficient. Clue #4 - The more you work at something and fix what wasn't working, the more you can focus on what is working....this is where things seem to just become easier.
The forth week, I increased to 15 min, and only dropped it once or twice during that whole time, barely broke a sweat and breathing was normal! Clue #5 - When you stick with something, you prove to yourself what you are capable of.
This has been a great experience and a powerful reminder of the lessons that are all around us that we can apply to running a business.
When you are first starting out in business, it can feel like you are a fish out of water, and you don't know what you are doing. You may feel like you are making mistakes. You may feel alone and to some extent feel like people are either not supporting you, or laughing at your idea. There will be times you question yourself, and feel like the road to success is too far. You may have something happen that would give you a perfect "excuse" to give up. You may be attempting to force the result, and learn that you need to relax and simply keep taking the actions, and make course corrections as you go.
This is all NORMAL and part of the PROCESS! The key is to keep pushing through, to keep believing in your dream, to keep finding solutions around what isn't working, to commit to the vision you have long term, and prove to yourself how capable you really are.
There is nothing like this feeling. It builds your self esteem, self worth, confidence, and personal satisfaction. I was fortunate to learn these things as an entrepreneur. However, the best part of learning powerful principles like this, is they don't just apply to business....I was able to use the same mindset to achieve my fitness goal, which of course is good for my health. Clue #6 - When you learn something that helps you improve the result in one area of life, it will also help you improve other areas of your life as well.
We hear a lot, and read a lot of articles these days about the new millennial generation. Most I have found are negative and judgemental.
Something I have observed is that if you do not know a particular group (it could be age, culture, hobby, service, or any type of group), it is easy to buy into stereotypical comments, and label the group as a whole. For instance,
I had a conversation with Dennis Pitocco last week, and he suggested the best way for all generations to “connect” is not by avoiding the “Next” generation, but by engaging with them. How true that is! Have you ever sat and listened to someone talk about what they are passionate about, or what they are engaged in? Have you ever asked questions with genuine interest? Have you noticed the spark in their eye? Have you ever been so deep in a conversation with them you lost track of time, and afterwards thought about how much you enjoyed getting to know them? Have you ever realized how you may have misjudged them before you took the time to really know them?
I see a lot of articles that have a very negative outlook about millennials and their potential. I am the parent of millennials. I find them absolutely fascinating. They are smart, successful, interesting, purpose driven, and independent. We spend a ton of time with our kids and their friends. Their friends are the same. Some are very different and could be labelled if you didn't know better because you know them as people. Because I spend so much time with this age group, I have gotten to know for myself how great they all are. I love having conversations with them, and have found myself talking to them at social gatherings for long periods of time. They are so interesting and know so much more than my generation did at this age.
It's interesting how some people will avoid spending any time engaging and getting to know people in general they don't know. People they have labelled in any particular group, based on mass opinion. The only way to really know for yourself if information is accurate, is to test it out for yourself. By engaging in conversations with people in different "groups", whether it be millennials, boomers, or any other group, is how to actually get to know people and have real authentic conversations. You will be surprised what you discover.
So, you want to be an entrepreneur, or perhaps you have already started a business? Have you shared that dream with other people in your life? You know, your friends, family, co-workers, all those people you love that you expect support from. Are they fully behind you, or, are they pointing out "reasons" why you shouldn't do what you have a dream to do. Are they supportive or unsupportive? Are they encouraging you to give up on your "silly" idea and go back to a "normal" job like "everyone else"? Do they have advice that is helping you move forward, or, are they instilling fear and limiting beliefs, causing you to question your goals?
It is not unique to you. Just like this photo (notice the foot climbing out of the water) you are leaving the "comfort zone" that many around you are still in, and they are swimming every direction, not really knowing where they are going.
Understand this IS part of the process. Every successful entrepreneur has gone through this to some extent. The key is to recognize that although those individuals may "mean well", they are NOT qualified to give you advice in this area. Very often this person/people will be "well meaning" friends, family, co-workers, etc. The very people you thought you could count on to encourage and support you. It can be very hurtful, even though they tell you they don't want you to "get hurt" or "see you fail". Does any of this sound familiar? Every successful person has gone through this process of people attempting to give them "well meaning" advice, and have learned how to effectively deal with it.
Too often one of these individuals will give you their well meaning advice on something they have no experience, no background, or not result in. You feel like you you need to take their advice because it is someone who cares about you. Understand they are coming from a place of fear and limiting beliefs and are attempting to instill that on you, although, they are often not aware they are. Sometimes, they do not want you to leave them behind, which might happen when you go a new direction. If you learn and grow and take a new direction, they feel threatened.
NEVER take advice on entrepreneurship from someone who has been an employee their entire life. They have no experience, no results, in this area and are speaking only from their own limited beliefs, fears, theories, and stories they have "heard".
A very basic tip that will assist with this is to ONLY take advice from those that areQUALIFIED to give it. How will you know if the person is qualified? They have the experience and results in their own life. They do not talk from theories. They don't put everything under labels and tell you it's never going to work. For instance, they might not personally have interest or been involved in a franchise, but for you it is the perfect solution, and they can see that. Just because something "similar" may not have been for them, doesn't mean it is not right for you. They have walked the walk and have real world experience, knowledge and success. They are open minded, and help you see possibilities.
An important distinction - it is not the person that "tried a business once" and failed. Although this person could provide some valuable distinctions in thinking about errors you could avoid, they have not had the result you are looking for. I believe everyone is our teacher, but be careful you are not buying into their lack of success.
These are powerful distinctions that will help you identify what type of conversation you are having with people....is the person qualified, or not qualified to give you advice? Be disciplined in your conversations, and don't allow yourself to fall into the trap of having entrepreneurial conversations with the unqualified. Meaning well, and actually being qualified are two very different things.
Is it half full or half empty? This is a question that has been around for many years and used to help individuals recognize what they are focusing on....the positive (half full) or the negative (half empty).
We live in a this or that type decision world. We are conditioned to believe there is a right and wrong answer, or, we must chose between this option or that option. We believe it can only be this or that...and believe we have to keep fitting within the walls of choices presented to us.
Instead, there are other options that many don't consider. What if the glass is both....and it is your choice what you chose to focus on. In addition, it is full...half with liquid or solid, and half with air. Or another approach, what if you measured the bottom half...it might be 47% full and 53% empty, but to the eye, it may look like half. Or, you could suggest that it can't be full to the brim because it would spill, so you lose a couple of percentages. There are all kinds of possibilities. This is innovative, thinking outside of the box, out of the norm choices. So often, people never even consider thinking outside the box, and thinking about solutions that haven't been presented.
The other day our daughter was making us BLT's. She asked if we wanted avocado on it? I have never been asked that....traditionally BLT's have mayo. For those that cook, it is common to use avocado as a healthier choice over mayo. Great new discovery!
Whether you are an entrepreneur, or an employee, to start thinking more innovatively, start asking yourself different questions.
-What is another way to do this
-Is there another way to solve this challenge
-What haven't I done yet
-Is there something I am missing
-Is there someone I could get advice from that has experience in this
-If I wasn't afraid to _____, what would I do
-Who is doing this differently that I could learn from
-Is there something new I can study that will help me learn more about this
-How can I get around this
-Why couldn't I ______
These are just a few examples to get you started. But there are literally hundreds of questions you can ask yourself in any situation, to start thinking more outside the box. We all have a creative side to our brains, some use this naturally, and some have to develop it. I used to be a very analytical thinker, very much in the box. I have learned to utilize the other side, that creative side of my brain. It is freeing and fascinating to tap into this side of the brain and discover new possibilities you have never considered. My first introduction to this, was reading a great book by Dan Pink called Drive. It opened up part of my brain that I didn't believe prior to reading this, I was capable of.
Individuals that take this thinking on, being innovative, solution oriented, developing ideas that others haven't considered will set themselves ahead of those that live in a limited, conformed mindset. It is a necessary skill to develop to thrive in the 21st century workplace.
I read an article recently talking about employee retention. There was a comment made about mature workers that are "more likely to stay with you due to financial obligations and the difficulty in finding new jobs as one ages"
This is a valid point, but why would you want anyone with this criteria? This describes a person that has settled in life, doesn't realize they have choice or a voice and will likely not bring anything of value to the table in the way of innovative new ideas.
There is a big difference between the person like this and the person that decides on a job and hangs their hat there for years because they are engaged and fulfilled in their work. They are not there because of financial obligations or fear of not finding another job. They are there because they want to be....they believe in the company, the people and the purpose and they want to play a role in making a difference. They are not looking for where the grass is greener...they are happy and fulfilled where they are.
In hiring it is equally important to know what not to look for as well as what you prefer.
RISK.....it's as scary as a haunted house! At least that is the way we treat risk. Society has been so conditioned to fear risk and take every step possible to avoid it. Before you read any further, write down the FIRST word that comes to mind when you think of risk.
Many of us have grown up through the industrial era, when businesses required workers to manufacture goods. It was not advantageous for companies to have people that thought for themselves and create their own work, according to corporations that needed laborers. They needed people to conform and work for them so they could reach THEIR goals.
During this time, people were led to believe they would be looked after if they worked for a corporation. They felt safe. They were conditioned to believe they need corporations in order to survive, and this created "job security". It also instilled FEAR, that unless someone "hires" you, you will not survive and it is much too risky to become an entrepreneur. As long as an individual accepts this thinking, they will be at the effect of an employer and their decisions.
It's not that individuals are not capable of taking risk....they do this when:
-buying a car - tens of thousands of dollars that depreciates as soon as it's driven off the lot, until it goes to the junk yard.
-buying a home - most agree to pay off hundreds of thousands of dollars over 25 years.
-buying T.V.'s, furniture, appliances on credit.
As we have seen in the last few years, there is no longer such a thing as "job security". Downsizing and layoffs, only hiring people on contract basis, have all become the new norm of the business world. Now that job security is a thing of the past, how does a person who has been conditioned to fear risk take a step to create their own work? It starts with re-framing, or re-training your brain to THINK differently about risk, and getting risk working for you, instead of against you.
We are capable beings. We are born and learn so many things that allow us to become self reliant in so many areas. We learn to walk, talk, feed ourselves, think, create, and take care of ourselves in so many ways. When it comes to work, most give away all their power to an employer because we are so conditioned to believe it is too risky to work for ourselves.
Many people simply do not THINK for themselves. This is an an area so many give away all their personal power, and just accept the information being fed to them through media and society in general.
Think for a moment about a couple of factors. The more people that work for employers, the bigger the tax base they create. Self employed people have many tax benefits so they do not pay as much into taxes. From a government perspective, what would you want? A bigger tax paying base through employees, or a smaller tax base through entrepreneurs?
Something else to consider is the company perspectives. If people feel they "need" a company to hire them and they do not have the confidence to create their own work, the companies have more people to choose from, there is never a shortage. There are so many people competing for the same jobs, so companies can be selective and have control. They decide what they will pay, and if a person does not agree, they can find work elsewhere because there are lots of others that will accept the conditions of the job.
Today in our changed world, there is no such thing as job security. We don't just have to rely on our local economy to find work. Technology and the internet has given people the opportunity to tap into the global economy. An individual that is making the decision to become more self reliant through entrepreneurship can create work all over the world (if they choose) by utilizing all the technology options available. Platforms like Linkedin allow people to connect with individuals and companies that are relevant to their sector to collaborate on a global scale.
If you are ready to take the step into entrepreneurship, but have a fear of risk, ask yourself:
-What was the first word I wrote down in relation to risk at the start of this article? Do you see how your perception needs to change?
-How risky is it to work for an employer that can eliminate your job tomorrow?
-How risky is it to buy a vehicle for tens of thousands of dollars that will continue to cost money and depreciate?
-How risky is it to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a mortgage, along with all the upkeep costs such as a new roof, windows, furnaces, air conditioners, etc.?
Why do you accept those risks, but have never embraced the risk of being able to create your future on purpose, by your design? Then, re-frame your perception and belief around risk by asking yourself - How Can I Responsibly Implement Specialized Knowledge to take control in creating my own work and start providing my OWN job security?
Are YOU living the ideal life you want to be living? Many people are not, but have never stopped long enough in the hustle and bustle of "surviving" to reflect on why this is.
We think if we work longer and harder it may be the solution. Very often, we slip into such a level of conformity, we don't even realize we are there. We see others around us doing the same activities, so we don't think to question it. However, one day we realize we are totally stressed out, burned out, unfulfilled, unhappy and ready for change. The question is....what does change look like?
This is different for everyone. The key is to understand that you do not find these answers by looking outwards and comparing yourself to what everyone around you is doing. You find the answers within your own heart, by getting fully authentic with yourself and being willing to ask yourself some tough questions and giving yourself honest answers.
A very productive way to go about this is to think forward 25 years. Take the time to really think about how you want to look back on your ideal life. If you could create anything you want, ideally what would that look like for you? Specific questions will be helpful to determine this.
-Do you have any regrets? - What would you change if you could? Take some time and reflect back over the last 5 years, or 10 years, depending on your age. Think about what you have accomplished. Are you where you thought you would be 5 years ago? Has anything change or moved you forward in the direction you thought you would be in right now?
-Realize that if you are not where you want to be, you are not alone. Most people in life keep doing the same things over and over and wonder why nothing ever changes. We see others following this same pattern, and therefore buy into the belief that "it's just the way it is...everyone is in the same boat". If you believe this, you have simply bought into that limiting belief of the masses in society. It is NOT the way it is, and everyone is NOT in the same boat. Ask yourself: Why hasn't anything changed for you? Is there anything you wanted to take action on and you didn't? Why not? How important is that in the pursuit of your goal? How can you implement this now?
-What's important to you? - Identify all the things that are most important and how that looks for you. For example if you are 30 years of age now, in 25 years you may be a grandparent....are you spending lots of time with your grandkids? Or maybe you are running a business, travelling the world, or donating your time to a meaningful charity organization. This can look different for everyone depending on your current age, background and what you actually want going forward.
-What steps are you taking now to create this? - Nothing happens without making bold decisions and taking action. So, what are you doing right now to make sure you are true to yourself in creating the ideal life you see in your future?
-What are you waiting for? People wait for the "time to be right" for many things in life, and in business. Very often, that "right time" never comes and when a person reflects back, they realize they did not live the life they wanted to live. They let excuses stop them. The reality is, there is never a perfect time. Successful people have learned to take bold action regardless, and learn through that process to take the next step as quickly as possible. It is through this action that solutions are very often revealed that you wouldn't have access to without taking the action steps that revealed them.
-Don't let FEAR stop you! Fear is one of the most common excuses used by a person who does not take the action steps necessary to realize their dreams. Successful people have all the same fears. The only difference is, successful people have learned to push through their fears anyway. The beautiful thing you discover in this process is that the fear is not real, and is created in the mind. Understand that if fear is created in the mind, the mind can also CHOOSE to override the fear and take action anyway. This is how you build your self esteem and confidence.
Creating the life you WANT to be living doesn't just happen. It is a result of being willing to get authentic with yourself, asking yourself tough questions, and then being willing to do what your answers reveal for you. It's the difference between living a life of mediocrity and conformity, or truly living the life you want to be living. It is a choice, and only you can decide to make the choice.
Debbie Ruston - Entrepreneur - International Trainer, Visionary Leader