The ABCs of Entrepreneurship

I was recently asked by master marketer Jay Abraham to appear on his radio program, “The Ultimate Entrepreneur” along with several others including Stephen Covey and Mark Cuban.  In that company, I knew I had my work cut out for me!

Start with the basics:  What better way than to create the ABCs of entrepreneurship?  Over the past few years I have developed my version of the ABCs of selling, leadership, negotiating, networking and team-building, which are among my most requested columns.

A is for ability.  Entrepreneurs excel at identifying problems and solving them fast.  They anticipate obstacles and opportunities.

B is for business plan.  A successful entrepreneur must make one before doing anything else.

C is for cash because all entrepreneurs need money.  Use it wisely, even when you are rolling in it.

D is for delegate.  You know what you do well and what you do poorly.  Decide what to outsource and delegate these tasks to others.

E is for ethics.  If you have integrity, nothing else matters.  If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.  Always act like your mother is watching.

F is for failure.  Few entrepreneurs make it the first time they try.  If you can survive it to fight again, you haven’t failed.

G is for giving because givers are the biggest gainers.  If you truly believe in what you are doing, give it all you’ve got.

H is for humor, as in don’t take things too seriously.  You are going to experience tough times and humor helps pull you through.

I is for interpersonal relationships.  Those with good people skills are able to adjust and survive as their business grows.

J is for journal, as in writing down your thoughts and ideas, as well as picking the brains of experts.  Don’t forget to review your journal periodically for things you forgot, missed or overlooked.

K is for knowledgeable.  Successful entrepreneurs are constantly updating themselves regarding their product and industry.

L is for looking forward.  A successful entrepreneur looks ahead, around corners, and as far into the future as possible.

M is for mentor.  Find a “tiger,” preferably someone who’s been around the block.  Retired professionals are a marvelous resource for this kind of advice.

N is for never giving up.  Amend your plans if needed, but keep your eye on the prize.

O is for opportunities.  Whether you see a need that is unfulfilled, or a product that could be improved, or a problem screaming for a solution, you are seeing an opportunity.

P is for passion.  When you have passion, you speak with conviction, act with authority, and present with zeal.

Q is for quantify.  Your goals must be measurable, so it’s necessary to have a standard to hold them to.  You can’t keep track of your progress if you don’t know where you want to go.

R is for risk.  Entrepreneurs must be willing to take risks.  Sometimes you have to triple your failure rate to triple your success.

S is for self-survey.  Do you really want to do this or are you just trying to escape your own problems?  If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, you have to believe in yourself more than you believe in anything else in the world.

T is for target audience.  If your concept is going to succeed, you have to identify a realistic target audience, big enough to be profitable yet small enough for you to service it thoroughly.

U is for unflappable.  Beyond the “don’t sweat the small stuff” mentality, you need to keep a level head and an open mind.

V is for veracity.  The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is what your employees and customers deserve from you.  Anything less will earn you a bad reputation.

W is for work hard.  And then work harder.  And keep working as hard as you can until you get the results you are looking for.  And then keep working hard.

X is for exercise regularly.  (Pardon my spelling.)  If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t be at your best.

Y is for years, which is how long you may have to work to get your idea off the ground.

Z is for zookeeper.  When you’re running the place, it’s up to you to keep the dangerous things in their cages while bringing the visitors through the gates.

 

Mackay’s Moral:  Being an entrepreneur is a lot like the ABCs – start at the beginning and follow your plan through to the end.

He Couldn’t Sleep Fast Enough

Although I am not quite ready for it, I’m often asked what I would like put on my tombstone.  I often reply:  “He couldn’t sleep fast enough.”

I guess I’m afraid I’m going to miss something.  That’s why I often stay up late at night and always get up early in the morning.  To be successful, you often have to be both a night and morning person.

A lot of really successful people get an early start to each day.  I recently came across an article online on Business Insider on “23 Successful people who wake up really early.”  Here are a few of them.

General Motors’ CEO Dan Akerson told the Associated Press that he “rarely sleeps past 4:30 or 5 a.m.,” so he can talk to GM Asia before it gets too late in their work day.

Gerry Laybourne, the founder and former CEO of Oxygen Channel, wakes up by 6 a.m. and is out of her house 30 minutes later.  “Once or twice a week, I go for a walk in Central Park with a young person seeking my advice,” she told Yahoo! Finance.  “And if someone is up early in the morning then they are serious about life.  I can’t take time at the office to do this, but doing it in the morning allows me to get exercise and stay connected with young people at the same time.”

New Jersey Nets CEO Brett Yormark, the youngest CEO in the NBA, gets up at 3:30 a.m. in order to get to the office by 4:30 a.m.  He sleeps in on the weekend and doesn’t arrive at work until 7 a.m.

Former Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush both are early risers.  When Father Bush was in the White House, he would get up at 4 a.m. to go running and be in his office by 6 a.m. and stay up until 2 a.m.  The younger Bush kept a similar schedule and would often hold early morning meetings.  Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice were also early risers.

You don’t need to go to those extremes; you can probably catch a couple more hours of shuteye and still succeed.  But you need to get up and get moving.  Early to bed and early to rise, as Benjamin Franklin pointed out, can make you healthy, wealthy and wise.  I understand the “early to rise” part is difficult for many people.  But if you want to get a good start on the day, you can’t sleep until noon.  Follow these tips to get up and get moving toward success first thing in the morning:

  • Give yourself a good reason.  Before you go to sleep, think about what you want to accomplish tomorrow.  Make a list if necessary.  Pick something you’re passionate about to work on first.  You’ll find it easier to get out of bed when you’ve got something exciting to look forward to.
  • Get enough sleep.  Maybe you can get by on four or five hours of sleep for a while, but over the long haul your body and brain will rebel.  Even if you do pull yourself out of bed, your efforts won’t be worth much.  Make a point of getting seven or eight hours’ worth of good sleep consistently.
  • Use a buddy system.  Enlist a friend to alternate making wake-up calls to each other.  Or make a regular date to work out or just take a brisk walk.  Getting up will be easier when you know other people are depending on you.
  • Don’t snooze.  Get up immediately when your alarm goes off.  If necessary, place your alarm across the room so you have to get up in order to shut it off.  I always drink two glasses of cold water to get my system started right away.
  • Establish a routine.  Get up at the same time every day.  Even if some mornings are more difficult to face than others, a consistent pattern will help your body wake itself up on time most days.

Trust me, you never get tired of being successful.  It energizes you.  It’s hard to live life to the fullest if you sleep through half the day.  The Roman poet Horace gave the same advice two thousand years ago:  Carpe diem! … which means “seize the day.”

Mackay’s Moral:  This is your wake-up call:   you snooze, you lose.

And The Moral of The Story Is . . .

It’s been a while since I’ve offered up a compilation of my favorite column-ending morals – arguably among my readers’ most requested articles.  Besides reviewing all the topics we’ve covered, these morals remind me that a few words can have a big impact.

I will admit right now that no matter how hard I work on the two pages that precede it, I take extra pains to get the morals just right.  If a reader remembers nothing else, the moral will serve as a quick lesson that usually applies to much more than business.

Here are some of the nuggets mined from the last three and a half years.

  • Change your thinking, change your life.
  • It’s not enough to know how to do things – you must know why you do them.
  • The best way to sound like you know what you’re talking about is to know what you’re talking about.
  • If you hit enough singles, sooner or later you are going to win big.
  • Instead of giving myself reasons why I can’t, I give myself reasons why I can.
  • Doing the right thing is never the wrong thing to do.
  • An attitude of gratitude should have wide latitude.
  • When a person’s temper gets the best of him, it brings out the worst in him.
  • It’s never too late to become what you could have been.
  • If you’re looking for a big opportunity, look for a big challenge.
  • If you want to be heard, you must know how to listen.
  • If you want to be successful, you must practice reciprocity without keeping score.
  • We do what we have to do so we can do what we want to do.
  • If you live in the past, you won’t have much of a future.
  • What could you accomplish if no one told you it was impossible?
  • You don’t have to know everything as long as you know the people who do.
  • It’s okay to ruffle a few feathers from time to time.  Show some pluck!
  • The team you build will determine the business you build.
  • To get what you’ve never had, you must do what you’ve never done.
  • Be prepared, or be prepared to fail.
  • Even the turtle knows you have to stick your neck out to get ahead.
  • Don’t be afraid to take the plunge – just test the water before you dive in!
  • Finding a reason to celebrate isn’t hard work – hard work is a reason to celebrate!
  • Giving someone a piece of your mind rarely gives you peace of mind.
  • The person who asks may feel like a fool for five minutes, but the person who does not ask remains a fool forever.
  • If you want to outsmart the competition, you have to out-think the competition.
  • Good luck usually depends on good judgment.
  • Don’t be afraid to make a decision.  Be afraid not to make a decision.
  • When you can’t afford to make a mistake, good advice is priceless.
  • What you learn on your first job will last through your last job.
  • Don’t let hard times turn into end times.  Let them lead to your best times.
  • Thank U is a college from which we should never graduate.
  • Minds are like parachutes – not much good unless they are open.
  • My goal is to be as good a person as my dog thinks I am.
  • If you can’t be an expert, hire an expert.
  • Some people dream about success, and others wake up and do something about it.
  • People have a way of becoming what you encourage them to be.
  • A person without knowledge is like a house without a foundation.
  • The world’s work is done every day by people who could have stayed in bed, but didn’t.
  • It only takes a little spark to ignite a great fire.
  • Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new end.

 

Mackay’s Moral:  As Ben Franklin said, “A word to the wise is sufficient.”

In Search of Hidden Talents

Do you have someone on your payroll with untapped skills?  Most companies do, and they don’t even know it.

Take Jeremy Lin, the New York Knicks new sensational point guard.  Due to injuries and the poor performance of other players, he was thrust into the starting line-up and has become a star.  You’d have to live under a rock to not have read about Linsanity.

Lin did well playing high school basketball in Palo Alto, Cal., but couldn’t garner any athletic scholarships from the California colleges he wanted to attend, so he walked on at Harvard.  Then he was undrafted by the NBA.  He was eventually signed and cut by two teams when the Knicks claimed him off waivers.  The Knicks were about to let him go when they decided to give him one more chance.  He had a big game, and then another big game, and then another big game, and his career has taken off.

How could someone go unnoticed for so long, and in such a visible sport like professional basketball?

When Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant was asked this question, he said:  “Players playing that well don’t usually come out of nowhere, but if you can go back and take a look; his skill level was possibly there from the beginning.  It probably just wasn’t noticed.”

How many people on your payroll might have undetected talents?

The answer to that question goes far beyond who might be the best bowler for the company team, or the best face to feature on the company website.  No, the mother lode is the employee whose resume was great on its own but much more humble than the candidate proved to be.

Finding that talent is a challenge, but there are some steps you can take to encourage your superstars.  Try these ideas:

  • Pay close attention to performance reviews.  Managers should be on the lookout for special abilities or exceptional initiative.  In addition, I would recommend having employees rate their own performance and explain what areas they are especially interested in developing.
  • Reinstate the good old suggestion box.  The employees who share innovative ideas may also be the folks who have some hidden talents that would help incorporate their suggestions.  Reward the best ideas, and recognize them publicly so that others will be encouraged to share their unknown skills.
  • Ask for volunteers.  When a new project comes along, instead of just assigning people, invite employees to showcase their hidden talents.  Perhaps you’ve seen the video of the Southwest Airlines flight attendant who found a way to ensure passengers would really pay attention to the typical pre-flight instructions.  He decided to use his rap skills to make the announcement.  The passengers will always remember where the exit rows are now, and the airline continues to bolster its reputation for making mundane travel fun.
  • Don’t overlook less obvious advantages.  A department assistant at an urban university liked to knit on her lunch hour.  Soon other college employees brought their yarn and needles, and they gathered one day each week over lunch to make caps for newborns at the children’s hospital.  They hadn’t known each other well before that, but as they became better acquainted, the interdepartmental cooperation burgeoned.  And the university enjoyed some very positive community reaction as well.

When phone salesman Paul Potts told the judges on Britain’s Got Talent (a competition show like American Idol) that he was going to sing opera, judge Simon Cowell rolled his eyes and made a stinging remark about the contestant’s cheap suit.  But Potts was used to bullies and unkind remarks.  He’d heard them all his life.  Something much bigger was at stake for him in that moment.  He had talent, and he knew it.  What he’d always lacked were the means and confidence to pursue the singing career he dreamed about.  This competition was a long shot.  But it was also his last desperate chance to connect with the recording industry and climb out of debt and a dismal job.  And so he sang.

 

The Welsh tenor stunned the judges and brought the audience to tears with his performance.  It was just the validation he needed to boost his confidence.  Now, two CDs and two tours later, he insists he will remain the humble “everyman” he’s always been – just with better suits.

 

Mackay’s Moral:  Hidden talents don’t have to be huge, but the results can be.

Don’t Discount The Bruce Halle Story

To say Bruce Halle is “driven” is putting it mildly.  The Discount Tire Company founder’s life story is the subject of a new book, “Six Tires, No Plan,” which I guarantee will inspire every person who reads it.

Author Michael Rosenbaum has perfectly captured the essence of this fearless tire maven.  I’ve known Bruce for a long time, and he is undoubtedly one of the nicest people you will ever meet.  He is also a bulldog when it comes to his business.

Entrepreneurs in particular need to have this book in their collection.  His story entertains, educates and exemplifies a work ethic and customer service mentality that is the gold standard.

In 1960, after a couple false starts in other businesses, Halle rented an old plumbing supply building, tidied it up, hung up a sign and displayed his stock:  six tires, four of which were retreads.  It took three days before the first customer walked through the door, and four more days before he sold a tire.  Bruce admits he had no business plan, just the desire to be able to support his wife and three young children.

By the end of 2011, Halle owned 820 tire stores, with annual revenues north of $3 billion, flourishing in a commodity business with headquarters in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Just as he did with his original store, Rosenbaum writes, “Halle personally scouts out the locations for each store, and the company supplies the capital to buy or lease the property, build the store and provide the inventory and equipment.  The store manager is responsible for hiring, training, marketing, scheduling, customer service and cost control – the same roles Halle had with his first store more than fifty years ago.

“Halle has made a promise to his people:  Do a good job, and I’ll provide lifelong opportunity for you.  Following that simple promise, Discount Tire has increased its revenues in every single year since 1960 and has never implemented a layoff.”

How did he do it?  The ever humble Bruce says:  “I think of myself as an ordinary guy, who goes to work every day and has been lucky enough to live as long as I have, and I have been blessed to have beautiful people around me.  People sometimes say, ‘Gee, how did you do what you do?  How did you build the company?’

“Well, I worked at it for 50 years….  You do the things that anybody did when they started a business.  You sweep the floors.  You wash the windows.  You clean the bathrooms.  You talk to all the customers.  You create some advertising programs.  You pay the rent and try and make it work and little by little, all the pieces kind of come together.”

Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that, and Rosenbaum steers readers through Halle’s story from childhood to the present.  He doesn’t skimp on details, and he includes the bumps in the road as well as the fast track.

Think you’ve got what it takes to be an entrepreneur?  Are you willing to take the risks and face the pitfalls that Bruce did?  Are your priorities straight?

“In his vision, success comes from focusing on what each person owes to his family, to future employees and to the next customer coming in the door.  Everyone has an unbreakable contract to pay forward to the next customer, the next employee and the next generation,” Rosenbaum writes.

What really gives this book traction is the abundance and variety of lessons from Bruce’s life.  Astute entrepreneurs will learn plenty about:

  • risk-taking,
  • treating employees and customers well,
  • hands-on involvement,
  • giving back,
  • handling adversity and
  • maintaining focus.

Okay, aspiring business owner:  What’s he got that you haven’t got?  Bruce has a fairly simple credo:  Find something to like in everyone.  Give everyone the benefit of the doubt.  Negative thoughts are a waste of time.  Be kind and have a passion for humility.

Lattie Coor, past president of Arizona State University and now Chairman and CEO of the Center for the Future of Arizona, says of Bruce:  “Who he is and how he expresses it, what he does with it, is absolutely a manifestation of someone who knows who he is, knows what he wants, knows what he wants to do, and doesn’t need to show off.”

If ever a businessman had bragging rights, it’s Bruce Halle.  If ever there’s a businessman you will never hear bragging, it’s Bruce Halle.

 

Mackay’s Moral:  Let Bruce Halle’s example steer you.  You’ll avoid some of the big bumps in the road.