The Sinking Boat

 
SinkingBoatWhen is a dream about a boat sinking a good thing? Well, it’s better that it was a dream rather than real but I still think the symbolism of this dream was positive.

I don’t often remember dreams but when I do there always seems to be a reason. Let me setup the situation with some background as to what was going on in my life.

The spa business my wife and I own has been doing well. The one problem we have is that we need to hire more people to keep up with the demand so that’s a good thing. One hire we needed was a manager and we had found a winner. Our new manager was excellent in every way and really put us at ease. Now we could concentrate on other issues and keep growing. Three weeks into her employment, however, she stopped showing up to work. We could not reach her in any way. She didn’t return phone calls, emails, or texts. We were at a loss.

That’s when I had this dream. In the dream every time I checked on my boat it had sunk but, being a dream, it would rise up again. I’d leave and when I would return it had sunk again. But it would rise again. The pattern continued, sink, rise, sink, rise. And that’s when I woke up.

So why do I think this is a positive thing? Because being an entrepreneur, owning a business, is like being a sinking boat that can rise again. Things go wrong, some things are beyond your control, but when things go wrong you have to rise up and deal with them, fix them, and keep moving. Our manager chose Valentine’s Weekend not to show up and my wife and I stepped in and worked. We did what we had to do and the business kept moving. We sank but were able to rise again. I’m sure something else will happen to make us feel as if we’re sinking but we do what it takes to stay afloat. Whatever the challenge, we keep focused on success.

Saturday could have been a disaster but we rose to the challenge and had a very good day.


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Gamblers Who Don’t Gamble

 
Entrepreneurs are gamblers who don’t gamble and risk takers who aren’t risky.

Sparked by curiosity, entrepreneurs explore farther and wider than most people but they aren’t reckless (at least not the successful ones).

RouletteNothing happens without ideas, and curiosity is what leads to the best ideas. You have to go through a lot of ideas before you find that magical one that both excites you and works. That search can sometimes take a lifetime and the search is what many people don’t understand about entrepreneurs. In my interview with Gary Vaynerchuk he said he has ideas “24/7.” But he doesn’t blindly follow all of them or most of them or even some of them. He said that if the idea sticks around for a while, just won’t leave his mind, then he’ll follow it.

Which takes me to the idea of risk. Acting on any new idea has risk associated with it but there is a difference between being risky and taking a risk. Being risky is just doing it without much thought or planning. Taking a risk is researching, learning as much as you can, turning the unknown into the known so that surprises are minimal, and then going for it. One approach is dangerous the other is smart.

A lot of people confuse this penchant for risk as gambling but gambling is a loser’s game, gambling is a game of chance and successful entrepreneurs work hard to reduce chance. You can’t eliminate chance but there comes a tipping point when risk has been reduced to the point that action makes sense. This is why I put the following quote in my book: “I have always found that if I move with seventy five per cent or more of the facts that I usually never regret it. It’s the guys who wait to have everything perfect that drive you crazy.” That was Lee Iococca, the former CEO of Chrysler and that is the difference between someone who sees entrepreneurship as risky, as gambling, and someone who understands risk and works to make it less risky.

The person who has to wait until all risk is eliminated will never be an entrepreneur, and the person who rushes in without thought or preparation won’t be successful, but the balance between these two extremes puts the odds in your favor. It’s why I ask What Next and why I work hard to answer that with facts.


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Crap Filter

 
I know it’s a gross title for a post but it is appropriate.

I watched an interview done at the Khan Academy with Elon Musk and it was his words that led to this title.

Entrepreneurship might be glamorous and could prove quite lucrative but it’s also the hardest work you’ll ever do. I’ll let Elon Musk take it from here.

Everyone thinks they want to be the boss but when you’re at the bottom of the “filter for the crapest problems in the company” it’s not a lot of fun. I can speak from experience and while my high points are not as high as Elon Musk’s neither are my low points. When SpaceX had three failed launches in a row and only had one last chance for a very big contract with NASA, that’s really low. When Tesla was a week away from running out of money with no investors willing to step in, that was very low.

In spite of all that, he still felt “quite compelled to do it” and that made all the difference.

In the face of skepticism and failure, to push forward anyway is the sign of a person who will be successful. I have wanted to give up many times, I have wanted to sell my business many times, but I have stuck it out and now it is beginning (these things take time) to pay off. I still have bad days but having come through past obstacles and problems makes the future problems easier to handle.

Feel free to share how you have been stuck at the bottom of the crap filter and come through it stronger than before.


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Are You Ready?

 
Breaking-News-1I work in the frenetic world of television news (luckily it’s not the every-single-bit-of-information-is-breaking-news world of cable). While I’m no longer in the trenches of a daily broadcast, I remember the deadlines, the last minute changes, the real breaking news events that required us to shift into a very high gear and sometimes stay there for hours or days.

When the news was slow and predictable you could rest, but one of my managers would always ask, “are you ready?” The question would catch me off guard but the answer was always yes. Yes I was ready for breaking news, ready to spring into action, ready for the pressure, the intensity of the job.

So my question for you is, “are you ready?” Are you ready for the intensity of life, the sudden and unexpected turns life can take?

What are you doing to get ready? Are you being passive, waiting to react or are you being curious, trying new things, practicing? Following a single path to success isn’t enough any more. You have to branch out and explore the tributaries of life.

I was asked my advice on how to take a chance and follow a different path – my answer was to treat every new idea, every new adventure as a hobby. Don’t quit your day job, don’t rush into anything. Start small and try it out. If you enjoy it, if you find success you will be able to accelerate but if you fail, if you find it more difficult than you expected, stopping won’t be devestating.

Here’s an image I saw but I’d like to modify it a bit to fit the idea of being ready.

Definition of entrepreneurship

My change? Be ready: Avoid instant gratification now to exploit real opportunities as they come.

BeReady

What are you doing to be ready? Share your thoughts below and get the conversation going.

 


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The Reality of Entrepreneurship

 
Hello, my name is AJ and I’m an entrepreneur. Sounds like the beginning of a twelve step program meeting. I introduce myself this way because a lot of people make entrepreneurship sound wonderful, even magical. You can be your own boss, set your own hours, you create jobs and contribute to society. All good things for sure.

aloneBut there is a dark side. First among the dirty little secrets of entrepreneurship is that it’s hard.

More difficult than you can imagine

Starting something from nothing is hard. Even when you can get help, as so many do through franchises, it’s still hard. Even though people talk about the depressing statistics of business failure, which vary widely, the picture they paint is still rosey. Entrepreneurs are considered brave and they are revered for their actions. That’s fine but let’s not encourage people to be foolish. There’s no reason to throw caution to the wind and go for it without a plan.

Starting a business takes up more time than most people can physically give, it’s tiring. I’ve heard it said that the only person who cares about your business is you and it’s true. No matter how good the team you build is, the business is not their priority. They will call out when you need them most, they will say the wrong thing at the worst possible time to the most important customer, and you will have to fix it all. They will leave for a few cents or a few bucks more per hour. Owning a business can be frustrating and yet you have to be there with enough enthusiasm to spread around.

All that difficulty can lead some to become disallusioned but the successful ones will have just a bit more positive energy than negative.

More expensive than you planned

It also takes more money than most people realize. I was told once that no matter what I planned, double the amount of time and money I thought I needed, even if my estimates were high. I can tell you from experience that advice was 100% correct.

Under capitalization is the single worst mistake someone going into a business can make. We’ve all heard about the outliers who started with a hundred dollars and made millions, but if that were the norm we’d all be millionaires. You have to know that, if you need to, you could carry the business expenses for months or maybe even years.

Other people’s expectations

When you see friends or family and they ask how’s business, they don’t understand that you might have had a bad day. They don’t understand that bills are coming due and revenue might not be keeping up. If you’re honest and tell them it’s hard, they’ll usually respond with “but it’s all yours right?” as if that makes it better.

You can’t go to friends and family for solace because they don’t understand, and you don’t want to go to other business owners for fear of looking weak.

It takes longer too

I’m over a year into my business and things have stabilized. Everyone wants to make a profit right away but it takes longer than you think. What matters more is cash flow, positive cash flow. Positive cash flow and profitability are two different things. Startup costs aren’t paid for quickly, they’re large and revenue grows slowly.

I saw a friend shortly after her second child was born and asked how it was going. Her response? “Oh my God no one told me it was going to be this hard.” That’s how I feel about entrepreneurship so I’m here to tell you it’s that hard.

My advice? Think long and hard about going into business. Imagine every bad scenerio you can and then imagine what you’ll do to get out of it. Plan for the worst and work hard, harder than you ever have for the best.

Just as I was finishing this post someone on LinkedIn posted this article. It’s worth reading and backs up everything I say here – and then some.


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