Entrepreneurial Spirit or Stress

High energy and optimism drive entrepreneurs to overcome the daily challenges of starting and running a business.  It is drawn from the spirit of achievement.  A belief in winning.  The achiever reflects on the vision supplanted in the back of their mind that reminds them they can do it.  Entrepreneurial spirit motivates. Unfortunately, entrepreneurial stress can be harmful.

Often times I see business owners who fight gallantly and passionately to get their businesses off the ground. Overcoming every obstacle with stamina and vigor.  Then the really hard work begins, as if the launch wasn’t difficult enough.  Selling. Operating. Scaling. Funding. HR, PR and avoiding the ER.

Days begin at 5AM and end around midnight. Sleep is sacrificed in place of getting more done.  Family and friends watch on the sidelines as the entrepreneur climbs to the top.  They are the cheerleaders, sounding boards and allies.  They see the competitiveness to win, so they encourage you more.  You’ve got spirit! You can do it, yes you can!

Our colleagues and advisors rarely say stop or slow down.  Why?  They don’t want to crush the dream.  They want to keep the spirit alive.  Businesses are built with emotions of positive thinking, ambition and heart thumping enthusiasm. They are also built with blood, sweat and tears.  We chant faster, better, more.  We ignore slower, take a breath, and reminders to enjoy the journey.  We convince ourselves we work better under pressure and stress.

As we are conditioned more than ever to reach for the stars, who is telling you to chill out?  It seems counter intuitive to being an entrepreneur.  Is it?  Can you get more accomplished when you are relaxed and well rested?  There are countless studies that prove stress is bad for your health.  It increases heart disease, inflammation, chances of having a stroke, weight gain, and even increases odds of catching a cold.  Relaxation studies show we can counterbalance many of the health risks.  Yet, out of fear of failing, the entrepreneur presses on and tries to do more.

I am reminded of a wise mentor who once said, do you want your epitaph to read “I Worked the Hardest”. Know anyone that has health issues from living stress-free or being well rested and relaxed?  Know anyone with health issues from living in the hyper stress mode, working 18 hour days, not sleeping, and sacrificing all “me” time?

Take this advice from a self-subscribed workaholic, it may be time to relax!  Here are a few ideas on how to get back to the spirit and reduce the entrepreneurial stress.

1.  Remind yourself of the WHY.  Why are you building a business?  Why are you working so hard? Why are you driving yourself and probably your family crazy?  Write down your why and review it daily. If it is for your retirement, for your security, for your family or for your employees, they will all tell you they would rather have a bit more of the relaxed you than a bit more stress.

2.  Turn off the electronics.  We are more wired and connected today.  Checking emails first thing in the morning can create stress before you even get started.  Smartphones, laptops, computers, TVs, off!  Set a schedule for when you will be connected and give yourself the freedom to be off the grid.

3.  Say hello!  Reach out to past colleagues and mentors.  Get together in real time, face to face.  Perhaps they are in the same predicament of being overloaded and overworked and are looking for someone to help give them a reprieve.

4.  Read any good books lately?  No one can argue that reading is good for the mind and soul.  Take 20 minutes a day to refresh your mind.  Give yourself time to escape, explore and grow.

5.  Prioritize.  Do you have a list of priorities?  Take your list and categorize the A list, all which have to be done by a committed deadline.  Next is your B list, those items that are important but are less urgent.  Finally, your C list that captures those tasks that would be nice when completed; however, do not endanger your well-being or put the business at risk.

6.  Escape.  If your business can not survive without you for a weekend, a week or even two, you do not have a sustainable business.  How would an investor perceive your business if it can not operate without you.  In other words, the business is you. Do not believe you are helping your customers, your investors or employees by being the one that makes it all run.  It is bad for business and bad for you.  No one can sustain the pressure of being the sole enterprise.  Delegate and escape.  Force the business to run without you.

If you get to the end of the road and the sign blazes with bright lights that you made it, congratulations.  You did it.  Now, look back and ask was it worth it? Did you enjoy the journey?  If you are still on that journey, stop and breathe.  Relish in the spirit of being an entrepreneur.  Enjoy the growth in your business and your personal experience. Don’t miss out on life to get to the end.

There is no recovery from lost time or relationships.  Make sure it is really the entrepreneurial spirit that is motivating you, not the stress controlling you. Live Long. Be Happy. And Prosper.

Flying as a Solopreneur

The Flying Solopreneur – Life as the Independent Consultant

Your mind is a beautiful thing, so don’t waste it.  Put it to use as a business.  All of your collective experience gained through enterprise successes and failures can be commercialized into a service business, if you are willing to fly solo.

“Solopreneurs” is the trending word for self-employed entrepreneurs, also known as independent consultants.  On the networking circuit, they are called “single shingles”.  Solopreneur means the business is you! Your commodity is available time.

Business professionals worthy of being hired to fill a gap in an organization based on skill, knowledge and experience, should be open to the opportunity that multiple businesses may benefit and pay for that expertise.

The first step to determining if you are a good candidate to be a solopreneur is to convert your resume into a list of “product” features.  Once you have a good product description, then you need to determine if there is a market for what you are selling. In other words, will businesses pay for your time and the benefits you can provide?

As a solopreneur, you can save time and money by first drumming up attention from those that have witnessed your expertise in action.  Reach out to test your market viability through your network. Using the standard sales technique of asking for a referral, let people know you are open for business and ask your network to share your availability with others.  You may further extend your marketing message by offering referral fees to groups, partners and business associates that help you retain clients.

As a solopreneur, make sure your professionalism is demonstrated in your communications and social profiles.  Have a business card and professional web site that details your “product” and services. Create a professional business email account and secure your social site URLs, if you are going to brand your business beyond your name.

Working independently requires discipline and good time management.  You have to work on your business every day. Solopreneurs typically spend 20-30% of their time working on their business, leaving only 70% of the day working for paying clients.  Expect to dedicate at least three hours a day to marketing, meetings, invoicing and selling your services.

If you choose to be a solopreneur, build an advisory group of successful solopreneurs with expertise different than yours.  Meet once a month to share industry information and advice on how to best manage your business.  As a benefit, they may extend your reach by talking about you to their clients and network.  They should be your best unpaid marketers!

Solopreneurs succeed when they can fill a day of hard work, sharing knowledge and expertise and producing results for those that pay for that mindshare.  I am proud and excited to be flying solo as Artful Thinkers, it is truly an adventure.

Be not simply good – be good for something.” Henry David Thoreau

Best Networkers Go Where Others Won’t Go

Yesterday I met with a successful executive coach who is starting to explore opportunities of expanding her business. She was sent to me by a trusted colleague and notable networking expert.  The typical goal of these meetings are to learn about our respective businesses and then make introductions or provide advice on how to reach new clients.  It’s the life of an independent business owner and consultant.

One of the questions I always ask people looking to develop more business is “who owns your customer?”. Often there is pause. Yes, I want to know who owns the relationship with your customer, not who is your customer. The reason I ask this question is to identify the strongest influencers of those potential new customers.  In my experience, it is the shortest path to multiple buyers.

An influencer provides reach and accelerates your ability to grow market share.  Research suggests that we “buy” when we are influenced by someone we trust.  In fact, ninety percent of consumers surveyed in a 2009 Nielsen Survey said they trust recommendations from people they know.

This is not only applicable in retail situations or online recommendations, but also in business services as well. The business community often gives their business to those that come through their trusted network of peers or with whom they have a past relationship. Why? It eliminates the vetting and testing. In the old fashioned sales vernacular, it saves time and money.

Here are a few recommended steps to reaching your influencer:

1.  Identify your influencer, ask yourself who “owns” your customer.

2.  Research your influencer.  Where do they meet?  Who is in their network?  Who are their customers?  What events do they attend?  What association and industry groups do they belong to?

3.  Start following. Not literally stalking of course, but follow companies and connections in LinkedIn, through social media channels like Twitter, Facebook Fan Pages and Google+.  What are they talking about?

4.  Go to events where they gather and start building your circle of influence.

The biggest mistake I see others make in networking to find business is they go to where their friends and competitors go. For example, I am probably less likely to get business at another marketing event, as opposed to hanging out at a physicians conference or speaking at a non-profit event about advisory boards. My competitors do not go to these events, or at least very few do. I get more time to interact.  I can learn more about their needs in a particular industry or market vertical.  More importantly, I can start to build a network of influencers face-to-face.

How do I get those in the room that have nothing in common with me enter into a trusted relationship? I start by listening.  I then offer to make introductions to my trusted network, when there is a good match. I share my knowledge to see where we have similar business interests, like expanding markets, growing revenues.  Sometimes I offer to participate in events as a speaker on mutually defined topics of interest. Finally, I look for ways I can help them achieve their business goals and give them a “sample” of what I have to offer at no charge.

The saying, nothing ventured nothing gained seems to work well in the world of networking for business.  Sole proprietors and consultants have little time to work on their business, as they are the business.  You need to be your own best PR agent and maximize your limited selling time effectively. If you are competing for air time in a room of people that look and talk just like you, that is an educational or skill expanding event. Learn about your craft and further your expertise.  Don’t expect to get customers at these events.

When you want to network for business, go where you expect to see the least amount of your competition. The fewer people that are “talking just like you” that are in the room, the better chance you have to find business. You also create more awareness about your services because you are not a peer. You have more “meme” time. That will drive curiosity, and that opens a door to “sell yourself”.

Venture Out and Be DifferentNetworking is a skill.  Before you say no or turn away from the idea of going to a meeting or speaking at an event of complete strangers, realize that this is where business starts.  Venture out.  Be different. Go where others won’t go.