As our world becomes increasingly interconnected it seems as though our values are starting to blend into a muddied puddle of uncertainty. The rise of high speed, mobile communication and the mass dissemination of accessible data has resulted in a great deal of complacency in regards to the dangers of group thinking. While community formed from our shared humanity is a step closer to world peace, it also blinds the individual of their own unique needs and leads them to unwillingly pursue aspirations that might not best serve them.
Take for example the definitions of success or happiness. These terms will never be universal. That being said, if you ask any sample size of individuals to define these words they are likely to answer in relatively simplistic terms: health, family, friends, stability, shelter, fun and love. What they are less likely to say is: riches, fame, admiration, attention, popularity or the like. However, when we interact with strangers and with the world around us it seems that we tend to project the later rather than the former. We are wired to need to project a level of success & accomplishment and shamed if we cannot.
For the entrepreneur, this presents an interesting conundrum. The push & pull between the pursuit of a place in history... of legacy and the alternative: a lifestyle of quiet contentment. Today's advertising messages, media coverage and interpersonal communications via social platforms would have us believe that the pursuit of happiness is a pursuit of more. More consumption. More belongings. More experiences. MORE. We have created economies dependent upon such practices. We have created entire industries around fame and attention (see reality TV). It is more & more difficult to distinguish between what we value or need and what we want or think we have to have. This brings me to the story of The Fisherman and The Banker, which was recently sent to me by an entrepreneur & colleague who (like me) is always navigating the fine line between the desire for more success and a casual lifestyle of balanced contentment. I will not suggest that one is more virtuous than the other. I will instead share this proverbial tale and allow you to apply it to your own life as you see fit.
The Parable of The Fisherman And The Banker
An American investment banker was taking a much-needed vacation in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. The boat had several large, fresh fish in it.
The investment banker was impressed by the quality of the fish and asked the Mexican how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied, “Only a little while.” The banker then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish?
The Mexican fisherman replied he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.
The American then asked “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”
The Mexican fisherman replied, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos: I have a full and busy life, senor.”
The investment banker scoffed, “I am an Ivy League MBA, and I could help you. You could spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats until eventually you would have a whole fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to the middleman you could sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You could control the product, processing and distribution.”
Then he added, “Of course, you would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City where you would run your growing enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But senor, how long will this all take?”
To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”
“But what then?” asked the Mexican.
The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You could make millions.”
“Millions, senor? Then what?”
To which the investment banker replied, “Then you would retire. You could move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”
Being clear of the worst, I am now able to comfortably state that I spent the last year engaged in a medical crisis. As June approaches I am reminded of where I was this time a year ago and still surprised at how naive I really was when my body began to shut down on me. Then 27 and a lifelong athlete with no prior medical problems, I simply told myself that the strange dizzy spells, bouts of weakness in my legs and sudden shortness of breath I was experiencing had everything to do with my devotion to my business and lack of dedication to diet/exercise.
As a busy solo entrepreneur transitioning from part-time consultant/freelancer to full-time business owner it became the norm to grab whatever was convenient for meals- like a slice, burgers and burritos, drown each bite with caffeine and then neglect the gym in exchange for a few drinks at the bar to unwind.
As the strange symptoms went from occasional moments of oddity to blatantly obvious reasons for concern, I went through the excuses: I’m not eating that well, I’m not sleeping that well (I had a terrible habit of staying up until 4am working and starting again at 10am) or I’m not getting enough fitness. I was also devoting a considerable amount of time to my then girlfriend and ignoring my own needs in regards to time and emotional fulfillment from friends/family.
In other words, I was neglecting all of the critical factors for personal health: physical fitness, nutrition, human connection and rest. For the average person looking in it was pretty obvious that I was in need of a massive shift in lifestyle. As an entrepreneur I simply didn’t have the time to deal with it. If only I could go back and shake myself for such ignorance.
When I began feeling an aggressive and uncomfortable aching in my lower abdomen I knew that I had walked to the end of the line with whatever was impacting my health. On June 3rd, after weeks of encouragement from those close to me, I casually ventured into the emergency room. Of course, I had saved the trip for the end of the day- as I made time to take a lunch meeting with a friend and preview a venue for a client event with my intern first. Once again, taking care of me was my last priority.
When the ER nurse at check-in first looked at me she blurted out, ‘you look terrible’. I was pale, weak and immediately worried. It was becoming evident that my self-diagnosis of needing a simple prescription to correct some small dietary imbalance was far from reality. The average human has a hemoglobin level of 13-17, which is really a measure of the amount of oxygen in your blood. Tests indicated my level was 4.7 that day. I was later told I should have had a heart attack or stroke weeks before. I was admitted for a barrage of follow-up tests. It was already known that I was severely anemic. A few days later, like a silent bullet ripping through me while I walked down the sidewalk, the true diagnosis came.
‘You have leukemia’. I was no longer the founder of my own company, a soccer player or a writer… the only title that now resonated with my identity was the one that we all dread: cancer patient. It was a term I had heard before and immediately associated with death.
Fortunately, I was built for the battle that lay ahead and I had the support around me to fight through the 5 months of treatment, stem-cell transplant and on-going maintenance that followed. Luckily, I am able to write this blog feeling near normal health again and with a new found vigor for bringing C2Bseen services to socially-conscious and passionate entrepreneurs who are working to realize their own visions. However, without a mix of luck and miracle involved, my fortune could just as easily been tragedy.
In recent weeks I have had some transformative conversations with individuals exploring their deepest inner purpose and wishes for a life of fulfillment. While financial concerns, professional aspirations and ambitious tangible goals are a piece of that puzzle, our talks always seem to come back to the simple things that construct a real platform for happiness and success; the same things I was ignoring while blindly believing all my time and energy had to go toward my start-up.
The lesson I learned the hard way, but am richer for knowing, is that without self-preservation of your innate human needs you are depriving yourself of the possibility for professional longevity. A sick, exhausted, discontent and disconnected entrepreneur at the helm will only breed a similar culture. An absent entrepreneur forced into the hospital won’t be able to work at all. The rule is clear: when you ignore you the work will suffer, growth will be stunted and creativity will stall.
There are a thousand quotes that claim that the successful business person gets there by burying their head and digging in. In theory this is accurate: you will need to work as hard as or harder than everyone you know and most certainly your competition. However, there is such a thing as a business that fits your lifestyle and you should be open and honest about what you need on a personal level in order to build a prosperous company.
Entrepreneurs that fail to recognize the need for purity in mind, body and soul are setting themselves up for almost certain ruin. Heed my warning before an irreversible wake-up call does it for you.
When news leaked in December that Major League Baseball was investigating a positive test result showing elevated levels of testosterone in their seemingly clean National League MVP it was a shock to all fans and a punch in the gut to the rising star. This week, baseball arbitrators made a historic decision by clearing Braun’s name
and lifting the 50-game ban levied upon him.
While the Milwaukee Brewers outfielder can now proceed with his career, his reputation is still somewhat tainted by the allegations. However, the scenario could have been much worse if Braun hadn’t been prepared. Spending three months awaiting the decision, Braun took some important steps to avoid tainting his image further, which can be useful to others caught in the middle of a personal brand controversy. 1. Stick to your story, but don’t say too much.
Braun never wavered from his innocent plea and stuck to his mandated position not to comment on the details of the case. This worked in his favor as it helped the public avoid rushing to judgment. If news breaks that attacks your personal brand, consider the ‘no comment’ approach until you have thought through the impact of your words. When you do make a statement, take time to craft it to sound firm, confident and humble. Stay out of the spotlight and don’t stir things up until you have all evidence to prove your position; basic PR101 on this one. 2. Rally support.
Braun benefited from the backing of his organization, his past reputation as a positive member of his community and a few famous friends. It doesn’t hurt having NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers in your corner. If you find yourself in the cross-hairs, be sure to call upon your best assets to back you up and help validate your position of honest character. Aligning yourself with well-respected people makes you appear to share equal values. 3. Do not attack the opposition.
Braun declared that there were unique circumstances around his testing scenario. He also called the result of his test, ‘BS’, but he never directly bad-mouthed MLB: likely a good plan considering the organization is his employer and helps ensure he’ll receive the $140 million+ he’s owed over his career. Getting angry or defensive makes you look guilty even if you aren’t. Having a clean, calculated and evidence driven defense through more formal channels is a far better approach than lashing out in fear of what a false accusation can do to your personal brand. 4. Be grateful.
Thank your supporters. Thank those that are not rushing to ostracize you. Thank the press for respecting your privacy. If your name is finally cleared- thank everyone! 5. Keep it Positive
Braun received plenty of media backlash
when the news broke. Although this image terrorizing will likely continue amongst those that feel Braun got away with cheating, the court of justice has spoken in his favor. What Braun did right was his avoidance of engaging with negative voices. Whether it is a Tweet, blog post, article or message board comment there is likely more damage to be done by trying to fight back against ‘trolls’ who get their kicks tarnishing reputations of others. To recognize their opinion validates their voice. Do not provide your enemies with the fuel to keep the controversy burning. Focus on the positive.
Ryan Braun arrived at Spring Training today with a fresh start. He faced the darkest scenario an athlete can and prevailed. Braun has worked his entire life to build a reputation of strong, moral and generous character. He has made ample proclamations about his respect for his profession and disgust of cheaters. By standing for something in advance, he was able to bring the public on his side. By following the steps above, he was able to keep them there until his name was cleared.Watch Braun's impressive statement following the decision here
1. Be Opportunistic
As a brand consultant, it is your role to enhance, empower and grow the influence of your client’s identity in the marketplace. You’ve been hired to offer an outsiders perspective and put your resources to use. If you’re doing your job well, you should be looking to add value to your client relationships on a daily basis. Read an article that might benefit the client? Send it over. Meet a key industry contact at a conference? Make the introduction. Hear of a competitive strategy that might impact the sales forecast? Share the insight. Information, understanding, contacts and perspective are your products. The regular sharing of smaller ideas can lead to big projects. Always be looking for new assets you can assemble and dispense and you’ll become indispensable to clients.
2. Really Care
As a consultant you are often in the relationship with your client alone. This makes consulting a highly intimate endeavor that requires a personal touch to succeed. The best thing a consultant can do for themself is to care about the person on the other end of the table. Not just care because they are writing checks, but care because they are a human being, deserving of respect. Get to know your client to the degree that they are comfortable with. Look for signs: Do they talk about their family? Do they talk about hobbies? Those are windows to connect. A friendly banter is encouraged. Avoid overtly personal confessions or sharing, but open up enough to let them see you as someone they would be able to spend time with talking about things other than work. If your conversations with clients aren’t always focused on handling business, you’ll likely get even more business accomplished. A consulting colleague of mine lives by the mantra, “Relationships Still Matter”. The phrase pays.
3. Offer Honesty
Being hired to build, analyze or promote an entrepreneurs' brand is one of the toughest jobs in marketing. It is crucial to remember that each time you engage an entrepreneur regarding their business it is like talking to a parent about their child. A business is very much like a baby and the owner is invested in a similar fashion; their livelihood is tied to its success. Thus it is important to consider the sensitivity of your client when offering any form of advice, strategy or direction. Simultaneously, you also have a job to do. You’ve been hired to offer your expertise and open up new avenues for thinking about this client’s brand. Their product or service is in need of your honest opinion. There is a fine line between telling a client what they are doing is wrong/ineffective and offering constructive criticism along with solutions/ideas that can take the brand to the next level. The effective marketing consultant is capable of balancing between the brutal truth, which will allow for the right decisions to be made around the profitability of the business, and offending commentary. A consultant must have conviction and passion for the solutions they are selling… even if it takes a great deal of convincing to get the client to come around. In the end the client will have nothing to say besides thank you as their brand flourishes.
How you run your business can be very reliant upon which of the above scenarios describe your financial situation. By having cash on hand, a CEO can stick to their defined goals for scope/scale of projects and what type of clients they wish to work with. They won’t have to settle for every $500 opportunity that comes across their desk or resort to offering services that fall outside of their core competencies. Of course, 1,000 projects/orders at $500 wouldn’t be a bad start for a company. But, playing the volume game can be difficult depending on the product. 100 projects/orders at $5,000 are likely to be less time consuming and more manageable.
When you don’t have cash built into your business you are setting yourself up for a number of issues. For starters, you really can’t afford to turn down work- even if it isn’t exactly what your business is designed for or the payday is peanuts compared to what you know your time is worth. You could be focusing that time on targeting larger scale projects that fall under your realm of expertise. Unfortunately, if you need that $500 to pay rent or keep the Wi-Fi running you’re not going to have a choice. This can become a dangerous pattern. You end up in a cycle of taking on small projects to get by and never have the time to put your attention to building the business you envisioned when you decided to become your own boss. You’ll ultimately be stuck in mud that gets more difficult to get out of as each day passes.
Just because you have cash, doesn’t mean you won’t fall into those same patterns. It happens to all business owners. Sometimes, it’s worth taking on a small project or doing something beyond your focus if you believe that it will lead to work that does bring value to you. However, these one-off projects are often not worth your energy.
The best way to run checks and balances against taking on non-beneficial jobs is to have a plan in place before your first day of operation. Know when an order is too small, an offer to low or a client too limited in resources to bring you the kind of opportunity you need. Set a minimum profit margin for any work you take on. Even set a maximum to avoid taking on work beyond your capabilities. Only compromise these thresholds if it means there is greater, manageable opportunity to follow. Also, write out your core service and product offerings in highly specific language. Do not perform labor that doesn’t match these offerings. You’ll end up confusing the marketplace as to what you actually do and make it much more difficult for anyone to take you seriously as an expert or master of your craft.
Now, get out of the mud and start marketing yourself to your ideal clients until you have a roster full of them. A portfolio of focused, high-end work will follow.
There are two types of entrepreneurs: those that are funded and those that must immediately be earning for their business to operate. Firstly, it is not recommended that anyone starts a venture without some form of cash infusion in the company. Even if it is just 3 months operating cost and living expenses, it’s something. However, if your business has little to no overhead and you have some method of paying your personal bills for a while, you might launch your start-up without money in the bank. This of course is risky, but something that entrepreneurs have done for over a century.
It started on another social networking site, but the topic of discussion was Pinterest
: the rising social site that features a corkboard style interface to let users share a visualization of their interests. Despite still being beta, Pinterest
boasts over 4 million active users. An old college friend was calling out his former roommate with the quote, “My wife found you on Pinterest. Explain yourself!”
The defendant in the case, an entirely macho rugby playing guy defended himself by saying he was using it to find new recipes. A debate ensued, which erupted into a questioning of whether Pinterest
was really intended as a gathering place for women. The aggressor went as far as stating, “The Colonel Sanders had some good recipes too...he started his own business and made millions...not (by) follow(ing) 20 something year young wives on bulls### fantasy crap they will never have....it's time for an intervention…” As a male, fan and user of Pinterest myself, I stepped in to say that Pinterest would be a more gender neutral site and much cooler if guys weren’t afraid of it. It seems that because women have been the earliest adopters and have come to dominate the site with photos of desired shoes, home décor and cute animals many men have decided there is no hope for the masculinization of Pinterest. Yet, if you dig deep enough you’ll find a great deal of manly and cross-gender content across, tech, fashion, geek, design and yes- even food. The speed of sharing is incredible and sections filled with recipes and DIY home improvement projects could keep you a busy hobbyist for life. It’s also an impressive collaborative tool for creative projects at work. It certainly boasts an endless realm of possibility once it becomes public and even more users get to play with it. The point that the situation I encountered raises: are new social sites subject to gender control? Does Pinterest need to promote use by males in order to maximize its audience? Should they just hone in on the demo that has shown the most interest? Where are the revenue streams in sites like Pinterest? Are men really that pathetic that they run and hide if the ladies put their stake in the ground first? It brings up plenty of topics for discussion. Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!
You can also view my personal Pinterest page by following me www.pinterest.com/jmtnyc
The answer is probably no one…besides one self. The collective wisdom of all of the powers that impact and shape our own mantras in life will never be as powerful as our intuition. Instinct is too often passed upon or ignored in exchange for what we are led to feel will take us further, make us more money or earn us admiration in the eyes of others. We are consistently pausing to second-guess ourselves out of fear that someone else is right.
Often, these 'others' are complete strangers who have no inside knowledge of our personal hopes, dreams and aspirations. On a micro scale, they are inexperienced, unwilling individuals afraid to admit their own shortcomings when it comes to pursuing their dreams. Instead, they speak more, louder and in more definite tones to sound important when in reality they are ashamed of their own powerlessness. On a macro scale, they are self-interested manufacturers of cog mentality. They create concepts for hopes and dreams that benefit their own lives and then convince weak individuals to subscribe to them. It happens every day and all around us. It fuels blind consumerism. It funds big politics. It drives the division of class. Worst of all, such thinking is based on old-fashioned principles that have no place in the modern world. Again, it is about systems that have been cemented into society for decades and we continue to let ourselves fall victim to.
I founded C2Bseen from a desire to take my own thinking about entrepreneurship and branding and share it with others that might be too hesitant or confused to take a chance at pursing their passions. In that time, I have cultivated highly personal relationships with clients that understand my goal is not to force them into a business that they are not proud of, but to guide them to see their vision realized and ensure that it has the best possible chance of meeting their goals.
This morning I caught a fantastic clip of cultural and marketing mega-mind Seth Godin on CBC Television's ‘The Hour’ with host George Strombo (Stromboulopoulos) in which he was asked about the changing economic world in 2012. To my great pleasure, he reiterated many of the points I made in my last blog post regarding the rise of specialized boutique business. Seth agreed that now, in the midst of recession, is the time for entrepreneurs to take chances and to come to the marketplace with fresh ideas that challenge the way everyone else is thinking. He goes on to encourage young people to take an idea and run with it, without compromising their plan to fit any system.
It would be an incredible honor to sit down with a man of Seth’s prowess. The man certainly speaks with a great deal of economic and entrepreneurial understanding. Then again, he is just another man with a set of opinions based on personal experience. He can advise you forever on what to do to make your aspirations into reality, as can I. It’s up to you to bring your ideas into action. You have to be the change you want to see, as the saying goes.
What leaders like Seth and me seek to do is to help guide you without manipulating to you. It sounds strange coming from a marketer who has been taught the old hat tricks of manipulation as scripture. However, there really are some of us out here that believe in a better economic future that is fair to both consumers and producers. Some of us feel strongly about the importance of quality products and services that promote better lives and those of us that do, want to see the entrepreneurs that can bring those products and services to the market succeed. This is what I like to call socially responsible consulting and it is what I am extremely proud to be practicing at C2Bseen.
Control over our own thinking is perhaps the most difficult task a human can attempt. There is an entire genre within the publication industry that exists because of it. In our every interaction we are being influenced by other’s intentions. Marketing messages and advertisements inundate our minds with considerations we never planned for. Experts and teachers dispense their established creeds with such certainty that we are forced to second guess our own perceived wisdom. Family and friends, who we believe likely know us best and want the best for us, recommend courses of action that present new options and further confusion. Then lines delivered on our favorite TV show, in our favorite book or through a song lyric hit us with beautifully artistic life-shaking impact that throws it all in question one more time. Who are we to listen to? Who is to be trusted? Who should we believe in?
Typically, we open our eyes the next day to discover that the idea already exists or we may have just been delirious the night prior and talk ourselves out of it. Just as often, we continue to see the idea as great, shelf it regardless and proceed with our routines. As 2012 inches closer I want to encourage those true entrepreneurs out there to finally make the visions you just aren’t able to shake into reality. You may tell yourself every New Years that this is the year you’re going to change your life by quitting your job and doing what you are passionate about. It might be opening a specialty store, going back to school, creating a website or even launching a company or product. Some of you, like many C2Bseen clients, have taken this step and are well on your way to realizing that dream. Others are still stirring with the ‘what ifs’ of abandoning comfort zones while remaining fearful of taking risks.
Here are a few key steps to helping you transition from an idea person to an entrepreneur in 2012: Eliminate ‘Can’t’
Write down all of the reasons why you shouldn’t pursue your entrepreneurial vision and why you can’t. Now come up with counter points for why you should pursue the vision and cross off everything you wrote under the ‘can’t’ category. You can do anything. Anticipate Change
Realistically outline the changes you’ll have to make in your life to focus on your project. Include solutions for how you will overcome the barriers that these changes will present. For example, if you have children you may be unsure of how to balance their activity schedule with your new endeavor. There are plenty of options if you eliminate ‘can’t’ from the equation: you may consider asking a relative or friend to help you, assess how you can re-balance their needs by asking for extra involvement from your spouse or find ways to break up the day into specific blocks of time that you are completely committed to your work without interruption while the kids are occupied. Again, this is about finding ways to make things ‘go’ rather than stopping yourself before you start. Conduct Research
Do some research- check to be sure your idea has demand from an audience that you can reach and familiarize yourself with the competitive landscape. Do not let the fact that competitors exist keep you from pushing forward. If others hold your idea it means that there is likely a need for it. Market share is always open for the taking if you can deliver a better version of the product or service. See what competitors are doing right and what they might be missing. Speak to the end consumer before conducting steps of branding or execution. Adapting other entrepreneur’s concepts is an entire industry in itself. Just be aware of copyright and trademark infringement before playing with anyone's ideas. If no one else is doing what you are, be sure you understand why. There might not be a market for you or you might need to create the market yourself. These can be daunting challenges, but often see the biggest payoffs when carefully approached. Engage a Professional
There are many consulting companies, including C2Bseen, available to help you navigate the questions that arise from launching a new brand. You might be someone that prefers not to go it alone or you may wish to receive expert advice to reassure you are taking the steps that will result in the highest probability of success. It is often worth the investment to get a professional opinion, as it will save you from having to backtrack and resolve preventable problems later on. You will also need to collaborate with other contractors to fulfill the needs you personally cannot, such as graphic design and accounting services. Write each of these needs down. Then, be patient in finding the best value available to you by speaking with other entrepreneurs, reading review sites and getting quotes from a variety of vendors before settling on one for each task. Consultants often have these networks built into their service offerings. Ultimately, do not do anything until you have a clear business plan. Even if it is just a series of notes on scrap paper...have a plan. Do Not Quit Your Job
Anticipate your financial needs and continue to work until you are stable enough to concentrate on entrepreneurship full-time. There are many hours prior to a normal work day or after, as well as weekends and vacation days that will allow you to ease into this new world of risk. Entrepreneurs have always been associated with risk-taking. From someone that has been down this path and watched countless others do the same, it is important to emphasize that you should be taking calculated risks. Too many idea people rush the process and go broke before they achieve their goals. Patience is just as important as passion in this case. You will know when it is time to quit your job when the dollars make sense. Commit
Generate a list of goals and a schedule that will realistically allow you to bring your vision to market on a timeline that suits you. Know that any worthwhile pursuit will take an incredible amount of energy, hard work and time. Do not falter on the days that you feel overwhelmed. Simply take a break to find your balance and return to the next task when ready. Becoming an entrepreneur takes one main thing: discipline. Without self-control you will not succeed. Be conscious of this every day and stick to the plan. Eventually, your persistence will pay off. Have Fun
The main reason to be your own boss is that it allows you the freedom to shape your life as you see fit. Remember that you are taking these risks for the rewards and the rewards can be plentiful if you are willing to put in the work to receive them. Take vacations after you have reached a major milestone, pause at lunch for a walk or a workout, sleep in on a Wednesday once in a while (but make up for it by working a Saturday). Simply put: never forget why you chose this incredible path into entrepreneurship.
I wish each of you success in whatever your 2012 goals might be and invite anyone interested to contact me directly
to discuss your lingering questions related to entrepreneurship. Have a Happy and Healthy New Year. -Jeff
We all have ideas. The kind of epiphanies that seem to spawn in our minds just before we fall asleep for the night and then keep us wide awake for hours imagining how we will execute them and change both our lives and the world forever. The self-cleaning toilet, a non-profit for saving endangered Turtles, a guide book about escaping credit card debt. There are no limitations on space for our collective idea inventory. Yet, for some reason only a tiny percentage of these ideas ever come to fruition.