Chapter OneLook Before You Leap
Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -Wernher Magnus Maximilian von Braun
I DID NOT GROW up dreaming of being self-employed. I enjoyed working for someone else. I certainly did not long for the financial risk or stress involved in jumping into business on my own. Over the years, however, I became frustrated with several work situations and began to long for the freedom that I perceived business owners experienced. I fantasized about the ability to come and go as I pleased. I also assumed that business owners earned much more money than I was accustomed to making.
When I did begin to contemplate opening a business I met with a gentleman named Mark. I trusted him to provide me with a clear direction on how to get started. I distinctly remember our initial meeting. We had lunch at a Chili's restaurant, and I even remember what I ate-Caribbean salad!
I was fairly young, thirty-three years old. I respected my current boss tremendously and loved my job. I was, however, excited about the glamour that was attached to being self-employed. And after more than a decade of working for other people in the insurance industry and a degree in Business Management, I was ready to go.
I walked into lunch thinking Mark would try to convince me that being an entrepreneur would drastically improve my life. With visions of freedom dancing in my head, I had already decided to jump. Imagine my surprise when the meeting turned out to be just the opposite of what I had envisioned! He actually tried to talk me out of opening a business. He pointed out every possible pitfall, shortfall, and downfall. He made it clear that I would have to work longer hours and the money would not come flowing in immediately. Reality check!!!
Mark challenged my desire to open a business. His honest approach caught me off guard. He urged me to think about whether or not I was willing to make the sacrifices necessary and take the risks required. He was concerned that I may not have a realistic perspective about how much money it would take to start a business and forced me to contemplate the negative aspects of business ownership. I respect him tremendously for painting a realistic rather than an idealistic picture.
I had naively thought that owning a business would be glamorous. I was excited about the ability to have rewards based on my efforts. I imagined how exciting it would be without seriously contemplating potential risks and responsibilities.
Thanks to Mark, I realized I had better do some research. I needed to make an educated decision, not an emotional one.
After my wake-up call, I spoke to several business owners and began to read voraciously. I wanted to be very aware of what it would take to succeed in business.
After examining all the possible scenarios, I decided I had done enough research to make an informed decision. I was prepared to make the sacrifices that would be necessary to achieve success. I was finally prepared enough to reduce the risk of failure. I had done my research before becoming self-employed.
THOUGHT-PROVOKING QUESTIONS AND ACTION PLANS
1. Does the thought of being your own boss sound glamorous? Do you anticipate that owning a business would resolve current frustrations? What appeals most to you about owning a business?
2. Do you truly have an entrepreneurial spirit? Do you have a desire to be the largest and the best? Do you have a high tolerance for risk? Are you willing to reinvest profits back into your business to maximize growth?
3. Before you move ahead, have several successful business owners play devil's advocate for you. Do you know a trusted individual who is successful in your industry? Set up a meeting. Ask if she/he will pose every possible catastrophe so you can consider the pros and cons. If you can be talked out of starting a business, chances are you are not ready.
4. Is your spouse or significant other enthusiastic about your being in business? Will you be able to balance the pressures of being self-employed with the other aspects of your life?
5. Stop and think about whether or not you will really enjoy being in the industry you have chosen for the next twenty years. Are you getting into the contemplated industry for the right reasons? Will this work create a sense of fulfillment?
6. We all know that most people can be quite content working for someone else. If you are considering becoming self-employed, you have effectively chosen to "lay off the boss." Was it a wise decision? How do you plan to design a business where others will enjoy working- so you don't get laid off?
Chapter TwoAm I Riding the Horse or Is the Horse Riding Me?
Drive thy business or it will drive thee. -Benjamin Franklin
ONE OF My favorite hobbies is riding horses. It is a love my daughters and I share. On weekends we go to a local stable, rent horses, and ride on the beach.
One day I had a particularly exhilarating ride on a new horse named Comet. Suffice it to say, she was a handful. I had to keep a tight rein the entire time or she would have run away with me. My daughter Kara noticed I was grinning from ear to ear and commented, "Mom, I can tell you love that horse." I instinctively responded, "I love her because I am not sure who is in control. I'm not sure if I'm riding her or if she is riding me."
While driving home we talked about the excitement of riding on the wild side. It dawned on me that lack of control might be exhilarating with horses but not in business. I thought of my first vacation exactly one year after becoming self-employed. It should have been a relaxing time on the beaches of Cancun, Mexico. Instead, it entailed me running from the beach to the hotel five or six times a day to call the office. I could not relax. I realized there were several aspects of the business that only I was trained to handle. I had unintentionally created a business that revolved around me. I definitely was not riding this horse-it was riding me. I was completely overwhelmed.
My fantasy career had resulted in my
Being in tremendous debt;
Working ten to twelve hours a day six days a week; and bringing work home;
Being responsible for tasks I dreaded;
Having clients who insisted on speaking only to me;
Feeling I had no control over my time;
Lacking the flexibility and freedom to relax when out of the office.
My incentive for becoming self-employed was my naive expectation that being self-employed would eliminate all my frustrations. I assumed all I had to do was "work hard." I had traded an eight-hour-a-day job for a situation where I had much more responsibility but much less time, money, and freedom. I thought that just because I could sell insurance, I could run an insurance business.
It was that year, 1995, that my business changed-all because of a book I accidentally found at a used bookstore. E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber was an answer to my prayers. I had originally assumed that I simply needed sales skills to be successful. But as Gerber states, "Just because you understand the technical work of a business doesn't mean you will understand a business that does that technical work." My on-the-job training helped me begin to understand that I needed more employee management skills, financial management skills, and organizational skills.
Mr. Gerber talks about the fact that most people go into business to get rid of the boss. Clearly there is a major flaw in business owners' initial expectations.
Through this book I learned to work "on the business" not just "in the business." I do not personally have to be the one driving the business, but there does need to be a strong structure. I realized it was in everyone's best interest to get the business under control. I learned to restrict my love of "being out of control" mentality to the stable. I was determined to control my business instead of allowing it to control me.
THOUGHT-PROVOKING QUESTIONS AND ACTION PLANS
1. Is the organization you are working in under control? Is it moving proactively and enthusiastically toward clear goals? If not, what steps need to be taken to begin regaining control?
2. Have you read Michael Gerber's book E-Myth Revisited? What lessons did you learn from this book? Did you identify with the characters?
3. If you are a business owner, were you initially surprised with the management skills required to run a business (financial, people, legal, operational)? What else about operating a business is different from what you'd expected?
4. Do you currently have employees? If your business does not have employees, it is impossible to clone yourself and gain control. A business without employees is not really a business, it is a job.
5. Do you enjoy being wild and adventurous or must everything run smoothly for you to be happy? Can you see how either extreme can cause frustration for employees and yourself?
Chapter ThreeAutopilot Leaders Excel
An autopilot business is propelled to a preset heading by a clear vision, empowered employees, and supportive systems. -Laura Harris
BUSINESSES MUST QUICKLY adapt in markets that can be very dynamic. In order for a business to be successful, everyone inside the system must want the business to reach success. I want to lead an autopilot business. The word autopilot has two primary connotations:
A person functioning in an unthinking or reflexive manner-someone who may be walking around in a trance, unaware.
A person with a clear preset heading-someone who is so deliberate in his direction that he is not easily sidetracked by obstacles. When he is thrown off course he realigns quickly because there is a clear and specific goal.
My business will operate in one of the above manners-reactively with a lack of direction or proactively with clarity of direction. Most businesses operate almost by accident. The owner and employees attempt to merely survive eight hours a day with little or no enthusiasm. They are not moving proactively and consistently in a predefined direction.
I once asked a pilot walking through an airport, "Weren't you terrified the first time you put a plane on autopilot?" She immediately responded, "I felt exactly the opposite. I felt so much less stress-even the first time I put the plane on autopilot. I trusted the system."
Now think about a business on autopilot. Wouldn't it be nice to know the team has a clear destination and a desire to work toward it? Wouldn't it be nice to reduce the stress level by creating a situation where you could trust the system?
When I initially opened a business, I could think of only two things-sell something and work long hours. I did not understand the leadership skills I needed to possess or the strategies that the business required.
I began envisioning a business on autopilot. I knew it was possible to design a business that employees and I would enjoy working in. A business on autopilot would need three key components:
A clear vision of what success looks like
An empowered team that desires to see the vision become reality
Strong systems to support the team
A business that is on autopilot allows you to strategically relinquish control to team members while keeping the business on a steady course. It frees the business owner to focus her efforts on the activities that produce the highest return for the business. Having systems in place allows you to be alerted in the event that things are not going as planned. This allows you to reassert control if needed. Autopilot is also wonderful for the employees because with the clarity of direction they have a better understanding of where effort is needed to create success.
Napoleon Hill's book Think and Grow Rich describes the importance of "definiteness of purpose." We were working hard but the clear purpose/ vision was missing. Without a clear vision, empowered team, and strong systems, the business would never be on autopilot.
We clearly defined what criteria would create success for our business. We looked at the processes that would have to be in place for us to reach the goals. We determined what training was required to prepare each team member to confidently move toward the goals.
The true test of whether or not we are operating on autopilot is simple. Can the owner or any key person leave for thirty days and the business still move toward the goal in a stress-free manner? Do employees maintain the quality of service, productivity, and profitability regardless of who is present?
Create a self-sufficient business by providing a clear vision, empowering the team, and having strong systems. With an autopilot business the team will have such clarity around the direction that corrections will become automatic if needed. Employees who work in an autopilot business inherently focus on team success. We are totally committed to propelling the company to a preset heading through vision, an empowered team, and strong systems.
THOUGHT-PROVOKING QUESTIONS AND ACTION PLANS
1. During your workday, be conscious of whether or not you are operating in a trance or proactively moving toward a preset heading.
2. Do you feel your behaviors are more like those of a CEO or an employee? Are you really running a business?
3. What activities will you incorporate into your business model that will allow you to become an autopilot leader? Can you paint a clear vision, empower people, and design systems?
4. Does your business have a clear vision of what it takes to be successful? Do you empower the employees to get to the goal? Are systems in place to assure success?
5. When you leave work does your cell phone ring incessantly? Do employees have to call to locate documents? Are you able to relax when you leave the business?
Chapter FourThe Power Is Not in the King
Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him and to let him know that you trust him. -Booker T. Washington
WHEN I HAD the pleasure of visiting London, a tour guide explained that the kings of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries had to travel constantly in order to maintain order. They felt the only way to keep their subjects loyal was to be in constant direct contact. Their philosophy was "the power is in the king."
This statement made me reflect on my first years as a business owner. In the early years I felt like I personally had to do almost everything. I was fearful that the customers would feel slighted if I didn't personally assist them (just like the kings did). In addition, the power fed my ego. I thought I was pretty important when I saw my name on a sign for the first time. It felt great to finally be the one in charge.
I became the center of the business by convincing myself that customers might leave if I did not personally handle them. My lack of delegation began to backfire on me. I was insulting my employees by giving them the impression I did not trust them to do their jobs. In addition, they were not learning how to handle challenging situations because I would swoop in and take over. I was convincing our customers that I was the only capable person in the business. Without realizing it, I had created a mindset that "the power is in the queen," namely me.
I now understand that a business cannot be strong if it revolves around the business owner. A strong business owner understands that his or her financial investment is much safer if employees are knowledgeable and if customers can trust them.
Just as the king cannot possibly touch everyone in his kingdom, a business owner cannot be the only long-term point of contact for the customers. Often we need to acknowledge that if we want something done right, we should not do it ourselves.
After running the show for a few years, I learned it was not so cool for every client to want to deal with me personally. I was never going to get a life until I improved my delegation skills. I began to study the operation and read books on delegating. Slowly I began to allow others to perform some of my tasks. I no longer jumped in and took over every time a customer called or came in.