The MonuMENTAL Experience Leadership Interview

The MonuMENTAL Experience youth and young adult mobile learning workshop to Washington, DC to celebrate the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument will take place August 27th – 29th October 15th-17th on buses departing from Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia. For more information go to www.mobileayes.com.

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Thrive on purpose!
Paul Wilson, Jr.

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Fulfill your purpose in the marketplace!

Your true life does not have to be only a dream, it can be a dream manifested in 3D! Learn how to Discover, Define, and Drive your desires by unleashing the God given muse to help you envision yourself in a B.I.G. way. God designed you for greatness so stop dreaming small. Uncover your legacy. Now is the season for a Bold Innovative God-Inspired Life! You owe it to yourself to see just how far your true dream in life can take you.

If you are looking for purpose in your life and life in your purpose, this is the perfect book for you. Get your copy today at www.DreamBIGin3D.com.

The Trust Factor

Know you. Like you. Trust you. It has been said that these are three critical elements of growing healthy customer relationships that result in sales and long-term loyalty. I just read a great article at Businessweek.com that speaks to the key steps in building trust with your customers (click here for the article).
Entrepreneurs can’t afford not to focus on trust-building, especially when customers are more conservative and discriminating about how they spend their money. Sometimes trust is often the ultimate motivating factor for purchasing decisions.

Below is a list of some key questions related to building trust with your current and future customers. Having practical, specific, and customer-friendly answers to these questions will help you to build credibility and a competitive advantage.

  • How are you building a brand that demonstrates trust?
  • With every customer interaction, are you thinking about a long-term relationship versus a one-time transaction?
  • Does everyone in your company operate with a trust-building mindset?
  • How do you help your customers develop a comfort level with your products or services?
  • If your products or services don’t work as promised, what remedies or processes do you have in place to quickly resolve issues?

Remember, if you focus on getting your customers to know you, like you, and trust you, you will not only increase your probability of sales now, you will also enhance your opportunities for repeat sales in the future.

Empowering Champions,
Paul Wilson, Jr.

Passion for Improvement

Excitement gets you started, but passion keeps you going.

Is your business as successful as it has the potential to be? Are you as good of a leader as you can be? Are you on track to accomplish all of your 2008 goals? If your answer is “no” to any of these questions, I would ask you the simple question, “why not?”

I know that there could be many reasons (or excuses) as to why you may have answered no. You may have challenges with time, money, focus, help, procrastination, or any of the other typical excuses that are used when it comes to talking about why we haven’t done something. Taking into consideration those reasons that are legitimate and the ones that are not, I believe one of the key reasons that you have not yet accomplished some of your goals could be your lack of passion.

You might be reading this and think it foolish of me to write that an entrepreneur or businessperson could lack passion for what they do. I’m not raising the question about your passion for the object of your business affection. I’m raising the question about your passion for your commitment to doing what you do even better.

Reading and listening to the jargon of the business world, I see many words that are often overused and misused. One of the most frequently overused and misused words is passion. Many people think that passion is just having excitement or a strong emotional connection to something. However, having a true passion for something is much bigger than just those two things.

The passion I’m talking about is an intense commitment to see something all the way through to its completion or fulfillment. It is demonstrated through endurance and a willingness to fight for what you believe in. True passion won’t let you stop fighting until you accomplish your goal, dream, or vision (read “Fighting for Your Dream”).

Passion not only helps you to determine what ideas to say “yes” to, but it also helps you determine what ideas to say “no” to. In business it’s easy to find many concepts and ideas about which to get excited. However, not all of those things would you – nor should you – be willing to invest the time, money, and energy to see them through to their completion or fulfillment. For the things that you would say yes to, real passion transfers excitement and emotion into action.

One of the things that passion should help you say yes to is continuous improvement of yourself and your business. Passion for continuous improvement means never being satisfied with what’s already been accomplished. It means waking up every day asking yourself the question, “how can I be better today?” It means that “good” is not good enough. It means looking in every nook, corner, and crevice of your business for ideas, fixes or tweaks that will help you to lower your operating costs, upgrade your products, or enhance your services.

While most entrepreneurs probably would agree with me that continuous improvement is important, many haven’t yet made the commitment to it (or maybe they think they have even though they haven’t). One reason that I say this is because of the failure rate of small businesses. Based on my personal interactions with small businesses, this failure rate is somtimes driven by the owners’ unwillingness or slowfulness to improve their products or services. Another factor is that they are too busy working “in” the business to work “on” the business, which would limit them from being able to see their operations from a broader, strategic perspective.

To have an effective continuous improvement effort, entrepreneurs must shift their focus to working on the business. Some key areas that you should focus on include:

  • Product/Service differentiation: Becoming better, faster, or cheaper than your competitors.
  • Customer service: Exceeding customer expectations cost effectively.
  • Marketing: Attracting, capturing, and retaining new customers.
  • Operations: Streamlining your processes and increasing your productivity, allowing you to handle more customers or orders with the same or fewer resources.
  • Decision making process: Data and fact-driven decision making versus subjective, opinionated or anecdotal decision making.

And here’s two more areas that are often over looked when it comes to continuous improvement, but should be top priorities as it relates to their critical importance to a business:

  • Employees: Creating an attractive, engaging, fun, challenging, and safe-to-fail work environment.
  • Personal development: Utilizing structured and informal means to facilitate lifelong learning and skills development.

One of the key benefits of having a passion for improvement is that it can spark profitable innovations in your business. Innovation requires that you be dissatisfied with the status quo. So when you have an intense desire to always get better, your creative abilities can released and directed toward those areas in your business that need to be improved or enhanced, producing financially rewarding solutions for you and your customers.

Leaders are learners and there is always something new that you could learn to help you or your business do something better. No matter how successful you or your business becomes, you must always have a passion for continuous improvement.

Empowering Champions,

Paul Wilson, Jr.

Turn a Great Idea into a Great Business

Good is the Enemy of Great

Recently I revisited an excellent book that I had read a few years ago, Good to Great by Jim Collins. When I initially read the book, I viewed it mainly from a corporation’s perspective (of course I was working for a corporation at the time). However, now as an entrepreneur when I look at the key principles contained in this book, I realize that the model that Collins discovered of what makes a business great over the long-term applies to small businesses just as much as it does to large corporations.

Collins writes on the first page of the book, “Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.” Not only does this truth apply to life, but it also applies to your business. As hard as it is to become a good company, it is that much harder to become a great company.

Greatness in business requires some essential components, including focused visionary leadership, commitment to continuous improvement, flexibility to respond to the changing marketplace, passionate perseverance and consistent execution of your strategy over time.

The statistics that detail the lack of success of small businesses are staggering. The numbers tell us that 95% of all small businesses fail within 5 years. Yet when I look at the marketplace, the reason that number is so high is not due to the lack of great ideas. There’s actually an abundance of great ideas in the marketplace. Instead, the reason that most small businesses fail often comes down to the fact that many (some would say most) entrepreneurs lack the willingness or ability to execute essential business principles to turn great ideas into great businesses.

Don’t Settle for Good When Your Business Can be Great!

Good to Great contains some incredible nuggets of wisdom that entrepreneurs can use to grow a great business. Let’s look at a few of them and how they apply to small businesses…

  1. Level 5 Leadership: According to Jim Collins, this type of leadership, which by the way is not common, is defined by those who “build enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” This type of entrepreneur is more concerned with building a great business rather than just building a big bank account (read my post “Mission-Driven Entrepreneur“). Besides, one of the benefits of building a great business that gets sustained results over a long period of time is reaping the financial rewards that come along with it.

  2. The Hedgehog Concept: A common fallacy embraced by many aspiring (and some current) entrepreneurs is that you can grow a successful business based simply around your passion. Unfortunately, this idea is only partially true. The Hedgehog Concept says that for a business idea/model to be successful, it must be built around the intersection and close-knit integration of three critical components: 1) Something you are deeply passionate about, 2) Something you can be the best at, 3) and Something customers are willing to pay for. This is essentially your business “sweet spot”. If you are missing one of more of these components, you will be hard pressed to build an enduring, successful business. Ask yourself, “Am I trying to develop a hobby, operate a charity, or build a business?

  3. A Culture of Discipline: One of the reasons that many people, including myself, have spurned corporations for small businesses is the bureaucratic nature of many large companies. Nevertheless, entrepreneurs have to be very careful not to “throw the baby out with the bath water” as it relates to structure, systems and processes. Every business, large or small, needs these three essential elements to succeed. A sound organizational structure, efficient operating systems and consistent execution of core processes are crucial to your business’s ability to grow from good to great. The key is how these elements are implemented, practiced and monitored. Collins writes, “The single most important form of discipline for sustained results is fanatical adherence to the Hedgehog Concept and the willingness to shun opportunities that fall outside [that model].” Basically, it takes discipline to know what to say “no” to.

  4. Flywheel and the Doom Loop: You are about to read something that is the complete antithesis of our microwave, instant gratification, get-rich-quick culture. Like a delicious home cooked meal, it takes a long time to grow a great company that gets consistent sustained results. Because of a flywheel’s weight, it’s hard to get it to start turning. However, after it starts turning, its weight causes momentum that actually keeps it going and even causes its speed to increase. Good-to-Great businesses build momentum with small successes that over time grow to become big successes. Attention to detail and perfecting what you do well now, especially the quality of your products/services and customer service, will create bigger growth opportunities for you in the future. On the flip side, short-term thinking/planning, chasing opportunities outside of your “sweet spot”, and unethical behavior will lead to a downward spiral that is often irreversible.
There is much more to this book than I’ve highlighted here that you can use to transform your great idea into a great business. And no matter where you are on your business journey, start-up or 10-year veteran, there is always room for improvement. I believe that if you apply even a few of the Good to Great principles you will be well on your way to avoiding the 95% small business failure abyss. I look forward to your greatness!

Empowering Champions,
Paul Wilson, Jr.


Resources:

Good to Great by Jim Collins

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber

Small Giants: Companies that Chose to be Great Instead of Big by Bo Burlingham

Just Like Jazz

I was driving in my car the other day and listening to some jazz on the radio. As I was appreciating the exquisite craftsmanship and unique blend of notes, melodies, and riffs of a particular song, an interesting thought came to my mind. In many ways, jazz is very similar to business and jazz artists are very similar to entrepreneurs.

I love music and one of my favorite genres is jazz. What I enjoy the most is the talent of the artists expressed through their musical creativity and innovation. To the casual listener, it is extremely difficult to distinguish when a jazz musician is “playing it straight” or improvising by adding their own flare to a song. Although they play within the structure of the song, i.e. tone, harmony, tempo, melody, they are still able to innovate within that structure to create an experience that is unique, inspiring, bold, and beautiful.

Entrepreneurs are very similar to jazz musicians. Just like with a musical composition, structure is also very important in business. In business there are some key fundamentals and guidelines to operating one successfully. Those guidelines include things such as leadership, vision, strategic planning, cash flow, marketing, customer service, competitive pricing, etc. Nevertheless, true business impresarios improvise and innovate within these guidelines to create products and services that wow their customers. Their flare and creativity are the result of knowing how to make effective business decisions, anticipating the dynamic ebb and flow of the marketplace.

Although they may be known for their cutting edge products and services, the most innovative companies still understand and operate by basic business fundamentals. They recognize that discipline is the foundation for creativity and innovation, meaning that they must execute well in the basics before they can step outside of the box. Likewise, when someone first sits down to learn how to play an instrument, they don’t start with the most difficult songs. They start with the easy ones and build from there. If you are early on in your business, don’t try to go so far out of the box that you don’t have a business model that can make money. Excel in the basics first, and then expand your operations and activities.

It’s interesting that when you listen to jazz, sometimes a chord here or there may sound out of place. Often in business, you have to go outside of the norm and change the definition of what others may consider normal. What’s off key for somebody else may be just right for you. Companies that are successful are able to expand outside the box by differentiating themselves from their competition through price, quality, uniqueness, service, or some other distinguishing factor.

Just like there are different types of jazz, there are different types of management and operational styles. If you have very conservative customers, your approach may need to be a little more conservative. However, if you are targeting more fast-paced, risk-taking customers, you better align your products and services with their preferences. If you have a mixture of customers, then you really have to be able to “flow” both ways.

You are a business maestro. Be disciplined, but also flexible. Find what’s right for you and then be the best at executing it. Don’t be afraid to stretch yourself and try something new or different. Create “wow” experiences for your customers. That might be just what you need to bring your business into harmony with your target market.

I look forward to hearing the sweet sounds – cha-ching! – of your entrepreneurial endeavors.

Empowering You for Success,
Paul Wilson

Tags: business, entrepreneur, leadership, jazz, innovation, music, innovative business ideas

The Habit of Winning

Everyone wants to be associated with a winner, i.e. someone who is regarded as successful. However, just because you know a winner doesn’t automatically make you one, just like being in a garage doesn’t mean that you are now a car. There are some key criteria that qualify someone as a winner.

Before I go any further, I need to define some terms that people use in various ways. I define a “win” as an achievement or accomplishment and I define “winning” as on-going, successive achievements. The habit of winning occurs when a person is able to follow a self-developed pattern of thoughts, behaviors and actions that allows them to consistently overcome obstacles and challenges in order to achieve continual victories in their pursuits.

Success is not established with one victory necessarily. Real success is sustained by winning over the long-term. Successful people are not successful due to happenstance or good fortune. They are successful because they have taken the time to develop the habit of winning. The habit of winning applies to your business, career, marriage, relationships, personal pursuits, sports, etc. People can develop the habit of winning just like they can develop the habit of losing, i.e. they get used to failure or self-sabotaging ways and begin to expect these negative patterns to continue.

The habit of winning is easy to see in sports. One obvious athlete that typified this mindset was Michael Jordan, considered by many to be the best basketball player of all time. Most people would agree that he was the most talented player whenever he stepped on the court. While he had immense talent, two of his character traits that stood out the most, though, were his work ethic and will to win. In the off-season he probably worked harder than anybody else did. He understood that the secret to sustained winning was not just his talent. He knew that he had to keep doing those things that got him to the top in order for him to stay at the top.

Winning Habits = Discipline

Most people are satisfied to simply have talent or a good idea and think that will be enough to succeed over the long-term. In business your talent or a good idea may help you gain a new customer or an initial contract, but those things by themselves won’t allow you to develop healthy, long-term revenue streams. It’s not time to relax after winning the contract or gaining a new customer. The intensity and focus of the pursuit shouldn’t decrease; it simply changes. Discipline and diligence are required to grow prosperous relationships (click on Disciplined for Success).

One key area of your business where it is critical for you to develop winning habits is customer service. If you want to create long-term success, you have to be relentless and almost fanatical about maintaining a high-quality level of service. Here are some ideas to help you do that.

  • Send written thank you notes to your customers before and after the deal is closed.
  • Return customer phone calls or emails within 24 hours.
  • If possible, perform a self-audit of your product or service while it is being used by your customer.
  • Administer surveys that invite your customers to critique your offerings.
  • Add valuable services as an upgrade for current products.
  • Improve the ease of use of your products and services.
  • Provide free upgrades to your product or service prior to a customer request.
  • Discover ways to streamline your processes and lower your costs, so that you can pass on some of the savings to your customers.
  • Brainstorm ideas for new and better product or services.
  • Invite potential customers to focus groups to develop relationships and understand their needs, so that you can tailor your offerings to meet those needs.
  • Use a newsletter or blog to proactively provide valuable information that will assist your customer in their operations.

Winning consistently in business and in life takes focus, passion, perseverance, commitment, resilience, and discipline. Sometimes it is hard to maintain a high level of focus everyday; however, don’t give yourself excuses or blame other people for you not achieving your goals. One thing that will help is for you to revisit your written vision often. When you have those bouts of laziness or discouragement, use your vision to jolt you back into the game. Successful people win consistently with discipline and diligence. Don’t allow short-term comfort (or discomfort) to impede your long-term success.

Empowering You for Success,

Paul Wilson

Tags: business, entrepreneur, leadership, customer service, discipline, Michael Jordan, sports