How Bad Examples Fuel Change

Every moment is a learning opportunity, even the bad ones..

When I started as an entrepreneur I knew networking was crucial to success so without hesitation I joined my local Chamber of Commerce. The first event I attended was in the patio of a local eatery dressed with free food and drinks.

There were two types of people there: veteran members who stood on the sidelines talking to each and newbies like me introducing myself to anyone who wasn’t in conversation. Reciting an elevator pitch, handing out business cards and trying to sell myself was my approach. I remember it being quite loud there so 50 business cards later I left forgetting who was who and quite hoarse from the night’s interactions. After I got home, decompressed and evaluated the event I questioned the purpose of it.

A month later I figured maybe I just had a bad experience and went to the next event in an office space. Less food, quieter ambiance and more intimate. But the results were the same. As I introduced myself to members, I felt judged. Did I need to earn their respect immediately by telling a recent conquest? It seemed like it would take a while to penetrate the walls of folded arms, so I decided to leave.

I said to myself, “If this is what networking is, I don’t want to do it anymore!”

A few years later I was in a slow season of business and knew I had to drum up some new contacts, but didn’t know how. As someone who loves to organize events, I knew what components both needed to be present and absent for actual “connecting” to happen. I met with a friend and shared my vision for this new type of networking event and he encouraged me to try it…so I did.

Career Synergy was a 90-minute, monthly networking event hosted at a local coffee shop after hours on the first Tuesday of the month geared towards young professionals. How did I decide on these details? Surveys and market research.

What I wanted: speakers rich with life experiences they wanted to share, scheduled small groups times during the meeting and a dedicated informal “connecting” time after the event (not before).

What I didn’t want: loud music, free food/drinks and unstructured networking before the event.

How I measured success: 25 events total ranging from 10 – 45 people. 90% of attendees stayed 30 minutes after the events to mingle with each other. I made friends and partnered together in events to this day.

The shift for me happened when I stopped complaining about past examples and created my own solution.

Once networking became a lifestyle instead of an “event” the quality and quantity of my connections increased.

To this day I set a goal to connect with at least one person a week over the phone or in-person (that’s with a full-time job, plus email is too easy of an option).

Your career is more about who you know than what you know, but if you focus on improving bad experiences there might actually be a business idea waiting to be launched!

Bad examples will occur, but the question is: will it sour you or fuel you to change?

The 1 Word That Changes Entrepreneurship

The difference between failure and success as a business owner can be minuscule.

Being an entrepreneur for 10 years I’ve had to learn a lot of hard lessons, but one concept has been clear-cut lately.

Systems beat sweat.

That doesn’t contradict hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, instead it signals that “smarter” refers to systems when it comes to efficiency.

The simple shift from “my” business to “the” business can be the difference between being profitable and a hobby.

A lot of entrepreneurs describe their business as their baby (as did I) which can be a huge mistake.

If you watch a lot of business shows on TV like The Profit, Shark Tank & Restaurant Startup the common theme you’ll see is a clear system in place. The term scale is thrown out like common lingo meaning to strategically plan for exponential growth.

For myself I didn’t embrace this theory early on because my reasons for owning a business had more to do with flexibility than money. If you fall more into the lifestyle entrepreneur category like me, scaling is still very important.

Most people who leave Corporate America do it because they want to be their own boss. What you don’t realize is you’re leaving a systemized company that has already figured out how to scale. Besides now figuring out how to make money, the challenge of creating a repeatable, predictable system falls on you.

Once you start looking at your idea (pre-business) as a business, not your business, it becomes less personal and more objective. Ever wonder why it’s easier to give advice to other business owners than to your own? It’s because it’s not yours!

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be invested and passionate about your business, but less attached and more determined to make it run without you.

Successful business owners almost seem a bit detached from their business and that’s actually healthy. They are more focused on strategy and automation than having their hands all over it. In fact, similar to most authors, once you start a business there’s a good chance it won’t be your last (regardless of the success of failure of one).

Serial entrepreneurship is a lifestyle. It’s being obsessed with ideas and figuring out how to monetize them. I can’t say I’ve figured it out, but it’s a ride I hope I never get tired of going on.

One word makes all the difference.

How To Spot A Secure Leader

The title leader can be given to anyone.

But the term leader and manager are worlds apart.

Most managers were promoted because of seniority or selected because of their technical prowess. Two of the many wrong reasons to become a manager.

Micromanagers are so rampant because the wrong skill sets are glorified. Individual performance isn’t a clear indicator of potential leadership. Using a sports analogy, the best player on a team isn’t automatically the MVP.

The difference between a secure leader and an insecure manager is encapsulated in the following statement:

How willing are they to implement other’s ideas?

Working with youth was my first introduction to leadership development. I remember planning a 6-week summer camp. I came prepared to share the weekly topics I felt were best, but then it hit me, “in order for the youth to feel empowered I should choose their agenda (ideas) over mine.”

At the time I thought it was a subtle gesture, but it turned out to be the difference between recruiting teenagers and developing young leaders. Because I let them choose the topics, they put way more effort, creativity and were much more motivated to run a great program.

Back to the sports analogy. Imagine you’re the coach of an individually talented team. You’d think your job is to throw your team out there and just let them figure it out. Although that’s not a bad strategy, the better one is to identify the strengths of each player, then put them in a system that allows them to shine in a customized role. The coach’s job is less about managing talent and more about governing egos. Leaders allow their people to thrive because they’re focused on eliminating distractions so they can maximize performance.

A manager’s role isn’t to puff his/her chest out trying to be the best. It’s about serving the people under them by trusting their ability to make the best decisions. In the age of infinite information what gets lost is people are your greatest asset, not data.

The simple act of hearing your team out and choosing their ideas over yours will increase morale and retention tremendously.

Why is this act so powerful?

Because it takes a secure leader to know he/she doesn’t need to be the smartest person in the room, only smart enough to empower the ones who make you look good.

3 Signs It’s Time To Quit Your Job

In today’s job market securing a position before leaving is crucial and job-hopping is the new norm.

But how do you know it’s time to start looking elsewhere when the grass isn’t always greener on the other side?

Financial need should be one of the main criteria, but logic aside, here are some telltale signs the end is near:

1. You Dread Going To Work

Emotions are like the check engine light on your car dashboard. They indicate when something is wrong. For some lack of alignment with the vision of the company can be the deal breaker, while passion is the widely used qualitative measurement (on a scale of 1 – 10 how much do you love the company you work for?) As I wrote in an earlier post, you either drink the Kool-Aid or you don’t. If you score a 6 or below it may be a matter of when, not if you leave.

2. You Don’t Feel Valued

Value comes in different forms: respect, appreciation, compensation, etc. Being fairly paid is self-explanatory (and normally tied to your self-worth), but the “feeling” is tied to your direct manager. People leave managers, not companies. True story.

You may interact with your co-workers more frequently, but how you are treated by your boss is the thermometer. Feeling respected is being heard. Don’t expect all your ideas to be implemented, but if they’re all discarded you simply stop caring. Using the car analogy, value is the emotional fuel you run on at work.

When full, it’s easy to brush off apparent challenges.

When running on empty, minor offenses can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Value determines longevity.

3. No Growth Opportunities 

Professional development ranked higher than pay for Millennials in job surveys. That’s because the corporate ladder has been turned sideways where lateral movement to another company can be more attractive than promotion.

Culture is the driver for individual growth. Using Zappos as an example, it’s the core values that shape behaviors, not mission statements. Investment in employees can be risky because they can leave, but without it you have little chance of people staying past a year. Smart companies use both internal and external resources to champion this cause. If Human Resources is overloaded, hiring an outside trainer or consultant who specializes in learning and development can be the better route. Establishing a connection then challenging comfort zones is the intersection of growth.

Moving on has more to do with how you feel treated than it does anything rational. Life is too short to settle for mediocrity. If you care about making an impact you’ll look outside your current organization for more attractive options. Remember, the best candidates are employed and there’s never anything wrong with looking for something better.

How Relationships Should Evolve (In My Eyes)

We tend to view the world from our own lens and rightly so.

So how does being built for human connection actually play out?

In my eyes relationships are an endless conversation. You pick up next time exactly where you left off previously.

But in my experience that rarely happens.

Factors such as effort, memory and focus determine the quality of exchange.

If one person puts in the energy, but the other doesn’t it ceases to grow.

If one person forgets where you left off, the next interaction is like meeting a stranger for the first time.

If one person has an agenda or task needed to be accomplished, it’s merely a one-time transaction.

I admit when my goal is to know someone deeper I put in the effort. I don’t always succeed, but most of the time I do.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, he uses the term “thin slicing” to make quick judgement of people. It’s a form of stereotyping, but it’s how our minds create schema.

It’s at the crux of how we decide to proceed.

In some cases people don’t have the soft skills to connect effectively. Technology is somewhat to blame, but intention, empathy and practice carry more weight.

Task-driven people believe others exist as a means to accomplish their ends.

Relationship-driven folk view people as an end in itself.

Similar to an ambivert, you can be both, but usually you lean more towards one side than the other.

Neither is better, but your personal life reveals which position is more important.

I joke with my friends that online dating has killed relationships, but that could be a generational preference. The reason I go there is because if I met my wife through a dating site, how much risk would I take getting to know her? (If the answers are already revealed, what’s the fun in discovery?)

Don’t get me wrong, I am more introverted than extroverted, so my goal isn’t to become close to everyone I meet. In fact I choose quality over quantity, so when I intend to “invest” in someone I dive in head-first not knowing if there’s actually water in the pool.

head-first-dive

Is that reckless behavior? Possibly.

But then again it’s my life, not yours.

No risk. No Reward. That’s how I see it.

The 1 Thing You Have To Give Up To Be A Successful Entrepreneur

thing-1

Your relationships.

Anyone who has been a successful business owner has sacrificed their personal life at some point.

I’m not against working hard, but at what expense?

I hear a lot of 20 somethings say they want to focus on their career then get married and start a family in their 30’s. Well guess what: relationships don’t grow on trees nor come without a cost – mainly time.

It’s the same reason why most celebrities and professional athletes aren’t able to maintain a strong family unit because they’ve chosen to put their careers in the forefront and their relationships outside of work on the back burner. If you’re fortunate enough to have a selfless spouse who can hold the house down while you’re away then it can work, but that takes a special individual to put your needs before theirs.

When I look back on my career as a full-time entrepreneur I realize why I never met my own lofty expectations: I put people before profit. It’s your choice which one you choose, but rarely can you pick both.

I had too many boundaries in place to go “all-in,” therefore I would work up to a certain point, but cared about my lifestyle more than my possessions.

This post isn’t to mock those who have made it big nor is it putting those who are relationally-focused on a pedestal. It’s my observation of over 10+ years of reading, hearing and witnessing first-hand what it really takes to live the American Dream.

If there’s an understanding in terms of priorities that your career is first then those associated with you have to abide by it. Of course hard work alone doesn’t guarantee anything, but without it you don’t stand a chance.

The realization I came to is: people are most important to me.

When I first started my business I had financial goals in mind that I hit quickly, but over time I realized to reach the next tier I’d have to sacrifice the relationships around me. Since I wasn’t willing to do that, the numbers of hours I dedicated reflected in the amount of the paycheck (or lack thereof).

Fortunately I married someone who shares my values. I love that she is raising our two kids at home until they are full-time at school. We can make it on a single income because we live lean and value our time together the most. You don’t need a lot of money to be happy, but you do need to allocate a great amount of time to others.

It’s up to you to decide what currency is most important: time or money. Once you do, it’s easy to know where you should spend your energy.

Why You Shouldn’t Set New Year’s Resolutions

new-years-resolutions

With the start of a new year, resolutions come to mind, but come mid-January (or February at the latest) you’ve already broken your promise. Why is that?

Resolutions, similar to goals, are set up to fail from the start. Here’s why:

The main reason why accomplishing your goals have such a low success rate is because even the best effort doesn’t result in perfection. This isn’t a scapegoat for not trying, but rather working the odds in your favor.

New Year’s Resolutions can be compared to starting a new business. The failure rate within the first 3 years is 80%. Now 3 years is longer than one month, but the concept is the same. Resiliency and patience are hard to come by. Call it a result of our fast-paced society, but we suck at waiting for results.

There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious, but making behavior changes is hard work.

If you’ve ever set a goal and failed at it, you remember the feeling. You’ll do whatever you can to not revisit that feeling because its debilitating. Hence the reason why we avoid goal setting in the first place.

Instead shift your focus to creating good habits. Not only are habits better than goals, but they are process-oriented meaning progress is the desired outcome not perfection.

For example: losing 20 pounds is a goal while living a healthy lifestyle is a habit. You may lose the weight (doubtful), but chances are you’ll gain it back and then some shortly after. But if you decide to workout 3 times a week (on average) and cut your weekly sugar intake not only will you lose the weight, but it’s a sustainable change because you give yourself grace for special occasions.

It’s popular to set New Year’s Resolutions in January because the calendar is a trigger for fresh starts. Beyond that there’s not a real good reason why then is the best time.

When you want to fix or achieve something following the the right process is almost more important than the desired outcome. At it’s core nothing is wrong with goals, but if you want to set yourself up for success in the new year focus on habits and the results will come in time.

Why Punctuality Makes My Blood Boil

boiling-point

Time is the most valuable currency, not money.

Everyone has the same amount, but we don’t use it the same.

Even before I was married and had kids, being on time mattered.

Efficiency is one of my top values and working smarter means maximizing your time.

But at a deeper level punctuality is about respect.

If time is the most valuable currency, being late means you’re wasting someone else’s time.

It’s time you can’t get back.

My roots were planted by my mom who is extremely reliable. When I was a kid if I asked her to do something and she committed to it, it would get done. It’s had a huge influence on my personality.

In the workplace punctuality is part of your reputation. When you’re late people notice. In fact I’d argue it’s a sign of integrity.

If a meeting starts at 8 AM and you’re late, it’s a slap in the face to the host.

Nobody’s perfect so an occasional slip up is fine, but habitual offenders become labeled.

Even since I joined the corporate world, I’ve continued to network online (LinkedIn), via phone and in-person on my lunch breaks. It’s more than a goal, it’s part of my lifestyle. The worst way to ruin a first impression is to show up late. I do my best to be early or on time.

So what if you lack punctuality?

You have a choice: talk about it or be about it.

Words are cheap. Actions are what matters. Don’t tell me, show me.

Most people believe being busy is a badge of honor. I disagree.

The more successful you become, the more in control of your time you should be.

Value your time by meeting with less people.

Value others’ time by showing up on time.

Valuing time means respecting others’.

Your Career Runny Egg Moment

slaters-burger

I love burgers. Have you ever tried a fried egg inside your burger?

If not, you haven’t truly lived…

One of my favorite burgers is the Original from Slater’s 50/50: 50% beef 50% bacon patty. avocado mash. chipotle mayo, pepper jack cheese & a sunny side egg on a brioche bun.

The ingredients mesh perfectly, but the highlight of the culinary experience is the initial puncture of the yolk, it runs down the center of the burger and you have to take a bite before it drips on your plate.

My description may not be doing it justice, but it reminds me of a parallel in your career.

Similar to the moment the yolk breaks, there is a moment in time where opportunity strikes.

For example, it happens in the job search process: you’d love if employers gave you a timeline once you applied/interviewed, but that rarely happens (even if it does, it’s inaccurate).

Meanwhile you continue to apply for more positions hoping the “yolk” breaks on your preferred timeline.

Truth is you have little control over the process.

Do your research. Prepare for the moment. Brand yourself clearly.

Your next career prospect is all about timing.

It’s a numbers game. If you apply to one job and wait, you’ll be miserably waiting (and severely disappointed if you’re rejected).

On the other hand if you apply to multiple positions, network like crazy and follow-up like a mad man (or woman) something will eventually break when you least expect it.

Life is all about timing.

You never know when your career runny egg moment will come, but when it does will you be ready for it?

Why Startups Are Overrated

startup-life

Follow your passion. Chase your dreams.

Bad advice depending on your age/life stage.

The startup life is glorified from the outside, but those inside the ropes think differently.

Your corporate 9-5 job may suck the life out of you, but imagine working 40+ hours and getting paid less.

Think the grass is greener on the other side? Try turning grass over. It’s brown.

Similar to entrepreneurship and parenting, everything you see/read/learn doesn’t equate to first-hand experience.

Working for a startup is grueling. Long hours for little pay isn’t for everyone. Age/life stage should be your determining factor.

In your 20’s your career is most important, so working hard for something you believe in takes priority.

In your 30’s relationships (dating/marriage/family) are most important, so working hard to support your desired lifestyle take priority.

In your 40’s planning for retirement is most important, so working hard to secure your future takes priority.

Startups are ideal for people in their 20’s or younger. Fewer responsibilities means less concerns about work life balance.

Once you enter your 30’s boundaries become important. The difference lies in what you do after work: going to the bar with friends vs. going home to see your family.

There’s nothing wrong with chasing the American dream, but the better question to ask is: when are you chasing it?