Entrepreneurship: A Dream or a Myth

7 Habits of an Entrepreneur

The dream of business ownership captures the imagination of aspiring entrepreneurs of every generation, who envision a journey of self-reliance, independence, personal fulfillment and a future limited only by ones will and effort. While most embark on the mission with great anticipation of success, most also underestimate the required measure of challenge, finance and individual capital, morphing the dream into a nightmare and the vision into a myth. Regardless of the industry, whether product or service, business ownership is a journey of significant financial risk, seemingly endless personal commitment and, always, very hard work.  Success in business depends on a clear focus of purpose, discipline and developing habits that will drive business success:

Cultivate Inner Networks: Successful entrepreneurs understand the power of networks. They take the time to identify and build relationships with key peers, mentors, and advisors. They surround themselves with those who are smarter and more successful in their own business disciplines and freely accept their advice, support and direction.

Become Customer Centric: Business success requires an unwavering commitment to the customer. While the customer may not always be right, they are ALWAYS the customer. This commitment encompasses a mindset of understanding the customers’ world. Understanding the customer’s wants and needs provides the business with a greater opportunity to earn a loyal customer base. Focus attention away from business and profits, and toward what you can do to improve the life of your customers.

Honest Humility:  Success in business requires the ability to know your strengths and weaknesses. Being open and honest about yourself and your business creates growth as an individual and as a company. Don’t spend time developing weaknesses. Seek out and accept help for weak areas, enabling you to focus on your strengths. Avoid falling into the trap brought on by some immediate period of success. Like a little knowledge a little success, early on in the business life-cycle, can be dangerous and deadly.

Adaptability: Achieving goals requires the ability to adapt to changing situations. Nothing ever goes as planned and established plan assumptions require monitoring and adjustment along the journey’s path to account for surprises and unforeseen events. Flexible allows for favorable reaction to unforeseen challenges. Murphy and the law of, “what can go wrong, will go wrong”, is a constant companion.

Become Opportunity Focused: Problems are a regular part of business life. Staff issues, customer misunderstandings, cash flow issues, taxes, fees and regulations are just a few. The list can seem endless, but every problem has an opportunity attached to it, embrace the challenge and strive turn the Edsel into a Mustang.

There is a Better Way: Becoming self-centered and arrogant is a common malady caused by a disease known as “I am the boss so I must always be smarter than everyone else syndrome”.  Accepting and implementing ideas and methods for improving productivity from the rank and file is an art that too often escapes the appreciation of even the most humble of entrepreneurs. Determine to establish an environment that welcomes and encourages associates to contribute solutions. Initiating a team based process will only strengthen the organization and expedite the journey to success. A micro-managed organization chokes off innovation and creativity and defers the realization of the ultimate goal.

Life Balance: Balancing personal affairs with a business is never going to be a 50-50 proposition. A business becomes who you are, not what you do and it will consume the majority of every owner’s time and energy. Accept the fact that being self-employed is a life style, not a career.

If you are one who is accustomed to measuring commitment by counting the number of hours invested, stop! Become satisfied with collecting a pay check signed, at the bottom right-hand corner, by someone else. Business ownership is not for those who focus on the cost to effort ratio, and if your plan includes merging retirement and starting a business, be warned. No business venture is remotely compatible with retirement!

You Can’t Always Read the Label from Inside of the Bottle

Coca Cola Ad Mistake

With every company becoming its own best producer of content ranging from Tweets and blogs to ads and billboards, the ability to deliver error-free copy is critical to maintaining a brands reputation, and while only a few readers might catch a grammatical blunder on a corporate advertisement, major errors in ads, corporate websites and point of purchase displays can seriously undermine the credibility of a company brand. A tarnished advertisement, digital or otherwise, will tarnish a company’s image. After all, if a company can’t spell or produce a clean message how can consumers trust them to deliver a quality product?

When Coca Cola was first introduced into China they named it Ke-Kou-Ke-La. Unfortunately, the Coke company did not discover until after thousands of signs had been printed that the phrase means “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax”, depending on the dialect. And when Sunmaid printed, “Why not try tossing over your favorite breakfast cereal?” on the side of their boxes of raisins, one could almost excuse the proofreading error and chuckle. To error is human, but when you wear the eraser out before the pencil, your over doing it!

While large mega businesses may have the ability to recover their reputation quickly, it’s small businesses that pay the bigger reputational price for the sloppy writing errors they make. Furthermore the medium really does make a difference. A simple spelling error in the informal environment like Twitter is not a fatal mistake, but make the same error on a billboard or a company ad and a promising career or an emerging business can end abruptly. Using the word “to” instead of “too” can be explained away as a non-functioning spell check program and may be casually excused, but misspelling the company name in a major display advertisement can be fatal to a company’s image and brand. How important is grammar to successful business? Says Brad Hoover, CEO of Grammarly, “Accurate writing is an important way brands can influence public perception. Accurate writing demonstrates professionalism and credibility. Customers are more likely to buy a product or a service from a company they trust.”

But more often, the most damaging error is the error of omission, simply failing to include important information that prospective customers will find critical if they are to become a company’s consumer.  Recently a year-end letter arrived in the mail as part of the annual holiday greeting from a popular gated community of nearly 2000 homes and properties. The content of the letter boasted the number of homes the sender had successfully closed during the year and a brief analysis of the market trends for the community in the coming New Year. It was obvious to the reader that the author was proud of their accomplishments and quite capable in their ability to affect the sale of a significant number of property transfers in the community.

However the letter was received in a blank, white envelope, void of any company or professional identity, business location or even a phone number. It was signed only with the author’s first name. While casual familiarity in closed communities can be desirable in personal service businesses, it is unlikely that even a remote few of the 2000 recipients had even the slightest clue as to the writer’s identity and even more unlikely that any recipient of this particular letter would consider hiring them.

Good, effective writing is a skill-set that is often evasive to even the most successful of professionals and business managers. It is very difficult to read the label from the inside of the bottle. Being too close and too knowledgeable about a subject can lead to costly content omissions in the message. In this age of complex, rapidly advancing communication technology, getting a message across effectively and successfully still begins and ends with who, what , when, and where.

Letting the Genie Out of the Bottle Too Soon?

RYNO Motors Bike

When a Portland, Oregon, engineer’s 13-year-old daughter asked if it was possible to build a one-wheeled motorcycle she saw in a video game, Chris Hoffmann decided that yes – he probably could. Further research revealed earlier attempts, such as a wild sit-inside-the-wheel contraption from the 1940s. With recent technological advances and cost reductions, leveraged from mass produced products like smart phones, the technology-to-cost curve had finally hit a tipping point. After nearly eight years of development, the Ryno is ready to be introduced to the world. Small, sleek and unique, it looks like something that rolled off a sci-fi movie set on to your neighborhood sidewalk. A modern day, 21st century high-tech version of the turn of the 20th century unicycle, the Ryno Cycle bears little resemblance to its ancestor. With a stubby, lower center of gravity and electrically powered, the Ryno was developed to accomplish a simple mission: making motorized personal transportation accessible, enjoyable, and practical.

With a price point under $5500.00, the space aged unicycle promises to attract an eager market of urban users who want to sport-around town at 10 miles per hour.  The Ryno promises easy, safe operation even to the motorized, cycle riding challenged among us. Recently, Chris Hoffman, inventor and CEO of Ryno Cycle, introduced his new contraption on an edition of NBC’s Today show and announced that the high-tech cycle would be ready for delivery by April 16, 2014. But a visit to the companies Facebook page and website, immediately after the televised introduction, revealed digital marketing collateral that is not fully developed, optimized or designed to provide users the opportunity to navigate effectively to making a purchase. With dealership information still incomplete and many product details and options not fully implemented, it would suggest that the April 16, roll-out is a bit optimistic at best.

The Ryno Cycle is a fantastic example of ingenuity of purpose and technological design and Mr. Hoffman and his obviously very capable team is to be commended on their engineering skills and insight in developing a unique product and bringing it to market introduction. Unfortunately, it may also be an example of how even the most brilliant product can have its introduction stymied by a lack of focus and preparation in engaging an effective marketing strategy.

In this fast paced technological environment, it is increasingly important to allocate resources to the development of a marketing strategy and its implementation that is at least equal to the commitment of time, energy and expertise directed to the engineering and development of the product. No matter how exciting and anticipated the product, failing to be fully ready to deliver the product and its promised benefits will result in confusion, frustration and negative resignation on the part of today’s demanding consumer and can embolden the market position of better prepared competitors.  Let’s hope that Ryno Cycle is quick to address the marketing issues before this ingenious new consumer vehicle doesn’t become another example of letting the genie out of the bottle too soon.

Social Media, Are We Really Connecting?

Social Media

It is difficult to remember a time when or place in everyday life wasn’t impacted by the tools of the digital revolution, a time when a conversation with distant loved ones did not include vehicles like Facebook, Twitter or Email to name only a few. Those who adapted to social media as it grew and developed remember different times and ways of communication than many of today’s youth ever will. The most recent generation will grow up never knowing a time without smartphones, Netflix and Wi-Fi. “Generation C”, as they have become known, is not delineated by a decade of birth, as with Baby Boomers or the Millennials, but it’s an umbrella term for a generation of consumers connected through social media and mobile devices. Our siblings who help program the smartphone are members of Generation C.

The Internet has changed almost every aspect of modern life. Those who have embraced the social aspects of the digital world comprise a unique segment of the population that is comfortable sharing not only their most mundane thoughts but also the most intimate details of their personal lives, often with people who they have never met or are likely to ever meet.  About one in seven people around the globe use a social networking site at least once a month and that number is expected to grow significantly over the next several years.  It is predicted that by 2017, 2.33 billion people will use social networks. Today it is as common to shop and purchase the newest widget as it is to meet, cultivate and acquire a personal relationship, all without ever having the opportunity to measure a human tone, share a touch or experience the revelation of a single look.  Studies show that only 7% of communication is based on the written or verbal word. A whopping 93% is based on nonverbal body language.

Social technologies have broken the barriers of space and time, enabling us to interact 24/7 with more people than ever before. But like any revolutionary concept, it has spawned a set of new barriers and threats. In an ironic twist, social media has the potential to make us less social; a surrogate for the real thing. While the new social communication environment has opened up the ability for each of us to expand our reach to the whole of the world, it may also be challenging the authenticity of our messages.

Social media is definitely changing the way we communicate, and in many ways it’s for the better as we expand our social circles and explore new horizons through our online connections. But awash in technology, anyone can hide behind the text, the e-mail, the Facebook post or the tweet, projecting any image they want and creating an illusion of their choosing. With virtual conversations, people cannot see, hear, or touch. In discussing sensitive and personal topics with other users, it is impossible to know the immediate impact of our words. We cannot see furrowed brows, bit lips, or clenched fists.

This presents an unprecedented paradox. With all the powerful social technologies at our fingertips, we are more connected, and potentially more disconnected, than ever before. With the prevalence of smartphones and popularity of texting it is not uncommon to see people glued to their technology even in social settings. Though we’re no less social, we are more distracted. Putting down our social media connections to focus on the ones right in front of us is something that takes a real effort and an exercise completely foreign to the social media generation.

But a trend is beginning to take root within the younger Social media generations. They are deeply hungry for meaningful face-to-face interactions and deeper, more meaningful communication, but feel they have to devise a new approach in order to get beyond shallow chit-chat offered up by a plethora of social media connections. The social media generation may appear to be the most connected, but they may, in fact, be the most disconnected.

Working the mechanics and connecting through the new social communication technologies is one thing, but practicing and refining the art of authentic communication beyond the technology remains the most important aspect to making a meaningful social connection.