Get Up & Get Going!

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“It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.” Aristotle

As I wrote about in The Secrets of Morning People Revealed, mornings are uniquely important in five distinct ways:

  1. Your willpower is at its highest
  2. Your mind is less scattered
  3. You’re less likely to be interrupted
  4. You increase the availability of time
  5. You start your day with a sense of accomplishment

If you’re going to change the world, you need to get up early. You’ll get more done and you’ll see unique, amazing, and wonderful things. So, get up and get going!

3 Reasons Why the Struggle is More Important than the Goal

58733825_lI’m not a runner, but I ran six half-marathons once. Growing up in New England, it was always a dream to one day run the Boston Marathon but training for and running six half-marathons was all I needed to realize how difficult that would be. I learned that running is hard and running long distances is even harder. Although I only conquered the 13.1 mile race, I learn a lot about myself and what I could do if I didn’t quit.

“If you’re going through hell, keep on going. Don’t slow down, if you’re scared, don’t show it.” Rodney Atkins

The truth is, long distant running is not about bragging rights, personal records, t-shirts or race medals. It’s about challenging yourself to do something difficult. Most people see what happens on race day but they don’t witness the months of training and the hours spent grinding out the miles day after day. There is excitement the day you sign up for a race and the day you finish a race, but the real work and struggle is done in the middle.

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” Theodore Roosevelt

I have been reading Donald Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and it has me thinking about the importance of the hard work in the middle of any difficult challenge and how it changes you. As an entrepreneur, I can fully relate. There is excitement in starting a new company and setting out on a new course. But, after the newness wears off, the hard work begins. Most people never see all the effort that goes into getting a new business off the ground and how it affects the people involved. Miller talks about this in a passage called “The Thing about a Crossing.”

It’s like this when you live a story: The first part happens fast. You throw yourself into the narrative, and you’re finally out in the water; the shore is pushing off behind you and the trees are getting smaller. The distant shore doesn’t seem so far, and you can feel the resolution coming, the feeling of getting out of your boat and walking the distant beach. You think the thing is going to happen fast, that you’ll paddle for a bit and arrive on the other side by lunch. But the truth is, it isn’t going to be over soon. The reward you get from a story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you imagined. The point of the story is never about the ending, remember. It’s about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle.

As Miller suggests, the hard work in the middle of any difficult challenge is more important than the ending. There are three distinct reasons for this:

The struggle builds character. An easy life is one that doesn’t change you. Challenge brings about change. The struggle requires determination, courage, intensity and perseverance. Some days it takes everything to keep going especially when the end seems nowhere in sight. It’s those moments, like being on the ninth mile of a half marathon on a bridge in the cold, windy, pouring rain, that you find out who you are. If you don’t quit, you learn you can do amazing things.

The struggle builds relationships. As I wrote in 5 Reasons to Celebrate the Tough Times, persevering through a difficult challenge with a team or another person builds strong bonds that last a lifetime. When you suffer and struggle together, you build a defining moment in your relationship. You build mutual respect. You create a mental catalog of similar experiences. This is why I can instantly reconnect with shipmates from the Navy or the people I worked with during a difficult labor dispute. Donald Miller learned this while biking across the country with fifteen strangers. After the first three weeks of struggling, he said, “the pain bound us together.”

The struggle builds the story. Every great story has a hero’s journey. The main character must struggle and overcome a major obstacle or challenge. As an audience, we become endeared to the hero as he endures hardships and trials. This is the same with people and organizations. We are attracted to those who have faced trials and overcome. We appreciate the cancer survivor, the wounded veteran, and the entrepreneur who struggles for years to build a great company. We love stories like that of J.K. Rowling, who lived on welfare and struggled to get by as a single mother before she became the world’s most famous author. The tougher the story, the more people are interested in you.

“Never throughout history has a man who lived a life of ease left a name worth remembering.” Theodore Roosevelt

The thing is, if you find yourself in the middle of a struggle with seemingly no end in sight, you’re in a good place. The hard work in the middle of any difficult challenge is more important than the ending. You are growing as a person and learning what you are capable of. You are building your character and the relationships with the people around you. You are also building a story worth remembering. So, if you’re going through hell, don’t stop. Keep going.

What do you think? Have you experienced growth in the middle of a difficult challenge? How has that changed you as a person? If growth comes through a struggle, why do we always seek out a comfortable life? What does it take to become comfortable being uncomfortable? Let me know in the comment section below.

Don’t Ever Start a Band: Six Things to Consider Before Becoming an Entrepreneur

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Jimmy Buffett’s hit song, The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful, starts off with his band members demanding things from him. “Where’s my per diem? Where’s the keys to the rent-a-car? Jimmy, Jimmy, can I open the show in Atlanta please?” He then offers a warning to his listeners, “Don’t ever start a band!”

Buffett’s warning is perfect.

He reminds us that most people only see the glamorous side of making music. This applies directly to business start-ups as well. If you look at how entrepreneurs are portrayed, you would think starting a business is fast, easy, fun and everyone makes a lot of money.

The truth is, creating a successful business is extremely difficult. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about half of all new businesses will fail in the first five years and only a third will survive 10 years or more. This data suggests you are more likely to fail than succeed in your new business venture.

Knowing failure is almost inevitable, why even consider a business start-up? Why leave the comfort of a good job to pursue a risky venture? For one thing, it is one of the most rewarding challenges a business leader can undertake. The odds are stacked against you and it requires your absolute best effort to succeed. It’s also yours. You can shape the vision and culture to reflect your personal values. You will sink or swim based on your own actions. For many, that is reason enough to dive in.

Having recently started a new business, Peak Demand Inc., I thought I would share some of the lessons I learned in the past year. Creating a successful business is difficult but you can make it easier on yourself if you consider these five important points:

Check your motivation. Examine the reasons why you want to be an entrepreneur. If you want to start a business just because you hate your job, you’re probably going to hate this job too. What’s your passion? Is it a lifelong dream? Are you trying to get rich quick? Are you trying to solve a problem in an industry? Do you see an unmet market opportunity? Being an entrepreneur is a 24/7 thing so choose something you love doing and can make money doing it.

“Never start a business just to make money. Start a business to make a difference.” Marie Forleo

Understand your skills and experience. This is important. To be successful on your own, you need to be so good at something that people are willing to pay you to do it. If you’re in your early 20’s and starting a life coaching business, don’t be surprised if you struggle to find clients. You haven’t had enough life experience yet. Also, consider your competition. Are you better at doing something than the other players in the market?

“Revenue is vanity. Profit is sanity. Cash is reality.” Greg Savage

Have a solid plan. Create a business plan that will stand up to the scrutiny of a bank or private investor even if you are self-funding the start-up. Review your plan with respected colleagues and listen to their advice. Spend a significant time on the cash flow projections. You will likely need more cash than you think, so be very conservative.

Hire the right team. I wrote about this in an article called The Secret to Building an Unstoppable Team. To build a successful company, you need a great team. Look for individuals with complementary skills sets, those with a high level of competency, people who have proven themselves under pressure and have a “mission first” mindset. A bad hire will hurt a big company but it will be a disaster in a small company.

Build a support network. Building a successful company requires a strong network of support resources. Connect with other entrepreneurs in your area to seek advice. You will need a banker, a lawyer and an accountant as a minimum. You will also likely need marketing support for your brand identity and website. Look for resources who specialize in supporting small businesses.

Prepare to strap in. Starting a business can be a long and difficult process. Getting customers to understand your value proposition and recognize your brand won’t happen overnight. It can be an emotional rollercoaster with extreme highs and lows. If you prepare yourself and your family mentally for this journey, it will make the ride more enjoyable.

Starting a company has been one of the hardest but most rewarding experiences in my business career. Like many, I ignored the warnings, the statistics and the naysayers and dove head first into start-up life. If you are thinking of joining the ranks of entrepreneurs, carefully consider the six points above. The better prepared you are, the more successful you will be. So, go ahead…start a band!

What do you think? Are there other factors to consider before starting a company? Why do so many small businesses fail? Why is start-up life glorified? What has been your start-up experience? Let me know in the comment section below.

Why Entrepreneurs Love when Big Companies Don’t Care

ct-why-airlines-get-away-with-terrible-customer-service-20170418The world was shocked to see a viral video of a paying customer being dragged from a United Airlines flight. It was unthinkable to believe a big company could treat a customer that way.

You know who wasn’t surprised? Business travelers. Those of us who travel frequently have been dealing with delayed flights, shrinking seats, reduced rewards, increased fees, crowded airports, long lines and disinterested employees for a long time. There seems to be little effort or desire for excellent customer service in the airline industry. Even so, we keep flying.

I was thinking about this while I waited 30 minutes in a checkout line at Wal-Mart the other night. There were about 40 checkout stations but only four cashiers working. Our cashier was actually a manager. He was friendly but he didn’t seem to care that we waited longer to checkout than it took us to find the items we were buying. He didn’t care because he knew we would likely come back.

The truth is, big companies don’t care when they know they will get repeat business regardless of service. It’s also true that industries don’t care when they know all the competitors offer the same poor level of service.

While this is bad news for customers, it’s great news for entrepreneurs. Rob Biederman points this out in his article, Ugly is the New Beautiful: 4 Ways to Create an Innovative Company in an Antiquated Industry. He explains that industries with poor customer satisfaction and high repeat business are ripe for disruption. New businesses that can offer a viable alternative to the industry giants without the hassle have an opportunity to change the industry landscape.

“Simply put, if your [customer satisfaction] score is low but repeat purchase is high, your industry is probably ripe for disruption.”  ~Rob Biederman

Think about what Amazon is doing to the retail industry. As I stood waiting in the Wal-Mart checkout line, I realized everything in my cart could be purchased now (or soon) from Amazon without the hassle. So, why should I ever go back to Wal-Mart?

Entrepreneurs have an amazing opportunity to create value for frustrated customers. The question is, how can you identify these opportunities? How can you recognize an industry that’s ready to be disrupted?

In an article called, Shake It Up: How to Identify Industries That are Ready for Disruption, Anna Johansson suggests looking for these three tell-tale signs.

Industry Complacency. When the existing companies in an industry stop innovating, stop caring and begin to take their customers for granted, it’s an indicator that the industry has become complacent.

Customer Frustration. Chronic customer frustration with no end in sight is another indicator. As customers continue to be dissatisfied with the performance of existing companies in an industry, they will “voice their opinions, tighten their wallets, and look for alternatives.”

Tension Points. More subtle than major pain points, tension points are those areas of customer dissatisfaction that, once an alternative solution is presented, will cause customers to move away from existing companies.

When big companies don’t care, opportunities open for entrepreneurs. In fact, this was a leading reason I co-founded Peak Demand. After working nearly 20 years for big companies in the electrical transmission and distribution products industry, I realized the industry had all the signs for disruption. Customers were frustrated with the performance of the existing big companies in the industry but had no place else to turn. Utility and OEM customers were looking for alternatives. They wanted a hassle-free way to buy high-quality products that could be delivered in days not weeks. They wanted on-line ordering system that were easy and reliable. Our team is filling those needs.

There are many industries that are ripe for disruption. Smart entrepreneurs can create viable alternatives to the industry giants and have an opportunity to change the industry landscape. Complacency, frustration and tension are tell-tale signs that an opportunity exists. Entrepreneurs that can identify and exploit these opportunities will be the winners.

What do you think? Are there other signs an industry is ripe for disruption? Can incumbent companies disrupt their own industries? What causes big companies to stop caring? Let me know your thoughts.