Because why. Why we do what we do is worth examining and clarifying because it has so much impact on how we do it and how we persevere when we encounter challenges and obstacles.
Why Start With Why?
One of the best books I read this year is Simon Sinek’s, Start with Why. As happens with such things, ever since I finished the book it seems I hear people talk about “finding your why” all the time now. This includes, of course, our podcast guests. Sinek’s book was published in 2009. He gave a TED talk the same year that continues to get a lot of views.
The basic premise of the book is that in order to be truly, enduringly successful from the inside out, companies must have awareness of and alignment with why they exist. In fact, the entrepreneurial why is more important than the what or the how, although the latter are both important in their own way.
But why comes first.
1. Because why informs you whether your business even has a market. Why serves as the filter that sifts out the people who could be your customers from everybody else.
Kevin Craine expresses this beautifully in his episode when he says:
I think you have to have a plan. But here’s how I would put it. You have to know your why. What is your why? Why is it that you are doing what you do? And there’s a couple answers to that.
I guess, certainly “why is it for you.” But I’m talking from the business point of view – and we could talk about why am I doing it as a person – but the business part. What is it that you’re doing and why? Why would your customers care? What is it that you do that makes them care about what you do? Why would they buy your product? And why would they just not go to somebody else? And why wouldn’t they just not do anything? What if they just did nothing?
And so, if you start really asking yourself these really hard “Whys?” and finding the answers to those questions that aren’t BS. You know, why would someone hire Kevin Craine to write content for their website when they could go to anyone else or they could do nothing or they could do it themselves?
And so now you start getting an answer to, “Is what I’m doing even going to find a market?”
2. Because why supports leaders and employees when times are tough and they question the wisdom or the value of what they’re doing.
Circumstances will not always be in our favor. The same applies to business and organizational life. There will always be challenges and setbacks to test our collective mettle as well as our wits and skill. When they occur or persist through time, knowing and believing in the company’s mission keeps attitudes positive, fosters optimism, bolsters confidence, and fortifies resolve.
In his episode, Jim Akers advises:
Make sure that you connect with your why; the purpose, mission, people use a lot of different words – the why, the mission, the purpose – but why do you want to do it and who is touched or impacted by it? Because the journey gets tough. There’s a ton of resistance. And if that why, those benefits, are not great enough to motivate you and move you? You can’t get there.
Jean Haynes echoes the same sentiment:
Really think why you’re doing this business and the difference you want to make. Because at the end of the day, if that’s not really strong… it’s difficult when you hit those roadblocks or those times when business is tough to keep yourself motivated and going.
Dinesh Kandanchatha talks about the value of why within the narrower context of staying focused on the most valuable and rewarding aspects of becoming an entrepreneur in the first place. He says:
I start out with, why are you starting the company? If you’re starting the company to create a paycheck for yourself, there’s a lot easier ways to make a paycheck than starting your own company. You can go work for someone else whether it’s a larger company, or work as part of a franchise group or a consulting group.
The reason why you start a company is because you believe you can bring something meaningful to your community, to your professional association, to your craft. And as long as you’re focused on the meaning and on something that’s going to be material in that way, the job parts of it you’ll be able to power through.
One of the tests I use for myself is, if I find that it feels like a job for more than 70% of the time, I need to rethink what I’m doing because I’m probably not doing the things that I really wanted to do when I started the company.
So, focus on why and every time you feel like you’re stuck and it feels too much like a job, come back to the why and see if you’ve compromised on the why. Inevitably, when I have these conversations with founders, it’s because they made a compromise on their vision and that’s got them into the place they are.
3. Because why sends such a powerful message to consumers, clients, or other collaborating participants of what the company stands for.
The power of this message is the alignment it enables among like-minded souls. People will forgive all manner of shortcomings and disappointments if they can recognize the purpose behind a business as one they personally believe in and, often, feel quite passionate about themselves.
One of the readiest examples of this passion is seen in software and hardware beta users who care far less about bugs and limitations than they care about being early adopters or about riding the cutting edge of innovation. Apple is one of Sinek’s favorite examples of an organization that has inspired a cult-like following among users who are more aligned with the brand than with any of its specific products.
In fact, as symbols of a company’s why, its products carry far greater appeal to its consumers than mere utilitarian value. They’re tangible representations of the connection customers feel with the brand message; its why. This is why Apple fans will buy any and all of its products; because Apple is a disruption company, a company to challenge the status quo, a company that could be characterized in any number of ways, but that cannot be reduced to the maker of a single product or even a single category of products.
4. Because why taps into human feeling and emotion, which are more reliable guides to action, behavior, and strategy than a book of rules.
Having people be committed with their hearts is far more effective than being committed with their heads. Emotion, not logic, is the glue of connection and relationship. It leads people to “do the right thing,” particularly in the face of uncertainty, ambiguity, or the unknown.
This is especially noticeable as the old command-and-control paradigm dissolves in the workplace and front line employees are empowered to act upon their own authority in the customer’s best interests. We see this fairly commonly now in customer service. But it’s also permeating other aspects of business and organizational culture. For example, in some manufacturing companies individual operators are granted the authority to stop production lines when a problem or error is discovered, even though such stoppages can cost money and productivity.
In order to effectively take such responsibility, company agents must have an understanding of the larger context within which their roles and activities function. Part of that context is the knowledge of why they are doing what they’re doing to fulfill the expectations and requirements of the company’s customers while advancing the business’s purpose and goals.
Employees become empowered, self-sufficient, and autonomous when they have a clear why to internalize and to align themselves and their actions with. And under this scenario, leadership can advance from merely managing behavior to providing mentorship and inspiration.
Income: the outcome of clarity
Joel Kessel observes that Simon Sinek’s book and TED talk are both still relevant today. Summarizing, he says, “People don’t buy what you do or how you do it. They buy why you do it. That’s so true.”
In his episode, Joel shares a clarity process he received from his coach and mentor that leverages finding your why as the starting point for taking the necessary actions that lead, almost inevitably, to income.
It starts with clarity. It’s clarity, [which] leads to competence, which leads to confidence, which leads to more influence, impact, and then income; where a lot of people are chasing the income and that’s where they’re frustrated and they give up; where they haven’t taken the time to take a step back and say, “Well, what am I clear about? What do I want to do? What’s my why? Why do I want to do this? Who do I want to serve and help? And once we have that clarity, holy smokes, the rest really tends to fall into place.
When I first heard that, it was daunting for me. But it was one of the best pieces of advice that I was given as I was starting this journey of transitioning my business and how I want to work. It really does start with that clarity. And then once you have that, it’s the competence and all of a sudden you’re gaining so much more confidence in what you’re doing and who you’re doing it for. And then, believe it or not, you start to influence and impact people. And then the income is there. It’s a wonderful thing to experience.
Start with why. Have that clarity. Ask yourself, “Why do I want to do what I do?”
Why comes first
Why influences so many aspects of your entrepreneurial journey that how well you define it could be the difference between your success and failure. Take the time to identify your why. It will provide your business with a foundation for reaching people in authentic, meaningful and valuable ways that transcend your means of reaching them.
All photos sourced from Unsplash.com.
Today, September 14, 2017, marks the Maturepreneurial podcast’s one year anniversary!
Happy Birthday, Maturepreneurial!
The photo above is me, looking back with joy and wonder (and a little bit of a squint) at the amazing, blazing first year of my podcast! Woo hoo! I did it!
I remember when I was first preparing to launch. I spent months getting the website ready because I had a bit of a set back with my theme. I joined online communities and groups. I took online courses to educate myself about the job at hand and, hopefully, come out smart enough to avoid some of the pitfalls.
I remember once reading that many podcasters don’t make it past ten episodes. Gulp!
Was that going to happen to me?
“No way!” I thought, “I’m in this for the long haul.”
“Besides, Christopher will be annoyed if I buy all this equipment and don’t make it a success.” Haha!
And many happy returns!
Well, although I intended to succeed, I really didn’t anticipate how much fun I would have. Or, to be honest, how hard I would work at it! But I have to say that it’s worth it. I’m proud of my guests and their episodes and I’m excited not only for another year of interviews and wonderful stories but also to create my second podcast.
Hopefully, if I stay on track, In late 2017, I’ll be launching Dishing with Delishes; a podcast of interviews with food bloggers at the top of their game. Check out the website and stay tuned for details, which I’ll post on this site and on my food blog, Dishes Delish.
Thanks for your support!
Eyes on the horizon, friends. It’s never too late to succeed!
Karsten Würth (@inf1783)
Special Episode: One Year Anniversary Show Notes
Below is a transcript of this episode. There are no other special notes.
Today September 14th, 2017 marks the first anniversary of the Maturepreneurial podcast! I’m celebrating with this special episode to say a few things and to share what I learned this past year.
First of all, Thank You! I really appreciate the support that all of you, my listeners, as well as my guests, have shown me with your downloads, your comments, your reviews and your engagement with me on social media platforms, like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I had grand plans for this podcast when I started and I’m pleased that, with your kind encouragement and support, it has come so far so quickly. This year has flown by and my progress has exceeded my expectations.
As you know, I come from a background of performing, so being behind the mic has been a very different experience for me, one that I’ve enjoyed more than I expected to. I’ve discovered how much I love interviewing people! I love hearing their stories and sharing one or two of my own. I love the connections we make, the conversations we have and the support we share. This surprised me because I’m actually a rather shy person, especially meeting people for the first time.
It has also been eye-opening to me to see how many different kinds of people have been successful in starting their own businesses after the age of 40. The diversity among their backgrounds, interests, skill sets, and offerings is not only inspiring to me, but it also gives me a lot of hope about the future.
You have heard me say many times on this podcast that everybody has her own path and no two people have to do things the same way. Businesses, like our individual lives, are journeys that uniquely express who each of us is and wants to be. Listening to a handful of episodes really brings home how creative human beings can be and how many different ways there are to thrive economically. You don’t need to achieve anything global or even national to have an impact, or to be successful and financially independent. How encouraging is that!
Looking back over my first 52 guests, I’m pleased that even at this early stage, they represent a range of industries; some are brick and mortar businesses and some are virtual and online; some sell products, some sell services, and many sell both.
Here is a random list of professions my guests represent: web designer, real estate salesman, life coach, author, marketer, booking agent, fashion designer, public speaker, physical therapist, business consultant, fashion model, ghost writer, podcaster and the list goes on.
Some of the products my guests sell include books, clothing, spirits, skin care products, nutritional supplements, the Tip ’n Split®, and fire extinguishers.
Services include writing, editing, audio production, photography, web design, physical therapy, coaching, and consulting in multiple categories, like health, wellness, strategy, marketing, business, and personal style.
In my own entrepreneurial journey, I’ve been blogging about food for two years now at Dishes Delish dot com. The business and my following are steadily growing. I’ve learned a ton this past year. My photography continues to improve and attract wider notice. I’ve recently completed some of my first sponsored posts. This year I also joined a couple of new platforms where my recipes and photos can be seen and in turn, leads people to the blog
Most exciting for me is the upcoming launch of my new podcast, Dishing with Delishes. I’m going to be interviewing successful food bloggers to get their tips, tricks, and secrets on how they became successful. Hopefully, if I stay on track, The podcast will go live in late 2017, so stay tuned.
Thanks for listening to this special episode. Please join me next week to begin another year of interviews with maturepreneurs: which are people over 40 who find the courage and persistence to earn a living on their own terms. They are a powerful example to the rest of us that it is never too late to succeed!
Stay the Course is step ten of the ten-step Maturepreneurial series How to Start a Business After 40.
Stay the course
Step ten, like step two, is a step I personally find challenging to fulfill. Once I start something new, after a time that might be short or long depending on the circumstances, I will tend to feel “lost at sea.” I manage to take the first steps of the journey and see initial progress. I may also still see great future promise.
I begin to experience existential angst.
And self doubt.
I ask myself questions like:
- Is this all there is?
- Why do I feel like I’m not getting anywhere?
- Am I looking too soon or too hard for results?
- Am I micromanaging myself?
Partly, I would say the latter is true. If not myself, then at least I have a tendency to micromanage the process (which spiritual teachers would argue is the self). In any event, this is a symptom of my orientation towards results and outcomes. If your work, your effort, your focus, or your attention are all about the outcomes they’re expected to provide, then you’ve probably lost touch with any meaning, and therefore joy, the process itself can bring you. I’ve certainly done it enough times to know.
Weather the doldrums
Successfully staying the course – any course – to me, means not losing faith, courage, or heart when I’m “in the doldrums.”
In maritime usage, the doldrums are places in the ocean near the equator where the prevailing winds are calm. In fact, the wind can disappear altogether, leaving sail boats trapped or stranded for days or weeks at a time.
That’s kind of how I feel after the initial rush of starting something new and having to consistently apply myself to it without seeing a lot of change or progress. I feel stagnant. And in that stillness or absence of momentum, I start to question myself and whether I’m doing the right thing; i.e, pursuing the proper course to achieve my goals in the first place.
I also feel a little bit guilty: I’m not fulfilling my potential. And somehow that’s my fault.
The good news is: now I understand this human experience is not uncommon. And entrepreneurs are no less susceptible to the doldrums than anyone else who feels trapped by their choices as the consequences play themselves out, perhaps more slowly than they would wish. Sometimes they play out with drama, excitement, or rewarding milestones. Often they play out with little to show for the time and effort we put into our work.
“Never give up”
At times like these, I find comfort and inspiration in what Chuck Gumbert has to say about this stage of the entrepreneurial journey.
“Sit back, establish a series of goals, and then develop some plans to go accomplish those goals. And then the biggest piece of it is, have the gumption to stay the course. Never give up. Never give up.”
Chuck goes on to talk about correcting course. He says, “There’s nothing wrong with changing tactics.” But he also says that you have to keep your eye on the goal and keep working towards it.
“Don’t change the goal. And don’t give up.”
Jason Treu also talks about staying the course. He says that most businesses take four to five years to reach maturity, so committing to the long haul is necessary to reach the end goal.
You have to make big bets and spend time on things, but they aren’t always going to work. And you just have to keep doing them. That’s the hardest part of being an entrepreneur and starting a business and trying to think bigger down the road, is that you just don’t know what’s going to happen. And you have to believe that you will find the right path and things will work themselves out over time.
Jason cautions entrepreneurs against looking around, especially in the online space where so many businesses proliferate today, and feeling daunted by people who claim to have built businesses in a very short time span. Jason believes that, even where these claims are true, eventually those businesses will plateau. They will reach a point where as much time and patience are required of them to stay the course as is required in businesses slower to gain traction.
If you’re thinking about having a business in 24 months that is going to explode and take off, I’m here to tell you that those are a very small minority and if they do, they’ll eventually plateau and they’ll still be stuck. And then they won’t know what to do either. So everyone’s going to reach that point. It’s one of those things that you just have to understand and have in the back of your head. And then I think you can build a sustainable business that’s really successful over a long period of time.
Henry Lopez takes a similar view. He believes that “determined, steady and consistent work” is what moves a business forward and eventually leads to success. You have to understand that failure and setbacks are part of the entrepreneurial journey. He attributes his own success to “some lucky opportunities and breaks and some being at the right place at the right time but a methodical and consistent approach to developing my businesses.”
In his episode, Dave Mancuso says, “It took about two years for me to find the right clients that created the synergy for my business to move forward.” He makes the encouraging observation that once you do find some of the right clients, you tend to start finding more like them.
Dave also talks about not giving up. “Every time I’ve stumbled, I’ve found out that it was actually an opportunity to move forward and not necessarily fall down and stop.”
Like Dave and Henry, Douglas Burdett also found success in the long play.
It was a pretty steady climb. If you look at the analytics for my podcast, The Marketing Book podcast, you will see that there are no big spikes, but it’s just a real steady climb of listeners. So, it’s the same sort of thing where, I would say, that your listeners should probably be expecting the worst and plan for that.
Playing the odds
Dinesh Kandanchatha offers similar and very helpful insights into the entrepreneurial life.
“For every good idea, there’s roughly six bad ideas. The problem is that you don’t get to the good idea unless you run through the bad ones.”
In order to do that, you need to execute on your ideas and give them time to develop. Dinesh says, “The key thing is to start them and ascertain quickly whether or not they’re taking you on your way.”
Dinesh does not shy away from his mistakes or failures. When Elaine asked him what was his least successful idea and how did he change tactics to fix it, he first answered, “Oh dear, that’s a long list! How many hours do you have?” He’s had new product launches that “failed abysmally.” One of his companies was sued and put into bankruptcy for IP infringement. However, like Chuck Gumbert, Dinesh reiterates that you can’t give up.
The reality is, again, that’s how the game is played. So if you’re worried about bad ideas this is the wrong business to be in. Don’t be in entrepreneurship if you’re worried about getting things wrong. You’ve got to get used to failure and get used to getting back up again and dusting yourself off.
Dinesh talks about learning from not only mistakes, but from the very process of executing on your ideas. That is how you discover and test your personal limits, the limits of your market, the limits of your team, the limits of your business. If something doesn’t work the way you expected it to, pivot. It’s a necessary part of business growth and development.
Dinesh speaks directly to staying the course when he offers the following advice:
Be prepared for it to take longer than you think. And what that means is, decide if it’s something you’re willing to spend the next five years doing. Most entrepreneurs think this is going to be a one year journey, or a two year journey, maybe three years at the outside. And you know, our time is valuable as we get older. We personally value it more. So whatever you choose to do with your time, especially as it relates to entrepreneurship, make sure it’s something you’re going to be willing to commit the next five years to. Otherwise, don’t start it. It has to be strong enough that you’re willing to say, ‘I’m going to spend five years trying to make this work.’ I think that’s a great crystallizing idea that will help you decide if that business you want to start, that thing you want to do, is worth that much of the time that you have.
In his personal experience as an entrepreneur and in working and networking with entrepreneurs of all different ages, Dinesh has observed that opportunities in business life cycles seem to arise at five year marks. Dinesh attributes this timing to the human body clock and a mental habit of bundling our life experience into five year periods. He believes at ages ending in five and zeros, we become self-reflective and take mental stock of our previous choices and our future options.
Many people sell their businesses after five years. The next major point of exit often comes at ten years. Anecdotally, Dinesh has noticed that, for example, milestones like founding companies, selling companies, bringing in investors, and raising money are notably tied to a five or zero number. Dinesh’s personal favorite is the “20 year overnight success.”
But staying the course is a process you can fully anticipate and plan for. As he explains:
It’s going to take longer than you think. So if you think it’s going to take three years, it’s probably going to take five years. If you think it’s going to take five years, then it’s probably going to take seven years. So if you commit to five, it’ll either force you to scale your idea to something you can execute in five and if you aren’t able to execute in five, you still have knowledge that you can go, “Look. That was that five years. I’m going to move on to the next five years and do either something different or do something that’s a variation.”
Expect to reflect
As Jason Treu observes, all businesses plateau. It’s only a matter of time until things slow down and you have to simply persist in applying yourself to your current vision and goals or reassess and try something different. Staying the course could then mean, “staying the course of your entrepreneurial journey” versus staying the course of a particular tactic, strategy, or even business line.
Some of my personal coping strategies during these uneventful and trying times is to look for ways to disengage from my expectations and enjoy the journey. Celebrating milestones is one example. Another is to simply focus on something else, whether that’s a hobby or other activity that refreshes me and renews my energy.
Reading business books and listening to podcasts can also be very helpful and supportive. I have found an uplifting sense of community and solidarity with other entrepreneurs by simply reading or listening to their stories. Between the experiences of some and the insights of others, I can’t help but be inspired and fortified to carry on.
Some final Nevers
The bottom line is: You’re the captain of the ship.
What to do next will still and always be your call to make, regardless of your circumstances or how many people you may surround yourself with; regardless of how high or low the stakes may be.
But never give up, because it’s never too late to succeed.
All photos sourced from Unsplash.com.
Course Correct is Step Nine of the ten-step Maturepreneurial series How to Start a Business After 40. “Wise up, don’t give up” as you execute, learn, and identify knowledge or experience gaps you must fill in order to move your business forward.
The map is not the territory.
Charting your course
One of my favorite Maturepreneurial quotes is from Nicky Roche.
We always underestimate our own level of competence and I wish we wouldn’t.
One of my personal passions is to try and get people to understand their own belief by just sitting down and putting some effort and thought behind reviewing where they’re at, how they got to where they’re at and quantifying and qualifying their own future. And they’ll realize that they do have the skills.
Because it’s not hard. Business is not hard. Business is just common sense.
We don’t launch a corporate, global company when we launch our own business. We don’t launch an IBM or a Coca-Cola or whatever it might be with these massive structures and complicated strategies. We actually launch our own dream. We launch our own vision and we launch it small.
And it grows and it builds. And as it grows and it builds, so do we. And if we don’t have the knowledge that we need to get it to the next step, we fill that knowledge gap as and when we need it.
So, why do we not allow ourselves to take that next step simply because we don’t think that we’re capable of the bigness of it, when we’re actually going to start small and grow?
This quote speaks directly to launch-anxiety; the fear of getting started. But it also speaks to the incremental, completely manageable nature of building a business. So much distribution and consumption these days is on-demand and just-in-time that I have to ask,
- Why shouldn’t knowledge and skill attainment also be just in time?
- Why shouldn’t we start out expecting to learn from doing?
- Why stop ourselves from starting or from moving forward because we can’t predict every outcome or scenario?
Some knowledge cannot be planned for. Some needs cannot be anticipated. But that doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t be acquired and fulfilled all in good time.
Lise Metzger had been running a successful, profitable photography business for many years when the 2008 financial crisis hit. Coupled with photography’s widespread transformation to digital format during those years, Lise found her business revenue and profits severely curbed. Given these changes and the particular demands of her personal life, it became necessary for her to take a part time job.
Attending a talk about food and the environment around this time, Lise met a woman farmer, Shannon, whom she approached and asked permission to photograph. After a photo shoot at Shannon’s farm, Shannon suggested to Lise that she start a blog. Lise hadn’t seriously considered publicizing the farm photos. They were raw. They were different from the photos she had been taking and selling. But after doing a couple more farm shoots, when Lise showed the new work to a friend, he told her she was on to something. He encouraged her to start a photo project on women farmers.
Passionate about the environment and our food supply, Lise loved the new direction and decided she would follow it. She also knew she wanted to eventually create a book from the farm project. A blog seemed like the best, most immediate way she could start. It would be photographs and long form writing about the lives of women farmers.
In fact, with regard to her maturepreneurial venture, Lise has said that the most successful thing she did for her business was publish her website, Grounded Women. Her learning curve for technology and social media was steep. She had to learn how to use WordPress, design the site, and pull together all the content. And she acknowledges she was scared to begin. Once she did though, she found the response to be very supportive.
Takeaway: Today, Lise’s photography business is busy again. But during the lull, she had the courage to pursue a new and rewarding direction about which she knew nothing but that, today, shows a promising future.
Lyn Slater, too, didn’t know what she was doing before she dove into her blog. She says in her episode, “I had no plan.” What she did have was a lot of research under her belt.
Lyn has been a lifelong learner. She was a college professor, but she saw teaching as a two-way street where she learned as much from her students as they learned from her. As she grew older and became more serious about her interest in fashion, she took courses at the New York Fashion Institute of Technology, including one in social media and one in opening a vintage store. Her professors kept telling her she needed to start a blog, she needed to write about what she was learning, what she was doing, and what she was telling them about fashion.
So, Lyn researched the kind of blogs that targeted older women. In the world of fashion magazines, she felt there were no opportunities for fit, intelligent, culturally-engaged older women who lived in cities to talk about fashion or to think about fashion beyond admiring and consuming clothing.
The online world proved to be no better.
Lyn looked around for a good year at different websites and platforms. She decided what she liked and what she didn’t like; what she felt worked and what didn’t work across a number of fashion blogs. She also investigated different publishing products and eventually built her blog site using Square Space.
Now, Lyn raves about Square Space’s ease of use, but as a sociology professor and a counselor, internet marketing, internet presence and social media were nowhere near her areas of expertise and comfort.
Takeaway: Lyn learned what she need to learn when she needed to learn it, specifically in order to launch her blog.
Last spring, Lyn was signed with the Elite Modeling Agency. Today, she continues to work on taking her business and her brand to the next level.
Failure as success-postponed
Some cases of course correction are about overcoming obstacles that are blocking the course you’re on. This was the case for Connie Inukai, inventor of the Tip and Split ® device.
Connie had created the Tip and Split ® prototype and was ready to have the product manufactured. She says this was the hardest part of her endeavor. She waited a whole year on her first manufacturer, one she sourced through the internet, who finally sent her “a piece of plastic that didn’t do anything,” She had to fire him.
When the second manufacturer she engaged sent her the products, the defective rate was 20%! Since she wanted no returns to result from production, this was unacceptable. She had to fire him too.
The third manufacturer she engaged came recommended by her patent attorney and promised her a 95% guarantee rate on the production of her product. Three manufacturers later, Connie finally had a successful product launch and has already done a product redesign to make slight improvements.
Takeaway: By cutting her losses with the manufacturers who failed to deliver, Connie was able to find the right match for her business. She didn’t give up, but rather she persevered through the obvious setbacks until she was successful.
Tom Schwab‘s company, Interview Valet, was actually too successful in one regard: generating business. An abundance of clients were clicking on the website’s Buy Now button, but the company came to realize that there was no discrimination in its prospecting. This allowed many people to become customers whose businesses were not yet set up to successfully leverage the benefits that Interview Valet makes possible: widespread promotion and exposure to targeted audiences through podcast interviews.
After serving its first one hundred customers, the Interview Valet team analyzed why some guests were successful and some were not. They discovered a methodology by which to determine ahead of time whether or not a client had the foundations in place that would turn the exposure from podcast interviews into improved business and revenues.
Takeaway: Just taking any client was not good for the client and it was not good for Interview Valet. The company had been saying “Yes” to the wrong customers and needed to become more discriminating for all parties to be truly successful.
Today, every Interview Valet client is evaluated up front for how likely they are to be successful with the service. And if they aren’t, Interview Valet gives them the knowledge and tools with which to prepare themselves to do so.
Donna Barker had a brilliant idea for a new business and website. Or so she thought. She named it Mem-Wow and the idea was to write memoirs that made people say, “Wow!” She worked on the business for a year before she realized that she was not building capacity and so, the business would never scale. In order to be successful, she alone would have to do all the work, basically nonstop. That’s when she decided to give up the idea entirely.
Later, after she successfully launched both Write Woman, Write and The Creative Women Summit, Donna attributed much of her success to her ability to engage with and involve other stakeholders in her projects, including people who have more knowledge in a given subject than she does; an ability she had not leveraged in her Mem-Wow business model.
Takeaway: By moving on from Mem-Wow to other, better ideas, Donna allowed success to find her where her true strengths lay.
Adam Urbanski had a similar experience to Donna’s. After founding and successfully selling his restaurants, a business notorious for its high rates of failure, Adam decided he could offer consulting services to teach others what he knew. Armed with the right knowledge, his clients could then go on to replicate his success. He named the business Food Business Innovation – FBI for short – and he even created a nice logo that “almost looked like an FBI shield.”
However, having created his offering in a vacuum, with no customer input or feedback, he soon realized that it was doomed to fail. His assumption that if his idea was good enough, people would buy it, was naive and never accounted for the marketplace and what his potential customers wanted or needed.
Takeaway: When Adam abandoned FBI, he created the space for his eventual success with Marketing Mentors, where he also incorporated the valuable lessons he learned about putting customers first when creating and marketing a new business.
Be ready and willing to pivot
Sometimes course correcting isn’t about filling a knowledge or experience gap, it’s about finding an entirely new direction. This is especially true where a business that was successful in the past is no longer successful and needs to be replaced.
In Joleene Moody‘s case, it was the success itself that needed to be replaced because it no longer fulfilled her.
Joleene started her career in television news. After 12 years, although she was successful, she realized that she hated her job and decided to get out. She began to look for and explore opportunities in public speaking. During this same period, she also discovered coaching as a means to supplement her income. Joleene had no experience or education in either of these areas, but within a couple of years, she became a sought-after speaker and coach, earning six figures!
Ironically, she came to realize that while the money was good, her heart just was not in her work or her success, so she decided – once again – to change course.
Joleene chose to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a writer. And although there were tempting distractions, this time she stayed true to her plan. After doing a lot of research and teaching herself what she needed to know in order to successfully market and deliver her services, Joleene once again achieved success. Today she is a prolific ghost writer of books and blogs, which helps her pay the bills.
But she has also created the freedom to pursue her own projects. She has written two television pilots and she is working on a screenplay. She says,
Here’s a 45 year old woman writing scripts; who’s trying to sell them; who goes to television festivals to learn how to pitch – in all these years, I’ve learned how to pitch to other entrepreneurs to try to sell coaching packages or writing a book for them – and now I’m learning how to stand in front of producers and executives and be like,
“So, I’ve got this really great idea…”
Everything falls into play. And it took me – and I want everyone to hear this – all of these years to figure it out and I don’t regret any of it.
Takeaway: You don’t have to settle for success you don’t enjoy. It may take a while and it almost certainly will take a lot of work, but if you don’t like what you’re doing, you can change direction and nothing you’ve learned will be wasted.
Turning the ship around
Chuck Gumbert provides one of the most focused illustrations of course correction. He has devoted his entire maturepreneurial career to turning struggling or failing businesses around to profitability.
Chuck follows a proprietary model to effect successful turnarounds. When he comes in to a new company, his first step is to work through the fundamentals of leadership with the executive team. Next he guides them to develop a vision. Once the vision is understood, he works with them to develop the strategy. After the strategy, they develop aligned actions or tactical plans that support it.
“Only then,” says Chuck, “can you hold people accountable. Once you’ve got those fundamental steps put together, then an organization can actually be successful.”
Chuck has repeatedly demonstrated that correcting course, particularly when it is carefully planned and consistently executed, can ultimately lead to, or lead back to, profitability.
Takeaway: If a company in distress can turnaround, so can yours, whether you’re just starting out or navigating obstacles and knowledge or experience gaps during the normal course of business.
When to Quit
And for those times when you’re wondering how to decide whether to course correct or move on, here’s an excellent episode from The Tim Ferriss Show. It’s called When to Quit – Lessons from World-Class Entrepreneurs, Investors, Authors, and More. Unlike Tim’s traditional interview format, it’s a collection of audio recordings from previous guests: Scott Belsky, Seth Godin, James Altucher, Debbie Millman, Adam Robinson, Chase Jarvis, and Rhonda Patrick that answer Tim’s question(s),
Where’s the line between stubbornly pursuing an idea that isn’t working and the patience and persistence needed to actually make it work? In other words — when should you give up and quit and when should you push on?
It’s never too late to succeed!
All photos sourced from Unsplash.com.
Step Eight of the ten-step Maturepreneurial series How to Start a Business After 40 is to launch your business! But what exactly does that mean?
Open for bees-ness
Time to launch your business
You’ve done all the prep work.
In some form or fashion, with analytics or intuition, you’ve examined your skill sets and your interests, you’ve assessed your experience, you’ve observed the market, you’ve identified a need, you’ve created a picture of your customer, you’ve created your plan, and maybe you’ve identified one or two people who have successfully done what you’re about to do and who can give you advice and support.
Maybe you haven’t taken all of these steps. Or maybe you haven’t taken them all in that order. Life should be so linear! But so far, so good. You’re ready to launch your business.
In some ways, this could be the most terrifying step in your entrepreneurial journey! After all, what if no one comes? What if your worst fears are realized? What about the simple ‘unknown’?
In some ways, the launch could also turn out to be anti-climactic. You’ve been steadily busy if not frenzied with preparations for weeks or months. Now D-day is here and your activity slows down for a bit. Is that all there is? Or is this the calm before the storm?
Whatever happens, this just might turn out to be the best thing you’ve ever done! But what, exactly, does it look like?
What follows are just four of the ways that some of our Maturepreneurial podcast guests launched, discovered, or slowly founded their businesses amidst the changing circumstances of their careers, their personal ambitions, and the demands of daily living.
The Cold Turkey Approach
Douglas Burdett decided to quit his job in order to start his own business. After leaving the military, for a while he enjoyed an exciting and fulfilling career in New York City advertising. But when he moved to Virginia to start a family, he became dissatisfied with his new job. It took him a few years to come to the decision, but once he did, he never looked back.
“I remember now that, after I left, I set up a space in my study of my house to get started and I just remember how much better I felt! I suddenly didn’t have that income, but boy, did my mental health improve. It was just like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.”
It took Doug a couple of weeks to get his first client. After that, he found new business in unexpected but welcome referrals from his subcontractors, by answering RFPs, and by earning repeat business from his existing clients as their own businesses grew. He says it was a “steady climb.”
Chuck Gumbert was forced to take the cold turkey route when he was laid off from his job at 55. It was in the process of updating his resume online that he recognized he was building a website. That’s when he also realized he had all the tools he needed to go into business for himself.
Chuck says he thought the phone would start ringing once he launched. When that didn’t happen, he had to confront and overcome a reluctance to market himself. But he also says that he wishes he had opened his own business ten years sooner. In the back of his mind, he had wanted to run his own business and do his own thing, but he wasn’t ready to take the risk. He wasn’t ready to give up the comfort of a steady paycheck and bonuses. Many times, he had to ask himself:
“‘Boy, do I really want to step away from this and take that big, big risky step?’ That’s the biggest thing. Having the audacity, as [General] Patton would say, to take the step and go do it.”
Kevin Craine was also forced to go cold turkey when he was suddenly laid off at age 45 with a young family to support.
Kevin had earned his MBA with a thesis on designing a document strategy. At the peak of his corporate career he was working for Blue Cross and Blue Shield as director of a three-state operation that had responsibility for all the documents that went out of the enterprise. On the side, he had also started writing articles for industry trade magazines in his field. This turned out to be fortuitous because after he was laid off his extracurricular work and the relationships that went with it helped him weather the transition.
Facing the challenge of finding work in his field at his age and at the salary he had achieved, Kevin decided instead to start his own business. He went back to the people whose publication he was writing for, told them he was available for freelance work and from those contacts, created his initial client base, which grew over time as he refined and expanded his services.
Other maturepreneurs who started cold turkey after losing jobs, leaving jobs or selling their businesses include Joseph Aquino, Philip Houser, and Dr. Joe Tatta.
The Accidental Launch
One of Jon Butt’s more recent business launches was almost an accident. His original idea was to build e-commerce sites for people he knew from his fire extinguisher business. They needed websites to sell their products online. Jon created a fully working e-commerce site as a prototype he intended to sell them. But before the site was finished, before it even had a payment system configured, it started selling products. Sales took off quickly and snowballed. All these years later, that e-commerce business is still thriving. Jon never sold the model!
It was Christy Haussler’s original intention to hire the services her business ended up providing. Why? Because she hosting a podcast of her own five times a week while working a full time job and commuting two hours a day. She needed help!
She went looking for a company to which she could outsource production but she couldn’t find one that would provide the entire spectrum of services she needed. Services she did find were offered piecemeal and not very affordably. She put her retirement savings into hiring a handful of specialists, then went to other podcasters and offered a range of services for one, affordable fixed price per month to offset her costs.
Voilà! Team Podcast was born to satisfy the very niche its founder was in.
“So basically I was just sort of scaling and sharing the cost of these people and it just grew and grew and grew and now here we’re at 9 people and myself and it’s a full-time endeavor for me.”
The Transition Out
Johannah Barton took three months to transition out of her corporate job into her own business, which started as a passion project. Looking to put her experience into a larger context, she sent a survey to over 100 women worldwide and learned that 85% of the respondents took six months to one year to transition out of their part time or full time work into their own business. This reassured her that she was on the right track.
When she first started to pull the business together, she worked evenings and weekends. She also set herself small tasks to perform that would move the business forward without overwhelming and discouraging her. From these incremental steps, which she expanded over time, she built her business.
“The amazing thing is, once you start, suddenly all these doors open for you and, all this information, and you realize that you’re not alone. You realize that there are lots of other people out there doing similar things; all these resources.”
Margaret Blood was running two very different non-profit organizations with the common thread of helping children. She had founded Strategies for Children in 2001 to address the need for high quality early education and care for children in the state of Massachusetts, particularly children of single parents or whose parents both worked outside of the home. On a trip to Guatemala in 2003, she fell in love with the “land of trees” and the people who lived there. Eventually, in 2007, she founded her second non-profit, Mil Milagros, initially as a breakfast program for poor children in schools.
Over time, it became clear that Mil Milagros would not fulfill its potential unless Margaret devoted herself to running the organization full time. After leading both nonprofits for five years, Margaret decided to make the leap to Mil Milagros. That meant a significant cut in salary and benefits. She was okay with that, as long as she could pay off her mortgage. She took six months to do so and then left Strategies for Children to run Mil Milagros full time. Today she lives in Guatemala six months of each year and in Boston the other six months, all the while leading Mil Milagros’s important community-building work.
The Slow-Burn Liftoff
Lyn Slater says, “I had no plan.” But she did know that she wanted to launch a website. Specifically, she wanted to create a blog that offered an intelligent and thoughtful approach to fashion for mature women who were physically fit, culturally engaged, oftentimes living in cities. She thought about it and researched her options for a full year. And, she admits, she procrastinated. “I had that little bit of fear about taking that risk.”
The launch itself arrived unexpectedly. But when it did, Lyn was fully prepared to seize the moment.
After a year of procrastinating despite being urged by friends, students, teachers, and colleagues to launch the blog, one day Lyn was waiting on Lincoln Center plaza to meet a friend for lunch. A troupe of fashion photographers also happened to be on the plaza and they began to photograph her. Tourists, following the lead of the photographers and thinking she was a model or celebrity, also began to photograph her. Lyn, who was wearing Yohji Yamamoto and sporting a rare Chanel bag, went along with the attention, strutting her stuff and having her picture taken. She was also approached and interviewed by a young Japanese reporter for a fashion magazine in Japan.
“When my friend arrived there was a huge crowd around me, as if I was some ‘fashion icon’. And it was all so accidental, that that’s how I got the name and that’s how I got my little push over the edge, and I started my blog that week. … Actually, the next day.”
Maggie Huffman knew when she was done with her corporate job and “engineered” a graceful exit. She had always been successful, often in unlikely roles and industries for women, so she was confident in her ability to succeed after corporate life. But she took her time to find her way into her next phase of work and her new phase as a maturepreneur. She says she “goofed off” for a while, playing her life on Google. Any and everything she was interested in, she investigated. She obtained a second masters degree. She achieved certification as a health coach and pursued other certifications as well.
In that process, her new line of work emerged, she recognized it, and she aligned herself with where it was leading her.
“I very often feel that the most successful thing I did was work with my very first client, who said, ‘You changed my life.’ You changed my life! How could there be better success than that? That was so meaningful to me because it changed my mindset from being a coach who’s starting a business and figuring out how to support myself and make money to a coach who’s in service; to doing what I know makes a difference and letting that be my career.”
Today, Maggie still does part-time consulting for the corporate world while she follows her passion for helping people as an author and life/career coach.
Every Launch Unique
Yes, every business launch is unique. Should we be surprised? No. Clearly, the common theme to taking any of the ten steps to becoming an entrepreneur after 40 is the incredible diversity of approaches, methods, and means to executing all of them. Successfully. Launching the business in this Step Eight is no different. Whether a launch is something you’ve taken time and pains to plan and implement strategically, whether it’s a serendipitous development that hindsight shows followed a larger purpose, or whether it’s something different altogether doesn’t seem to matter. Business success comes through time and the steady application of attention, energy, and action. Your launch is just the starting line or what looks like a starting line once you’ve begun your journey.
This post doesn’t cover every way there is to launch a business. It can’t, of course. But I’ve illustrated some of the approaches we’ve seen, based on the experiences of our Maturepreneurial guests. In the next post, we’ll look at how maturepreneurs find balance in their businesses after they’ve launched, whether that’s by correcting course as they execute and learn from experience, by identifying and filling knowledge or activity gaps, or by pivoting to a new direction, market, or strategy in the face of new information.
Until then, dream big, aim high, and enjoy the ride!
All photos sourced from Unsplash.com.