The darker side of business ownership …

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I don’t have time to write this blog.  But I can’t sit at my desk in integrity and not write it.  Because I’ve owned a number of businesses and I have been to the dark side.  And when my mission is to set business owners free, I can’t ignore the black hole that seems to engulf certain entrepreneurial spirits amongst us.

This week I’ve read about two young entrepreneurs (one in his early twenties, the other thirty years old) in America who have ended their life, seemingly worn down by the immense stress that building a business can place on the founder.  In this latest article, with the tragic headline ‘Start up founder jumped to her death from a roof top bar’, the writer references a study by Dr. Michael Freeman, a clinical professor at UCSF and an entrepreneur, was one of the first to link higher rates of mental health issues to entrepreneurship.

Of the 242 entrepreneurs he surveyed, 49% reported having a mental-health condition. Depression was the No. 1 reported condition among them and was present in 30% of all entrepreneurs.

This statistic doesn’t surprise me.  I talk about this subject a lot with my clients and members… the harsh reality of business that no one tells you when you get started.  I call it the roller coaster of business – a world of extreme highs and extreme lows.  If you are determined to be successful, this is a ride very few dedicated business owners can avoid.  I talk about because I want my clients to be prepared – to buckle up tight and ride out the highs and the lows.

In business, you will have moments of joy, when everything goes right – you win clients, you love your team, the income is looking healthier than it’s ever done.  And you will have times when the bottom falls out of your world.  You lose a big client, you have a rogue staff member, you are worried about money, you are working too hard and sleeping too little.  You can only imagine the worst.  You feel like everything is on the line and you’ve put all you have into the business – your heart, your reputation, your time, your money – the thought of losing it all is overwhelming.  It’s a lonely and miserable place.  Despair can live here if you let it.

But you mustn’t let it.  You must know that this is normal.  Every business owner experiences the highs and lows. I’ve been there, I know.  I nearly had a nervous break down halfway through building my first business.  I will never forget how depressed I  became during that time.

I do think it is very sad that young people such as the woman in the article are losing their way in our entrepreneurial society – becoming so desperate that they feel they must take their own lives.  These are young people with the courage to dream, to step out into the world and take on the challenge of building something amazing.  They don’t know that they are also building their own monster, the beast that grows and can eat them alive if they are not ready for it.

Of course it isn’t just young people.  Success in business takes its toll on all business owners from time to time.  So in writing this I want you to know that this is normal.  If you are reading this, you are a business owner.  And I know you will have found the whole thing unspeakably tough sometimes.  So I just want to say to you something I’ve learned that keeps me sane and grounded, whatever life throws at me:

It always turns out OK.  Always.  

No matter how bad it seems, no matter how desperate the situation feels – it always gets better.  Don’t let things keep you awake at night with worry (although I know you will sometimes).  The worry doesn’t fix it.  Even if the whole thing crashes and burns, you will be OK.  YOU WILL BE OK.  Life will go on.  Your family and friends will still love you.  The sun will still shine.  And as Jack Dawsey says in my favorite line in Titanic, “you will die an old lady (or man) warm in your bed”.  Nothing is ever as bad as it seems.  Just get up in the morning and do the best you can to fix whatever is going wrong.  Whatever happens, you’ll be OK.

I work with business owners because I know I can help them.  I’m there through good and bad, highs and lows.  Mostly we work on the growth and I push people to strive for the dream of a beautiful exit, where they get to live happily ever after.  But I know it’s not a straight line to the top.  So I’m also the voice of comfort and reason when the going gets tough.  I love my work!

If you ever find yourself struggling and feeling like it’s all too much, remember my mantra…”it always turns out OK”.

Thank you for being a dreamer and an action taker.

You rock.

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Are you brave enough to have a powerful brand? Find out here…

brandingAs anyone who has worked with me will tell you, I’m an avid fan of branding.  I look at a client’s brand and ask myself, does it tell me something exciting, original and impactful about their business?  Does it set the foundation for everything the business stands for?  Does it place them instantly a head and shoulders above the competition?

Often times the answer is no and I recommend that they engage a brand specialist to help them.  One of these specialists, Steve Bailey features in my latest book The Liber8 Disciplines.  Here’s an excerpt from the book about a conversation Steve and I had about branding and bravery:

“Over lunch recently, Steve asked me if I thought the readers of this book would have the courage to create a powerful brand.  I stopped and peered at him over the bowl of hot soup I was enjoying.  “Why do they need to be brave?”  I asked.  To which he replied, “Because if we succeed with creating the right brand for someone, they will get noticed… a great brand doesn’t let you hide away and be safe”.

Steve gave me an example of a small business client he had worked with recently.  They came to him wanting a new brand, something that would build on their existing business but take it to a whole new level of excitement and attraction.  He and his team came up with a new name and brand approach that was so perfect for them, when he told me I laughed out loud. “That’s great!” I cried.  From the name alone I knew exactly what this business did and I could see their growth plan ahead of them in an instant.  I could see a chain of stores nationally or globally; or a franchise model.  The name was so catchy I already knew what the brand would look for and what they stood for.  “But they weren’t willing to change their name,” Steve told me, “which I understand – it can be too big a step for some, especially when they’ve been around for a while. So we did a new brand strategy working with their existing name.  We came up with a positioning platform and graphic device that shifted them into the next league almost as well”.  Steve described this new idea to me and once again I laughed out loud.  “But that’s great too!”  I cried.  “That really works. I can already see all the marketing ideas that go with that idea”.   Steve shook his head, “They were too scared to do this too” he said. “They’ve gone back to their original logo”.  I knew the company he was talking about and I knew that they really needed to change their image in order to become more relevant in the marketplace.  I felt sad for them. They had missed an opportunity to evolve and they didn’t even know it.  Now I understood what Steve meant about being brave.  Being willing to have a powerful brand might mean you have to let go of what you already have to a certain degree.  Or you might even have to change it completely.

I realised from listening to Steve that it is almost as important to understand what a brand isn’t as it is to know what a brand is.  Why would someone go to a brand strategy agency if they were not willing to change their brand?  I wondered if perhaps they just hadn’t really understood what there were really asking for”.

Do you know what it really means to have a great brand?  Do you have any idea how powerful it can really be for you?  Would you like to know more about branding?  I’ve dedicated an entire section of The Liber8 Disciplines to this topic – it’s that important. If you’d like a sneak preview of this chapter, before the book is published – just email me (laura@liber8me.com).

 

From the desk of Liber8me.  Business mentors and publisher of Liber8 your Business:  The revolutionary business planning technique that will set every small business owner free.

 

The 9 big DON’TS if you want to successfully grow your business

no entryEveryone is always telling you what you should do to be successful in business.  I thought for a change, I’d tell you (based on my own bitter/sweet experiences) some of the things you really shouldn’t do.  Here are my top nine DON’TS when it comes to being successful in business:

 

 

 

1. DON’T start or continue a business with no idea of why what you offer is needed and wanted.  Find your niche, be sure people want what you have and have a plan for how you will grow this business into the future.

2. DON’T believe you are the only one who can do what you do as well as you do. No matter what you do, no matter how specialized it is… there will be others out there who can be trained to do it just as well as you… if not better.  Get your ego out of the way.  Or you will become your business’s biggest liability when it comes to growth.

3. DON’T be afraid to hire people.  You cannot do it alone.  No one will ever buy a business that is dependent on its owner.  You must build a team around you.  This is, however, one of the most challenging aspects of business and most small business owner often make a complete mess of it to start with.  Which leads us to DON’T number 4…

4. DON’T do your own HR.  Most business owners are better leaders than they are managers.  You can probably inspire people to want to work for you with your vision, your passion and great ideas.  But an employee will never share the same level of passion as you, no matter how good they are at their job.  Get an expert (HR consultant) to get the right tools and processes in place to motivate your team and manage their performance effectively.

5.  DON’T try to grow too fast.  You need people – but you need to know you can afford them first.  Make sure there is enough forward cash flow in the business first – don’t hire them hoping the business will miraculously appear out of nowhere to pay for them.

6. DON’T ever believe that doing the work is more important than selling the work.  Learn to do the IN/OUT dance – make the out there selling part of your job as important as the in there doing.  You must have a sales pipeline in place at all times, always thinking about where your income is coming from next.

7. DON’T try to run a business without a budget.  Business is a financial game, and you must lead with the numbers.  Project your sales, set your expenses – have a plan to achieve these and then make the plan happen.  Lead with the numbers.  Create strategies to achieve financial targets and take action.

8. DON’T try to do it on your own.  Business can be a very lonely game.  Especially in the early days when you are doing everything.  Even if you have a business partner or management team, it’s too easy to be introspective and talk yourselves into believing what you are doing is right.  Get an external perspective on your business right from the start – a mentor, advisor, Board, Advisory Board… someone who will challenge your strategies and hold you accountable to your goals.

9.  DON’T let the bastards grind you down!  There is an extremely high probability that at some stage during the life cycle of your business you will want to quit.  You will hate your clients, hate your staff, hate your suppliers and maybe even hate yourself for putting up with all their crap.  You will have days like these.  I call them duvet days.  Go home, pull the blankets over your head and hide.  But come out fighting again the next day, because as I saw on a billboard once:  “I’m not saying it will be easy, I’m saying it will be worth it”.

Hope you liked this blog post.  Now DON’T be shy… share your comments below, let’s get talking about the DO’s and DON’Ts of business success!

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Brought to you by Liber8me.  Business Mentors and publisher of Liber8 your Business:  The revolutionary business planning technique that will set every business owner free.

Do you have the right mindset to be successful, rich and free? Rate your freedom mindset here…

welcome to financial freedomAs part of my Liber8me business mentoring programmes, I spend time interviewing successful business people. My key criteria for selecting an interview subject is that the person must have built and sold at least one successful business, which has created wealth and freedom of choice for them. I ask what they believe are the key traits that have made them successful. A pattern has emerged as all interviewees mention similar traits. Ten traits stood out and I believe form the foundation of the Freedom Mindset.

Each of the ten traits is list below with a score against them.  It’s time to take the test. Grade yourself on a score of 1 to 5, where 1 means ‘not at all’ and 5 means ‘totally got it nailed’, against each of the traits. Don’t feel you have to be close to a 5 score to be successful. This is a reality check to identify the areas you will need to work on as you build your business and your path to financial freedom.

1. Vision. Rate the clarity of the vision you have for your business when it is complete and you’ve created financial freedom from it.

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

2. Self-belief. Rate your confidence in your ability to build a business that will generate great wealth and freedom for you.

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

3. Passion. Rate your passion for your business

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

 4. Being goal-orientated. Rate the clarity of the goals you have set for your business

1                      2                      3                      4                     5

5. Planning. Rate your current plan for a business that will feed you wealth

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

6. Being action-focussed. Rate your ability to take action as needed.

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

7. Determination. How do you rate your determination to succeed?

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

8. Willingness to fail. How would you rate your willingness to learn from failures?

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

9.Being wealth positive. How would you rate your willingness to be very wealthy?

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

10. Giving back. Rate your desire to make a difference through your business

1                      2                      3                      4                      5

Review your scores for each of the 10 traits. In which areas do you already feel strong? Which areas do you need to work on? Keep these in mind as you continue to work on your building your business and your success.

Good luck!

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The above is an excerpt from my book Liber8 your Business: The revolutionary business planning technique that will set every small business owner free. Available now on Amazon.

 

Winners have a strong brand. Do you? A lesson on branding from The X Factor USA

x-factorI’ve been trying to explain the importance of branding to people all year and then recently I watched the final of The X Factor USA and I saw the power of brand building in action… in a way I think will help people understand.

The three finalists had each been working hard on their personal brand the entire competition:

Carlito-Olivero-The-X-FactorCarlito Olivero is a Hispanic competitor from the Bronx who has been an underdog all the way, even ending up in the bottom two twice.  Every week he tells America that he’s a fighter.  He tells them he’s come from the gutter, and he’s going to work hard and fight his way to the top.  This is his brand.  This is what he stands for.  And we all love a fighter.

jeff guttJeff Gutt is a single dad who is inspired by his three year old son.  He was depressed and gave up music until his son came along. He needs to win for his son.  We’ve all bought into his story.  He stands for sacrifice, determination and parenthood.  He stands for hope. He’s a father. That’s his brand.  We are routing for him to win for his son.

 

alex and sierraAlex and Sierra are the beautiful young couple who are madly in love.  They are the lovers of the competition. They both have wonderful voices and sing into each other’s eyes week on week.  They stand for love.  That’s their brand.  Love.  And who doesn’t want to believe in love?

 

Do you see what I’m saying here?  In the X Factor the winner is chosen by the vote of several million viewers.  But it’s not just about the singing. The good contestants have not just demonstrated their talent.  They have also shown us what they stand for.  We have fallen for their story and what the values they represent to us.  We have an emotional connection to what they are about not just what they do.

In the real world (because we can’t all be X Factor stars), your brand is what your business stands for, not just your product or service.  You have to sell an emotional connection.

In the X Factor final, love won the day.  What does your brand stand for that will make you a winner in your world?

Best,

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PS  You can read more about the power of branding in my book Liber8 your Business.  Available on Amazon right now.

 From the desk of Liber8me.  Business mentors and publisher of Liber8 your Business: The revolutionary business planning technique that will set every small business owner free.

 

Are you thinking like an Apple or a BlackBerry? The most important lesson of the day…

blackberry appleAlmost exactly a year ago today (11 September 2012) I wrote a blog tip entitled ‘Watch for changing paradigms’ (click to read it).  At the time I was crafting that blog, the Board and management team at BlackBerry would have already been sweating buckets round the Board table about the paradigm shifting under their feet.  I for one had already switched fruit allegiance many moons prior and clearly I was not alone.   Last Friday BlackBerry Ltd warned shareholders to expect a net operating loss of up to $995 million for the quarter ended August 31 and announced it’s intention to cut more than a third of its global workforce – sending its share values plummeting.

The reason for such a seeming train smash?  They were late to market.  By the time the BlackBerry 10 Series arrived, many once loyal users had already made the switch to a competitive smart phone and placed their loyalty with other brands.  I know I did.  Did you?

I loved my Blackberry.  I was very happy with it.  (Apart from those fiddly little key pad buttons – a disaster with acrylic nails darling!).  But Apple was seducing me through peer group pressure.  All my friends had an iPhone.  My kids were begging me to get an iPhone.  I had an iPod, I loved iTunes and was also feeling the lure of the iPad.  The i’s were calling.  Apple was just sexier.  

Then I dropped my iPod down the toilet and someone told me an iPhone would double as a phone and play my songs from iTunes. And it was all  over. Sold to the lady with the dripping iPod!  I jumped into the Apple basket and have never looked back since.

Meanwhile as millions of others found their own reasons to switch to Apple or another smart phone brand, BlackBerry missed the boat.  The $930 – $960 million write down in it’s fiscal second quarter is said to be due to a ballooning stockpile of unsold BlackBerry z10 devices.

And so the lesson?

Back to my blog post of a year ago.  As I advised back then… keep a close eye on the trends.  Yes set your long term goals.  And yes, create a solid business plan every year to meet targets.  But always include a review of industry trends, competitor analysis and build future proofing into your planning.  Ask yourself constantly what is on the horizon and how can you be one step ahead?

Better still, be the Apple.  Be the innovator and the one to change the paradigm in the first place.  Can you spot a trend coming and pioneer the way?  Keep thinking…

Good luck out there!

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From the desk of liber8yourbusiness. Business mentors and publisher of Liber8 Your Business: The revolutionary business planning technique that will set every small business owner free.

Why the best business people fail… and how you can be a successful failure too

failureYou might think failure doesn’t enter the vocabulary of successful people. But willingness to fail is a key criterion for success. Here’s an unavoidable truth about business – you’re going to fail in your business at some stage. You will probably do some really dumb things and at times you may feel like an idiot. You could make bad decisions, decisions that cost you money. You might make poor employment decisions or lousy client decisions. Failure is guaranteed. What’s important is having the ability to pick yourself up and say, ‘That was stupid, I feel like a fool, but what have I learned?’ Successful people learn from their mistakes and carry on.

I love the story about IBM from the 1960s. A manager made a decision that lost the company $10 million. He was summoned to the office of the CEO, Tom Watson. When asked why he’d been called there, the manager said, ‘So you can fire me.’ Watson replied, ‘Fire you? Of course I’m not going to fire you. I’ve just spent $10 million educating you!’

All business people fail at something at some stage. The smart ones learn and use the experience to their advantage next time.

So next time you think you won’t do something important in case you fail… remember Michael Jordan’s famous quote:  “I can accept failure, but I can’t accept not trying”.  And get out there… do it!

This was an excerpt from Liber8 Your Business – The revolutionary business planning technique that will set every small business owner free.  Pre-order your copy here.

Why I invested $24,000 per annum in external advice in my second year of business… and how it paid off.

money-treeBusiness owners listen up.  I’m going to make a point I believe PASSIONATELY in.  I’m going to share with you the one decision I made early on in business that ensured my success.

The business was my advertising agency, Red Rocks. The decision was to hire two external Directors.  One was a retired advertising guy who added both experience and credibility to my fledgling agency.  The other was a smart and logical businessman who I knew would challenge me.   I had my Yoda and my Dr Spock… both complimentary to my creative, slightly wild approach to business. We agreed I would pay them each $1,000 per month each – not much really compared to standard Director’s Fees.  But for me it was $24,000 off my bottom line in my second year of business.  It was a terrifying decision.  I was barely making that much in profit!  I knew I’d have to seriously up my game in order to afford them.  I was scared, but I was sure with the right action plan and these two men to challenge and support me I could get there.

I can now say with complete certainty that it was the best business decision I ever made.  Business ownership can be a lonely business.  I couldn’t afford to hire senior people to bounce ideas off, to give me feedback on my strategies.  I was naïve when it came to business and needed guidance around the financial goals I set.  I was headstrong and had regular love affairs with my own sense of brilliance (always followed swiftly by equally strong feelings of inadequacy).  My lack of business experience and fleeting spells of over-confidence made me a dangerous force.  But with my two Directors meeting me every month, I had to get my act together.  I had to have a solid business plan, with convincing strategies.  I had to set targets and run a budget.  I had to grow up and learn not to be a solo operator.  With my two Directors guiding, challenging, supporting and motivating me I grew my business rapidly year on year.  My profits grew alongside my sales, thanks to aggressive new business targets and tight control on expenses.  I stopped looking at their fees as an expense and viewed them as an investment.

Now I strongly advise all small business owners to invest in an external advisor of some sort.   You can look for an independent Director like I did, or you can get an Advisory Board.  Or you can bring in a mentor or coach to work alongside you.  A piece of cautionary advise whichever way you go, is to be sure the people you invite into this critical role have earned the right to be there.  They MUST be experienced business people, who have successfully built their own businesses and understand what it’s like first hand to be in your position.  Please DO NOT hire a business coach who has never owned a business or engage a Director who has no experience with governance.

Having been on the receiving end of good external advisors, I know how important it is.  I have a couple of spaces coming up and am looking for a committed, ambitious and dedicated business owner to work with me.  You can be sure I’ll challenge not only you but your business model too. My aim is to see good businesses become exceptional businesses.  If you’d like to talk to me about my mentoring programme click here:

http://www.liber8yourbusiness.com/one-on-one-mentoring-programme/

  From the desk of liber8yourbusiness.  Business mentors and publisher of Liber8 Your Business – The revolutionary business planning technique that will set every business owner free.

Listen to the brand guys… and change the name of your book!

books save livesSo the book is written… yes, it’s finished and off to proof reading next week.  Yipee!  One year and two months in the making.  That’s approximately three hundred 5 am starts, 70,000 words and a heck of a lot of late nights.  It ain’t no breeze this book writing thing.   But it’s done, my editor is happy (so far) and it moves onto the next stage.

Now we are into publishing and soon my baby will be off to be designed.  It will have a sexy cover and fabulous interior… can’t wait to see it.  But the question of what to call it came up again last week.  I’ve been calling it The Liber8 Factor – The revolutionary planning technique that will set every small business owner free.  Made total sense to me – it consists of eight stages, each with an exercise to take the reader step by step through my proven blueprint for building a business you can sell one day for millions.

But my brand designer says it should be called Liber8 Your Business.  Keep it simple, he says. This is what it does.  If it sounds like a duck and walks like a duck, call it a duck.  Call a spade a spade. Or something like that.

I’ve been sitting on it for a few weeks now and I’ve come around to it.  Liber8 Your Business… the first of the Liber8 Series.  Soon (well another several thousand 5am starts) there will be a series of Liber8 business books:  Liber8 Your Sales, Liber8 Your Marketing; Liber8 Your Team; Liber8 Your Social Media; Liber8 Your Presenting Skills… and many more besides (I’ll be taking a vote later in the year for the most popular title to come of the rank first).

I hope you like the title… I’ll be posting another excerpt soon.

Keep the feedback rolling in.

 

 

 

From the desk of liber8yourbusiness. Business mentors and publisher of Liber8 Your Business.

 

Success is a decision – but are you prepared to make it?

sam hazledineLast week I interviewed Ernst & Young’s 2012 Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Dr Sam Hazledine.  His business Medrecruit was started from nothing six years ago and has featured for the past four consecutive years in the Deloitte Fast 50, as well as winning Westpac Business Excellence Medium-Large
Business 2012.

Among other things I asked Sam what he thought stopped some business owners growing their business to it’s full potential.  His answer was that success is a decision and too many business owners simply do not decide to succeed.  They give themselves an out, he told me.  They make excuses, get themselves a part time job to pay bills or settle for less so that they don’t have to put it all on the line.  By doing so, according to Dr Sam, they make it too easy not to grow.

Business success according to Sam is 20% what you do and 80% how you think.

Think about it.  What do you think about success.  Have you made the decision to grow and succeed, or is failure to grow a genuine option for you?

Love to know your thoughts on this.

If you’d like to read the full interview with Dr Sam Hazledine, grab a copy of this month’s NZBusiness Magazine and look for my regular column entitled The Exit Factor.

 

From the desk of liber8yourbusiness.  Business mentors and experts in small business exit strategies.