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Archive for March, 2017

Your Startup Is Bigger Than You

After interviewing high level business pioneers and making headway on their book, here’s a big take-away: Most people have heard the phrase, “Know your *WHY* ” But what does it really mean and how do you apply it for sustainable success?

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A little history lesson in product/service development and sales: Most young entrepreneurs mistakenly believe that their innovative product is king. Wrong. Others think it’s about the content–make sure your marketing and branding strategies are on-point, and you can fill the box with just about anything. Wrong. Oh, you might find a limited amount of profit and success that way, but you’ll also find it fizzling out, and you’ll need to scramble to find the next big thing to saty in the game, virtually starting over from scratch. That’s not sustainability. That’s grit (which is a great quality, but it’s not sustainability).

Instead, “Know your *WHY*” dictates that you understand what you want your product or service to do, and you get committed to that outcome. For instance, your *WHY* may be that you want to help people come together and connect at a table together, share stories and build relationships, because people are feeling alone and disconnected. That’s your *WHY* To answer that, you might productize bottles of wine for people to share together, but what your selling is a social tool meant to provide a shared experience more than a mere product or service.

Also, to really be sustainable, your *WHY* can’t just be about something that’s meaningful to you in a vacuum. It needs to be responsive to or reflective of a cultural need. In this case, data show that people want to put money in experiences and they crave connection. So, your *WHY* of wanting to help people come together and connect at a table, share stories and build relationships answers the cultural need for interpersonal connection and shared experiences.

Now, here’s the thing, because your focus is on your *WHY* and not the singular product (e.g. wine), when you expand or scale and decide to add new products/services to your offerings, they needn’t be more wine. They merely have to be reflective of your *WHY* So, a social club, exotic tours and retreats, books designed for book clubs and other groups, film festivals and other events, etc. all can be positioned to answer your *WHY* keeping you relevant even if drinking wine goes out of style (Although, I dare not think of such a travesty!).

#startup #whystatement #scale #strategicplanning #thinkbig #business #entrepreneur #legacycompany

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THE HAZARDS OF THINKING TOO SMALL FOR SUSTAINABILITY

THE HAZARDS OF THINKING TOO SMALL FOR SUSTAINABILITY

(aka: the selfish monologue in business = short term)

Philosophically, our only true ability in life is to generalize from oneself. The only true perception we will ever have is our own, even when we empathize or “see through another lens” it’s still our interpretation of it. So, self is always in play no matter how hard we may try to remove ourselves. That’s not a bad thing, but it can get complicated when you’re establishing a company.

Portrait of smiling businesswomanYou need to know your *WHY* but whether you consider that to be personal or universal will greatly affect the scale and ultimate sustainability of your business.

At first a company is but a seed, a beautiful idea. Then, we nurture it into existence. We feed it, water it, love it, even struggle with it, then it blooms! Still, we think of it as our own, but is that the best view for the long-term health of pure creation?

Maybe you grew an orchid — a boutique hybrid that is gorgeous and exclusive and very personal. That’s wonderful! But it’s not very SUSTAINABLE. It has a targeted quick lifespan that will be enjoyed by a very limited number of people who will get to experience it. Which is great if that’s the goal.

Perhaps, on the other hand, you’re growing a magestic cherry tree. Ahhh, that’s very different. Many entities have contributed to this successful incarnation and will soon come to rely on its existence. Sure, you planted the seed, maybe even started it in a small pot to keep it safe in its formative time, but soon it will be a critical part of a living ecosystem on the planet. Earthworms, bugs, microorganisms, squirrels, birds, owls, bats, raccoons, snakes, etc. will one day rely on its shelter, stature, fruit and other forms of its biology. Decay, sunlight, rain and dew will all contribute to it’s growth, though you may still contribute, keep it printed and healthy, it’s grown much larger than you. Frankly, it can even live without you, and that’s good. That was the point!

Using the analogy of growing these “plants” from seeds into maturity are similar in business. If you intend to stay small, as a rare flowing plant, enjoyed by an elite few, you’re allowed to be selfish with its mission — you’ll do no harm to it, and long-term sustainability that benefits many isn’t it’s goal. You’ll likely achieve success, then you’ll move on to your *next*

But, if you intend to build an empire or at least a mid-sized corporation that will be able to thrive, maybe as your legacy, long after you’re gone, you need a mission that isn’t about you but is all about the culture and ecosystem your establishing and sustaining. This is your *WHY* and it’s far bigger than *you*

You also need to ensure that this large sustainable *WHY* is something embraced by everyone and everything in your culture, from your workforce and investors to your customers and fans. The moment you think your *WHY* in this larger game is anything about you, you know you’re playing too small and threatening sustainability. Because if you think this majestic cherry tree is here to give you joy and shade, you’re not addressing the more important needs of the many contributing to it and relying on it. You’ll strangle it’s growth and prevent it from fulfilling its fullest potential for the greater good.

A small business can afford a selfish monologue for its *WHY* because its goal isn’t long-term sustainability for the masses. A larger company, intended for long-term sustainability, needs a more universal, cultural, ecosystem-oriented *WHY* to thrive and grow at the scale that is most suited to it.

#branding #scale #sustainability #corporation #mission #yourwhystatement #brandstory #startup

Discovering the Positvie Impact of Groups: Lifestyle Business Insider

I don’t do groups. In fact, as a child my mother decided one day that I should go to group counseling because my father was an alcoholic. Before anyone gets any ideas about this presumed tragedy, my parents divorced when I was three-years-old, I lived with my mother who had sole custody and was a working trust fund baby, plus I had an older brother who lived with us and lots of family friends creating a rich support system. It wasn’t a difficult life. As for my dad, he was very much around, involved in my life, and my parents remained good friends. Sure, he was absolutely an alcoholic, but the effect that had on my  life was practically nonexistent. He was a jovial drunk and no one had any illusion that he was a responsible adult, including me, whether he was sober or not. So, expectations were always quite low as far as “parenting,” but he was a fun playmate! He worked, too. He was a prolific professional artist, a muralist mostly, and revered well enough in all the right circles for most of my life. There really wasn’t much to complain about, honestly. So, picture me in group with a bunch of kids who were literally going through hell with their alcoholic parent(s)–many suffering abuse, financial hardships, neglect, embarrassment and shame… whereas my dad would drink way too much scotch and get up and sing with the band at the Yacht Club, and everyone thought he was the life of the party. He never tried to drive drunk with me, so safety wasn’t an issue. He might have a slight hangover in the morning that would delay our planned trip to the beach that day, but that was really the extent of my suffering.

Needless to say, I didn’t really participate in group. I just sat there quietly. It was all rather uncomfortable hearing the other kids’ stories–I felt like a fraud. I hated “group.”

That was my first experience with groups: negative, misfit, outsider, and self-conscious are words that come to mind. “Groups” meant other things to me later in life: group projects in school, where I tended to do most of the work; group assignments at work, which tended to follow the same patterns as school; team-building group exercises, team breakout sessions, and shared accountability management systems–please shoot me, it’s so awful!! My friends, colleagues and employers all would joke that “Daphne doesn’t play well with others.” Instead, they’d just give me impossible problems to solve and incredibly challenging tasks to figure out, and I’d hide away in a closed room eventually emerging with the impossible solved. Then, we’d all gather teams together to execute the strategies.

Then, one day I’d met my match. A woman far smarter than me! She was an absolute lunatic–impossible for most people to work with, mean, temperamental, petty and hands down BRILLIANT! She became my best friend and mentor for about 11 years. While everything I said about her is absolutely true, it’s also true that she was the most encouraging, generous and supportive mentor and teammate imaginable who gave me every opportunity to grow and learn and implement anything I wanted to do. Most importantly, she believed in me more than even I did, and I’m pretty cocky! She pushed me in every area of my professional life until I exceeded a standard I didn’t even realize I was capable of achieving. I can’t say that she taught me everything I know–instead she kept challenging me and held tireless faith in me until I learned and applied every professional skill I currently hold. Many of these skills she doesn’t have herself. For her, it wasn’t about her trying to turn me into a clone; it was about pushing me to become my best me. After more than a decade, I began achieving consistently at very high levels, and we both knew that I was now soaring on my own. What started as a brutal form of mentoring and coaching eventually shifted to just brutality, however. The pain crescendoed, and there came a time when there was nothing left to learn in that space, and the abuse was no longer followed by a reward. It was just painful and empty. It was time for me to move on–we agreed. And so it ended. And every day I’m grateful for the full experience. Was there an easier path to take to get me where I am today? Nope. I’d have been too hard-headed to come this far without all of that.

Yet, I still never learned to work well in groups, exactly, but I learned how to lead many groups of people and project manage like a champ! Mostly, I learned how to work exceptionally well with an equal or better-skilled partner. This was a huge breakthrough for this loner!

After a couple more years, I stumbled into the life and work of yet another extraordinary person–just as dynamic and brilliant as the one before, but minus the mean streak and abusiveness and who was also far more successful. Up until now, I’ve always had a mentor in my life, and this other extraordinary person normally would have become my next–wickedly smart, extremely successful businesswoman and entrepreneur… She’s everything I’d want to learn from next! But, we never allowed a mentoring relationship to form. Instead, we entered into our relationship as a partnership of equals, each bringing different skills and expertise to the game, and every challenge, frustration or dispute we’d have within our working process was always approached with this incredible level of mutual respect and love. Occasionally, we’d even openly discuss this wonderful phenomenon. Four years we worked together, almost inseparable though she travels often, without one real argument. There was one enormous problem, however. After four years of creating exceptional work, only two out of 10 large projects were fully completed and launched (though many smaller ones were wildly successful). Everything else was abandoned for one reason or another after getting 60% or even 75% complete. I always blamed her for either stalling projects (sometimes due to legitimate conflicts of interest that would arise) or just never scheduling ample dedicated time to sit down and finalize them with me. I could only get so far on my own–using her ideas and vision–because this is her brand and life. I actually need her to help me polish and complete. I’d voice concerns from time to time, even get a little annoyed and frustrated. She always avoided discussing it… So, I of course assumed she understood and agreed with my point of view, hence the avoidance. Right? Wrong! It appears she’d been blaming me for these unfinished projects this whole time, and two huge arguments erupted as a result. We’re working through this, I’m very relieved to report, but not without some difficulty and a few hard blows along the way.

Believe me, I no longer blame my partner solely for these unfinished projects. What I am doing is gathering up all I know about her and infusing it in the works on my own to reach a finalized stage. That’s not to say that she won’t join with me to polish it pre-release, but I’m going rogue to get to the finish line, because I’ve learned that this is what these projects actually needed all along. I needed to be bold enough, and have enough faith in all I know about this person, to dive in and create the final works. That takes a big set of brass ones to do–to make grand assumptions about someone’s life and opinions, but the bolder I am about doing this, and the more committed I become to this vanguard process, the more confident I become in knowing that this was the missing link all along. This was absolutely the role I was meant to take, but was too timid to shoulder up the responsibility previously. And, yes, I have her blessing. We never had an issue with trust–she knows I know her stories, her heart and intentions–we just struggled furiously with each other until I chose to take a wildly ambitious path. As unusual as this is, it’s gorgeous how it’s all working out!

Still, without launching any of these large projects I’d created, my cash flow is not what I had originally anticipated, to say the least. So, I picked up other freelance clients and maintained others I had planned to phase out, helping me get by as I still work towards finalizing then launching all of this work I’d started. I’ve been frustrated, lost, overwhelmed, feeling isolated and abandoned, and even a little despondent at times, but I never gave up–I knew not to do that. And, here enters the theme of the “group” once more…

Stephanie Frank, an esteemed business coach whom I became acquainted when I first decided to work on my freelance career full time about 5 years ago, started a Facebook group called “Lifestyle Business Insider.” Look, I’m a big fan of Facebook–I socialize on it, debate on it, spread ideas there, tell stories there… instead of being a substitution for real-life, it’s been a brilliant extension of real life for me, and has had a wonderful positive impact on my business. I am also a member of several “professional groups.” Most are fine, but the one Stephanie developed is extraordinary! While I continue to grit my teeth and plow through the completion of these projects, most importantly a specific book project with two additional co-authors, I have been able to share some of my professional struggles, successes, stories and goals with other pros. There’s an eclectic mix of people from varied backgrounds, expertise and levels of achievement on their journey, and though this group is rather new, the feedback, support, sharing and resources presented have been incredibly beneficial! I think I’ve fund a “group” where I actually fit in–I’m not the smartest person in the room here (and I never want to be), instead there’s a beautiful, equitable level of give and take that I believe is creating a synergy far greater than the sum of its parts.

I’m still holding my beloved beast (this big book project) dear to my heart and nearing the end, finalizing the first complete draft of the manuscript next month. Though it’s been an incredibly difficult time, there’s never been a doubt that it’s an absolutely worthwhile journey with an astoundingly worthwhile colleague, partner and dear friend.  And this group, just being able to share with the group, ask questions and give feedback and process in this space has helped me to plow through some really tough barriers. I’m so grateful for each member, and of course Stephanie.

I’ve gone from being a complete misfit in awkward Ala-teen groups and bulldozing my fellow students throughout high school and college group projects, to finally being able to lead teams and work with a partner… and now I’m fully embracing a group of dedicated peers and professionals who join together in a virtual space to support one another, share resources and experience growth. I’m blessed, and I think I’m starting to like this whole “group” concept!

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