Wendy’s Wisdom

As the coordinator and teacher of Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center‘s Business Planning Class, I help small business entrepreneurs create solid business plans focused on management, marketing and money. Students learn, struggle and grow through the process… and many return to Renaissance to share their lessons learned as guest speakers, consultants and mentors.

At the last Business Planning Class graduation, Wendy Lieu, graduate of the Fall 2012 Business Planning Class, shared her wisdom. As of owner of Socola Chocolatier, Wendy Lieu handcrafts delicious artisanal confections.

Unplug!

unplugPersonal technology has completely transformed our work and home lives… and in most ways for the better. For many small business owners, technology is an the essential part of business operations. Our computers and smart phones are lifelines to our businesses.

We call, we email, we text, we tweet, we Skype. We check on orders, follow-up with vendors, employees, customers or clients, and stay on top of what’s happening in our industry.

All important. But what about when the technology starts to become an obsession? We don’t dare turn off our phones lest we miss something really important. We grab the phone as soon as we wake up and it is on our chest as we fall asleep. We check our email constantly without even realizing we are doing it.

How do we find the right balance between being attentive to our businesses and attuned to other aspects of our lives and the world around us? Is it possible to manage a business well without being “always on” and “always available”?

I think it is, but stepping away from personal technology takes a conscious effort. The first step: make a specific commitment. You can commit to “unplug” for one hour a day, one day a week, or just one day a month. Perhaps you can create a new tradition of staying away from the phone or computer until you have been awake for 30 minutes, or no phone at the table during meals. Hopefully, whatever your commitment, the end result is that you will feel renewed, refreshed and open to new possibilities. Unplugging may allow for new business insights.

If this sounds appealing, a good time to start is now! (Like time management strategies, it is always good to just start right away.) You can “unplug” with others by participating in the National Day of Unplugging this March 6-7, sundown to sundown.

Or you can plan your own “unplugging” tradition. The idea is to decide what is important to you. What are your reasons for disconnecting from technology? What would you like to do with that time (however long it is)?

On this year’s National Day of Unplugging, I plan to take a long walk without my phone, take my grandchild to the playground and have a family meal filled with good conversation.

If you unplug, what will you do?

Tiffany Schlain, filmmaker and founder of the Webby Awards made this short film with her husband Ken Goldberg that lampoons the technological addictions of this generation. She and her family have been observing a weekly uplug for the past few years.

Grappling with change

The only thing constant is change.

As small business owners, we constantly navigate change. The ups and downs of product sales, hiring employees or letting them go, adjusting (or pivoting) our business model to match the marketplace, or simply dealing with our own drive and ambition. Change is inevitable and necessary for our businesses to survive and thrive.

change

Predictable changes
It would be nice to know when change is coming. We can then predict how it will affect us or our business—such as a seasonal spike (or dip) in revenue or a competitive advantage opportunity—and then plan for it. For significant shifts to our business we can take initiative and create transition plans. These plans can map out specific action steps and a management timeline. This could be for a new affiliation, a joint venture, a ownership succession or a business sale. Through a series of steps over months (or even years), we can make sure that a big change happens in the best way possible.

The unpredictable
Sometimes change happens to us. Someone we love dies, we get sick, we lose a contract, or someone important moves away. When something unexpected happens—either in our personal life or in our business—it can easily disrupt our world. We lose our sense of control and can be at a loss for what to do next. Are we going in the right direction? Are we on the right path? Should we be doing something else?

Here are some strategies that I find helpful when navigating unexpected changes.

Acknowledge the change and your fears.
When experiencing an unexpected change, it is natural to feel awful, fearful or just uncomfortable. The first step is to acknowledge what you feel and that you are in a difficult place. The situation usually doesn’t get better by pretending it didn’t happen.

Seek support.
Reach out to others to share what you are experiencing. Your loved ones and colleagues can help remind you that you are not alone. Your community will understand the impact of this change for you and can be there for you as you deal with it.

Be here now.
Mindfulness meditation (even for just a few minutes a day) and other awareness or spiritual practices can help you relax and stay calm. It can help you focus on the present moment, instead of worrying about what has happened or what will happen.

Put it in perspective.
How have you handled past changes or challenges, and what helped you? Support from friends? Taking care of yourself? Actively seeking solutions? Waiting patiently for a solution to come? How you dealt with past experiences may help you now.

Keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Sometimes, the easiest first step is to just keep moving! As a small business owner, your business passion is integral to who you are. Keep doing what you love. What you accomplish each day will help you deal with the challenge at hand.

Above all, though, be patient with yourself. We all have the capacity to adjust to what life throws at us… eventually!

Baseball and small business… oh the similarities!

I’ve been a fan of baseball ever since Willie Mays roamed center field for the New York Giants. When I played Little League in Vancouver, Canada my teammates and I all had heroes who played our position in the Majors. I was a center fielder so Willie was my hero. I moved to San Francisco over 30 years ago and re-connected with my love for Giants baseball.

baseball and small business

The recent Giants World Series win (woo hoo!!) has me thinking about the similarities between playing Major League baseball and running a small business…

It takes specific skills and years of practice
A baseball player must spend years in the Minor Leagues honing his craft and developing the skills, strength and confidence to perform well. He also has to get noticed.

Similarly, in the world of small business, successful entrepreneurs are those who have had a lot of practice developing the skills relevant to their product/service. By educating yourself about your industry, doing thorough market research, working for others, and starting with a pop-up or a simple business model that can grow with time, you can set yourself up for “major” success.

Success comes from trying, failing, and trying again
An excellent batter in baseball is only successful 30% of the time. Occasionally a batter might get on base with a walk or because of someone else’s error but he has to face failure with each batting experience. It is very hard to hit a small round ball hurdling through the air from 60 feet away at 90+ miles per hour!

A small business owner won’t be able to make a sale with every customer or client interaction. Being successful means putting yourself out there and reaching out to customers and clients over and over. You may have to contact a potential client 5 to 10 times before they are convinced to “take as swing at your pitch”. Yet with every business “failure” you will gain experience and confidence.

It is a team effort of stakeholders
The pitcher needs to throw fast and get the ball over the plate, the catcher needs to catch the ball, and each infielder and outfielder needs to be ready for every pop-up, fly or ground ball. Everyone has to work in coordination to keep a runner from scoring. That coordination and synergy is central to success—both for the offensive team and those on defense.

As a small business owner, your most important asset is your team. First it starts with you as the leader. Then there are the people you hired and trained who work hard alongside you to make the business a success. Most business owners can’t do it all themselves. Even if your business is too small for employees, there are professional support people, vendors, investors, clients and customers that all have a role to play. They are all stakeholders in the business.

It requires fans
Nothing feels worse than going to a baseball game with lackluster support in the stands. The fans are the 10th “player” on the field. Their enthusiasm and encouragement (and sometimes discouragement) can make a huge difference in the course of the game.

Businesses don’t just need customers and clients, they need enthusiastic and loyal customers and clients. They need fans who will “cheer loud” and spread the word—write positive testimonials, refer the business’ products or services to friends and family, and get others excited, too. Consistent contact and positive messaging to your fan-base is needed in both baseball and in small business.

You need a great coach or advisor
Bruce Bochy is an amazing manager—coaching the Giants to three World Series in five years! As a coach, he decides who plays each position, the batting order and when the pitcher will change. His attention to detail throughout the game can affect the outcome. Players on the team also take on the role of “coach”—helping to keep their team members motivated and working together. Hunter Pence or Buster Posey play this role with their constant encouragement to their teammates.

In business, the owner is often the “coach”—training new employees, guiding staff and creating at atmosphere of trust so employees feel welcomed, supported and motivated to take risks to grow the business. But small business owners need their own coach, too. This could be a trusted business advisor or mentor or it might be peers who are grappling with similar business challenges and opportunities. (PTA plays this role for many of our clients.)

You must take a position and play to your strengths
Some baseball players have an outstanding pitching arm, others seem to always connect the bat with the ball, while others are super fast on their feet. Players must play positions best-suited to their skill-sets.

Small business owners must play to their strengths, too. First, it’s important to understand what skills are needed to run your business well. Then, to be honest with yourself about what you do well and what you don’t (and what you would rather not do). Others should be hired to fill any gaps.

There are the stars
The Giants had some real stars this season, like Madison Bumgarner and Hunter Pence. They performed well under pressure and made the magic happen.

Small business owners and managers need to be stars, too, by “performing” well in every customer and client interaction. You must know your products or services inside and out and consistently rise to every challenge, be they complaints, delivery issues, employees who quit, or other unexpected emergencies.

Support people make everything work
A baseball team can’t be made up of “starters” only, though. There must be a solid crew of players who can be counted on to play well and become utility players at times, pinch-hitting when there is a need. And we cannot forget about all the behind-the-scenes people who make each ball club function.

Successful small businesses also need support people to make everything tick. Even a one-person small business needs a bookkeeper, administrative services, legal and insurance help, and access to the banking community.

You must take breaks and time off to rest and recharge
For eight months of the year, baseball players practice, stay in shape and play hard. But it isn’t non-stop. They take breaks to recuperate and for intense positions, like pitcher, players won’t even play the entire game.

Small business owners are always go-go-go and do not usually get to work just eight months of the year—at least not right away. A fast and constant pace is often required to get and keep customers or clients and manage cash flow. But it is key to manage your time well, too, both on and off the job. Taking a break to rest and have creative time is essential.

When you close a deal and win, it is oh so rewarding!
Every year baseball players go through arbitration or salary disputes. Sometimes they have long-term deals for two or three years but they still have to close the deal, perform at a higher rate and sometimes move to a different team. (We will see how Pablo Sandoval does in Boston. Sometimes your competition convinces your best people to leave.)

As a small business owner, you also have to close the deal. You have to make the sale, hire or fire the employee, open a new store, bring in a new manager, and continue to meet the complexities of the business by increasing your management, marketing and financial acumen (or finding others to help). And every time you make a sale, hire a new employee, find a new location and grow, it is incredibly rewarding.

It is a lot of fun and it is hard work
Baseball players play hard and they get to revel in a great hit, catching the ball for an out, or scoring a run. After all, it is just a game!

As a small business owner, owning a business is the hardest work you will ever do. But it is also a lot of fun—you get to follow your passion, blaze your own trail, create jobs, contribute to your community, and make a difference.

Now, if only the pay rate for small business owners was in the baseball player “ballpark”, we small business entrepreneurs would have it made!

Rock, paper, wisdom

Every year at Paul Terry & Associates, we make wisdom stones for our colleagues and clients. These stones have become a long-standing tradition and also a symbol for Paul Terry & Associates. They express our intention to help small business owners tune in to their passions, stay focused on their goals, find meaning, and make a difference.

wisdom stones

Each stone, with its special design and word of inspiration, is unique and the process of making them is a labor of love.

wisdom stones

Every year my wife, Leslie, creates a new stone design. Together we select river rocks that are the right size and color, we wash and scrub them, I apply linseed oil to bring out their rich hue, and then Leslie glues interesting handmade papers to each rock, often incorporating string or twine. The last step in the process is adding a word of wisdom to the back of each stone.

wisdom stones

After so many years of making these stones together and sending them off into the community, we started to wonder… where do they end up and what do they mean to people?

So we asked. Here is some of what we found out…

They decorate people’s bookshelves, tables and mantels:

wisdom stones

They live in the office, the bathroom and the garden:

wisdom stones

And they can be found in many rooms throughout peoples’ houses:

“One is on my table, another on my bookshelf, a fourth by my meditation area, and a fifth by my bedside.”

“The chaos of my life always benefits from having a few wisdom stones nearby. And yes, they are in every room of my house. Almost.”

For some people, the stones are decoration.  For others, they are continued inspiration. One colleague keeps her wisdom stones in her office and they inspire her communication with her clients.  Another colleague shared, “I sometimes have a client pick up a rock to guide our consulting session if they are stuck on some issue: it breaks them into a smile!”

This colleague used her wisdom stones at a party once as a way to introduce people to each other. Each party guest read a word on a rock and shared what it meant for them, which made for some fun ice breaker introductions.  She then mused that if she could remember which rock she received on which year, it would be interesting to look at the words of wisdom and see how they matched the trajectory of her business and her business growth.

It has been fun to see where these stones have ended up and what they mean to people. For me, making the stones and then giving them away is a way to connect to community… sharing small objects of beauty that bring joy and inspiration to those around me.

If you have ever received a PTA wisdom stone, please let me know what it means to you.

Need motivation? Set a deadline!

motivation

Thanks to our colleagues, clients, students, friends, and friends-of-friends, PTA got the 250 votes (and more!) needed to make it to the second round of the Chase Mission Main Streets grant process.

Encouraged by a few colleagues, we decided to apply for a grant to expand expert mentoring.  We got a late start and had only two weeks before the application deadline to collect the votes required. Compared to a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign, this was a minor recruitment effort (as we just needed votes, not cash), but it was still an all-consuming process.

It seemed like a daunting task at first, but in the end it was a great experience… and we managed to achieve our goal two days ahead of schedule!

Reaching out to our wider community was energizing. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with colleagues, clients and students and engage around a common goal. We were inspired by the support and encouragement for PTA and our mentorship idea.

motivation

Though we often curse them… aren’t deadlines great? We had been considering a train-the-trainer mentorship idea for some time but needed an application deadline—and the requirement that we get our community’s votes behind us—to really focus and design a business action plan.

The pressure of a deadline, especially one that is publicly declared and right around the corner is a powerful motivator. Kickstarter has found that campaigns longer than 60 days in length are rarely successful. The urgency of an immediate deadline pushes us to make things happen.

The risk of disappointment or disapproval from others also motivates us to perform. Should you bet your friends that you’ll run through the streets naked if you don’t meet your deadline?  Most people don’t need that level of humiliation or a public contest to act. Sharing a goal with a business advisor, teacher or cohort of small business owners can be a great way to take action. What’s important is finding someone you can be accountable to and who will encourage you to follow through and make something happen.

Though the likelihood of winning a Mission Main Street grant is rather slim (only 12 businesses will win out of what may be 100,000 or more applicants), the process has motivated us to expand our consulting and teaching offerings. Thanks to this contest, we are now developing a mentoring prototype and pilot program for 2014.

What motivates you?

A Birthday Reflection

take a break

No matter what we do, we get older every year! Our birthdays remind us of this fact and we can’t ignore it. It’s my birthday weekend so thinking about change is particularly on my mind.

Early birthdays came with exciting milestones: being old enough to stay out late, attend a concert without parental supervision, borrow and drive the family car, and finally get to vote. Now that I’m at an age when I get carded for senior discounts and asked to join AARP, birthdays take on a different kind of significance. Who is speeding time up?

I think we should celebrate birthdays at every age. There are all kinds of ways to do that — throwing a party, going out to eat with friends, or just sleeping in.

For a small business owner, it’s hard to take time off when the demands of the business are all consuming. Yet we must take a break …and once a year is a minimum! We need to find ways to create balance in our lives and birthdays are a great excuse and opportunity for reflection and celebration.

A Day For Myself
I have made it an annual tradition to not work on my birthday. If my birthday falls on a weekday, I do not schedule clients or teach classes. I spend at least part of the day alone, out of doors and, if possible, out of the city. I’ll go on a hike in coastal Marin, meditate at Spirit Rock or at the Green Gulch Zen Center, or just find a way to sit still somewhere. I reflect on the past year and think about the year ahead and what is most important in my business and in my life.

Getting away from my daily routine is often how I get the chance to think creatively as a business owner. On this annual birthday “retreat” I slow down to reflect on my life, my health, my family and every blessing no matter how small. This day of contemplation with fresh air and exercise does a lot for my spirit and helps me to recharge for the year ahead.

Celebrating the Season
My dear friend Cece, who has now passed, introduced me to the idea of a “birthday season” over a decade ago. It started for her by accident. Her many friends would call to take her out for breakfast, brunch or dinner on her birthday and she would get fully booked up for the day. Then she started making plans for the day before her birthday and the day after. Finally, she announced with great joy and laughter that she was officially celebrating her birthday season, which started 10 days before the date and continued for 10 days afterwards. She invented her own way to celebrate so that she could connect individually with all the people she cared about.

I love this idea and have enjoyed extending my birthday into a “birthday season”. I have introduced this to others and have implemented the concept for family members’ and close friends’ birthdays, too.

A New Tradition
My first grandson was born a year ago and it now makes the month of October even more significant to me. I’ve decided to start a new birthday tradition—spending special one-on-one time with him. This year it may be only a swing at the park but next year he’ll be ready to run the bases!

What is your birthday tradition?

Take a Break, Gain Perspective

Owning a small business requires all-consuming focus and it can be really hard to take a break. Yet it’s important for your health and the health of your business to un-plug and get away sometimes.

taking a break

Lake Louise and the Canadian Rockies

Recently I traveled to the Rocky Mountains of Alberta Canada for a two-week vacation in Banff and Jasper National Parks. I was last there as a kid road tripping with my family from Vancouver, British Columbia. Traveling to Canada brought back old memories but also a fresh perspective. Climbing steep paths and breathing the mountain air was invigorating. I felt refreshed by the physical exertion and the natural beauty around me, and in these new surroundings I was able to see myself and my business in a new light. Away from the constant demands of day-to-day tasks, I was able to free-associate and dream about broader goals.

Getting away from the daily routine is key to being able to think creatively as a business owner. When we give ourselves time to relax, sleep in, exercise and do something fun that has nothing to do with our business, it can actually make us more productive and can even lead to new ideas. According to Tony Schwartz’s article in the New York Times earlier this year, “a new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal—including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations—boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.”

John Donahoe, CEO of EBay, spends two weeks every year at a beach house on Cape Cod with bad cell phone service and no internet connection. “Without a constant barrage of work issues to respond to, I find that my mind calms down and my intuition begins to come alive. I am able to see things through a more creative lens and new ideas often emerge from my ‘time off’”.

You don’t have to travel a far distance to take a break. You can set aside 10 minutes a day for quiet reflection or a walk around the block.  Even that short time away from work can be beneficial, especially if you do it regularly.

As small business owners our work is never done. The demands of the business and our own drive to create the best product or offer the best service can lead to workaholic behavior, which can often make us less productive. With the computer always on and the cell phone always in our pocket, it’s hard not to read every new email or respond to every call or text. We become reactive instead of proactive and can drift away from what is most important.

We often worry that things will fall apart if we’re not there or not constantly connected. But if we have developed good systems with well-trained employees we can trust, it may be easier to get away than we realize. The business can survive for a night or a few days without constant contact or input. And, more importantly, it may thrive because of that break and that time for reflection.

It takes a beginner’s mind

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

In Japan the phrase shoshin means “beginner’s mind”. According to Buddhist monk and teacher Suzuki Roshi, this is the goal of Zen meditation practice—to have a beginner’s mind, a mind open to everything and ready for anything.

beginner's mindIn his book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, he writes, “In the beginner’s mind there is no thought…of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners. Then we can really learn something. The beginner’s mind is the mind of compassion. When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless.”

Keeping a beginner’s mind is at the heart of a successful entrepreneurial venture. For the emerging business owner, everything is in a beginning stage. Everything may seem new and groundbreaking. Yet to develop a unique business model and a specific selling proposition, we need to be creative, respond to a changing marketplace and deal with continual competition. We have to constantly stay open to what we can learn and then put into practice in our business.

For the established business owner, we are now successful to a certain degree and yet always trying to re-invent ourselves and our approach to business. We may have new products, design new services or attract more clients. Perhaps we are attempting to have more sustainable practices or adjusting our management style to be more transparent. Staying open and keeping that “beginner’s mind” can lead to “ah ha” moments, whatever our level of expertise or experience. Through the beginner’s perspective we stay flexible and compassionate—both with ourselves and the stakeholders all around us.

Being a successful small business owner is a blessing. We have a chance to run our business just how we want to do it… not how someone else is telling us to do it. We have a principle, a perspective and a generosity that we want to express. We may be established business owners but we are also beginners. Every day we look at how to adjust to changes and make a statement that will make a difference and have an impact. As a small business owner, we can begin – again and again… and bring the world with us – one business transaction at a time.

The Season for Action

When is it the season for action? Do we wait for perfect conditions before taking a step? When do we move ahead on an idea to expand or refresh our business?

For me, the New Year is often a great time for taking stock of last year’s “seasons” and preparing new ground. It is a time to review, re-assess and take action in my business. I assume that this makes sense for almost all business owners. If not now, then when?

season for action

To everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
A time to be born, a time to die,
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted,
A time to kill, and a time to heal,
A time to break down, and a time to build up,
A time to weep, and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn, and a time to dance,
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together,
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing,
A time to seek, and a time to lose,
A time to keep, and a time to cast away,
A time to tear, and a time to sew,
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak,
A time to love, and a time to hate,
A time for war and a time for peace.

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