Trailblaze & Grow Tag: Entrepreneurship

4 Tough Pills to Swallow for Growth

You hired a strategic consultant to help make some much-needed changes in your company. Now, it is time to get the ball rolling.

While your head might be ready to make those adjustments, your heart might be throwing a bit of a tantrum. Constructive criticism can be difficult to digest when you feel protective of the teams and systems you have worked so hard to put in place. Even if the recommended changes are completely rational, some might surprise you while others insult you.

But after the initial sting, you will soon realize that being open to criticism makes you a stronger leader. Deep down, you know that you hired a consultant because your business is not reaching its full potential. In order to implement the changes that will encourage your business to grow and thrive, you need to open yourself up, listen, and really take part in tough conversations.

Find the Silver Lining

Let us take a look at some of the toughest pills that a strategic consultant might prescribe you and consider why (and how) you should swallow them with a smile.

1. “You need to revamp your team.”

Criticisms about your team can be the hardest ones to accept. You might love the members of your team like family. They have stuck with you through good times and bad and have helped you build your company from the ground up.

But in many cases, personal attachments to team members can blind leaders from seeing the dysfunctions that are actually holding the company in a rut.

It is important to look clearly at the skills and experience of your team members. Ask yourself, “Who do I need today to take my company to the next level?” Goodbyes are always hard, but it is better to say them now than after your business has collapsed.

2. “You need to pivot your product strategy.”
Many leaders founded their companies based on a great idea. Subsequently, they are so married to this idea that they avoid revising their product strategy when necessary.

The saddest thing I have witnessed is when founders realize this strategy problem too late. For example, we once had a client come to us with Google-sized aspirations, but the company had been hemorrhaging cash for the past several quarters. Unfortunately, it was far too late to make the crucial changes in the product strategy.

To avoid this dreadful situation, do not delay. Instead, complete the tough work now to ensure your business model is healthy.

3. “You need to focus.”
Many entrepreneurs have so many ideas on the drawing board that they struggle to properly execute any of them. The ideas might be phenomenal, but without focus, they will never graduate from the brainstorm stage into a living product. The office will forever be a maze of half-finished plans and good intentions — and frustrations for everyone.

If your strategic consultant comes to you with this criticism, do not start backpedaling with excuses. Instead, go against your natural instincts and thank them.

While being told to focus might make you initially feel constrained and less entrepreneurial, that discomfort will soon ease once you see what a little focus does to your chosen idea. Move forward by pinning down what this focus looks like for your company, and then keep tabs on new ideas and ventures so they do not go astray.

4. “You need more structure.”
Sometimes, observing how a company operates is like watching kids play soccer. Everyone is running for the ball, and no one is executing against a clearly defined role. The result is a messy game in which goals are random and someone is bound to get hurt.

A lack of structure in a company can be just as damaging as a bad idea. When departments are not communicating or collaborating, everyone moves forward without a clear purpose.

If this is the problem your team faces, there are many ways you can start bringing structure into your operations. From regular conversations between teammates to clear, shared documentation, adding structure helps team members stay accountable by giving them distinctly defined roles, priorities, and goals.

 

Know in your head — and heart — why you are inviting a strategic consultant into your company, and understand what your goals are for the process. If you really want to push your company to new heights, you need to be willing to embrace and find value in these tough conversations.

Fundatmental Truths

Five Fundamental Truths from an Entrepreneur

April marks the 2-year anniversary for Trailblaze Growth Advisors. In that time, I have learned a great deal about what it means to be an entrepreneur and what it takes to succeed when I am directly responsible for my ultimate success or failure.

Being an entrepreneur is the most difficult but rewarding experience I have ever embarked upon. Looking back, I am so glad that I decided to make the difficult leap, and I hope that the fundamental truths I learned along the way can help other aspiring entrepreneurs on their journey.

According to a study by the Kauffman Foundation, the number of new businesses started by entrepreneurs is starting to increase to levels not seen since before the 2008 Great Recession, and furthermore is trending toward the massive numbers (in excess of 85%) seen during the boom times of the 1990s. In addition, the Wall Street Journal has reported that about 54 million Americans – or about one-third of the workforce – are now freelancers or contractors, and that number is expected to increase over the next few years.

Clearly, the trend is moving toward Americans charting their own path through entrepreneurialism, and my hope is that the lessons learned by previous and current generations of entrepreneurs – myself included – can be used to the benefit of the new generation.

With that said, the following are five fundamental truths I have learned over the past years as the founder of Trailblaze Growth Advisors.

Prepare for the leap

There is no question that making the transition from a full-time salaried employee to an entrepreneur with no income guarantee is scary. If you are fortunate enough to still have a “regular” job, make the most of this time by preparing for the leap to full-time entrepreneurialism.

Take this time to aggressively network with your target market. Make as many connections as you can, and try to establish yourself well before actually giving up the regular paycheck. If at all possible, try to start your entrepreneurial venture as a part-time project while keeping your job, so that you can make the transition as smooth as possible.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

One truth that I actually found to be a bit surprising at first is how willing people are to help. The concept of paying it forward is alive and well, particularly among fellow entrepreneurs.

You should learn as much as you can from experts in your field and anyone else that has experience and expertise that could benefit you and your business. The key, of course, is to ask for their help. Don’t be afraid to ask, and remember to return the favor when you are in a position to help an aspiring entrepreneur sometime in the future.

Always remember that you are the face of your company

As the founder of your company, you are the brand – particularly during the early stages. In addition, you are the Chief Sales Person at your company. Every major deal will ultimately involve you, even if you have hired a sales team. For people who are natural introverts (like myself), this can be a challenging truth, but ignoring it, or pretending that it isn’t the truth, is simply counterproductive.

You need to always be ready to give an elevator speech and a sales pitch. If you are an introvert, that just means you need to put more effort into practicing.

Don’t sacrifice your being

This is perhaps the hardest lesson to actually execute. When you are starting a business, you are going to be working nights, weekends, and holidays. In order to differentiate yourself from your better-established competition, you are going to have to work far harder than them. However, it is absolutely imperative that you also reserve time for you. Stay active and exercise, meditate (if you don’t meditate, you need to learn—it is an absolutely essential practice for an entrepreneur’s mental health), make time to spend with family and friends, and do your best to maintain a hobby you genuinely enjoy.

The importance of making time for yourself cannot be overstated. If necessary, write it down into your schedule as an appointment to yourself!

Balance being flexible and knowing when to say no

When I was first starting out, I wanted to accommodate every client that came my way. Conceptually this makes sense, since the need to generate revenue for the business is paramount in the early stages. However, the reality is that not every client and customer is going to be worth the time it would take to provide them with the level of customer service you want to provide. Not all customers are profitable, so learning how and when to say “no” is an essential part of being a successful entrepreneur.

Hopefully you can learn something from the fundamental truths I learned during my first two years of Trailblaze Growth Advisors. It has been a great ride, and I am proud to say that Trailblaze Growth Advisors was named a “rising star” of VentureScape’s Office Hours Class of 2015 by John Backus.  Feel free to reach out to me any time at info@tbgrowthadvisors.com.

Photo credit: Julian Partridge / Foter / CC BY-SA