4 Reasons Entrepreneurs Need a Community

Having a community of resources to turn to makes a huge difference not only in an entreprenuer’s business, but in her life as well. Having had my own firm for more than seven years, I’ve developed a network of individuals I use almost as a board of directors for my small business. The time I spend with them is actually a strategic investment in the growth of my business, in how I serve my clients and in my sanity.

Here’s what my business confidants provide me:

  1. Perspective. It is easy to get enamored with your own ideas—oh, this will be great; my phone will be ringing off the hook; I am brilliant. Or conversely, disenchanted with the idea—I don’t know what I was thinking; this is ridiculous; no one will ever want this. A business confidant will look at things from another perspective—maybe even a client’s—and provide valuable feedback on your offering, the pricing, or any number of other issues you pay be facing. This input is invaluable.
  2. Insight. We can never see our strengths as clearly as someone else can. Especially those subtle strengths that are just part of who we are because they are so innate to our persona—we don’t even know recognize they are strengths. Your business confidant will give you is insight into your differentiators. Knowing these will help you market more effectively and will give you an extra boost of confidence when you need it.
  3. Accountability. It is easy to procrastinate or just not do important tactics that will make a difference in your business. After all, client work always comes first. Things like marketing yourself, networking, finding a subcontractor or even cleaning off your desk can easily be shoved aside. Having a confidant that you share your big and small goals will help ensure those goals don’t get lost in the day-to-day shuffle.
  4. Loneliness. There are a lot of adjectives describing entrepreneurs: driven, creative, assertive, self- motivated. The word you don’t hear often to describe entrepreneurs is lonely. But if you’ve ever been there, you know its true. Entrepreneurs, at least those starting out, are frequently working alone, out of their homes or with remote teams. Having a confidant helps alleviate some of that loneliness and allow you to feel like you have a team in place.

Where do you find a confidant? Friends, former colleagues, clients or strategic partners and business coaches make great confidants. In my case, I have several folks I consider confidants: a former client/good friend, a strategic partner and a coach. Some I pay for their time and some I swap with.
You probably already have potential confidants already, folks you love talking to about your business. The secret is regular, focused conversations that will help you achieve your goals.

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Recently I facilitated a meeting to clarify goals for a local nonprofit in my role as a consultant at the Center for Nonprofit Management (CNM) in Dallas. Using CNM’s process, we had just completed an organizational assessment — really analyzing the organization’s strengths and areas for improvement.

Image: graur codrin/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image: graur codrin/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

After presenting the information, we broke into groups by area to come up with some achievable goals. I was mingling in the room, ensuring each group understood its charge and was making progress addressing it when I came across Why Guy.

Why Guy said: “Hey, I know what we do. I even know how we do it. But I truly don’t know why we are doing it or whey we are talking about creating goals to change the way we do what we do.”

I felt like I had been hit with a stun gun.

I had committed the cardinal sin of facilitation. Assuming we were all on the same page.

You see, we had just reviewed their Organizational Assessment scores and they were strong on mission. They all knew the mission and felt a connection to it. There was a sense within the group that they wanted to grow.

All but Why Guy, that is.

Why Guy had just read Start with Why by Simon Sinek and took it to heart. He asked the question we should all ask ourselves occasionally. Why?

Needless to say, I derailed the meeting and went back to the Why. And that conversation was rich and important and lead to revamping the entire mission statement. (And yes, another blog post I’ll write about why changing the mission is like changing the Bible, but in this case, the change was important). Attainable goals were set and decisions to grow for growth sake were rejected.

Thanks, Why Guy! I will never forget you.

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How do you do, Frank?

Recently, I was asked to give feedback on some marketing pieces. I was happy to do it, but worried because while I am always well intentioned, sometimes I am blunt. My husband calls me Frank. I diligently reviewed the piece and wrote my recommendations for improvement, as well as the specifics of why the pieces were not working. And then I asked Mr. Frank to review it to make sure the tone was what I intended.

While I am a professional communicator, I never underestimate the value of an extra pair of eyes. And the closer you are to the subject matter, the more important it is that someone else review it. Jargon, corporate speak, acronyms can muddy the water of the story you are trying to tell. And while it all makes sense to you, your reader might misunderstand.

Early in my career, I worked for a localization company. We translated software and  technical documents into other languages–French, German, Italian, Chinese, Japanese. We always had a native speaker review the translation. This really brought home the importance of getting someone to review your work. The famous Chevy Nova story is a great example of that. The car didn’t sell well in Spanish-speaking countries because no va means no go in Spanish.

So get a reviewer for anything you are sending to a broad audience. It’s important.

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Social Media, Headaches, and Prioritizng

Friday, I attended a workshop by Kim Young of The Forest and the Trees at the Dallas Social Venture Partners First Friday Luncheon Series. Head spinning, I left the informative session realizing I hadn’t even blogged in a while, let alone Tweeted or used any of the other social media tools at my disposal.

It got me thinking about priorities. And it got me thinking about the myriad directions nonprofits are pulled and where they should focus their time and energy. So, thanks to Kim, here are a few thoughts.

1. Get the basics first. Is your phone being answered? Do you have a website? Are you able to communicate with your constituency via email? Take the time to figure out some of these issues and make them right.

2. Brand. This should probably be number 1 on my list. Make sure your inner circle knows your brand. Meaning: how do you talk about your organization? What is your key messaging? Do those closet to you have the tools to help you tell your story?

3. Think about your objectives. Getting people to an event? Raising money? Just getting the word out? Know what you are trying to achieve first!

If you have those things in place, get your constituency to help you with social media. Get them to create a page on Facebook. Get the to post your events, news, information on their Facebook pages.  Then start peeling back the layers and adding to the mix.

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My friend, coach,  and blogging mentor Laurie Foley‘s blog post today about Daniel Pink’s new book Drive got me thinking about motivation and audience.

In my role as a nonprofit consultant, I recently did a survey to find what motivated folks on a specific board in which they were serving. They had choices like giving back to the community, creating a personal connection with the organization, a passion for the mission, etc. Eighty nine percent responded “the opportunity to give back to the community.” When asked why they enjoyed participating, the biggest response was that it gave them a feeling of accomplishment.

Those are altruistic motivations–the personal contributions you make to creating a better community. All nonprofits need to think about what motivates their board members…whether it be having their name on the stationary, networking with other board members, or having the opportunity to leave a legacy.

For that matter, it is important for all of us to remember what motivates us!  And equally  important, what motivates our target audiences. Take a few minutes to hypothesize on what motivates your audiences–and work to include that motivation in your outreach to them.

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The Relentless Networker and Coopertion.

I had lunch yesterday with the Relentless Networker. I learned a couple of things while enjoying my time with Paul.

  1. Do not order Tom Ka soup with noodles while networking. The noodles are very slurpy and messy to eat. At one point, I looked down and I had lovely coconut soup splatters on my sweater. Not my finest moment. Despite that, there were some jewels from the meeting.
  2. Coopertition. No, that is not a typo. Coopertition, according to the Urban Dictionary, is when two rival team up to help each other compete. I thank Paul for introducing me to the term.

An example of coopertition is when job seekers in the same field share leads, when competing restaurants advertise together for a special evening event, or when a leader in a field invites a competing leader in a field to speak at a conference.

Coopertition is hard. It takes faith in yourself, trust that your rival-cooperator will be fair and do the right thing, and it takes getting out there and sharing your expertise.

Since starting my own business, I’ve unkowningly tried to practice coopertition. Sharing contacts for networking, occasionally sharing my resources. But, I wonder if I were more deliberate in my effort and in my outreach what would happen.

Take a minute and brainstorm your coopertition opportunities. They might just surprise you.

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Get regular. Focus.

Seth Godin’s blog entry for today got me thinking. The reason social media is so difficult, he explains, is that it is regular. It isn’t an event that you gear up for like a trade show, a fundraiser, or even a wedding. It is an ongoing process. Daily, if possible.

That’s probably what had me hesitating to launch my blog, long after I had worked with online coach Laurie Foley. It meant putting myself out there. It meant claiming some expertise. It meant getting regular about focusing on my business.

Where are you going to focus?  Don’t know where to start? Try this exercise.

  • Draw a target symbol. In the inner circle put you closest audience–those that are loyal and love you. For nonprofits, this is frequently board, staff and major donors.
  • In the next tier, put those that know about you, are pretty loyal, but don’t live and breath your organization.
  • In the next level, those another level removed. Professional organizations, vendors, anyone you can think of.
  • In the outer circle, the rest of the world, including those that have never heard of you.

When you don’t know where to focus, start in your inner circle. Pick one activity to show your love and appreciation for those closet to you. Ask them to help you spread the word. Don’t ever worry about the folks in the outer circle…you don’t even know them.

Get focused. And use the target to help you do it.

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Jumping on the blog!

Well, I’ve done it. I’ve started a blog. I’m putting myself out there for the world to see.

I’ve jumped on the blog bandwagon for a couple of reasons.

  1. Commitment. My business is important to me. Taking a bit of time each day or each week to write about the experiences along the way helps me focus on what I am doing and why.
  2. Marketing. Above all, I’m a marketer. I want to experience the blog/social media sensation. See if it works to help me grow my business.
  3. Feedback. Maybe someone will have something brilliant to say.

What tactics are you using to show your commitment to your organization? Has social media as a marketing tool worked for you? How do you solicit feedback?

Maybe you can learn from my experiment as well.

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