The Power Question: Ask it and then deliver

One hundred twenty years ago, lawyer Paul J. Harris moved his practice to Chicago. While he enjoyed the new opportunity his adopted city afforded, Harris missed the friendly relationships he knew growing up in a small Vermont town.

One fall day in 1900, while walking around the Windy City’s North Side with Bob Frank, Harris noticed the connections his friend had made with local shopkeepers and it made him long for this kind of interaction. He wondered if, like himself, other professionals who had emigrated from rural America to the big cities, might be experiencing the same feeling of loss.

Over the next few years, Harris couldn’t stop asking himself this question: Could such human connection activity be channeled into organized settings for professionals and business people? Today we know the answer to Harris’ question is civic groups, but at the dawn of the 20th century, this innovation had yet to be invented.

Then on February 23, 1905, Paul Harris put his connection question to the test when he and three friends founded the world’s first civic club. They named it Rotary because they planned to rotate weekly meetings between each member’s office.

Now an international success story, 33,000 Rotary clubs around the globe are still based on Harris’s founding principle of “Service above Self.” Harris’ original dream was to connect people for the benefit of all parties. He probably didn’t use this term, but his 1905 connecting formula is the modern definition of networking.

Three-quarters of a century later, Ivan Misner had a dream of creating a structured networking model when he founded Business Network International. Misner’s goal was very much like Harris’s but with the specific purpose of business people meeting regularly to help each other grow their businesses.

Though not a civic organization, the motto of BNI’s 7,400 chapters worldwide, “Givers gain,” is completely compatible with Rotary’s founding pledge. If you turned either one into an offer to someone else, you get what I call the Power Question: “What can I do to help you?”

The significant international success of Rotary and BNI has revealed and reinforced two important truths: 1) networking is an essential professional discipline; and 2) putting others first is powerful.

This month Rotarians will celebrate the 111th anniversary of Paul Harris’ dream-come-true, and BNI celebrates International Networking Week. Whether you participate in a civic club, a BNI chapter, your local chamber of commerce or other group, become a more frequent, accomplished and selfless networker. Because face-to-face networking is the original social media and it’s still important.

Write this on a rock … You don’t have to join any group to ask and deliver on the Power Question.

Click here to listen to or download interviews with Ivan Misner.

Identifying the elusive entrepreneur

If you venture into the marketplace jungle, you may be able to observe that rare wild creature, the entrepreneur, in his or her natural environment (darting is not necessary, entrepreneurs are very gentle - just rub their stomachs). As you study them, you will find levels of vision, curiosity, courage, tenacity, and faith. Here’s what to look for in order to identify this elusive critter:

Vision: Entrepreneurs see things and consider the possibilities before they exist, even as the world is telling them, “It won’t work.” When entrepreneurs are deep into their vision they go into what their families call a “zone,” which is when it’s easiest to slip up on them.

Curiosity: Entrepreneurs ask questions other humans don’t. They can’t help it. If someone asks you a question and you have no idea what they are talking about, you are probably having a close encounter with an entrepreneur. Don’t be irreverent; you might be at ground-zero of the 21st century equivalent of Velcro or the microchip.

Courage: Entrepreneurs attempt things that other human species won’t. As you peer through the triple canopy at your subject, look for death-defying acts in the face of conventional wisdom. Entrepreneurs eat conventional wisdom for breakfast.

Tenacity: Entrepreneurs keep trying when other humans give up. They have a high pain threshold, which when combined with a visceral desire that can only be compared to the maternal instinct, delivers a primal display of tenacity which often is frightening to other humans. If the entrepreneur you are observing is crouching, lie down quickly. You probably aren’t in danger, but fainting is a possibility.

Faith: Entrepreneurs believe in themselves and their vision. The great writer and even greater curmudgeon, H.L. Mencken, once said, “Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the illogical.” That’s our entrepreneur! If you see someone demonstrating an inordinate commitment to an “illogical belief,” congratulations. You’ve found your entrepreneur.

Catch and release, please.

Poll results: Which of the frontrunners would you vote for?

The Question:
It’s the week before the Iowa caucuses. Which of the frontrunner of the two parties would you vote for?

4% - Hillary Clinton
7% - Bernie Sanders
44% - Donald Trump
25% - Ted Cruz
20% - If these are my choices, I won’t vote.

Jim’s Comments:
So, there you have it. The Small Business Advocate Iowa Straw Poll results.

First, you have to notice that small business owners are heavily weighted toward the GOP. When asked why, they typically say, “Because I make payroll twice a month.”

Second, the two troublemakers, Bernie and The Donald, are the frontrunners in their parties. Surely this who-woulda-thunk-it scenario will be the stuff of books and civics lessons for years to come.

Finally, for those of you who support the Democrat O’Malley, or Bush, Rubio or any of the other Republicans, please forgive me for leaving them out of the survey. We just didn’t have room other than to offer the “anyone else” option at the end. Even so, with only 20% choosing this line, it looks like the choices were offered were justified, as they align pretty well with the national polls.

I’m looking forward to our edition next week where we’ll compare our numbers with the actuals of the caucuses. Stay tuned.

And thanks for your abiding support of our poll each week. Check out our new one below.
Poll: Do you think your business is prepared to be relevant and competitive into the next decade?

How to prevent your small business from being the next named disaster

Ever since World War II the U.S. government’s weather service has given official human names to tropical cyclones (hurricanes and typhoons). Everybody knows that. But am I the only one who didn’t know we were anthropomorphizing winter storms?

It turns out the Weather Channel has unofficially been naming winter storms since 2012. “Jonas” was the most recent winter wallop by Mother Nature, and it earned a moniker due to the magnitude of forecasted disruption. We now know the forecasts were pretty darn accurate: record snows, hurricane force winds and up to 60 million people impacted. Sadly, there was loss of life, and the yet-to-be-determined economic impact will surely be great.

But we knew that storm was coming. Almost 13 years ago a single outage in the electric grid cascaded across eight northeastern states, putting 55 million people and thousands of businesses in the dark for days. The Great Blackout of ‘03, was a catastrophic reminder that we’re all one nosy squirrel in a transformer away from an instantaneous, put-you-out-of-business event.

As business owners we can be forgiven if we aren’t hip to how storms are named. But shame on us if we don’t prepare for disasters like Jonas and the ‘03 Blackout. Sadly, surveys reveal most small business owners believe they will have a business interruption event in any given year, but way fewer say they’re prepared for one. If the latter group sounds like you, use these tips as a starting place. Start now.

Operational: What would you do if your building became unavailable to you or your customers?

  1. Instead of desktop computers, purchase laptops with docking stations that allow key employees to work and connect remotely, both internally and with customers. Make sure the laptops have Wi-Fi and a mobile modems in case your broadband connection goes down. This costs a little more, but it’s good connectivity insurance.
  2. Adopt applications in the cloud as alternatives for any installed programs that may become unavailable.

Financial: Most small business working capital is tied up in operating cash flow. What would happen if your cash flow was interrupted?

  1. Purchasing a business interruption rider on your property and casualty insurance policy that will pay you cash upon the acceptance of a claim. Be sure to read the fine print - all policies are not created equal.
  2. Maintain a close working relationship with your banker so you won’t have to introduce yourself to the person you’re asking for a disaster loan.

Data: More of your assets are now in digital form and less physical. Are you prepared to protect your data as comprehensively as your building, equipment and inventory?

  1. Assign one person to be in charge of keeping all computers enabled with proven digital security and keep it current on all units.
  2. Regularly copy critical data from your hard drives and store it offsite, plus protect your data with a cloud-based data backup and recovery firm.

Don’t become the next named business disaster.

Write this on a rock … The only people who never experience a business interruption event are those who don’t have a business.

Risk failure to enjoy success

Here are three pieces of wisdom which can only come from those who have known failure and from that acquaintance, found success:

In Uncommon Wisdom, my friend, Tom Feltenstein wrote, “When winners fail, they get up and go again. And the very act of getting up is victory”.

Robert Allen, author of Multiple Steams of Income, wrote, “There is no failure, only feedback.”

Paraphrasing Thomas Edison just a little, “Failure is successfully identifying what doesn’t work.”

And since I certainly am no stranger to failure, here is Jim Blasingame’s contribution to understanding its value, “Failure is the harness mate of success, and I expect to be acquainted with both as long as I live.”

You will never enjoy success until you are prepared to risk failure.

Poll Results: What grade would you give President Obama?

The Question:
From the standpoint of the impact on your business, what grade would you give President Obama for his time in office?

5% - A
6% - B
6% - C
9% - D
74% - F

Jim’s Comments:
As you can see, President Obama is a failure to three-fourths of our small business audience. It’s been clear from day one that the president has been ambivalent to the Main Street economy atbest, and against us at worst. In seven years in office, the only policy he’s proposed that looks anything like pro-business is the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal he cut last year.

On the other side of the coin, the anti-business stuff is a long list, which I’m going to innumerate in an article in the near future. Stay tuned. Thanks for participating.

And thanks for your abiding support of our poll each week. Check out our new one on how you would vote today, click here.

To listen to more about these poll results, click on the link below.

Small business owners have give Obama a grade




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