Archive for the 'Inspirational and Motivational' Category

An official day for small business owners

Labor Day began as an idea in the mind of a 19th century labor leader — some say Matthew Maguire, others say Peter McGuire — who cared greatly for a very important segment of the marketplace, its workers.

Regardless of paternity, such a day was first celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, when members of the CLU took an unpaid day off to demonstrate solidarity and, of course, have picnics. And ever since 1884, when President Grover Cleveland’s signature designated the first Monday in September as Labor Day, it’s been an official federal holiday.

In 1898, Samuel Gompers, then head of the American Federation of Labor, called Labor Day, “the day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed … that the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it.”

Alas, entrepreneurs aren’t organized like our union brethren — probably because we’re too busy making payroll. There is no single Small Business Day officially decreed by the U.S. Government. No Entrepreneur’s Day set aside to honor the few who do so much for so many; a day to picnic and party down in honor of the real heroes of the marketplace, small business owners.

There actually is a small business week when the U.S. Small Business Administration recognizes the “creme de la creme” of entrepreneurs in America. But it’s not an official “Day” and it’s not always the same week each year.

Small businesses represent over 98% of all U.S. businesses and produce over half of the U.S. $17 trillion GDP.  Plus, we sign the FRONT of the paychecks of over half (70 million) of all U.S. workers.

Let’s see: Big deal on Labor Day — no Small Business Day. What’s wrong with this picture?

So, what’s the answer? Let’s celebrate Small Business Day in a way no other national holiday has been established: on a Sunday — actually, the second Sunday in August.

Sunday is preferred because that would create the least payroll expense. August is the month-of-choice because that’s when politicians are home on recess. This way they can practice casting their pearls before we small business owners in preparation for eating barbeque and sucking up to unions on Labor Day.

To paraphrase Samuel Gompers, small business owners deserve a day for which these signers-of-the-front-of-paychecks can look forward to when their rights and wrongs would be discussed; that the small employers of our day may not only lay down their challenges for a holiday, but during which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it.

Write this on a rock … Entrepreneurs unite!  It’s time we had a day to honor small business owners.

Do you know which brain hemisphere is your nigh ox?

Watching a television program about how American pioneers trained and employed oxen in the 19th century reminded me of how our brains work.

Like a yoke of oxen, our bilateral brain hemispheres are hitched side-by-side, meeting the world head-on. But also like the bovine, they don’t always pull together.

In addition to their names, oxen are also identified by their position in the yoke: the animal most favored by the driver is the nigh ox, always on the left, while the off ox is always on the right. The nigh ox is usually the senior animal and takes the lead in pulling the load.

Brain hemispheres also have names - left and right. For most of us, one or the other is our nigh hemisphere as it seems to be the most dominant in our behavior, but we favor it more because of who we are than its location. So for effect and for fun, I’ll be referring to our brain hemispheres as our nigh ox, and our off ox.

According to experts, when we think more logically, rationally, and analytically, like an engineer, the left hemisphere is the dominant, nigh ox. For someone who’s more creative, intuitive, subjective, and emotive, the right hemisphere is pulling the hardest as our nigh ox. Gender also seems to play a role in our nigh/off predisposition. But I’m leaving that angle alone today as a tangent potentially fraught with peril - for me.

All of this brain stuff might be unremarkable to small business owners if it weren’t for two things: 1) As leaders, we’re called upon to perform and respond to issues that are closer to our off ox than our nigh ox; 2) regardless of our nigh ox, we have to work with those whose behavior favors the other side of the brain yoke. Let’s take a look at examples of how these two realities manifest in the marketplace and in our small businesses.

As a small business owner, you likely won’t have the luxury of favoring one ox over the other for very long. Regardless of which brain hemisphere is your nigh ox, any given day is filled with demands on both, and often simultaneously. For example, developing a marketing campaign causes the right brain to take the lead with creativity. But your left brain will be pressed into service by the cold, hard analysis of media buys, demographic strategy, and ultimately, operational fulfillment of the business your plan generated.

The good news is that as your business grows, you can look forward to delegating your off ox work to an employee whose oxen are opposite yours. But as the leader, the small business reality is that you must be able to successfully work and do business with people whose nigh ox is your off ox. For example:

If your nigh ox is right-brain creativity, you still have to employ, manage, and work with left-brain accountants and engineers.

If your nigh ox is the by-the-numbers, detailed analysis-loving left brain, you’ll have to suffer gladly the seemingly non-linear expressions of those whose nigh ox pulls from the right side of the yoke. Indeed, a critical counter-balancing trait your nigh ox desperately requires.

But all of that is inside the organization. Outside your four walls, you have to be able to quickly assess which ox any particular prospect or customer favors. For example you no doubt sell stuff desired by customers of both ox yoke configuration. Even though the two groups buy the same product or service, they likely lead their purchasing process with the side of the brain that’s nigh to them. Consequently, regardless of which ox is nigh to you, you’ll need selling skills to help you lead with the other.

Although in the minority, there are whole-brain individuals whose brain hemispheres pull together, like having two nigh oxen. Members of this group are naturally well-suited for small business. But whether by protoplasm or by practice, more than any corporate CEO, a small business CEO has to perform like a whole-brainer to deal with the bi-polar demands of the workplace and the marketplace.

Write this on a rock … Small business owners are required to behave as if they have two nigh oxen.

Why success in business favors the neurotic

Among the people I admire are those who have the courage to make bold statements based on their beliefs and experiences. Early in his book, The Road Less Traveled, the late M. Scott Peck endeared himself to me when he declared that the people he saw in his counseling practice essentially fell into two categories: neurotics and those with character disorders.

Peck wrote, “Neurotics are easy to work with in psychotherapy, because they assume responsibility.” He went on to say, “Those with character disorders are difficult, if not impossible, to work with, because they never see themselves as any part of the problem.” Thus missing the invaluable opportunity for self-examination.

Contemplating Dr. Peck’s declaration was a true watershed moment, helping me better understand why people-including me-behave as we do. Both types of Peck’s patients sought his help because they were experiencing difficulties in life. But if we’re honest, we don’t have to be dysfunctional to realize that each of us falls on one side or the other of this behavior coin. It’s an either/or default circumstance, where we’re either more likely to take responsibility for what happens in our life, or we aren’t.

How you would respond to these business scenarios.

Challenge: Amazon and Google are becoming more aggressive on Main Street; meanwhile, a new Big Box company just opened.

Character Disorder reaction: “I hate those companies. How can I compete with their prices and free delivery? Why does the city allow them to come in here and destroy my business?”

Neurotic reaction: “Well, it’s on me to survive or not. No one made me open this business, and those Big Boxes and Amazon can’t take my business from me unless I roll over and give it to them.”

Challenge: Sales are off, profits are down, and cash is tight.

Character Disorder reaction: “How can I be expected to succeed in this economy? My expenses are going through the roof. The bank won’t give me a working capital loan. Why is everything against me?”

Neurotic reaction: “Being a business owner is harder than I thought it was going to be. Obviously, there’s something I’m not doing right. I have to find what that is and fix it myself, because no one else will.”

If you’re on the neurotic side of the coin, the challenge is to focus on taking responsibility in a constructive, solutions-oriented way. Take responsibility without beating yourself up. If you’re on the character disorder side, resist spending precious time and resources focusing on how the world has let you down. Instead, reverse your outward focus - no one else is going to solve your problems. And the world isn’t even listening.

Personal self-analysis may be the most valuable skill we can employ to become a better person and CEO. In a small business, organizational self-analysis - and acceptance of what we find - is essential to sustained success in the marketplace. To demonstrate that I practice what I preach, here’s my bold statement that recommend you claim for yourself - especially any time you find yourself planning a pity party.

Blasingame’s Small Business Success Attitude
I accept that my small business will face challenges every day. As I begin my day, I will assume the attitude that, regardless of the number of challenges, the degree of difficulty, or who caused them, if my business is to survive, I must face each one. Therefore, I know that the only thing in question today is how well I will respond to challenges, and the future of my business may well depend on the answer to that question.

Remember these three important keys to success in business and in life: Take responsibility, practice self-analysis, and seek excellence, not perfection.

Write this on a rock … Remember what Scott Peck said: Neurotics can be fixed, but those with character disorders, not so much.

Finding success in the Tour de France and small business

If it’s July, one of the most amazing athletic competitions in the world is being staged. Since 1903, the Tour de France has been the pinnacle of professional bicycle races, and arguably the most grueling of all sporting competitions.

Contested over 23 days, with the 21 stages averaging more than 110 miles each, there are only two days rest in the middle. These super-athletes from all over the world navigate diverse road conditions, rain, wind, heat and legendary mountain ranges - no less than the Alps and Pyrenees - that God surely made for us to ski down, not pedal up.

If the sun’s coming up on Main Street, millions of small business owners also mount one of the most grueling competitions in the business world merely by opening up. Against all odds, they start, run and grow their operations in conditions few corporate America CEOs would be willing to face. But unlike the Tour de France, small business owners run their race every day of the year.

Combining my admiration for both of these types of super-humans, I’ve identified four required elements to be successful competing in the Tour de France or in the marketplace.

1. Teamwork
Tour participants are part of a couple dozen sponsored teams of about 25 members, each have individual roles to play. Some members are supportive non-riders and some are riders whose primary role is to protect and push their leader. But all work together to meet team performance goals, including getting their leader on the podium at the end of the day or the end of the race. Sounds a lot like a small business, doesn’t it?

Since every day in a small business can be like a mountain stage on the Tour-grueling assaults on impossible peaks and dangerous descents into the valleys-success requires the ability to motivate your team to work together effectively. And a smart leader knows that sustaining successful teamwork requires sharing the recognition, so the team doesn’t mind if you’re the one on the podium.

2. Communication
Competing in the Tour is like running 21 marathons in 23 days while simultaneously playing a 3D chess match. Effective communication between team members is critical so each can deliver their unique contribution to the overall strategy at the appropriate time.

Even the best small business strategy in the world must be communicated to the team in ways that inform, coordinate, motivate, foster engagement and result in success. And the customers and competition combine to create the 3D degree of difficulty.

3. Preparation
All you have to do is watch a Tour de France cyclist in an “above category” mountain stage to see successful preparation. These guys have turned their bodies into human spring steel as they become one with their bikes.

The small business equivalent is to operate your business at the highest professional level possible, at all times. One major differentiator of professional organizations is their commitment to investing time and resources - this means budgeting both - for education, training and practice for all team members.

4. Technology
Tour de France teams leverage technology at every point of the competition, including high-tech bikes, customized chase vehicles, on-course communication tools, etc.

In the 21st century, every small business has to apply technology at essentially every level of its operation. The good news is the barrier to entry has never been lower to extremely powerful technology in the incremental portions small businesses can use, and affordable prices they can afford. Small business Luddites become Troglodytes.

Out here on Main Street, if you don’t develop a high-functioning team, communicate well, achieve a high level of preparation and maximize technology, you will be irrelevant.

Or, as they say on the Tour, you’ll be “off the back.”

Write this on a rock … Customers will tell you about their changing expectations - let them.

We began with freedom and the world is better for it

The first Plantagenet king of England, Henry II, is important to contemporary small business owners because he’s considered the founder of a legal system to which entrepreneurs owe their freedom to be.

His intelligence only exceeded by his ambition, Henry’s attempts to consolidate all of the 12th century British Isles under his rule created the need for order. And while the subsequent reforms were intended more for his own political expediency than to empower the people, they actually gave birth to a body of law, now known as English Common Law, which replaced elements of the feudal system that included such enlightened practices as trial by ordeal.

Six centuries after Henry’s death, the legal and cultural tide of personal freedoms and property rights that evolved from his reforms, and their enhancement with the Magna Carta in 1215, were being established across the Atlantic. In the colonies, a group of malcontents, now called America’s Founders, envisioned, created and fought for a new interpretation of Henry’s legacy. Their plan was different because it was sans kings.

In The Fortune of the Republic, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “We began with freedom. America was opened after the feudal mischief was spent. No inquisitions here, no kings, no dominant church.”

In Origins of the Bill of Rights, Leonard W. Levy noted that, “Freedom was mainly a product of New World conditions.” Those conditions, as Thomas Jefferson so artfully wrote in the Declaration of Independence, were, “…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These were 18th century words for freedom and embryonic conditions for which the 56 signers of Jefferson’s document put their lives and liberties at risk on July 4, 1776.

But America’s founding documents weren’t perfected until they perpetuated rights that were, as John Dickinson declared a decade earlier in 1766, “…born with us, exists with us and cannot be taken from us by any human power without taking our lives.”

By definition, entrepreneurs take risks. But only when freedom is converted into the liberty to pursue and accrue success are those risks acceptable. Thank you, Henry II.

Research shows there is a direct connection between the rate of new business start-ups and economic growth. And the American experiment has demonstrated that a healthy entrepreneurial environment fosters national economic well-being. Thank you, Founders.

Without their vision, courage, passion, and sacrifice, it’s doubtful that entrepreneurship as we know it would exist today. And if capitalism is the economic lever of democracy, entrepreneurship is the force that renews the strength and reliability of that lever for each new generation.

We began with freedom. Freedom to dream and to try; to succeed and to fail; to own and to enjoy; to accumulate and to pass on to the next generation.

We began with freedom and liberty was made manifest. We began with freedom and entrepreneurship was born. We began with freedom and capitalism flourished.

Write this on a rock … America began with freedom and the world is the better for it. Happy Independence Day.

A father’s tough love is the harder job

This is Jim’s traditional Father’s Day column.

As the father of an adult daughter and son, plus the grandfather of four knucklehead boys (Hurricane, Tornado, Crash and Train Wreck), I’ve learned some things about love.

All the hours logged as Dad and Poppy have often caused me to contemplate how different are the roles of mother and father, especially in the overt demonstration of parental love. It’s fascinating how the manifestation of this love differs between mother and father - biologically, emotionally and experientially.

A mother’s love, at once sweet and fierce, is observed in almost all animals, not just humans. No doubt you’ve heard this metaphor: “… as sweet as a mother’s love,” and this warning: “Don’t get between a momma bear and her cub.” I have been the recipient of this kind of love and have witnessed it, and there truly is no other force in nature like it.

A human father’s love, on the other hand, is more often associated with words that are unfortunate, like “tough” and “discipline.” Here’s a warning no one has ever heard: “Just wait ’till your mother gets home!” As a teenager, my dad once apologized to me when he thought his demonstration of tough love might seem “hard-boiled.” It did.

Consequently, it has troubled me that there are no corresponding sweet references to a father’s love. Could this be why Father’s Day is not quite as big a deal as Mother’s Day? Just saying …
Mothers occupy the pinnacle of parental love - with justification. And not to take anything away from them, but let’s be honest: Since a mother’s sweet love is as primal as the miracle of birth, they don’t have to work too hard to deliver it. But there is a uniqueness about a father’s love that deserves a better rap. Here are two reasons:

  • Unlike a mother’s sweet love, a father’s tough love does not exist outside of homo sapiens.
  • When a father’s parental toughness is required, especially when applied to an indignant recipient (read: teenager), it requires a love that has found the courage to endure a negative response and a willingness to defer gratification - sometimes for years.

No one is more keenly aware of the distinction between the application of these two demonstrations of love than a single parent (especially a single mom), where both kinds are required of the same person, perhaps within minutes.

Mothers, please forgive any paternal bias you may detect, but here is my conclusion about parental love: The only force in the universe that comes close to a mother’s sweet love is a father’s tough love. But the latter is the harder job, and the return on investment almost always takes longer.

Write this on a rock … Happy Father’s Day, Dads. You’ve earned it.




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