The Power of a Dream

Although I don’t watch every episode I do occasionally enjoy watching Shark Tank.  The people who often have the greatest success on that program are people who have had a dream and have worked hard to see it happen.  They are on the show in hopes of getting the financial backing to take their dream to the next level.  Some have described enormous sacrifices they’ve made as they have pursued their dream.  These stories resonate with the sharks because they’ve been where these hopefuls are now.  Although I don’t know the stories of all the sharks, the ones I do know are stories of sacrifice, hard work, and a refusal to quit.  Their dreams were bigger than the obstacles they were facing which allowed them to continue until they became quite successful and wealthy.  When someone comes on the program with a similar story that rings true, and has a dream that can succeed, that person usually walks away with one of the sharks investing in their dream.

When we think of powerful dreams the first person we often remember is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. because of his famous I Have a Dream Speech.  Even now one cannot hear that message without feeling the power of his dream, a dream which he was totally committed to seeing occur even at the cost of his life.  As a graduate of Liberty University with two degrees from that school I think often of Jerry Falwell’s dream of starting a university for Christians that would compare with any other university in the world.  Starting very humbly in classrooms in his church that school nearly closed in the early 1990s due to finances.  His dream refused to allow Falwell to give up, and today over 92,000 students are enrolled in their residential and online programs.  It has 253 undergrad programs of study and 87 graduate programs.  Barbara Corcoran, one of the sharks I referred to above, was a straight D student in high school and college and had 20 jobs by the time she was 23 years old.  But, she had a dream and borrowed $1,000 from a boy friend which she turned into a real estate business which she later sold for $66 million.

What is a powerful dream?  John Maxwell defines a dream as “an inspiring picture of a future that energizes your mind, will, and emotions, empowering you to do everything you can to achieve it.”  Each of the persons mentioned above had such a dream driving them to succeed.

If you own a small business you probably started it with a dream of doing something different with your life.  One problem with dreams is that sometimes in the course of everyday business the dream gets lost and forgotten.  When dreams are forgotten they lose their power to compel us to do our best every day and we begin to accept mediocrity.  Such mediocrity will never allow us to see our dreams fulfilled.

As we are early into a new year this is a great time to revisit your dreams.  What exactly do you want to accomplish with your life and your organization?  How are you going to make a difference in 2019?  Be very clear with your response, and you may even want to print it out and frame it so you can keep it in front of you every day as a reminder of why you are here.

One final thing should be said about dreams.  Not all of them are equal.  Many who go on Shark Tank leave disappointed because they could not getting backing from any of the sharks.  Some had not thought through their dreams to determine if there was actually a need for their product or service.  Some of the dreams are, frankly, rather foolish and not deserving of a person’s efforts.  John Maxwell wrote a very helpful book to help a person evaluate his or her dreams that I would recommend as you examine your own dreams.  It’s called Put Your Dream to the Test: 10 Questions to Help You See It and Seize It and can be ordered by clicking on the title.


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Indecision will cripple your business

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Every day leaders are confronted with a variety of decisions they have to make.  Hopefully, your employees have been trained and are empowered to make many of the decisions that need to be made, but there will be those decisions that only you as the owner or manager can make.  The most successful leaders will not postpone making those decisions.  A study conducted by the Harvard Business School once asked “What are the top characteristics of high achievers?”  The persons being asked gave a wide variety of answers, but the top response was the ability to act quickly.  They recognized that leaders who can make quick decisions and act on those decisions were going to be the most successful in their fields.  Those who procrastinate in making the tough decisions would enjoy much less success.

This does not mean that these quick decisions were always the correct ones.  Sometimes these decisions were not the best that could have been made, and occasionally they were completely wrong.  But, the decisions led to actions, and if the actions didn’t produce the desired results then new decisions could be made.  In either case, the best solution would be discovered more quickly through not putting off making a tough decision.

These decisions were also not made without input.  Leaders know to acquire as much information as possible before making an important decision, but not to delay that decision until they have every iota of information that might impact the decision.  Leaders never have all the information they need, but they often can’t wait until that information is available before making a decision.  If new information becomes available later that would lead to a different decision then the initial decision can be altered.  I once sat in on a meeting when a question was raised about a decision that had been made by a board two years earlier.  One person in the room reminded everyone in the room of the earlier decision when another person responded that decisions can be changed when new information became available.  Few decisions should be written in stone.  Especially in the times in which we now live, decisions made two years earlier should not be seen as Gospel.  They may have been the right decision at the time, but as new information becomes available or things change, then those decisions need to be examined and changed if needed.

When leaders refuse to make necessary decisions they create doubt in the minds of their team members.  These team members wonder who is running the organization and what will happen if their leaders become incapable of making important decisions.  There is a great scene in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean films when, near the end of the movie, two pirate ships go on either side of a British ship and begin firing.  Throughout the movie the commander of the British ship was arrogant in his leadership, but as these pirate ships made a maneuver he never expected he suddenly became frozen and incapable of responding.  The subordinate officer kept demanding an order which never came until the subordinate office assumed control and ordered the men to abandon ship.  The pirate ships kept firing on the British ship as the commander slowly walked across his ship until it finally blew up and sank taking the commander with it.

In business we will always have pirates firing at us.  People will do things we never expected.  New challenges will continually confront us.  Some of these challenges will offer opportunities for our businesses to grow; others will threaten to sink us if we do not react quickly.  In either case, decisions will have to be made, and you as the leader will be responsible for making them.

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Is there a better way to do your job?

In 1967 I enlisted in the US Navy and a year later was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise where I spent the next three years of my life.  I enjoyed many aspects of Navy life and may have made a career of it except I had a wife and daughter waiting for me to come back home and resume a normal life.  I find I am often drawn to books that are somehow connected to the Navy which I why I first picked up It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy, 10th Anniversary Edition by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff, then captain of the USS Benfold, a ship he turned from one of the worst in the Navy to one of its top performing ships.

One of the first things he did when he took command of the ship was to ask each crewman, “Is there a better way to do what you do?”  He found that there were many better ways to do things and whenever possible he gave the people the power to make those changes.  It was a huge morale booster that not only led to higher performance but also to a higher retention rate.

Abrashoff understood something many leaders forget.  The people doing the job often know more about that job than anyone else including the so-called experts.  The funny thing is that these leaders knew that when they were working their way up the ladder, but once they sat down in the manager’s or owner’s chair, they suddenly begin to believe they know more than the persons doing the job.

For thirty years I was employed at a factory working various machine lines, the assembly line, receiving, and quality.  I was amazed how often someone would come to a line where I was working from their air-conditioned office and begin to tell us how we could improve the way we were working.  I once had a time-study expert conduct a full time study on a particular job I was doing on the assembly line while the line was shut down for repair!  I told him it was impossible to do a time study on my job when I couldn’t even do the job.  He insisted I walk him through what I did and he would be able to determine how long the job should take.  His report wasn’t even close to the actual time it took to do that job!

This guy reminded me of a product engineer who insisted that a part they had developed would fit perfectly on a certain model of engine we were building.  There was one particular configuration where the mounting holes would not match up properly.  Time and again we complained about the problem, and every time he would demonstrate on his computer how everything matched up fine.  It took weeks before someone forced him to come to the assembly line and actually install the part.  He soon found out the part would not install on that configuration, and the part was re-designed.

When I became owner of a small business I made many mistakes which I explain in my book by that name, but one mistake I avoided was to believe that I knew more about what our employees did than they did.  In one of our earliest meetings I told them that if I got in their way while they were trying to get work done to just kindly ask me to step aside.  These were experienced, hard-working people who knew far more than I ever would about how to do their jobs.  Any changes that would be made would happen only after we discussed them, not just because I thought something different would be better.

How often do you ask your team members if they can think of a better way to do their jobs?  How willing will you be to give them permission to make the changes they identify?  When people have real input into how they function while at work they are usually much more productive and have much better attitudes towards their work.  That can quickly improve the bottom line of any business.

If you haven’t read Abrashoff’s book I would highly recommend it.  It’s really an interesting read.

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Grow your business smaller

Since this blog is primarily for small business owners the idea of going smaller may be the furthest thing from your mind.  Chances are you are trying to find ways to grow your business, and there is nothing wrong with that if big is how you define success.  However, there is much to be said for small as well.

What would happen if you fired some of your customers?  You know, the ones who always pay late, complain about your prices and/or service, never give you a positive recommendation, and take up large chunks of your time over the most miniscule of issues.  Right now I’m thinking of a woman who complained to me about the cost of a service call our company did for a rental house she owned.  She didn’t feel she should have to pay as much for that call as someone in a community less than ten miles away because she lived in a poorer area.  I reminded her that our supplier charged us the same for the part we used regardless of where we used it.  Our serviceman had to drive that extra ten miles to do the service call, and she was the one who chose to buy rental property in that poorer community.  She was adament that I reduce the bill which I did.  Life is too short to quibble over ten or twenty dollars.  We also never accepted another service call from her.

What would happen if you fired some of your employees?  Barbara Corcoran of Shark Tank fired the bottom 20 percent of her sales staff each year. Don’t just dump them out on the street.  Help them find other jobs before letting them go, but keep only your top talent and give them substantial raises.  You would lose the employees who come in late, are less productive, and often infect other employees with their bad attitudes.  Your overhead would go down, you would be working with your top talent, the atmosphere in your workplace would be less toxic, and the ones you keep would be more productive because they are no longer carrying dead weight.

Doing these two things would change the way you could do business.  You could begin to pick the projects you actually enjoy doing rather than the ones you have to do to make payroll.  Your stress levels would go way down because now you are working with your very best clients and team members.  You would probably be more profitable at the end of the year.  Think about that: less work, less headaches, more on the bottom line.

Again, making this type of change first requires a change in how we define success.  If you want to grow your small business into the next empire, fine.  Just know that your dream could turn into a nightmare before it’s over.  If you want to enjoy the things in life that really matter: your family, your friends, your faith, your life, and enjoy a good living then you may want to consider going smaller with your business.

For other tips on small business success be sure to read my e-book Mistakes: Avoiding the Wrong Decisions that Will Close Your Small Business.

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Network to grow your business

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A few years ago a friend asked me to speak to the local Rotary Club about the auction business I had recently started.  My schedule was clear that evening so I agreed.  Despite bad weather a nice group of people were there representing various businesses in our community.  I kept my presentation to about 20 minutes, but I was surprised by their questions that lasted about 30 more minutes.  There was much about the auction business they did not know which led to some very good questions about the details that are involved in having an auction.  It was a great opportunity to showcase my knowledge and my desire to operate a quality auction business that will treat people with respect.  It was also a chance to build relationships with persons I had never met before.  We ate together, we laughed and joked with one another, and by the end of the evening I think we all felt very comfortable with each other.

The day after that meeting I thought back to the fifteen years I owned a previous business.  Not once did I ever speak to any group about our business nor did I ever join any of the organizations in our community.  We sat back waiting for people to walk into our business, ran an occasional newspaper ad or radio spot, and depended on word-of-mouth advertising from satisfied customers.  I have to wonder how much better could we have done if I had networked with other leaders in our community so they could get to know me on a personal level and get to know more about our company.

Given the option, people will do business with persons they know and trust.  Networking allows others to get to know you on a more personal level.  Networking is more than working a room and passing out business cards; it’s about getting to know people and letting them know you.  It’s building personal relationships with other people.  It’s about building top-of-mind-awareness through relationships.

Are you a member of any of the local service organizations in your community?  Don’t misunderstand…you don’t join these groups just to get business for your company.  You join to help make a difference in people’s lives.  Many of these groups do some great work in their communities, and that is why you want to be a part of that.  However, as you serve alongside others in the organization you are building relationships that may well result in increased business.  Anyway you look at it, that is a win-win situation.  You benefit from the increased business, and your community benefits by your involvement in the organization.

What would you do if someone asked you to present a talk to one of the groups in your community?  For many people, their number one fear in life is to have to stand before a group of people and give a talk.  I’ve been in ministry for over 35 years so that is not a fear of mine, but I have seen people freeze when they’ve been asked to speak to a group.  As a business leader you need to conquer that fear because such opportunities are a great way to network with other people and present information about your business they may not have known.  It puts a human face and story on your company that is more appealing than any logo or slogan.

Look for networking opportunities.  I think you’ll find they will help grow your business.

To learn about other mistakes I made in my previous business be sure to read my e-book Mistakes: Avoiding the Wrong Decisions That Will Close Your Small Business.

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Confidence is the key to success

A few years ago I decided to get my auctioneer’s license. Although I was working full-time I knew I was getting close to retiring (for the second time) and wanted something else to do. I took the 80 hours of training our state requires and took the exam which I passed. A few days later I got my license in the mail.

The next Friday evening I went to an auction conducted by a friend of mine.  As soon as I walked in the building he asked if I could help out in the ring as he was short-handed that night.  After a couple of hours of ring work he asked if I would relieve him for a few minutes and take over the bid-calling.  That was my first time to call bids at an actual auction.  We ended each of our class sessions at the auction school I attended practicing bid calling, but this was my first time to be taking bids from actual buyers.  I can assure you it was not the same!  That few minutes turned into almost an hour before he returned to the microphone for the remainder of the auction.

I learned three things that evening.  One, I enjoyed it as much as I thought I would.  Two, it is harder than it looks like.  Three, I can do this.  That hour behind the microphone gave me confidence that I can be an auctioneer.  Yes, I messed up a couple of times.  (Once I had a $15.00 bid for an item and started asking for $10.00.  We all laughed because everyone knew it was my first time.)  But, that was OK because it taught me that messing up isn’t the end of the world.

In anything we try to do in this life confidence is an important key to success.  This is especially true for the entrepreneur starting a new business.  You may have been a technician in the field of your new business or perhaps you’ve spent years in school learning the nuts and bolts of running a company.  Despite that background you don’t KNOW you can do it until you are actually the person in charge.  When the microphone is handed to you, when you are the one responsible for making the final decisions that will determine the direction your business will go, when the employees are dependent upon your judgment for their livelihood then you will find out whether or not you can do this.

For most entrepreneurs it is often best to start part-time until your new endeavor is showing steady profits and growth before completely leaving your old position.  Anyone starting something new will make mistakes, but when you are not totally dependent on that one source of income those mistakes are less deadly.  As your business grows you will become more confident in your ability to manage it.  Perhaps the day will come when you will decide to invest yourself fully in your new business, or, like me, you may see this as something that will remain something you do part-time as a fun diversion.  Either way, as you build confidence it will become much more enjoyable and profitable.

If you want to read what has to be the textbook on entrepreneurship and how to properly start a new business you must read EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches by Dave Ramsey.  An important piece of confidence is learning what you need to know to be successful, and this book will give you the tools you need to start and run your own business.

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The Impact of Leaders

When John Maxwell’s book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You was released he travelled the country leading workshops based on the book.  I attended one of those workshops.  The first law in the book is the Law of the Lid which teaches that everything rises and falls on leadership.  The leadership lid of the leader determines how far the organization can go.  When he finished talking on that law I never heard anything he said about the new two laws because I was trying to process what he had said about the first law.  I was also somewhat angry.

At that time I was the pastor of a small church and the owner/manager of a small business.  I was not happy with how either of those organizations were doing, and I had let both our congregation and our employees know how I felt.  I challenged each of them that if they would do more our church and our business could grow.  Maxwell was now telling me it was my fault; I was the leader and it was my leadership lid that was preventing both organizations from doing better.  The reason I was angry was that I realized he was right!

Your organization can have the best team members and the best structure available, but leadership will ultimately determine how successful your organization will be.  The decisions of the leaders will determine how productive team members will be and how well your structure will meet the needs of your team and your customers.  If your lid is a 5 you can never expect your organization to rise above a 4 because it will keep bumping up against your lid.  Also, if your lid is a 5 you will not keep team members above a 4 because people will not work for people whose leadership abilities are less than theirs.  You should also consider something else.  If your 4 leaders are hiring people they are going to hire 3s.  Can you see how this keeps pulling your organization backwards?

If you are serious about wanting your small business to grow you must be growing as a leader so you can attract other great leaders and have a more effective and productive business.  You have to stay current on what’s happening in your field.  That will likely require you to read a lot more than you currently do.  It will also likely mean you’ll need to attend some continuing education opportunities, and it may even mean you will need to go back to school for some specific classes.

We can blame struggling and closed businesses on many factors.  We can point our fingers at the economic situation, at laws that are oppressive to small businesses, government involvement and bureaucracy, unfair business practices by our competitors, and dozens of other problems, but the real reason our business isn’t doing as well as we might like is directly related to our leadership of that business.  Raise your leadership lid and you’ll raise the potential of your business.  BTW – I still think that book of Maxwell’s is one of the top three leadership books of all time.

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