January 14, 2022

Resourcefulness, Self-Motivation, and Resilience: Character Traits Required for a Successful Journey as an Entrepreneur

"Entrepreneurship is hard" are the words I hear often from friends who mad the jump into the turbulent world of business ownership. And more of my friends, whether residing in the United States or abroad, took the plunge recently as unemployment soared as a result a pandemic mitigation measures including small businesses closing their doors. In the U.S., "pandemic entrepreneurship took off at unprecedented levels, leading to the largest increase in new business applications in recorded history," according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "In 2020 over 400,000 start-ups were formed in the UK," Island Echo noted. Impressively, "around 80 new businesses" in the UK were formed per hour in the first half of 2021. Many of these entrepreneurs are experiencing the difficulty of transitioning from the corporate world to being your own boss.

CNBC published an article about a woman's transition from corporate employee to launching her own business. "For more than a year," Giselle Sitdykova, aged 45, "had been working from home in Oak Park, California, as an analytics manager for a mortgage company. Remote work suddenly gave her four hours back to her day free of commuting and shuttling her 11-year-old son to and from school. With more time and energy, she launched her own company: Dwellics, a website that gives personal recommendations for people planning to move."

The article adds: "By the summer of 2021, Sitdykova's employer planned to bring everyone back to the office. Not ready to give up on her own business, Sitdykova joined the Great Resignation and quit her job. The act was 'freeing,' she tells CNBC Make It: 'I feel like I can take life back into my own hands.'"

Discussing the stresses of entrepreneurship, the article explains that "It was also hard to shift her mindset from working for a big company to suddenly being on her own. 'I always associated myself with my job title, salary and being in the corporate environment,' Sitdykova says. 'Suddenly, I had no title, no salary, and my new business didn't have a name yet. It's like moving from a nice house to an empty lot and starting to build from the foundation up, where you hope that at some point what you build will be bigger than the house you once had.' She worked non-stop through the stress and uncertainty for weeks."

Randi Boyette, founder of Spark Medical Marketing Inc., a Florida-based digital marketing firm that helps take medical and aesthetics brands into the digital marketing space with a team of experts, gave an interview about her journey from corporate executive to business owner. Ms. Boyette, who is the daughter of my good friend and advisor, Ted Felix, begins the interview by saying that as a child growing up in New Jersey, her father "worked around the clock to provide for our family. I often wondered as a child why my dad wasn't around all the time, but as I grew up and understood his goals as an entrepreneur, it became a foundation for my own work ethic. He did whatever it took to achieve success, which set up our family to have everything we needed. His drive was instilled in me, and today he plays a role in my business."

Responding to why she decided to launch her own business, Ms. Boyette said, "After working in corporate America for many years, I realized I wanted more control over my schedule, success and personal life. I had learned so much [in the corporate world], but I was looking for a change." Her words resonate with me as I often advise people who are considering launching their own business to consider the reasons for doing so. Being your own boss and maintaining creative control are two key reasons. However, given that over 50 percent majority of businesses fail during their first few years of existence, making a lot of money should not be part of the equation for becoming an entrepreneur. As Mark Organ, an entrepreneur and consultant, writes: "The most successful entrepreneurs are not motivated by money. It's about the experience, the way of life, the chase, the identity, the rush. ... Entrepreneurship is not a job, or a get-rich-quick scheme. It's a journey."

Resourcefulness, self-motivation, and resilience are three character traits Ms. Boyette says are most instrumental to her successful journey as an entrepreneur. With respect to the first, "Anytime I am presented with an opportunity, the answer is always yes. I might not always know how to do something and might be faced with a challenge, but I always figure out a way to make it happen."

Regarding self-motivation, Ms. Boyette insightfully explains that "Being an entrepreneur can be challenging, especially in the beginning. You are the only one pushing yourself on the good days and the bad, it's critical to motivate yourself every day. No matter how little sleep I have had, as we work many late nights, I wake up motivated by the fact that our entire team is depending on me to do what I do to keep the business alive."

As for resilience, she notes: "I had many doors slammed in my face while growing Spark. I thought it was the biggest curse at the time, but I kept going. No matter how many times I was told 'no,' I persevered. Resilience is a character trait critical to success, not only in a career but also in life."

When I first met Ted, who has served as one of my most valuable advisors since 1998, he advised me on the importance of having a business plan (a topic that is often discussed on this forum). I recall an early conversation where he said that the path to success is not always straight up. Serving as a road map, a business plan will help entrepreneurs navigate their path to success.

For most business owners, stress and uncertainty is present throughout the entire duration of owning a business. Another trusted advisor told me when first entered into the foray of entrepreneurship that if you are not putting out fires on a regular basis, then your business is not growing. Author and entrepreneur, Neil Patel, adds that growing your business is "freaking terrifying. Scaling your business to great heights will require you to learn new skills, hire and lead a team, and get so far out of your comfort zone that you risk a mental breakdown."

In an article published by Forbes, Yusuf Berkan Altun, a Forbes Councils Member, wrote: "Such a natural accelerator of startups as the pandemic has undoubtedly had a positive effect on the global economy. These developments on the individual entrepreneurship level are likely to aid numerous economies to quickly defeat the consequences of the pandemic. However, at the same time, some of the newly formed enterprises may not be able to withstand competition or find an application and are likely to quickly go bankrupt."

Having been an entrepreneur for close to 30 years, I agree that "entrepreneurship is hard." While the journey is not easy, a comprehensive business plan along with character traits including resourcefulness, self-motivation, and resilience, the path to success will be a bit less treacherous.

What character traits do you think are necessary to leading a successful business? How do you deal with the stresses of owning a business?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

January 2, 2022

A 'How-to' Guide for Strategic Planning

"The process of developing and writing a strategic plan is widely regarded as the most challenging and frustrating task that leaders and managers are called on to execute," according to Lieutenant General C.V. Christianson, USA (Ret.) and Colonel George L. Topic, USA (Ret.) in an article entitled "Strategic Planning: A 'How-to' Guide." Published in Joint Force Quarterly 74 (3rd Quarterly, July 2014), the co-authors point out that "It is rare for senior executives, military commanders, and agency directors, and by extension their subordinates and team members, to go long without facing this requirement. It not only calls for focused effort for extended periods but can also be highly stressful."

Based on my experiences of going through the strategic planning process for those ventures where I served as a co-founder, I agree with the article's authors "that an effective strategic plan cannot be developed without the sustained commitment and effort of the leaders of the organization and the cooperation of major stakeholders, both present and future. This process is so challenging because teams and leaders need to ask and discuss—and answer—many difficult questions." To facilitate the process of creating a plan for a new business venture, I created a document that presents questions on a variety of topics founders should consider.

Messrs. Christianson and Topic importantly add that "in some cases these questions are unanswerable. Ironically, answers are not always necessary; a satisfactory payoff on the investment of time and energy can sometimes result merely from the process itself. Such endeavors are not without risk. Ill-conceived or poorly managed efforts can do great harm and even catastrophic damage."

In addressing why bother with creating a strategic plan, the article correctly explains that "strategic plans are developed because of recognition of significant changes in the external and/or internal environments or under direction from senior leaders. In the latter case, this is presumably a well-reasoned judgment that a new plan is necessary because the leader sees or understands something that might not be obvious to everyone. In any event, it is important for every participant to understand the impetus for the effort. It is also useful to refer back to this question and the answers during the development, writing, and implementation of the plan."

Referencing Simon Sinek's book Start with Why and video from a 2009 TED conference, the article's authors suggest these resources "offer a useful introduction to how to think about the why question." According to Messrs. Christianson and Topic:
While there is no "one size fits all" solution, Sinek's approach can be used as an "icebreaker" to help start thinking about the central issues a strategic plan must address. He uses a pattern he calls the golden circle to describe how some leaders and organizations have been able to achieve a disproportionate influence while others have not. He defines three concentric circles. The outside circle is "what we do." Sinek postulates that every organization on the planet knows what it does—that is easy to identify. Moving toward the center, the next circle is "how we do what we do." This circle is not as obvious as the what circle and is often used to describe differentiations from one organization to another. The center circle is "why we do what we do." Sinek states that few individuals or organizations can clearly articulate their why—that is, their purpose. They also "distilled Sinek's pattern or framework into the following basic questions around which this portion of the process should generally revolve:
  • "Why does the organization exist? Why is it there and why should anyone care? This is the purpose of the organization.
  • "What guiding principles do we embrace? This describes how we do what we do by identifying the core beliefs that define organizational culture and behavior.
  • "What do we do? This describes our mission (this is harder to answer than it might seem) and what essential elements and critical tasks are necessary for success. If everyone agrees to the answers to these questions, the rest of the process should be relatively straightforward."

The article includes a discussion on strategic goals, roles and responsibilities, implementing guidance, and the important role of strategic communications. Regarding the role of communications and strategic planning, Messrs. Christianson and Topic note:
The key to communications and strategic planning is to start early, and that must be an element of every part of the plan development process. Waiting until the plan is complete before deciding how to convince everyone it is their plan is generally unwise. The essential task is to ensure that each step enjoys clear understanding and broad support both internally and externally. Plan writers will not be the ones integrating, synchronizing, and prioritizing the work/ actions of the organization in concert with the goals. Making sure participants are genuinely welcome to voice their concerns and raise questions not only builds support but also produces better results and possibly averts catastrophes. Offering stakeholders a voice in the development and assessment of a plan, or merely allowing them to ask questions, is vital to gaining support. Finally, having open and robust communication channels promotes transparency and demonstrates commitment to the continuous improvement of the plan.
Lastly, I agree with the article's concluding paragraph on the importance of listening: "We encourage strategic planners to be bold and creative and above all to listen—both to others and to themselves. Planners often fail to hear their own voices and ignore their own visions because they spend all their time cobbling together the equities of everyone else. Finally, nothing is final. The best plans are continually assessed and adjusted as factors change."

In my post, "Your Business Plan Is Your Business's Roadmap," I note the importance of having a business plan. In those ventures where I serve as a co-founder, the process of writing a business plan is one of the first exercises my colleagues and I will undertake. While I can attest to how stressful the process is, there are many benefits of undertaking the task of creating a plan. These benefits include ensuring we have a shared vision on the product or service we seek to create and alignment on how we will structure, run, and grow our business. The business plan serves as a useful tool to define our company's mission, goals, monetization strategy, key performance indicators, financial data, and risk factors. I also find the article prepared by C.V. Christianson and George Topic a useful "how-to" guide for business planning.

What aspects of the article do you find most useful?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.