By Dan Coughlin
Your success will largely be determined by your ability to put as much of your energy as you can toward improving your desired outcomes in your personal and professional lives.
If you agree with that statement, then it’s essential to sacrifice doing things that waste your energy. In this article I’m going to explain 10 of these sacrifices.
SACRIFICE #1: Sacrifice taking things personally and being defensive, paranoid, self-centered, and egotistical.
“My boss texts me 15 times every day. What did I do wrong to deserve this?”
“My boss never communicates with me. Three weeks have gone by and I haven’t heard a word from her. What did I do wrong to deserve this?”
We waste a ton of time taking things personally. We make it all about ourselves when someone does or does not talk to us or call us or point out positives with no negatives or negatives with no positives. We make it all about us.
Here’s the reality. It’s not about you and it’s not about me. The other person is the way he or she is. If the person talks a lot or compliments a lot or complains a lot or is always early or always late, it’s not about you and it’s not about me. It’s just the way that person is. If we can just get over ourselves and not make everything that other people do about us, then we can save a ton of energy by not taking everything so personally. If we just accept other people for who they are, then we can put our energy toward being more effective and productive.
Not taking things personally means we have to accept that the world doesn’t revolve around us. That’s hard to do. It’s hard not to be defensive and paranoid because this means that other people are not constantly thinking about us. That’s hard on the ego to accept, but by accepting it we get to save the huge amount of time and energy that we waste worrying about what other people think about us. Just accept that they really aren’t thinking about us. They’re thinking about themselves. Just like we’re doing.
SACRIFICE #2: Sacrifice negatively judging other people and mentally or verbally criticizing them.
I’m not talking about giving an employee a performance review or having a monthly meeting with an employee to provide him or her with your feedback. That can be extremely helpful to the individual and in helping the organization to achieve its goals.
I’m talking about the huge amount of energy we waste negatively judging people and mentally and verbally criticizing them. Keep a track this week of how much time you spend negatively judging other people or criticizing them in your mind or in a conversation with other people. Sometimes I find it to be a devastating amount of time that I waste doing this. I can have a full-blown 20 minute conversation in my head about all the “faults” another person has. What a waste of my energy.
Is it my job or my role in life to judge other people?
Has anything effective or productive been accomplished by my reviewing all the things this other person does “wrong” in my opinion?
Every time I stop to answer those two questions, I arrive at the same answers: no and no.
If we just accept ourselves as we are and accept other people as they are, we can lasso that wasted energy and apply it toward what we’re trying to improve or achieve that day.
SACRIFICE #3: Sacrifice trying to control other people by telling them what to do or what to say.
A long time ago it hit me that we can’t make another person do what he or she chooses not to do. It’s called human freedom. A lot of wars have been fought and a lot of lives have been lost in the pursuit of preserving human freedom, yet we still waste a ton of energy trying to tell people what to do, how to act, and what to say. It happens in business all the time. A person tells another person exactly what to do and what to say at an upcoming event. Here’s the deal. Each person will do and say exactly what he or she chooses to do or say. Trying to make a person do certain things or say certain things is going to come across as micromanaging and is not going to be effective.
Instead of trying to control people, I encourage you to talk with that person about what you each think is important in an employee or customer interaction and why you both feel that way. Ask the other person questions like, “How do you think you would feel if another person talked to you the way you just talked to that customer?” Rather than telling people what to do or what to say, try to get them to think differently. That’s a much more effective use of our energy than trying to control what people do or say.
SACRIFICE #4: Sacrifice being impatient.
Working with a real sense of urgency toward improving a desired outcome can be a really, really good thing. That’s how great achievements occur.
Wasting energy by being consumed with impatience over day-to-day occurrences can be very, very dangerous. Eating up your energy by being frustrated while standing in line at the grocery store because the line isn’t moving fast enough for you or the email response from your co-worker isn’t arriving soon enough to suit your tastes can actually keep you from being more successful. The energy you burned up by being impatient could be saved and applied when you really need it later in the day.
Relax, breathe in, breathe out, slow down, conserve your energy, and then when you need it apply it as well as you can. A world-class sprinter only goes all out for a very few short bursts of energy each day. The rest of the time he or she is building up energy and storing it for when it’s needed. Don’t waste your energy by being impatient with the little things in life.
SACRIFICE #5: Sacrifice overreacting and swearing, sarcasm, and cynicism.
Drama in the workplace or at home is fun. It breaks up the monotony of the same old same old. It also wastes a ton of valuable energy.
Your teenage daughter says something with a tone and an attitude that you didn’t exactly appreciate after a long day at work, and so you overreact. You scream, you say a few swear words, you decide to get really sarcastic in your remarks, and you drop some really cynical remark on your daughter about teenagers these days.
Whoa Nellie. You’ve just expanded a ton of energy that you aren’t going to get back anytime soon. You feel good about it and you definitely got your feelings across to your daughter, but was it a good use of your energy or a wasted use of your energy? (The reason I can spell that one out in such detail is because I have two teenagers in my house, and oh the energy I’ve wasted over the years in overreacting. My son, Ben, has a title for me: Mr. Over Reactor. And the part that really makes me mad, which wastes more of my energy, is that I know he’s right.)
Overreacting at work goes the same way. We take something that was clearly wrong and obviously irritable and we turn it into WWIII with bodies lying all over the place. Why? Why do we overreact so dramatically that the overreaction actually wastes more energy than the original event?
Stay calm. Save your energy for a productive use, and then apply it in a way that really helps.
SACRIFICE #6: Sacrifice negative eating.
I’ll keep this one short. Make a list of the kinds of food and drinks that you feel actually drain your energy throughout the day. I’ll just throw three ideas out there: sugar, grease, and dough. When I load up on those, I’m dragging at the midpoint of the day. If I do it for a week, I’m really, really tired. Try fruits, vegetables, and water for three straight days. Wow, what a difference it makes in terms of energy to get stuff done.
SACRIFICE #7: Sacrifice negative images.
I have to admit I don’t know local news or current events as well as I should. A big part of that is because I don’t watch the local or national news stations at all. I gave up on that years ago when I found that almost every news show began with some horrific killing done in the most inhumane and disgusting way imaginable.
I buy into the idea of “GIGO” and “BIBO.” Good things in, good things out. Bad things in, bad things out. The breaking point for me was about 15 years ago when somehow the local “news” station decided that telling a story about a deranged person doing something remarkably disgusting and despicable was newsworthy. Even though I was going to include the story in this article, I concluded that I didn’t want to put that vile of a thought in your mind. I decided for myself years ago that the “news” stations were really “ratings” stations and that they were highlighting what I didn’t want to focus on.
Choose what you want to put into your mind. I just encourage you to choose it carefully. I happen to believe that there is something to be said for the idea that people act out on what they think about all day long. Earl Nightingale had this great quote, “You become what you think about.” If we’re not careful, the images we focus on can lead to actions that waste a ton of our energy.
SACRIFICE #8: Sacrifice negative thoughts about the past.
What happened five years ago or longer that you are still ticked off about? Even if it happened a week ago, if you’re still carrying anger or frustration toward another person or yourself, then let it go. If you have to do something to rectify the situation, then do what you think needs to be done. But just hanging on to the negative emotion because you feel you should or because you have for a long time is not going to help you get more useful energy in your life. It’s actually eating up energy in your life that you need to be as effective as you can be.
SACRIFICE #9: Sacrifice negative thoughts about the future.
Instead of thinking about all the things that can go wrong in the future, focus on exactly the way you want things to turn out in every part of your life. Both approaches take up the same amount of energy, but I would argue that the latter is a much more useful way to deploy your energy than the former. Remember: you become what you think about. You become to a large degree what you focus on.
SACRIFICE #10: Sacrifice negative thoughts about money and unnecessary spending.
For 10 years I was a high school math teacher. Since 1998 I’ve worked full-time with business executives as a management consultant. Here’s the funny thing. Regardless of how much money people make, they still spend a lot of time worrying about and focusing on money. Whether they have a lot or a little, they use up a lot of their energy thinking about money.
Here’s a crazy thought: stop worrying about money.
I realize you might be thinking, “If I stop worrying about money, what am I going to do all day?” Here’s the thing. Worrying about money and obsessing over it isn’t going to make you more money. Instead put your energy toward creating value that can lead to you making more money. Here’s one more thought. Don’t spend money unnecessarily. Don’t run out and buy something the second you think of it. Focus on saving money. Money is a form of energy. When you have it and you really decide to invest in something, then invest in it. Just like with my earlier comments, focus on preserving your energy (money) so that you can then put it toward what you’re trying to improve or achieve in your personal life and in your work.
Be patient. Stay calm. Accept yourself as you are and accept other people as they are. Make your best contribution by preserving your energy and then pouring it out deliberately toward the impact you want to make in your personal and professional lives. This is a subtle thing, but I think it can make a huge impact.
Reprinting this Article
If you would like to republish this article in your organization’s publication or on-line publications, just send me an email at dan@thecoughlincompany with “Sacrifice Wasting Energy” in the subject line, and I will email it to you as a word document attachment.
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As a business keynote speaker, executive coach, and management consultant, Dan Coughlin teaches The Any Person Mindset, which is a practical management approach for improving individual, group, and organizational performance in a sustainable way. It is based on his belief that any person can make a significant difference in an organization, but no one is born with the traits necessary to make a significant difference. These are learned thinking traits. Visit his free Business Leadership Idea Centeratwww.thecoughlincompany.com.
Special note: Check out Dan’s new The Any Person Mindset Webinar Series. Session One is called “Moving from The Star Performers Mindset to The Any Person Mindset.” This webinar is a no-frills, very straightforward approach to explaining Dan’s core belief about business management, which is that the key to a great organization is developing each employee to deliver the value he or she is capable of delivering.
Sometimes small business owners can feel besieged. Big businesses have advertising and marketing budgets that dwarf their total yearly receipts. The corporate honchos and their high-salaried lobbyists have the ear of our lawmakers. Politicians only seem to care about small businesses during election cycles.
But despite swimming upstream against these insanely strong currents, small business owners remain an upbeat and optimistic bunch, and a recent study by OnDeck captures these great qualities. Here’s what they say in their quarterly Main Street Pulse Report.
Living the American Dream. 81 percent of those surveyed by OnDeck reported that they left a 9-to-5 corporate gig to start and build their own businesses. They kicked the corporate habit for three basic reasons:
- More money,
- Greater flexibility, and
- Ability to pursue their passions.
Some small business owners may assume that there’s more money to be made by climbing up the corporate leadership ladder. I think that those who leave the corporate world to join the entrepreneurship crowd understand that real money comes with ownership. If they create a good company, they are creating value far beyond what they are able to take out in terms of a monthly salary. When they sell at retirement or after they have their startup pointed in the right direction, the payout can be significant.
Getting ’er done. It’s tempting to think that the American work ethic is an endangered species. This study proves that it’s alive and well among small business owners. More than two-thirds work over 50 hours a week. Nine out of 10 put in time on weekends and 80 percent aren’t finished with work when they leave the office.
Are small business owners workaholics? Yes, sometimes. But when you’re pursuing a passion and know the value you’re creating, it’s not the same as feeling you’re merely a cog in a big, impersonal corporate wheel. By the way, small business owners work this hard because their top priority is to grow their businesses.
Further, eight out of 10 small business owners are committed to helping their communities. This shows that they are “connected” and that’s something humans need to experience true happiness and fulfillment. Let me put it this way: small business ownership is personal.
The money follows. I’ve touched on the fact that small business owners are creating value and that’s reflected in the survey. Some 65 percent say that they are in a better financial situation than if they were working for someone else. They say that the hard work and sacrifices are worth it and they have no regrets.
And while we know that a good number of Americans believe that their work-life balance is out of whack, at least half of all small business owners say they’re doing just fine in that department.
We get a lot of bad news, it’s nice to see that the qualities that made The United States great are still alive and healthy among small business owners. Small business owners know something that the rest of the country needs to learn: You can shape your own future if you have a dream and are willing to work hard enough to make it a reality.
There’s a lot of talk about “early round” investors in startups, but the true “early round” honors usually go to founders, family and friends. If you include yourself in the “founder” leg of that triad, what do you need to know to get the other two legs – the friends and family – involved in the best way possible?
You have some things going for you and perhaps against you when you start to approach those who know you best for money. In many ways, what will later be important to angel investors and venture capitalists, are also important to potential friends and family investors.
First, they need to believe in you. Ultimately it is your ability, enthusiasm and commitment that they are putting their money in, so a self-check should be your first step before you approach your family and friends.
Have skin in the game?
Are you sufficiently convinced that you have put your own money into your project? If so, gauge your level of commitment. Is it at a mortgage-the-house level, or just a couple-of-months-worth-of-spending-money level? Also, be sure you and your spouse are equally committed and prepared for the journey you’re about to undertake.
Second, you need to have a minimum viable product. “Ideas” are something you mull over. Viable products are things that can warrant investment. Don’t ask your family and friends for money if all you have is an idea. Too much time can be wasted and too much money burned between having an idea and having an actual product or service that people would be willing to pay for.
If you are committed and have an MVP, you need a business plan. It may not be fully developed, but you must have a roadmap where you’re headed. It’s unfair to ask people to fund your journey if you don’t have a map; they will just be paying you to wander the desert. The business plan will give you the overview that you need to communicate to your friends and family.
For example, are you just asking for seed money to get a “mom-and-pop” venture started that won’t do much more than provide your family with an income, or are you about to launch a business that has the potential to scale up? You need to understand where your business lies on that continuum.
Loans or shares?
When all these pieces are in place, you have an important decision to make: are you asking for loans or are you selling pieces of your company? This is the point when everyone involved needs to pivot from a personal relationship to a professional relationship. Whichever route you choose to take, it is a very wise idea to get a lawyer involved. For loans, be fully agreed on terms and if you are giving away ownership, be certain you know what that means for both today and tomorrow when you may seek additional investors.
If you were to present your startup in front of a group of true venture capitalists, you would be armed with a presentation called a “pitch deck.” It’s a series of slides that covers these basic topics:
- Your company purpose
- The problem
- Your solution
- Why now
- Market size
- Business model
With family and friends you may not have to make a presentation that is quite as formal, however you need to be able to address all of the above points. If you are unclear on any of these issues, you aren’t ready to ask for other people’s money.
One final word of advice: The way you approach your friends and family will set the tone for your relationship, should they decide to invest. If you start out on a professional footing, it will be easier to maintain that kind of relationship going forward. If they see themselves as merely doing you a personal favor, your relationships will forever be haunted by personal issues.
Uber is celebrating its fifth anniversary and it certainly has accomplished a lot in five years. It’s hard to imagine another company that has so quickly established a global presence. The last figures I saw said that Uber operates in 300 cities strewn across 58 countries.
Let’s compare it to Starbucks, which certainly has an impressive reach of its own. Starbucks opened its first store near Seattle’s Pike Place Market in 1971. It took the company 16 years to hit a grand total of 17 stores. Twenty years after opening, Starbucks tallied 116 stores.
You would be correct to categorize Starbucks as a coffee shop – although it really redefined what that means. However, how would you categorize Uber? Here’s where the story gets interesting. Uber, adamantly and legally, declares that it is not a transportation company. This is the important take-away when you look at Uber and its tremendous growth.
Uber is an information provider and communication facilitator. It let’s people who own cars and have spare time connect with people who need rides somewhere. It provides information based on locations and needs, and communicates those needs to people who have cars and time.
Let’s quickly look at this from two other angles. First, if you or I wanted to truly build a transportation company that provided rides to people in 300 cities, could we do that in five years? No, it would be impossible and crazy expensive.
Second, Uber provides information and communication services built around transportation. However, the “transportation” part is irrelevant. The same kind of system can be built around any perceived need people have when there are other people who have the means to meet that need.
A spare cup of coffee
As a silly example, say that I often brew one or two cups of high quality coffee that I end up not drinking in the morning. If I could somehow connect with people in my neighborhood who were in a rush and wanted coffee at around the same time, perhaps I could sell my oversupply for less than they would pay at Starbucks. (Watch out Starbucks! I’m coming after you!)
The beauty of Uber – and other peer-to-peer companies – is that it takes the huge evolution in commerce that we have seen over the last 30 years and turbo charges it with the rapid evolution in technology that we have seen over the last 10 years. By this I mean that it combines a service industry with the information industry.
These are the two commodities that people desperately need and I don’t see the demand for them going away within our lifetimes. People need services and information. If you can combine those two elements, you are well on your way to perfecting a winning business formula.
The trick is that one side of the “service plus information equation” is usually an “unknown.” The need for transportation services is well established. However, the information on private drivers available to provide the service was unknown until Uber began to experiment with providing it.
Uber started out as a small operation in San Francisco. Do you see a service in your community that might be revolutionized if you could provide people with the right information? Reexamine your small business. You might not have the next Uber, but you might find ways that you can make better use of information, either internally or by providing it in the right format to your customers.
Entrepreneurship and startup news
Money isn’t always the thing that makes serial entrepreneurs happy. In this video, WSJ’s Charlie Wells joins Tanya Rivero to discuss.
Bill Carmody, CEO of Trepoint, describes five ways entrepreneurs can use “emotional intelligence” for marketing.
When you go to Amazon and the site recommends products based on your browsing, that’s one example behavioral marketing. Learn more and see if you need it in this article.
Good ideas are the heart of a successful startup. Author and inventor Stephen Key points us to an unusual place we can find good product ideas.
Here’s how Selena Soo – who once made a $42,000 salary – built a business that earns up to $300,000 a year.
Most of the heavy hitting entrepreneurs are on Twitter. Here are seven things that they do.
Marketing and sales
Every small business needs to handle social media marketing efficiently. These five tools help a lot.
This concise overview of email marketing basics will help you get off to a strong start.
No budget for marketing? Content marketing can solve that problem for your small biz.
When it comes to commandments, the magic number is always 10. Here they are for your content marketing.
Influencer marketing paid $6.85 in earned media value for every $1 spent. Fad or a strategy with staying power?
You’ll find plugins and SaaS galore among these 35 growth hacking tools for people who don’t code. And speaking of growth hacks, here are five email list builders from a guy who knows what he’s talking about.
Understanding video analytics will help you make better explainer videos. Here’s the lowdown.
It’s easy to lose consistency in your branding. Look over these lessons from the world of financial advisers.
Radha Giri, CEO of Midas Touch Consultants, discusses four “secret weapons” in online marketing that you may be overlooking.
Can you describe the difference between a lead, a prospect and an opportunity? S. Anthony Iannarino can and he explains it in this short article.
Politics, government and the economy
Robert Reich, former Treasury secretary under President Clinton, says that small-business Republicans are getting fed up with their party.
Gallup polled a wide range of small business owners – men, women, veterans, LGBT – to gauge their attitudes, habits and experiences.
Leadership, management and productivity
Here’s a list of six things productive people do every day. The one about email may run contrary to everything you believe.
We read this so often that it may not be news anymore, but it’s still important to keep up on: Online scams and frauds are increasing, with an emphasis on social media (like and share buttons).
It’s often said that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” With that in mind, here are four ways to design a more authentic workplace and small business culture.
Dr. Karen Keller gives us four ways to develop our leadership “X Factor.”
Olympic skier and NFL football player turned entrepreneur and philanthropist Jeremy Bloom discusses how to develop your management style and put together a great team.
The latest SurePayroll Small Business poll found that 75 percent of small business owners help their employees with personal matters. Small Biz Cares. Hey, that would make a good slogan…
Need an app? Need $100,000? You’ll have both if you win appsbar’s mobile DIY app building challenge.
The days of climbing the corporate ladder are over. The rules of work have changed. Work is increasingly both everywhere and nowhere; it’s disappearing as a discrete activity.
Any anger issues in your small business? This Psychology Today article outlines where anger management can be successful and where it fails. Know the difference.
Cash is still “legal tender” but if you’re not careful, dealing in it can make the IRS think you’re a crook. Educate yourself.
It’s time to celebrate small businesses this week. And what better way to do that than by supporting the entrepreneurs in your own back yard. YP, a leading local marketing solutions provider, is encouraging consumers to share stories about their favorite local businesses with the release of its latest Make Every Day LocalSM video featuring country music star Jake Owen.
The video highlights some of Owen’s top spots in Nashville, including the guitar store where Owen found his favorite guitar, a classic spot for Southern fare that Owen loves and a shop that has helped him repair and refurbish his 1989 Jeep Grand Wagoneer.
“To have somebody you can count on, you can trust, that you can rely on, then to help you find exactly what you need and what you want, I think that’s how you do great business,” said Owen.
The video is part of the “Make Every Day Local” campaign by YP, which features celebrities in documentary-style videos talking about their favorite hometown businesses, as well as mybookSM featured collections which spotlight other local businesses the celebrities enjoy. The latest spot follows previous videos featuring ESPN anchor Hannah Storm and New York City, as well as reality TV stars Giuliana and Bill Rancic talking about Chicago. YP has also just added San Francisco 49er Reggie Bush, chef and restauranteur Hugh Acheson and Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi to the campaign.
“The Make Every Day Local campaign is one way we celebrate the achievements of local businesses across the country,” said Allison Checchi, Chief Marketing Officer at YP. “Each and every day at YP, we partner with businesses to help them grow. We’re dedicated to the success of local businesses and the communities they serve.”
Watch the Jake Owen video and follow the “Make Every Day Local” campaign at makeeverydaylocal.com. Also, share your story on Facebook: Facebook.com/YP and Twitter: @YP.
YP is a leading local marketing solutions provider in the U.S. dedicated to helping local businesses and communities grow. YP’s flagship consumer brands include the popular YPSM app and YP.com, which are used by more than 70 million visitors each month in the U.S. (Internal Data, January 2015). YP solutions include online presence, local search, display advertising and direct marketing. YP solutions and services are backed by thousands of media consultants and customer service professionals in local markets across the U.S. with relationships spanning more than half a million advertisers. For more information on YP, visit us athttp://corporate.yp.com. Follow us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/YP and on Twitter: @YP.S
A friend of mine once worked at a large chemical company and one day everyone in his department was called together for a meeting. A team was arriving soon from their Japan branch and everyone was going to work together for a few months.
The point of the meeting was to teach the American workers how to better communicate with their Japanese counterparts. Americans tend to quickly make their major points and then spend some time explaining how they got to those conclusions. The Japanese, by contrast, will take a significant amount of time laying the groundwork for their conclusions before they sum things up.
To the Japanese, the American way seems abrupt, perhaps even rude. To the Americans, the Japanese way seems to waste time.
The training session made everyone a little more aware of how they presented and participated in meetings and that kind of increased awareness would be good for all of us. The first step is to understand the purpose of any meeting where you are the planner or a significant participant. I’ll look at three distinctly different scenarios here.
This is the easiest and perhaps most “traditional” meeting. You or a group is tasked with sharing your knowledge, ideas or plans with others. Generally, you’re supposed to feed information for others to consume. You might have a marketing plan you want to outline so others can see what tasks will be assigned to them. In tech settings, someone may have solved a problem and the solution needs to be understood by others.
We have all been in enough of these meetings to recognize them and each of us also could probably remember some presentations that were terrible, while others have been engaging. Try to emulate the good presenters.
With such a high value placed on ideas today, brainstorming sessions are the lifeblood of many businesses. Set the “presentation” approach to the side and think “conversation” here. Have you ever watched “Celebrity Apprentice”? When the losing team is sitting in the boardroom with Donald Trump, there are always several who complain that the team leader wouldn’t listen to their ideas.
The same thing happens outside of reality television. Problems arise if you come with a pre-conceived idea and force it on your group. They may acquiesce, especially if you’re the boss, but there’s a good chance you will quash ideas from others. Even if you think you have a great idea, enter these kinds of sessions with the mindset that there may be an idea out there from someone else that will change your thinking.
See these kinds of sessions as “productive conversations” where everyone feels comfortable in participating.
Without a doubt there are times when as a business owner you need to persuade people to your position. When very talented and experienced people do this, those who have been persuaded end up believing it was their idea in the first place. However, this is rare.
You need good people skills to handle these kinds of meetings. They require a deft balance between delivering your message (presentation) and making others in the meeting feel that you have heard and understood their concerns (conversation), if there are any.
Consider these three “meta” meeting categories and how they should be allowed to shape your approach to meeting organization and participation. The conference room table is often the “playing field” where business is conducted. Don’t go out onto the playing field without having first formulated a solid game plan.
When I got out of college I was obsessed (some would say possessed) with developing a successful business. I had long been infatuated with the idea, having run small door-to-door businesses when I was in middle and high school. After college and a short experience working at a bank, I felt even more strongly that I wanted to run a business of my own. Starting from that point, I made entrepreneurship the dominant theme of my professional career. As a result, I have read between 200 and 300 books on (or related to) entrepreneurship. These books have covered many different topics, written mostly by practitioners, but even some academics.
Below I’ve listed the three most powerful books that I’ve read on this subject. While nothing can substitute for the experience of actually struggling to create, run and grow one’s own business, I genuinely believe that these books have helped me immensely as an entrepreneur. You will note that not all of these books are just on entrepreneurship, per se, but nevertheless they have been most helpful to me in building successful businesses.
Growing a Business by Paul Hawken. I read this book in the late 1980s, after graduating from college. Even today, I crack open this book when I want to brush up on things I’ve either forgotten or not had the discipline to fully implement. What I like most about his book, is that he takes a very different tack on growing a business. Paul likens the development of a business to the development of an organism, making the basic tenets of running a business (customer service, revenue growth, etc.) easy to grasp. For example, while he’s not necessarily averse to hyper-growth, he notes that if a business grows too quickly, like a plant, it becomes difficult for it to sustain itself. This concept has stuck with me over the years.
Another lesson from Paul stands out in particular: He’s not a big proponent of businesses borrowing money. Today in the popular press (and even in some political circles), there’s an assumption that to grow a business, you need to get access to capital. Paul was the first author I read who roughly indicates that the problem with growing a business isn’t the lack of access to capital, but having and borrowing capital before your business is ready to grow and before you’ve fully developed your business model. The profundity of that never really struck me until later on in my career, and to this day, I happen to think he’s dead on.
Over the years, there’s so much I borrowed from the book in running Sageworks that it has become hard to discern between his book and my core philosophy of business. He reduces something complicated (in this case, the essence of a running a business) to its very basic principles, without simplifying to the point of meaninglessness — this is the sign of a fantastic writer. Now obviously he’s a very well-known and successful entrepreneur himself, but that’s not why I like the book. I like the book because it hit me at exactly the right time. To this day, it’s the single most important book I’ve read specifically on building a business
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. This is not necessarily an entrepreneurial book, but it teaches basic philosophies of working with and dealing with people. Unless you have such a disruptive and innovative technology that it will succeed regardless of your effectiveness as a leader, most successful businesses are built by people who are excellent at cultivating relationships. Carnegie very carefully, with case studies, stresses the importance of having an orientation outside of one’s own self in all aspects of communication. Carnegie highlights how, in working with people, it doesn’t matter at all what you want; you must instead think about how the other person benefits. It seems so trivial, but very few people in business actually follow these principles. Like Hawken, he provides you very basic principles, but illustrates them with a plethora of examples. After more than 70 years in print, Carnegie’s principles are still just as relevant and influential today as the day the book was published.
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. Written in 1937 by Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich is a reduction of The Law of Success, written by the same author. The author interviewed hundreds of successful people, attempting to highlight a common pattern of behavior and attributes amongst successful people. Some of the later chapters, in my opinion, get a little bit “out there” for me, but the first four to five chapters are really incredible, conveying the idea that thoughts are not intangible, but incredibly powerful things. He was the first to really bring that concept home to me.
I’ve personally dedicated a large part of my life to business, and I’ve developed a sort of general philosophy about business (and life). At this point, it’s very difficult to draw the distinction between these books and my personal experiences. The truth is that we’re all a compilation of what we think and what we learn.
That said, I believe that someone could read these three books carefully, and discard the other 200 to 300 books on entrepreneurship that I’ve read, and still come away with 90 percent of the “book knowledge” I’ve gained over the years on entrepreneurship and business success. It’s incredibly easy to get off course in life and business (to not think of customers, to treat your employees poorly, to get away from the core tenets and mission of your business) and it has been incredibly helpful for me personally to identify a few books and thinkers that I feel comfortable returning to over the years. Hopefully Hill, Carnegie, Hawken and others will help you stay on course, as they’ve helped me.
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Brian Hamilton is the chairman and co-founder of Sageworks. He is the original architect of an artificial intelligence technology platform that is used by thousands of financial institutions and accounting firms across North America. This technology converts financial statements into plain language narratives, reflecting Brian’s professional mission – that is, to demystify complex financial information for business owners, financial professionals, academics, and the general public. Through articles, interviews, discussions and presentations, Brian regularly works with the media, bringing clarity and expertise to topics ranging from the health of private companies, to the financial strength of high profile initial public offerings, as well as issues facing entrepreneurs. Brian currently serves on the Board of Trustees for Sacred Heart University. He is also the founder of Inmates to Entrepreneurs, a community outreach organization focused on teaching ex-offenders to start low capital businesses, and he established the Sageworks Institute, a not for profit organization dedicated to providing journalists with a strong foundation in financial and economic analysis.
This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.
A friend of mine likes to watch the gold mining shows on cable television. He recently noted how the miners are lucky to break even each year, but the guys who lease heavy equipment and sell replacement parts are making out like bandits.
That story is as old as the California Gold Rush, which played an important role in giving us brands like Levi Strauss, Armour meats and Wells Fargo; and it continues to be played out today, even with some high-tech twists.
The concept is called piggybacking. The idea is to find a fast growing startup or new sector and develop a service that that makes it easier to use, more profitable, or is supportive in some other way.
Were you around when eBay originally launched? If so, you may have noticed that it didn’t take long for a whole bevy of businesses to get started that made it easier to post or track your items. As eBay grew, so did the demand for these ancillary businesses.
This phenomenon will continue. If you are looking for a business idea, keep tabs on where the venture capital is going and watch the business pages for stories about startup trends. If you’ve been following the trends, you will know that peer-to-peer enterprises are hot today and consequently, this area is experiencing a lot of piggybacking.
Services to manage your Airbnb listings are being established, for example. How many homeowners really know what their room should rent for or want to deal with booking and cleaning the rentals? This could give local housecleaning companies an area into which they can expand.
Breeze leases cars to Uber and Lyft wannabe-drivers who lack wheels. So far neither Uber nor Lyft have shown interest in leasing vehicles themselves, but this does point out one of the dangers of going “all in” on a piggybacking venture: Eventually the big player in the game may decide to provide the service itself. And if you add in the possibility that the company on which you are piggybacking might go under, it can be a very risky venture.
New laws make new businesses
Just as the creation of a new business model can create piggybacking opportunities in the private sector, in the public sector new laws can create new business opportunities. The upheaval in health care caused by the Affordable Care Act is creating demand for a wide range of new services, such as converting records to a digital format and payments processing.
However, even beyond that, all the newly insured patients flocking to hospitals and clinics are causing significant growth in many parts of our country. Traditional services – even basic needs such as janitorial – can “piggyback” on the growth that is resulting from the law.
With all of this in mind, as you see changes happening around you, whether they are new businesses, new social phenomena or new laws, demand is being created for new products and services that are complementary. Always be watching for those opportunities.
It makes for good television, but despite the fact that it’s all done for entertainment and to help some charities, I think the moment must hurt badly for those who come under the gun.
This painful scene has played out in the lives of many founders. They start their companies from scratch, working like dogs, then bring in investors who eventually decide that they aren’t the right people to take the business to the next level.
It happened to Jobs, it can happen to you
That smarts, but it’s happened to people as talented as Steve Jobs, who was forced out of Apple after he tried to get then-CEO John Sculley removed. His case proved that revenge is a dish best served cold when he ended up back in the driver’s seat several years later.
Groupon founder Andrew Mason found himself ousted in February 2013 the day after his company reported a bigger than expected quarterly loss. The loss caused investors to doubt the entire business model on which Groupon was founded. However, Mason may have had the last laugh when he issued a memo to employees announcing his departure that read, “After 4 1/2 intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding – I was fired today.”
Mason lost his job while Groupon was in the throes of establishing itself as a bona fide commercial entity; it was a young company. Sometimes leaders who have been at the helm for many years find themselves on the outs. That was the case with George Zimmerman who was the TV commercial face (“You’re going to like the way you look. I guarantee it!”) of The Men’s Warehouse for what seemed like a lifetime.
Not ready for prime time?
But whether in the formative years or when a company is mature, the basic reason founders are ousted is usually the same: Investors have no confidence in their ability to take the company to the next level. That could be establishing initial viability or profitability, or implementing changes required to compete in a changing marketplace.
I don’t know if anyone keeps statistics on this, but it seems to be a common phenomenon in today’s tech-dominated startups. Here’s an Ousted Founder Hall of Shame:
- Noah Glass, Twitter
- Jerry Yang, Yahoo!
- Martin Eberhard, Tesla
- Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, Research in Motion (BlackBerry)
- Eduardo Saverin, Facebook co-founder
Some go on to later success, as with Steve Jobs, but quite a few seem to be one-hit wonders, who are able to take a load of cash and live comfortably while they dabble in this and that.
One key to not finding yourself fired from your own company is to do everything you can to stem off a surprise. Frankly, if business is going poorly you should never be surprised. If internal political machinations catch you unaware, you haven’t created the bonds and communication lines necessary to maintain control through rough times.
Seeing the bigger picture
Power, once held, is a difficult thing to release. After George Washington won the American Revolutionary War, he was the most powerful man in our nascent country. Surprisingly, Washington announced that he would leave public life. When England’s King George II heard that Washington planned to retire, the king reportedly said, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”
Knowing the limits of one’s ability and understanding when it is best for the organization to have another assume power, is perhaps the greatest quality any leader can possess. And it’s a rare talent indeed.