Believing. Belonging. And Becoming.
I thought it apt to take just a dollop of your precious entrepreneurial time to celebrate your grit. Ah, grit — that steadfast, tough-as-nails move-forward-at-any-costiveness that characterizes the fortitude and kickass nature of today’s small business owner who has gone through pandemia like some kind of modern-day Khutulun, beating suitors and taking horses.
The COVID era has sucked. A lot. But you, Mrs. and Mr. SMB, you looked it in the eye and stared it down to a nub. All the while learning to pivot like some sort of Tae Kwon Do tournament master up against an impossible opponent. Sure, you took a couple of round-house kicks to the jaw, but you went home with the trophy, didn’t you? [slow clap]
See, you made it. Or, maybe you didn’t. But despite hundreds of thousands of business closures (some 60% of which ended up becoming permanent), the indomitable spirit of entrepreneurs has been spotted once again, and it’s time we name it for what it is. Badass.
Yelp has recently reported that during the course of the pandemic, nearly 500,000 new businesses were started in the US.
500,000 new businesses rise out of the ashes of the worst economic downturn in modern history. Half a million people decided that — despite the lightning in the storm, it was time to fly a kite. A mass of mavericks, about as many people as half the population of Delaware looked out at the angry squall and decided it would not divert their plans to fish the deep sea. They. Were. Not. Afraid. You were undaunted. And more importantly, you were reasonably hopeful.
Did you feel that in your gut? That feeling you might have not felt in a long, long time? I think that we used to call that optimism. Pride. Good news. Finally.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that 2020 wasn’t devoid of good news. I know and consult with businesses that had a banner year last year — some having set new records. One client operates a mom-and-pop music store. Turns out a helluva lot of people decided to learn a new instrument in their downtime during the lockdown. Another is a dog trainer. You guessed it, with all the work from home orders, a record number of people decided it was puppy time. Business is bustling. On average, clients that were already focused on online business, or pivoted quickly to online retail faired quite well. But those exceptions, as important as they are, are still exceptions. The overall economy came to a churning slowdown, and businesses like restaurants, hotels, manufacturing, transportation — and one especially close to my own cold heart — the music industry (live music venues, professional musicians, etc), were just hammered. So when there is a bright spot, I make haste to shine a light on it.
Granted, no one is out of the woods quite yet. 2021 is off to a shaky start, and the series of bankruptcies and closures continue. Starting an SMB already comes with stark odds, and we have to learn to be agile and humble more now than ever. But if we are people who take stock, assess the damage, prepare for new needs and new habits, and make nuanced and necessary shifts in our business models, then the sky’s the limit. And if I know you, you’ll take those odds.
“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.” Simon Sinek
I know what you’re thinking: “You call this encouragement?” “You think THIS is good news?”
It gets worse.
There was no way to project the events of 2020, or the ramifications that we face coming out of it. But that whole GRIT thing? That awe-inspiring “it” factor that makes startup pioneers remarkable? That determination that is uncannily charismatic and charming is also the thing that makes us susceptible to poor planning and over-optimism. When you’ve skated by on rugged good looks (as I have), it’s easy to assume that the pins will keep knocking over when I roll on by. But when the unpredictable happens (and predictably, it always does), charisma gives way to all kinds of baboonery, and the results are nothing short of, well, 2020.
So, my fellow Small Business Owning Army, I salute you. And I celebrate you. And I see you. And I encourage you to gird your loins, tighten your belt, and plan. Plan. Plan like your business depends on it. Because lack of planning has claimed a multitude of great ideas and squandered even the most beautiful of entrepreneurial souls. So, by way of reminder, I want to stir you up with even more encouragement, because often the passion that drives you is also the burden that weighs on your shoulders like a ton of wet lazy sea lions [pause until you get a visual].
So, search through your hat rack (you know what I mean: sales, marketer, HR department, purchaser, accounts payable, accounts receivable, etc etc). Find that hat marked Entrepreneur and put it on. At the core, you started on this adventure for a reason. We all did. Adventure, money, time, love. Go there with me, just for a few moments.
WHY (What do you Believe in?)
Simon Sinek, in my mind, has become the WHY guy. He has famously said, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.” This is a packed statement that has been written about extensively, including this article on Medium. I don’t need to rewrite the #MakeItCrane piece here, but I would like to do is link this idea of WHY with what you BELIEVE.
Why did you start your business?
- Couldn’t deal with Corporate Life anymore.
- You discovered a better way to get it done, and so you did.
- Needed more flexibility in your schedule.
- Hated the idea of lining someone else’s pockets with your hard work
- Purpose and meaning.
- You can help others.
- You can make more money.
Whatever it was — you knew it would be a grind. You knew it would take more energy than a nine-to-five. You knew the odds… But you also know it would be worth it. You counted the cost. You could do nothing else. You almost had no choice.
Why do you do what you do? Beyond the “I needed an income” and “because I could do better” or “to build a better mousetrap” — (and I’m sure those could all be fine motivators) there is something more “Core” to you. Dig deeper.
Why do you subject yourself to the pressure and stress of carving a business out of the proverbial marble? Why do you force yourself to make those cold calls when you’re a product gal, not a sales gal? Why do you wear 7 hats and check your email 3 times throughout your sleep cycle, and miss dinner because you had a zoom meeting with someone on the late coast… Why do you do what you do?
People are driven by success. Or passion. Lots of us are motivated by our kids — providing for them, and setting an example for them. Many are motivated by money. No judgments. Be honest with yourself. Why do you do what you do?
Once you have uncovered or rediscovered your personal WHY, write it down in your own personal why statement.
Keep it simple.
“To be the very best me in all I do so that I know my dad is proud, and smiling down at me.”
“To live a life worthy of all that has been given me.”
“To leave the world better than it was when I arrived.”
“To lead my family, employees, and clients into better experiences, bigger adventures, and greater heights.”
“To make that four-hour work week a reality!”
Your WHY will show you what you believe in most deeply. Keep it close to your heart, mind, and soul at all times.
Not taking on Maslow or anything, but I’ve heard it summarized that there are three basic human needs: to Believe (this is your WHY), to Belong (this is your WHO), and to Become (this is your WHAT).
Now that you’ve reconnected to your precious WHY, the rest is simple.
WHO (Where do you Belong?)
Ask yourself, to whom do I belong? Or perhaps, to whom do I wish to belong? This will be your WHO — part of your true-grit worthy motivation story. This could be your family, a connected group of elite-level Founders in your industry, a faith community, or another community.
When I first visited Austin Texas, it was to visit the Apple Call Center to help them understand the messaging and value of a product I represented. It wasn’t my first trip to Texas, but it was my first trip to Austin. It was Spring, the weather was gorgeous, and the downtown was bustling with music and life. I visited the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue at Town Lake Metropolitan Park. I visited a few live music venues. I ate country-fried steak. So good. I soaked it all in. I am a musician, and so I immediately felt at home. You could say I had found my people… I felt like I belonged there. But then I came back in August and it was 109 dreadful degrees and the romance was over.
But I digress.
During that time I also had young kids, an active faith community, and a group of executives that I met with regularly for fellowship and edification. I had more than one WHO, but ultimately, my kids make for the highest form of motivation for me, and so it is. Perhaps your WHO is tied in with your WHY. That’s perfect. Maybe you’ve never considered how your need to Belong fits into what you do, but I bet it does. Let it.
I do what I do to make a difference in the world of the people I Belong to.
Write your own.
Here’s mine: “I want to be the absolute most trustworthy advisor to my clients to show my kids that honest hard work makes all the difference.”
To whom do you belong?
WHAT (Whom will you Become?)
Because entrepreneurs are so fascinating to me, I love hearing these kinds of questions answered. No one who starts a business has arrived. You know what I mean — it’s no insult. Anyone who starts down this path assuming they know everything is setting themselves up for heartbreak, lessons in humility, and potential failure. When we approach life as learners with outstretched arms and open minds, we have a much higher propensity to succeed.
I am a huge MMA geek. I watch the fights, read up on the fighters, follow multiple commentators on Twitter. Full. On. Nerd. But I have seen that there are three types of fighters:
- The trash talkers
- The quiet, confident, and humble
- The ones that used to talk trash, but learned their lesson, and are now much more humble.
Maybe it’s maturity, or maybe it’s marketing. I always root for the humble, while the trash talkers always sell more tickets. But it’s the third group that I find the most interesting. Those who have Become humble by acknowledging they’re not God’s gift to combat sports… I’ve seen this in business, too.
Are you generally a curious person? I’m betting most of you are or used to be. That unquenchable desire to take apart something to see how it works — is innate in successful business minds. Can it be done better? More efficiently? For less money?
I have two sons. When they were wee lads, I had private nicknames for them. The eldest, inquisitive and methodological. He was the Builder. The younger, curious and brash. The Destroyer. One son would build spaceships and castles out of random legos or Lincoln Logs. The other would soon come along to take them apart. They are teens now, the oldest interested in a career in programming and animation, the younger, no doubt will find their way into our world. One is not better, they are both intelligent, high functioning kids who are well adjusted and mostly good (mostly, I mean, they’re still teenagers…), but one builds things — now with code — the other is still deconstructive, still curious.
What are you Becoming? And if you can answer that, how does it add to your motivation? How does it make what you do even more important? If you can’t yet determine your WHAT, you still have some digging to do. And you owe it to yourself to find the answer.
Your WHY keeps you going.
Your WHO keeps you inspired.
Your WHAT keeps your eyes on the future.
What do you Believe in?
To whom do you Belong?
What shall you Become?
Dig deep. Create your statement. Hold it close. You’re in for a bumpy ride, and this is where you need to build an altar of remembrance. Come back to this statement when the trying times make you question your sanity. When you’re ready to throw in the towel, read it aloud. When you feel defeated, incompetent and when you’ve lost hope, let this statement resonate in your soul.
“I want to be the absolute most trustworthy advisor to my clients to show my kids that honest hard work makes all the difference. In doing so, I wish to become an inspiration to those I share my life with — personally, professionally, and spiritually.”
Let’s see yours!