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Warren Buffett to Josh: Read, read, read

Notturno
Creative Commons License photo credit: gualtiero

Today’s guest post is from Josh Whitford from over in Fargo, dere (hey, we’re both way up north here so I can say that dere).

Josh did a really smart and simple thing to get in touch with – and get advice from – Warren Buffett.

While it’s great to get advice from Mr. Buffett, the key thing here is not so much the specific task Josh was assigned but that he sought out the wisdom in the first place. Constant improvement is not a luxury, it’s a requirement.

Asking questions of those who know more than you (and/or know the success you want) is definitely a good strategy (ever hear of “Think and Grow Rich”?)

Speaking of, I’m on a quest to increase my reading to at a least a book a week this year. While it has impacted some other things negatively (at least from their perspective), I see positive results in my work, this blog (sometimes negative results – like far fewer posts), and life in general. Highly recommended.

And yes, I should be blogging about those weekly book adventures, shouldn’t I?

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How’s that 2010 working for ya so far?

Did January sneak up and run out the door on you?

2010 is 1/12th GONE.

So, with a 1/12 of your year gone, how’s your 2010 going?

If you got a slow start, maybe a simple exercise will get you back on track.

Simple doesn’t mean ineffective, simple means uncluttered. Down to the bare metal, if you wish.

The goal is not to make this the best planning session ever, it’s to get you back on track and moving toward the right goal so that your next planning session has you standing there with a success in your holster, fired up to kick some butt.

In other words, we’re making accomplishment and planning into a habit, and we’re doing it by starting simple.

It’s a process

Put a one hour appointment/meeting on your calendar. I don’t care when you do it, but it needs to be a part of the day when you are good at focusing on your big thing.

If you work in an office, make sure you have this meeting elsewhere. Maybe try a new coffee shop where there’s no chance anyone you know will walk up and want to discuss the Super Bowl, Signing Day, General Hospital, the weather or heaven forbid – Farmville.

The goal is to get as close to zero distractions as is possible.

Ready to start?

Turn off your cell phone. Yes, I said *turn it off*. I know you’re irreplaceable and all that, but trust them to be able to stay reasonably sane if they can’t reach you immediately for just one hour.

Close any other distracting programs you have on your computer – including but not limited to: your email program, your web browser, your Twitter client, your Facebook page (yes, even *Farmville*), and your instant messenger client software.

Brain Dump

Write down the 10 most important things your business needs to accomplish over the next two years. One year isn’t usually enough time, or you just aren’t thinking big enough or far enough out.

Make absolutely sure those 10 things are seriously part of achieving the big picture vision you have for your business â?? whatever that might be.

Now the hard part. Pick the item that is *the most important* thing to accomplish.

What moves your business more strongly toward accomplishing your mission than *anything* else on that list?

That’s the thing.

Write down every task that has to be completed to make it happen. If you have to, put on your Covey hat and “Begin with the End in mind”, working backwards from “I’ve done it!” to today.

Now…Get to work, one bite at a time, just like that Scout I talked about a couple of days ago.

Once that’s done, repeat the process.

PS: Revisit this planning process monthly to make sure you’re staying on track.

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5 strategies for a better 2010

So today you wake up and find that you have only 15 days until 2010 (fewer than that if you count working days, at least for most people).

You vow that 2010 is going to be the year that you finally get your act together – despite the state of the economy, since can’t do anything about it but create your own…

Maybe you vowed that in 2009 and it did or didn’t go so well. Doesn’t matter. What’s gonna make 2010 DIFFERENT?

No matter how things are going, they could be better. If they’re going great, the challenge is to keep it that way and build upon your success.

So lets go over 5 things that you can do to make sure 2010 is the year your business gets the effort – and the results – it deserves:

Number 5: Become and remain brutally focused about the time you have and how you use it. Need some help with that? Try The Power of Focus and Dan Kennedy’s No BS Time Management for Entrepreneurs

Number 4: “Put on the hat” of your biggest critic or doubter: Ask yourself some tough questions. Justify what you’ve done this year. Reflection is a critically valuable tool. It isn’t about guilt, it’s about recognizing the need (or lack of) for change as well as recognizing what went well.

Even better, take your biggest critic/doubter out for coffee and ask them to let you have it. Ask them to kindly critique the year they’ve seen from you and suggest what they think you should be doing. The feedback isn’t the result you’re looking for. Instead, consider your reactions to the conversation. How do they make you feel about your level of commitment and what you’re really trying to accomplish? Do something about it.

Number 3: Schedule communications (not boring ones) in some form with every customer, at least once every month. If you can’t figure out what to say to your paying customers, you aren’t thinking hard enough – or – they aren’t much of a customer to you. If you can’t afford to communicate with them (and I don’t mean just by email) on a monthly basis, it seems clear that your business model could use some work.

Number 2: Spend some time considering where the leading edge thinkers in your industry are going – and why. If one of those leading edge thinkers is you (be honest with yourself), think harder. Look outside your industry for ideas you can use and “convert” for your business.

  • How do these things fit into your current plans?
  • Do those plans need adjustment?
  • Does your entire big picture need adjustment?
  • Do any legislative changes affect you in the coming year?

Number 1: Spend an hour (I’d prefer you spend a day or two – or a week if you can do so) and really, seriously nail down a picture in your mind of a few things:

  • What things in your business should look like on Dec 15, 2010.
  • What that year of progress is really, truly working towards – yes, what exactly *is* your big picture?
  • Did 2009 work toward it, or go somewhere else? If you don’t like the answer…do something about it.
  • If you have staff, do they fit the result of this discussion? Can they be trained to do so? What other resource challenges does this bring to mind?

Tick tock.

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On obscene profits and the joy of being average

Yesterday’s Eagle Court reminded me of the last few moments of this short 2 minute video guest post from Tom Peters.

Note for those who might cringe at, be disgusted by or even “hate” the thought of a company earning the “obscene profits” extols: Mr Peters is a Democrat who spoke on the Obama campaign trail in 2008.

Can you imagine watching the heads of 2 political parties would have discussing that? Irony is beautiful sometimes.

My amusement aside, I urge you to take the video deadly serious: Get rid of the “average” stuff/processes/people in your business (or improve them).

Do it with enthusiasm and without prejudice.

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Taken a pulse lately?

Ten months of 2009 are gone. Take the pulse of your business and ask yourself: “Is the business where I wanted to be by now?

Before you think this is all about the finances, it isn’t. It’s all about where you wanted to be. Maybe it’s about finances, but there might be more important indicators. It’s easy to be profitable and still heading in the wrong direction, for example.

If you’re behind, what can do add, change, delete, correct or adjust to get your progress back on track to meet/exceed your business’ goals? Have you actually done what you said you would do? If not, why not?

Not just about Retail

Big retail (and far too much of small retail) looks at these next two months as what gets them into the black. They’ve even named the day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday” because that’s the shopping day that traditionally moves their business into the black.

While many outside of retail often look at these next two months as throwaways due to the number of holidays, vacations, parties, travel, hunting season and so on – that’d be a mistake.

Likewise, lots of companies put off hiring during these two months (hmm, so NOW till January is the time to pick off the best talent?).

As for the delay, I can find a holiday and related excuses to do that in any month. Why would you do that?

Thank them

In a few weeks, Thanksgiving is coming up in the U.S.

What a great time to take a little time to thank your clientele for their business – just don’t be boring about it and don’t make it a sales call. Whatever you do, do it as a sincere thanks rather than making it ordinary and using it as just another opportunity to pitch everyone.

For Canadian readers who are thinking “Darn, our Thanksgiving was last month”, it’s not too late. Simply acknowledge that you’re a bit tardy so you thought you’d thank them in time for the Americans’ Thanksgiving.

2010

One last thing on this topic – now’s the time to get moving on an assessment of 2009’s successes and failures, and start laying out your 2010 plans and goals. Have your plans and strategies ready for Jan 1 (and start them earlier if it makes sense). Don’t wait until Jan 1 to start this process.

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If you really want to help, just give them the fish.

Pout
Creative Commons License photo credit: orangeacid

Yes, I know that is going to rile some folks up, but you probably need to be riled up anyhow.

What exactly do I mean by “give them the fish”? Let me back up a little.

You’ve undoubtedly heard the saying: “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”

I used to agree. It used to seem that teaching someone to fish was sufficient, but human nature is a powerful teacher.

Not anymore.

First, a couple of examples from the Rotary world:

  • Do you think that Rotary should just airdrop polio vaccine (and instructions) over Africa and let those folks take care of vaccinating themselves?
  • What about the hand-operated wells that Rotarians regularly donate and install in third world communities? I’m talking about the wells that eliminate a mother’s 6 mile daily walk for water. Before you think “So what?”, think about how long it takes a mother to walk 6 miles, then walk 6 miles back carrying 5 gallons of probably not-so-clean water. If you’re taking care of a couple of infants, consider how that impacts your child-rearing and your ability to make a living. Now suddenly you’re taking clean water out of a well right in your village. Impactful.

But…I didn’t start this conversation to talk about Rotary. Their polio and water efforts just make the point easy to illustrate.

Personal Inertia

All of this is really building up to some comments about personal inertia.

Inertia is a big obstacle for an 80,000 lb 18 wheel truck or a jumbo jet, but a person’s personal inertia makes their inertia pale in comparison.

Powered by daily routines and daily “crises”, as I referred to yesterday when quoting Mr. Rohn, it’s bigger than most people realize.

While everybody can do what so and so does to be successful, reach a goal, get out of a mess, change some aspect of their lives, or market their product; but not everybody will.

Why Personal Inertia happens

A lot of the reason for this is that people just aren’t used to taking NEW actions. Sure, they get up for work in the morning (even if they work for themselves) and they go about their business, but they struggle to make new things happen.

Rather than making things happen, they often watch things happen (or worse, wonder what happened).

That’s why you have to give them the fish. Change is tough. Sometimes scary. Sometimes, just different enough that your routine just doesn’t seem to allow for them.

And that’s where the fish comes in.

Sometimes you have to give them the fish to prime the pump. To make the impression necessary to show that the learning is worthwhile.

What IS The Fish?

The fish is what you do for others. Maybe a service, maybe something you teach or something you create for them if they can’t or won’t do it themselves.

I know you can teach them to fish (whatever your fish is), but they have to WANT to learn to fish or your time will be wasted.

Yep, WASTED.

More than likely, whatever you do is the fish your client needs (or is related to it).

Again, giving them the fish primes the pump and helps make that action part of their routine.

Until it’s routine, it’s unlikely to happen.

Before you give them the fish, before they “get it”, they might not have the vision you have.

The fish might be necessary to make the impression (produce the results?) necessary to show that learning to fish is worthwhile in the first place.

Give, then teach

Once the lesson, the results, the vision/buy in are there, learning to fish seems like a good idea.

Their idea. Your gift made it so.

When eyes light up, budgets appear and/or time opens up, it’s time to teach.

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How do you keep up?

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Creative Commons License photo credit: fazen

How do you keep up?

I was speaking to a group of small business owners the other day about websites and (to their surprise) mobile technology and how it should affect their internet strategy – or at least, provoke them to have one.

After (probably) scaring them a bit, that was the last question I was asked: “How do you keep up?”

Meaning – how is a small business owner who has to deal with sales, marketing, managing their staff, sweeping the floor, doing the books, promoting their business on Talk Like a Pirate Day and 117 other things – how does THAT person keep up with all that stuff, let alone have their fingers on the pulse of all this new mobile technology, their website, etc?

And how do they manage to find the time to keep their website updated?

If you don’t, you’re training your customers to not visit it.

Additional question I might hear from coaching clients: How do I keep up with all that stuff, plus the things you suggest that I should be doing???

Short answer: You don’t keep up with it all. So don’t sweat it.

Long answer: If it was easy, anyone could do it. Keep reading.

But what provoked the question?

Perhaps the fear of the unknown or the huge amount of change I laid in front of them.

One

So how do you keep up?

You really don’t. One thing adds to another thing, adds to another thing.

That’s one of the reasons my email newsletter signs off with “Do at least one thing today to get, or keep, a client.”

Set aside a little bit of time every single day, just like you do to work out, play golf, relax with a hot cuppa and the paper, and so on.

Put this “one thing a day” time in your calendar. The earlier in the day, the better. That way the crisis of the moment doesn’t come along and knock you off the rails.

  • Maybe today you spend 15 minutes writing 2 blog posts, or an email for your email newsletter.
  • Or you contact (or delegate it) 1 customer a day who hasn’t spent money with you lately.
  • Or you contact your newest customer and ask them what they think about what you’re doing for them and why they chose you. Keep going in reverse order till you get to the customer you’ve had the longest.
  • Or you contact the customer you’ve had the longest and ask them why they still use you. Again, keep going in reverse order till you get to your first customer.
  • Or you read a chapter from a marketing, strategy, operations, social media (etc) book. Or a blog that offers similar assistance.

One thing a day. Same way you eat an elephant.

Then what?

If these things start getting traction, maybe they get more than 15 minutes a day. Maybe you hire someone to do them, or delegate them to a staffer you already have. Or you do less of the stuff that isn’t really having an impact. Or you automate what you can of the tasks that are now paying off. Or the ones you can’t stop doing that don’t appear to be making a difference.

Maybe you ask each department (if you have them) to do the same thing. Or you ask each of your employees.

Do one thing a day. 5 minutes, 15 minutes, whatever you can manage at first.

When you push water from 211 degrees F to 212 degrees F, amazing things happen.

One thing a day may be all it takes for your business to do the same kind of thing.

Once you spawn a culture of continuous improvement, hang on tight.

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Amanda Palmer 1, Naysayers 0

Concierto Amanda Palmer and The Danger Ensemble, Sala [2]
Creative Commons License photo credit: alterna2

An ideal guest post for America’s Independence Day, Tech Dirt’s coverage of Amanda Palmer’s use of Twitter for grassroots marketing of her music (and other stuff). I hadn’t heard of her until reading the article.

Note: This is not a G-rated article, but it is instructive all the same.

The point of this is to think, much less think unconventionally, consider the resources you have available and most importantly, to communicate with your fans (even plumbers have fans, so don’t think that your business doesn’t).

Regarding naysayers: There will *always* be people who tell you you can’t do it, you can’t sell for that price, you’ll never make it, etc.

They might be partly right: perhaps they couldn’t.

The question isn’t what they can or can’t do, it is…  Can you?

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Dreaming not just OK, it’s essential.

Early in the movie “Dances with Wolves”, the Sioux tribe elders are discussing what to do about John Dunbar, Kevin Costner’s character in the movie.

Costner plays a lone Army scout at a remote outpost in the western plains.

The tribe had just discovered his presence earlier that day and the elders were discussing what to do around the chief’s fire.

After listening for some time, as chiefs tend to do, the chief talks about finding one man in the middle of the wilderness all by himself. He wonders if the man has “medicine” because he seems unafraid of being out in the plains in the middle of nowhere, despite being all alone.

When John Dunbar asked for this remote duty, he had no idea what he was in for and it just sounded interesting to him, so he did it. Kevin Costner’s character was an entrepreneur, in Army terms. A dreamer (but also a doer).

Dreaming is OK, really.

A while back, someone called me a dreamer. It almost felt derogatory, but I know it wasn’t intended that way.

What bothered me then and still bothers me to this very moment is that this person left me with the idea that they felt dreaming was a bad thing.

A thing to be avoided, or best case, a thing for children rather than entrepreneurs. I couldn’t disagree more.

I really donâ??t know what caused this person to lose that part of themselves, but I see a lot of that these days and it concerns me.

Recovery is in OUR hands

You see, I believe that the dreamers are the ones who fuel things like economic recovery.

Presidents donâ??t do it. Congressional Representatives donâ??t do it. Senators donâ??t do it.

Business people and their customers do it.

Dreaming isn’t enough

It takes more than a dreamer though. It takes a dreamer who is also a doer. Without action, a dream is not worth much.

A big thinker who does little more than think and doesn’t share their brilliance or find a doer to implement their great idea isnâ??t nearly as important (in my mind at least) as someone who isnâ??t quite so brilliant, but gets out of their chair every day and makes things happen.

It simply isnâ??t enough to sit here and think “What if?”

There HAS to be action.

Often, part of being an entrepreneur is not always knowing what’ll be there when you arrive.

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The Riskiest Thing You Can Do Right Now

Is to play it safe, careful and conservative.

Despite saying that, I don’t mean that you should be taking big risks.

It isn’t about avoiding or eliminating risk, it’s about reducing and managing risk.

Thinking big and risking big are not the same thing.

The startup guys down the street in the garage or in that too small retail space aren’t playing it safe and you can be sure they’re thinking big… and…

They’re gunning for YOU.

Think big. Swing hard. Manage risks. Reach.