My Thoughts by Rick Stephens

You Should Be Committed

Posted in General Business by Rick on the September 28th, 2006

A big barrier to the success of a startup business is lack of commitment. I know that there is a lot of enthusiasm when starting a new venture and the excitement of living the dream is sometimes mistaken for commitment. But let us not confuse activity with achievement or involvement with commitment.

Too many times an enthusiastic owner of a startup will begin to do all kinds of things in the interest of getting his business off the ground. Business cards are created along with letterhead, an office location is selected, phone service established, logos designed etc. All these “Activities” are great but they should not be confused with achievement. Likewise, these activities are simply ways to be involved with the business and does not constitute commitment.

One of the most critical things an entrepreneur must do is to establish a Business Plan taking into consideration all of the “Activities” that will result in the achievement of the goal, customers, sales, and profits. How many calls will I make today? How many does it require to gain a prospect? How many prospects do I need to secure a sale? The result of these activities is measured by the achievement toward the goal.

Sometimes the entrepreneur will know what is required, but is not totally committed to the plan, but rather just involved. The Personal Vision comes into play here. Make your vision something that is personal to you and extremely important to achieve. One of my clients chose their son’s college education as their personal vision. Look at it everyday and say to yourself, this is why I work! Stay Committed to the vision and let your business be the vehicle for achieving it.

I was once told that the difference between involvement and commitment could be summed up in your breakfast of bacon and eggs. The chicken was simply involved. The pig, however, was totally committed. Being committed means there is no way back. Is that you?

To Your Success –

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Seeing is Believing

Posted in General Business by Rick on the September 25th, 2006

As a business advisor I get to speak with a large number of business owners. Most of these owners are small to mid-sized companies with 5 to 150 employees. Although there are many factors that can cause a company to be successful or not, one common characteristic that distinguishes the good from the bad is the owner’s vision for the company.

Almost everyone who owns a business has at one time formulated a vision of some kind. The successful business owner usually takes the vision however, and crystallizes it until it becomes as clear as a photograph. To the successful business owner, the vision is the target, the goal, the measure of success that keeps the passion alive. To the struggling business owner, the vision is cloudy, with no distinguishing milestones or meaningful characteristics. Because of this, it is rarely thought about as he/she continues to struggle with the challenge of the business.

A good vision can produce amazing results, a poor vision won’t. A good example of a clear vision was in 1961 when President Kennedy announced his vision for putting a man on the moon and bringing him safely home again before the end of the decade. Of course, we all know the result of what most skeptics believed was an impossible dream.

There is one other important element that contributes to the successful vision. Not only is it important that you, as the business owner, are clear on the vision, everyone in your organization and around you needs to have the same clarity. Perhaps that is why during the 60’s, the Soviet Union’s space program failed, even after taking a commanding early lead. Their lack of communication to their own people, and to the world, was exasperated by their strong fisted position to restrict freedom of speech.

A friend of mine once offered up this Yogi-ism regarding vision, “A man without vision, is an umpire!” Don’t become an umpire, clarify your vision today and share it with someone. Do this simple thing and you will increase your odds for success.

To Your Success –

Rick's Signature

Simple Idea to Free Up Time

Posted in Time Management by Rick on the September 21st, 2006

One of the things that seem to cause havoc with businesses leaders is time management. We come to the office and immediately things begin to hit us. A new pile of mail on our desk needing attention, voice mail loaded up with calls to be returned, e-mails piled up from the previous day, not to mention the normal things we need to do just to get the job done. It can be over whelming for sure.

My experience shows that most people bring this chaos upon themselves, because they fail to prioritize their time and have no real plan for the day. They are reactors to external events. They are what I refer to as event driven managers. They allow the events of the day to drive their actions for the day.

Once you get behind the activity curve, the point where there is more activity than time to complete it all, there is nothing you can do except prioritize the activities and dedicate time until each task is completed. You must guard against interruptions at this point or it will become much like a credit card that is only paid the minimum each month, you’ll never finish.

Most of the time, people who are swamped with work are just not organized and are unaware that they are being inefficient with their time. To overcome this, plan your day and schedule specific times to address certain activities.

One of the mistakes managers make is addressing tasks multiple times before it is actually handled. Let me give you an example. The mail comes in and the administrator places it on your desk. You pick up the mail and quickly look through it to see if there is any thing important. You see that there is a letter from a customer, so you open it and read it. In the letter the customer is asking you to send them a list of invoices that are still outstanding. You make a mental note that you have an activity to complete for this customer and place the letter in your “In Box” or “To Do” box and you move on to the next letter.

What has happened here? You have devoted time to this task and put off acting on it until a later time. Sometime in the future you again pick up the letter and to reacquaint yourself with the required action, you re-read the letter. What you have done is doubled the amount of time spent on this activity. Seems like only a small amount of time, but multiply that by the thousands of activities you address each day and you can begin to understand why you do not have enough time in the day to complete all your “To Dos.”

So there is a basic rule to apply here which, if implemented, will free up more time than you will realize. Touch each activity only once. If you read the letter from the customer, be prepared to act upon that letter at that time and not at some future time.

Small things add up to big things. Try this for awhile and see if you don’t find more time during your day.

To Your Success -

Rick's Signature

Rules Are Not Made to be Broken

Posted in Ethics by Rick on the September 18th, 2006

Are you surprised when you read and hear about all of the corruption within business these days? I’m not. The way people act in business situations is nothing more than a reflection of how they act in their normal lives. Why would we expect anything different?

I am a follower of rules. I believe that rules are there to give everyone an equal opportunity to enjoy the benefits that our great nation provides. I get angry when people don’t follow the rules.

I don’t like seeing people park in handicap zones, with or without a handicap tag, when they don’t need to. I get irritated when shoppers take 15 items and check out in a 10 item or less line. I don’t like to listen while people talk about how they managed to by-pass the cable company and get their cable TV for free. You get the idea. When people don’t follow the rules, those of us who do pay the price. I guess those folks believe that the rules are made for everyone else and not for them. Their selfishness comes before rules.

I have a sign on my wall that reminds me of this, it says, “He who follows the rules gets screwed.” It is not there to suggest that I not follow rules, rather to remind me not to get too angry when people don’t. Every now and then I get comforted when I see someone who did not follow the rules get their just reward.

Last week a news story reported that a school teacher was arrested in her classroom in front of her elementary kids. The story, and of course, the lady arrested, thought it was horrible that the police came into the school room in front of these young children and embarrassed her over a parking ticket that she did not pay. It turns out she had more than one outstanding parking ticket and they were several years old.

To bad lady, you broke the rules and thought you could get away with it. The fact that you were embarrass in front of your kids is your own fault. Do you think those of us who follow the rules should be considerate of your feelings when you obviously don’t care about ours? And the kids, let them see what happens when people don’t follow rules. Let us reinforce good actions by clearly punishing poor actions.

My hope is that by doing so, these kids will grow up following rules. Remember, the way people act in their normal lives will carry over to their business lives. Do you want businesses to become less corrupt? Cheer the small victories we get when those who refuse to follow rules get caught. I want to change my sign to read, “He who follows the rules wins.”

To Your Success -

Rick's Signature

Where Have All the Leaders Gone

Posted in Leadership by Rick on the September 16th, 2006

I find it disturbing that in many businesses these days we find an obvious lack of leadership. We can find managers everywhere, but no real leadership. What ever happen to independent thinking and risk taking?

It is easy to be a manager. Managers follow processes and monitor the action of people around them and insure the “Process” is being followed. Leaders on the other hand create independent thinking among their teams. They inspire pride. They stand out from the crowd and command respect. They are entrepreneurial. They are willing to take chances. They are innovative. They are willing to accept responsibility for decisions, right or wrong. They are people whom others will follow. Because of these characteristics, they do great things.

I am seeing a trend in business today that does not encourage leadership, and therefore does not produce leaders. Instead they produce managers. Here is what I am seeing. When a difficult challenge is presented to a manager, he or she will form a committee to discuss the issue before them. The committee is made up of team leaders (managers?) who sit around a conference room and throw out ideas regarding the challenge at hand. The committee may have appointed or been assigned a committee chair who will report back to the manager. When all of the ideas have been discussed, they vote on what to present to the manager.

The manager then takes this suggestion and forms another committee of peer managers and again the ideas are tossed around until a consensus is reached by the committee. The decision is then presented as the solution to the problem.

No one during the process wants to be responsible for the solution. Instead all of the blame for any mistakes can be placed upon the whole team. “Well, we all agreed that was the way to handle this.” So no one gets in trouble. If it turns out to be the best decision since “sliced bread”, then everyone begins posturing to take full credit for having originated the idea. What a hypocritical mess corporate America is making by encouraging this type of decision making.

That is why I really respect the small business owner. There is no committee to reach consensus. If the decision is wrong, the owner, not only bears the burden of being wrong, but pays the price for the error. If the decision is right, he/she goes on to the next decision, no fan fare and no pat on the back, but if lucky, will someday benefit from the decision.

It is easy to be a manager, just follow the processes. Leadership, on the other hand, is rare. How sad that is for corporate America.

To Your Success –

Rick's Signature

Learning to Learn

Posted in Personal Growth by Rick on the September 15th, 2006

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to listen in on a “Cyber Call”, an informational conference call on the topic of Blogging and Pod Casting. At first the topic did not roll my socks up and down, as I had always associated Blogging and Pod Casting as something young people did when they wanted to download MP3 music or gossip with their friends.

What an eye opening experience that call was. Since then I have had the chance to look at some very good Blogging sites and hear some interesting pod casts, all of which were not even close to my stereo typed vision of what I had previously expected. As you can see, I have joined the ranks of Blogging only a few days later, and have a vision for Pod Casting in the near future.

I want to give credit to my new friend and colleague, Barry Lynch of the Rotten Pickle, for pushing me out of my box and bringing me to the realization that one never becomes too old to learn and experience something new.

I have over 35 years of business experience, and as a consultant, I sometimes forget that I don’t know everything!! What a valuable lesson that is for us all to understand. As Barry put it, while I was speaking 1 on 1 with him last night, “Every now and then you have to step out of the box, but most people don’t even know they are in a box!”

Thanks Barry, I look forward to working with you and exchanging ideas on business.

Checkout Barry’s Web Site, Blogging Site, and Pod Casting Site. Let him know you found him at my site, he will appreciate it.

To Your Success –

Rick's Signature




Welcome to My new Blog Site

Posted in General Business by Rick on the September 14th, 2006

According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, there are almost 600,000 new businesses started each year. The bad news is that over 90% of these businesses will eventually fail. Over 75 % will fail within 5 years. Even with failure rates this high, the entrepreneurial spirit in this nation lives, and the dream of being an independent business owner will cause another million or so people to try and beat the odds again this year.

So welcome to my blogging site, devoted to the entrepreneur which, hopefully, will provide ideas and suggestions to small business owners that will make business sense as well as financial cents (sorry for the play on words) and help improve the odds that your business will succeed.

So what is the defining difference between the 10% that make it, and the 90% that don’t? That is what we will explore in this blog.

We have all heard the phrase “Knowledge is Power”, but the reality is that having knowledge won’t help if you don’t do something with it. I prefer the phrase, “The Effective Application of Knowledge is Power.” It is applying what you know effectively that will mean the difference between success and failure.

As we begin this journey, please feel free to contact me, either by phone, mail, or e-mail if you have specific issues or questions you would like me to address in upcoming posts.

To Your Success –

Rick's Signature