Balance: Wiring Your Brain to Succeed

This month’s Entrepreneur magazine has an article about willpower that caused me to think about how that personal quality and its twin sister: “perseverance”, are required during the start-up phase of a business.

Willpower is the ability to set a goal and to say “no”, even when it would be easier and sometimes more reasonable to take a detour and not stay the course. It also sometimes requires delaying gratification. We each have our own nemesis: to hit the snooze or get up and work-out, to have one more glass of wine with your friends in the quiet hotel lounge or go upstairs and spend that thirty minutes preparing for the next day; to turn on HBO or think through the approach to removing a barrier that’s impeding progress.

Perseverance is staying the course. It’s staying late until the work is done; it’s taking a deep breath every morning and getting after it again; it’s making sure that at the end of each day you’ve done the best you can do.

Neither means giving up the quality of your life or sacrificing what’s important in your personal life for your professional life. Willpower and perseverance are most effective when you’re not just focused on the long term goal but have broken that goal into short term milestones or tasks so you can make and measure your progress.

When you’re with your family or on your own time, of course the phone will ring and the EMAIL will arrive. Wire your brain to treat it as an interrupt. If you answer the phone or read the EMAIL teach yourself to do what can be done at that moment, then put it away and get back to what you were doing.

When you’re working on your business and your family or personal life needs attention, treat it as an interrupt, take care of the immediate crisis or set the expectation when you’ll be finished, then complete the task or reach the milestone, put it away and enjoy your personal life.

By wiring your brain to be prepared for the interrupts you’ll find you’re prepared when they occur, you don’t resent the important people in your life you sometimes cause them, and you’ll feel more in control of your time.

Staying the Course: Don’t Let What You Don’t Know Get in Your Way

More often than not when I develop a plan to reach a goal there are steps in that plan that I have no idea how to do. What I’ve learned over time is to not let that get in the way of developing the plan, but more importantly, not to let it get in the way of executing the plan.

Typically when I get close to that step in executing the plan I’ll either meet someone who knows how to do that task and can show me (or better yet do it for me) or I figure it out myself.

Much has been written on the ‘synchronicity phenomena’, which is described as the right person (or thing) showing up in the right place at the right time because by thinking about something and expecting it to arrive when you need it, your energy draws it to you. Some folks believe this and others think it’s far-fetched.

Let me offer ‘focus’ as an alternative explanation.   I’ve found when I’m focused on something, I read about it, think about it, and talk about it with my friends and colleagues. Invariably, I either find something written or someone who knows someone who can show me how to do what I need to do. Had I not needed the information or thing I was looking for I probably would have not been reading about or talking about it and I’m sure I wouldn’t have been listening when someone mentioned it in passing conversation.

Here’s an example. I was very close to finishing the final revision of $1,000 Start-Ups and really needed to find a good photographer to do an updated author’s photo. I was at a party that included many of my neighbors. We were all getting acquainted and when the spotlight was on me I mentioned the book and the fact I was looking for a good photographer.   Jerry, who lives two doors down, is a full time city manager, has a small business as a photographer, and ended up taking the pictures. Given all the topics we could have talked about, the fact that he was a photographer might never have come up in that conversation.

I’m willing to bet you have examples like that in your own life. Use those as examples that give you the confidence that when you get to that step in reaching your goal, the help you’ll need will be there.

Setting Yourself Up for Success: Funding Your Start-Up

The reason I most often hear when I’m talking to people who haven’t yet started their own business is they don’t believe they can afford it … and often they’re absolutely correct. Starting a business requires having both enough money and time to get it launched and keep it going while it grows.

Imagine my excitement when I learned about a type of program that not only matches an aspiring entrepreneur’s savings, but offers and requires courses in financial education. That’s exactly what Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) are for and they’re not limited to just business capitalization. They can also be used to save for a home or college. These special savings accounts match the deposits of low- and moderate-income people. For every dollar saved in an IDA, savers receive a corresponding match which serves as both a reward and an incentive to further the saving habit. Savers agree to complete financial education classes and use their savings for an asset-building purpose such as starting a small business.

According to Stephen Slivinski, a senior economist at the Goldwater Institute, data across the United States shows that a 1% increase in the rate of entrepreneurship in a state led to up to a 2% decline in the rate of poverty so it’s’ not surprising that forty states recognize IDAs and that contributions by donors to qualified IDAs are tax deductible.

IDAs are offered through partnerships between financial institutions (such as banks and credit unions) and local nonprofit organizations, or program sponsors. After signing up for the IDA program, each participant opens a savings account with the partnering bank or credit union. Account holders generally make monthly contributions to an account, usually over a period of one to four years, and their savings are matched by donations typically at a rate ranging from 1:1 to 3:1.  IDA accountholders receive regular statements detailing how much they have saved and the amount of match they have earned.

Eligibility for IDA programs varies from program to program but typically have some restrictions regarding income, the source of the savings, net worth and credit history.

To learn more about IDAs and ones that are offered where you live, just type, “How do I open an IDA in (your state)”.

Leverage Fortune 500 Business Practices: Short Interval Management

One of the methods management consultants use to help Fortune 500 Manufacturing Companies improve their productivity is short interval management. This simple tool can be used for teams or individuals and is extremely effective for the entrepreneur with a start-up.

As any start-up owner knows time is your most valuable resource. There are a plethora of activities requiring your attention and making an effective decision about how you’ll spend your time each day will is a predictor of how successful you’ll be.

The Fortune 500 Company develops a set of goals at the beginning of each year. Each of those goals is decomposed and an approach for reaching that goal is developed. Once the approach is defined the steps to achieve that goal are listed. From this a schedule is listing the steps and the estimated amount of time planned for each step.

Since activities for multiple goals have to be completed, it’s essential to have a plan and a schedule. At the beginning of each day Fortune 500 manufacturing companies have a quick stand up meeting. In that meeting each function reports out to the others what they accomplished yesterday and what they plan to do today. This commitment allows the functional areas to stay aligned.

You can mimic this process once you’ve decided upon a clear set of goals and developed a high level approach and schedule for achieving them. At the end of each day review what you’ve accomplished against those goals, then make a decision regarding “what’s next”, and make a commitment to complete the top 3 – 5 steps the next day.

This focus keeps you from starting too many things at once and helps to keep you from procrastinating.

Selling Your Products and Services: Questionable Sales Practices

Yesterday my friend Tina called to say, “It’s Time.” I immediately knew what she meant. Her car has more than 185,000 miles and the winter had been a nightmare for her with the car either in the shop or needing to go to the shop. She was worn out with the constant stress of trying to get to where she needed to go. The car had overheated, yet again, and she just didn’t have the energy to go through another round of issues.

I picked her up in the parking lot where she’d let the car cool off and we went car shopping. Fortunately she’d been preparing for this eventuality and knew what make and model she wanted, and, even better, had saved a substantial down payment and would need to finance very little.

While she waited for me to get there she used her phone to search for the car she wanted. There was one at a dealership not far from where we were so off we went.

The Upsell.

At the first dealership she told the salesman what she was looking for and he showed her something much more expensive. He described all the benefits of the top of the line features and insisted that was what she needed. As he spent time with her I walked down the line of cars on the lot reading the sticker on each and learning to understand the price differential for each of the models. I rejoined the two of them and asked if we could see the less expensive model. When he said he didn’t have any on the lot I pointed one out and he acquiesced and we at least got to look at it.

We quickly moved on to the next dealership.

Bait and Switch.

We browsed the lot at the second dealership for some time before seeking help since the car that had been advertised on-line was nowhere to be seen. Our salesman said that since there was no picture perhaps the car was still being certified. We asked if we could look at it anyway and he disappeared to check. He returned back sometime later saying he couldn’t find it and that they’d probably bought it at auction and it hadn’t been delivered yet.

Unexpected Fees.

We suspected we’d been lured in by a ‘bait and switch’ but she’d seen another car she liked, so we went for a test drive. She loved it so we had the salesman write it up. We reviewed the offer, found a $467 dealer preparation charge, and asked what it was for. We were told that was the charge for the dealer getting the car ready for sale and when we asked why it wasn’t included in the sales price weren’t offered a clear explanation.


At that point the salesman asked what he would have to do to earn the sale. We responded that we needed $1,500 off the sales price. He said he might be able to get $750 so we waited while he went to speak with his sales manager.

After a long wait he returned with his sales manager who launched into a tirade as to why he couldn’t reduce the price of a car advertised on the Internet by that much. We stood up and left the dealership.

The Real Price of that Sale.

We did go back the next day and buy the car, but not from that salesman. We made certain to let the manager know how unhappy we were with the process and that we would be contacting the Better Business Bureau and our local watchdogs.

They made the sale, but lost the customer. More than that … you can be sure every time someone admires that car and asks my friend where she bought it, she’ll be certain to tell them the story.