Thumbs Up Day

The Summer of Giving began with nervous anticipation…so many choice,where do I start? Yesterday, I created a very long list of ideas of how I could “give” via my business using the internet – low or no cost. As much as I was excited to begin venturing online again, I was surprised at my trepidation. How hard could it be to spend time giving? I set aside 2 hours today but ended up taking spurts of time throughout the day after completing my 2 hours…I lost track of time because it was so damn fun!

Liked and liked and liked.
I started on Facebook by liking and commenting on posts published by fellow business owners. I followed links to their blogs and commented on their blogs or added their blogs to my list. It felt great! The best part of my giving time was when it led to real conversation. I reconnected with a Facebook friend I hadn’t chatted with in a long time. She posted a note on my wall after I liked her business oriented post. We started a conversation on my Facebook wall that led to exchanging phone numbers in a private message and a promise to touch base over the phone about our respective businesses. I plan on calling her tomorrow.

Silent Affirmation
It felt great to give positive feedback to other business owners – whether they said so or not, I know how important it is to receive affirmation from your peers. Re-establishing contact with valuable friends and colleagues was amazing – too often home based business ownership can be isolating. Hearing about how I had been missed was a great feeling. Although my intention was to spread goodwill to others, I ended up gaining the most.

Why Join a Mastermind Team?

Lately, there has been tremendous interest in Mastermind Teams within my business networks. Having spent many hours in phone calls and online discussions on the subject lately, I decided to start a new blog series about mastermind teams. Today, I cover the concept of Mastermind Teams and the benefits as I see them for executives and small business owners.

One of the most important ingredients in a successful small business is to nurture the soul of the business – what I like to call “the entrepreneurial genius.” From my perspective, a partnership with other business owners is key to nurturing the soul of the entrepreneur. Traditional networking has its place for all businesses and “meet and greets” are tremendously beneficial to help overcome the natural isolation of entrepreneurship but I don’t know an entrepreneur who would not benefit from deeper relationships with partners who are enthusiastic about their success.

Mastermind Teams have existed throughout the ages – men and women have gathered in small groups with a common purpose. In recent years, the Mastermind Team concept has become popularized with the success of The Secret movie and the teachers associated with it. Law of Attraction devotees often quote the work of Napoleon Hill, who wrote about the winning characteristics of highly successful people and found Mastermind Teams were one of the keys to the success of industry titans such as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, John Burroughs and others who led our nation through the early industrialized age. As described in his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin credited his “Junta” with the formation of the first US Post Office, volunteer fire department, library, police department and other public service institutions that are still a part of the fabric of American communities today.

As a solo-preneur myself, I have tried a variety of partnership arrangements over the years to keep me focused on my business goals: coaches, open and closed networking groups, advisory boards and mastermind teams. I currently sit as a member on one team and facilitate several others. My peer Mastermind Team has been meeting for 12 years and it is the group that not only holds me accountable to my best self and my goals, but it is also the group that nurtures my soul as an entrepreneur. Initially, I began working with mastermind teams to overcome the isolation often a trademark of independent professionals. After so many years in large corporations, I missed the camaraderie. Now, the benefits to my bottom-line far surpass all the considerable benefits of camaraderie. Personally, I don’t think I would still be in business today without the partnership of my Mastermind Team.

The concept is very easy. Having the support, encouragement of, and accountability to a group dedicated to your success brings incredible results to those who take advantage of its power. If you are considering joining or starting a Mastermind Team, here are the most significant benefits they provide.

1. Avenue for Contribution: If you have been looking for a way to provide a genuine sincere contribution to peers, a mastermind team provides a place where you can give of your time, expertise, encouragement, enthusiasm, wisdom and skills to an eager and open group of peers. It is absolutely amazing to watch your peers succeed and it is tremendously gratifying to know you may have contributed to their achievements.

2. Real Accountability: You are no longer alone, creating lists of priorities and then not having accountability to anyone to get it done. We entrepreneurs place high value on our independence but autonomy can be sustained with positive accountability.

3. Focus: Participation in most Mastermind Teams forces you to get clarity about the most important priorities for your business. Coupled with the structure of regular meetings, it compels you to place the “first things first” and overcome procrastination. When you have committed publicly to accomplish certain projects or actions between meetings, you are less likely to avoid the difficult, more likely to have courage in facing your fears or other obstacles which may prevent you from accomplishing your priorities in the past. Knowing you will receive encouragement from a peer group upon completion of your task provides additional incentive to remain focused.

4. Overcome Isolation: Yes, it is lonely at the top. Whether you are a C-level executive, a small office/home office freelancer, or the owner of a 100+ employee business, you are isolated by the unique challenges of your job. Meeting with others who are tasked with creating vision and strategy, meeting payroll, business expansion, and reporting to stakeholders provides a unique foundation for camaraderie.

5. Creative Innovation: Yes, two heads are definitely better than one – better yet is 6 or more creative heads with unique perspectives and experience. The collective wisdom of the group combined with their best intention for your success generates a synergistic explosion of inspired ideas. When you are struggling with an issue or when you are looking for innovative solutions, brainstorming among a peer group can lead to stellar results.

6. Encouragement: We all need a proverbial cheerleader to help us move forward when feeling discouraged. Perhaps your business is struggling with a failed product line or marketing concept – this group will encourage you to learn from the mistake and adjust strategy to move forward. Even better, having a generous and giving cheering section when you are excited about a new product launch or a want to share a recent victory is an extraordinary benefit.

7. Bold and Measured Risk-Taking: Running a small business is all about risk/reward. Knowing that you have a “go-to” group of supporters to bounce off ideas, provide honest constructive criticism, share successes and failures, confidentially share your fears and issues is a luxury. The peace and comfort that such a group brings to your life is like having a net under your flying trapeze. Even if you fall, you know there’s someone there to catch you.

8. Mutual Success: Yes, you are more likely to surpass your most ambitious goals with the support of a Mastermind Team than if you were to go it alone. Success is often “2 steps forward and one step back” but time and time again, I hear stories about the phenomenal collective success of Mastermind Team members. Their businesses are more likely to take “3 steps forward and one step back” on their trajectory to victory.

There are many factors critical to the success of a Mastermind Team. Over the next few posts, I will discuss the importance of team norms and the wide range of team structures so you can determine the type of Mastermind Team best suited to your needs.

Creating Business Momentum: Small Steps or Big Strides

My daughter is a runner. She has loved running for years and is competing with her schools track and field team, running the 400 m, 800 m and anchoring the 400 in the medley. She wants to win. She practices daily, measuring her progress by timing her runs. On the other hand, I am a walker. I have been walking for fitness for over 20 years. Although I ran one pitiful season of cross country in high school and tried running for fitness, I honestly never liked it. I walk because I love getting outdoors, occasionally hiking, and I want to stay healthy. I never measure my steps or my timing although I have been told I walk at a fair clip. We recently went to the high school track a few times to “work out “together. The truth is I was her carpool, and the only time we had “together” was in the car and back.

I started my walk after a enjoying a morning cup of coffee. She ate a performance friendly breakfast and has been watching her nutritional choices since training began weeks ago. I prepared with a quick stretch (just to say I did), while she spent more time preparing her body for the run. I think I may have gone a full lap before she began running – I was ahead albeit briefly.

In the space of 45 minutes or so, she lapped me several times on top of performing some kind of training sprints and “progressions”. I just kept up my same old pace, going round and round the track. In the end, we were both pleased by our workout. I completed a few miles and felt invigorated. She was thrilled because she bested her last time on the 800m and felt excited for her upcoming race.

Whether with easy steps or big strides, we were both making positive progress towards our respective goals – each of us has momentum.

As a business owner, it is often hard not to get so wrapped up in what everybody else is doing that you forget why you are on the track. If you spend all your time watching your competitor, you take your eyes of the finish line. If you are like most entrepreneurs, the finish line is a very personal thing. You started your business because of your passion. You molded it to fit with the vision you have of the life you want to lead. You decided early on whether you wanted the marathons or the sprints and the sacrifices you were willing to make for your vision to become a reality. As long as you are happy with the progress you are making towards your goals, don’t be concerned.

For many years, I watched other consultants build full-time practices, write books, give speeches. I was content with low key marketing, taking only referral clients and working an easy 25-30 hours per week while taking care of personal priorities (like a sickly child who is now lapping me). I was getting “lapped” but I wasn’t feeling beat. Momentum was at a slow pace, but it was my pace, my race, my finish line.

Should you be concerned if you are getting “lapped” by a competitor if you both have the same goals? You bet. Ask yourself a few questions: Is your goal clear? Is your target measurable? Have you prepared? Do you need to run more progressions? Are you nurturing your mind and body between the races so you can be ready? Are you feeding yourself a high performance diet?

The important point is that you set your own goals and build momentum by creating disciplines and practices which move you forward to your personal objective. Measure your progress. Change your strategy. Change your tactics. But, keep moving. Momentum comes from taking steps, small and large over time. Before you know it, you will reach the finish line.

Retreat, Refresh and Re-Ignite your Vision

May is the month of my birth, almost 48 years ago. No, I don’t care if anyone knows how old I am – I earned every one of my years! For the past 15 years, I have taken a week during my birthday month to revisit life and career, refining a vision for my coming years. I usually take a few days alone at the beach with no TV and no technology but the process can be done over time and in any quiet place.
These questions and exercises are great kindling to ignite a fire in your soul and reconnect with an authentic vision for your life and business. You can complete all the exercises or you can respond only to those which speak to you the most.

1. Imagine your face on the cover of a magazine or newspaper – the featured article is about you! If you could choose any magazine, what would it be? Is it Entrepreneur? Parents? Philanthropy Magazine? The Business Journal? What is the cover headline? What are the supporting headlines? Write the first paragraph or the whole article? Why are you being featured? Who contributes to the article and what did they say?

2. Imagine giving a speech at your own funeral. You are in a room full of all the people who have been meaningful to your life, whether living or passed. Who is there and what do you want to say to them? Who is missing and why?

3. You are being honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award (think Academy Awards or similar). Who are you thanking for support, love and mentorship? Who is there? Who introduces you and what do they say? Whose face do you want to see in the front row while giving your speech?

4. Letters to Children: You write a letter to your child or grandchild at their birth. What does it say? What do you want for them? Reverse the exercise and assume your son or daughter hands you a letter upon graduation from high school or college. What does it say?

5. You and your spouse decide to renew your vows. In the presence of all your friends and family, you will deliver personal vows. What do your vows say? How about your spouse – what do his/her vows say?

6. It’s a Wonderful Life. Did you see the eternally favorite Christmas movie with Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey? George is a frustrated businessman who is given the gift of an angel who shows him what life would be like if George had never been born. Envision yourself as the main character in It’s a Wonderful Life. Whose life is better because you were born? Tell the story of how you positively impacted the lives of 5 key people in your life and how you made it better.

7. The Perfect Day: What are the ingredients to a perfect day? Name at least 5 activities you would do every day without fail and be able to go to sleep contented? Is it prayer, exercise, dinner with your spouse?

8. The Bucket List: Here is another movie inspired exercise for creating a vision. The gist of the movie is about two men with fatal illnesses trying to check off a list of all the things they want to do before they “kick the bucket.” You can place anything on the list: items you want to buy, places you want to travel, people you want to meet, forgiveness you want to extend, love you want to express. It’s your list.

9. Imagine your last days. Sitting in a rocking chair reminiscing beside your best friend, what will you spend your time talking about? What are the stories you tell over and over again? Who are the people you love? What are the experiences you shared which cause you to smile or laugh?

10. Wikipedia is the encyclopedia written by the crowd – anyone can contribute to it. When doing research on famous people, it’s usually their Wikipedia entry which comes up first on Google. If you’ve ever checked someone’s bio on Wikipedia, where do you look first? Are you looking for their professional achievements? Checking on how many marriages and children they have? Assume someone starts a Wikipedia entry about you. Who would contribute and what would they say? Is there anyone you don’t want to contribute to the entry?

If you are like most entrepreneurs, your personal and business lives are intertwined. You are forever trying to strike a balance between personal and business goals. You spend time creating a plan for your business which includes spreadsheets, strategies, and big goals. You write assumptions, a budget and create project plans to get the job done. But, do you spend the time to examine whether those plans fit with the vision for your life? If not, give yourself the gift of a retreat and refresh your vision.

Where did April Go?

“History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.”

It has been one of those months, so busy I didn’t get a chance to write a single blog post. I had big plans for the month, hoping to write a few times a week. What to do? I could beat myself up for not getting it done but I would rather focus on the positive.

Where did April go? Where did I spend my time?

* Held Quarterly Mastermind Retreat for my longest standing mastermind team witnessing the remarkable success and breakthroughs my fellow entrepreneurs made this past quarter. Mostly, I enjoyed the loyalty and enthusiasm they have for helping each other succeed.
* Deepened my involvement with members of my favorite networks.
* Worked with Kim Doyal, The WordPress Chick to clean up the back-end of my blog and define requirements for a new and improved website.
* Designed 2 products to be rolled out with the new website.
* Continued editing “The Book” which has dominated my life for two years.
* Coached the most amazing business owners in the world.
* Completed Feasibility Reports for consulting clients.
* Worked with Designer on a new logo and “The Book” cover.
* Welcomed new office-mate on April 3 – a 12 week old puppy Maija who is learning the rules of the office.
* Handled my teenage sons’ car accident and gave thanks no one was hurt.

So, what is the point of this blog post? Is this a “guilt” post, one to explain why I didn’t blog through the month of April? No. It’s also not a “brag” post to impress my readers.

The point is we all have a choice as we look over the passing months and years. We can look back with guilt over what we haven’t done, compare the “planned versus actual” and wallow in frustration. My preference is to take the opportunity at month’s end to reflect on what was accomplished, give thanks for personal and professional blessings, and refresh my vision for the future.

What choice will you make?