Saturday, October 28, 2006

Making a difference for women entrepreneurs

There is a lot of hype in the enterprise biz.

Everybody wants to promote new business creation and talk about the importance of emerging enterprises.

The talk is typically just that. Talk.

The intention to support new biz and emerging enterprises is honorable. Creating false hopes when there is no plan for helping is bitter.

When the sun sets and you're fighting cash flow in the dark by yourself, honorable intentions are hard to deposit in the bank.

Women entrepreneurs face start up hurdles that can be especially formidable.

I came across a nice site aimed at helping women entrepreneurs that I've linked below. The organization is called Count Me In. I don't know anyone who has used this group, but their approach looks quite good.

Count Me In specializes in making the first loans to women entrepreneurs. From $500 up to $10,000 for the second loan. The loan scoring procedure is geared toward women, which is not at all typical.

I'd recommend that my women friends who are poking at the enterprise path check out Count Me In. There is a nice set of free resources on line as well as access to information about their support and financial services.

Interestingly, their program has tapped into a free market solution for building national resources in this field by teaming with American Express and others to create a program called Make Mine A $Million (M3) which is designed to create a network of one million women-owned businesses earning $1 million in revenue by the year 2010.

This looks like the kind of help women owned start ups and emerging enterprises can turn to for real resources, not just good intentions.

I wish you and Count Me In all the best.

Count Me In

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Believing better stories

This piece is written in service of the idea that your story is important and you can guide your next chapters, at least on this enterprise stuff, the way you want.

I like Ode Magazine a lot. Jurrian Kemp is the Editor. Mr. Kemp set up their April 2006 issue around story telling. Seth Godin's recent book, All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World, was featured prominently on the cover. The take away line from Seth's exerpt is "The only predictable marketing strategy today is a simple one: Be authentic. Do what you say you're going to do."

I could not agree with that more. Nothing else will work. Everything else will ultimately fail. Period. You have to approach your enterprise with that attitude or you're toast. Short term, of course, you can fool a few people, but it's not sustainable. Don't go there.

The need to be authentic with yourself is equally critical. You need to follow your own common sense and honor your insight when you've found the contribution you can make. You do not need to fit into anyone elses view of how your enterprise should look. Stick to your own knitting. Excluding the IRS, do not automatically accept any rules for participating in start ups and emerging enterprises.

A great New Yorker cartoon from BEK a while back showed two non-descript ladies, one of whom is at home, trying on a goofy new dress. The caption read, "It looked cute when I saw it on someone pretty." In the October 2006 issue of the New Yorker, a great article on the gem trade in Madagascar quotes a dealer as saying, "In the gem business we have very little sausage. It's all sizzle."

When you're pitched any kind of plan for how you should succeed, or what you need to do, parse it out carefully. Don't think you can take some shiny idea from the world of commerce and adopt it wholesale. You're being sold. Find the shiny idea in you and work out the commercial pathways in a manner that's sustainable for you and your enterprise.

There are problems to fix all over. Pick one you feel you can make a contribution to, then have at it.

Jurriaan Kamp, the Ode Editor had his own excellent piece in that April '06 issue. I think it informs this discussion well. He states: "Every day 40,000 people around the planet die of hunger because we believe in the wrong stories. The undisputed fact is that enough food and wealth is generated each year for everyone in the world, even for our large, ever-expanding population. Yet we believe in the story that poverty and hunger are inevitable, that it will take decades to solve those problems. But that story is not the truth. It's clear there are solutions readily available, and I believe it is our duty to tell those stories. I think we can do much better."

"The better stories are not an illusion: they are a choice, a calling. The truth is that every day, everywhere in the world at every moment, people are solving problems and finding answers to the challenges of making the world fairer, cleaner and more beautiful. Stories about those people and their iniatives are the better stories."

If you consider starting your own enterprise, the stories you believe will strongly influence your outcome. Make your own story because nobody - nobody - can tell it better than you can. Ignore the pitches and the fast answers. Sure there are lessons to be learned from many directions, but your way forward is your story to write. Get yourself a blank piece of paper. Write it down. Then believe it. Then do it.

Jurrian Kemp's full article in Ode

Ode Magazine

Seth Godin's article in Ode. "Either you’re going to tell stories that move people, or you will become irrelevant."

Seth Godin's blog for All Marketers are Liars

Photo above is of the Shafer Trail in Canyonlands National Park. Don't do this trail without careful consideration.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Tough love biz style

Roger Martin is the Dean of the biz school up at the University of Toronto. I like his writing a lot.

Mr. Martin has a great piece in the October 2006 issue of Fast Company called 'Tough Love'. He takes on a lot of current conflicts related to managing enterprises, specifically the differences between the old school "doing-business-as-usual" crowd and the hip new "business-by-design" bunch. I love his analysis, but then I just have this wierd attraction to common sense.

On the surface, the article speaks to larger organizations, but you need to hear this and get it circulating before, during, and after the birth of your emerging enterprise. Casting yourself and your enterprise as hard ass numbers thugs just won't cut it today. Believing your killer design and motivational ethics will win the day is just wrong.

I've done it both ways. I've been involved with enterprises that insisted the right way was one or the other. It's not.

This isn't just Proctor & Gamble stuff. Start ups and early stagers need to know this more than organizations farther along. As emerging enterprises you have little or no margin for error. Screw this one up and you'll be looking for the next one fast, or worse, leaving the enterprise game for good.

Don't be doctrinaire about your strengths. In the market today, problem solving is key. So are measurable, reproducible results from honed processes and procedures. You can do both. You have to do both. It's common sense that drives success.

Here's how Roger Martin closes his piece (put yourself and your emerging enterprise into this picture):

"Managing the yin and yang of business-as-usual and business-by design means striking a balance between any number of countervailing impulses: Give people the freedom to follow their nose, but hold them accountable for their performance. Set a high bar, but recognize that failure is an unavoidable consequence of pushing into new territory. Do everything possible not just to thrill your customers but also to wring costs and efficiencies out of vendors and suppliers. The biggest challenge for all of us, designers and businesspeople alike, is to become equally adept at quantifying the now and intuiting what's next. There's simply no other way to win."

Roger Martin’s links at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business

Tough Love article in Oct. 2006 Fast Company

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Boats to build

I've been playing a Guy Clark CD on my road trips lately. The title song, Boats To Build, resonates like a theme song for enterprise creation.

It's time for a change
I'm tired of that same ol same
the same ol words same ol lines
the same of tricks and the same ol rhymes

Days precious days
roll in and out like waves
I got boards to bend I got planks to nail
I got charts to make I got seas to sail

I'm gonna build me a boat
with these two hands
it'll be a fair curve
from a noble plan
let the chips fall where they will
cause I've got a boat to build

Sails are just like wings
the wind can make em sing
songs of life and songs of hope
songs to keep your dreams afloat


Shores distant shores
There's where I'm headed for
got the stars to guide my way
sail into the light of day

I'm gonna build me a boat
with these two hands
it'll be a fair curve
from a noble plan
let the chips fall where they will
cause I've got a boat to build

Keep these thoughts close to you as you travel into the life of self enterprise. Days do pass like waves. Unless you design your leap out of the same old same, you're going to drown in what-ifs. Set your dreams afloat. Build your noble plan. Find a problem to fix and set sail.

Mr. Clark is an American treasure. A gentleman who understands the beauty of good work. Visit Guy Clark's web site

Friday, October 06, 2006

Your purpose is not to be happy

Leo Rosten was a Polish born, American writer (1908-1997).

Mr. Rosten probably didn't mean to direct his words to the world of self enterprise, nonetheless, very nice reminders.

I believe sustainable work is not about making you happy. It's about work that makes the world a better place, executed in a way that pays the bills. It's about being useful.

You'll find your happiness in the contributions you make. That's the path that's sustainable.

Or, as Leo Rosten put it:

"I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all."