Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Advice for tough times

At year's end, we get to hear many versions of 'the year end roundup'.

Most of the reviews this year are just awful, no matter what perspective the assessment is being done from. Rightly so. I've lived through many recessions and run businesses through recessions since the mid 1970s. This one came on faster and more comprehensively than anything I have ever seen.

When I talk to peers in the small business world, the talk isn't about the usual stuff; it's about how much debt they are carrying. There are bad stories everywhere, but there are also some really cool owners who smile and say, 'We've got no debt'. Their ability to get out of bed in the morning is significantly better than those hauling debt uphill. Debt has its place. A big part of this recession will be to teach our economy (yet again) to define the proper role of debt in business creation and expansion.

Another set of great ideas came across my desk in a short, succinct piece from Tom Peters called 'Advice for tough times….', dated November 17, 2008.

If you've read any of these posts from the past you'll know I'm a huge fan of Tom Peters, the author of 'In Search of Excellence' and many other classics. One of my proudest accomplishments is to have this blog linked from Tom Peters' site.

Tom's 'Advice for tough times.…' included just 6 short points which I'll post below.

"1. Excellence. Get on with doing the business you have and see it through brilliantly. Keep it simple. The devil is always in the details.

2. Opportunism -- there may be a lot of room for it -- will pay off through speed off the mark and excellence in execution.

3. Visibility. March toward the sound of the guns. MBWA (manage by walking around) People have to see who they are working for (with) and who they are dealing with.

4. Transparency. Be absolutely straight with people, especially those at the front line. [My comment: Entrepreneurs - this means being straight with YOURSELF as well. You ARE the front line.]

5. Demeanor. Banish 'gloomy' from your persona, even if it kills you! But remember, 'sunny' is pretty stupid, too. Who do you think you are kidding?

6. Paradox. Have a Positive Mental Attitude AND be ready for the worst."

As a small business person and entrepreneur who has fought through these miserable spells in the past, I can honestly and enthusiastically agree with all of these points.

To run a small business through a recession requires that you act and execute professionally. Entrepreneurship is a profession and you need to treat it accordingly.

Excellence in execution, done with brilliance and passion. March toward the sound of the guns. Bring real solutions to real problems. Truth and transparency with all stakeholders. Keep moving forward but keep your powder dry.

2009 will be a challenge. It will also offer opportunities.

If you have a small business or want to become an entrepreneur, I can't offer any better advice than Tom Peters is sharing.

If you are realistic and honest with yourself and others, you can start your own business in this miserable economy. Not only 'you can' but 'you should'. Recessions typically last 1-2 years. The times between them vary but every 3-7 years is realistic. The right kind of sustainable enterprise can give you more security now (if only in peace of mind) and in the future when this kind of mess boils up again.

Happy New Year, friend! Go get it!

Tom Peters site.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Intelligent optimists

Ode Magazine is one that can always surprise me. It bills itself as the magazine for intelligent optimists. Ode generally avoids the traps of the typical headlines and finds stuff that is working in the real world. Importantly, that stuff is making the world better.

Our copy of the Jan/Feb 2009 issue recently landed. The cover story is specifically devoted to the top '25 intelligent optimists who are creating a better tomorrow today'.

There are folks nominated by some of the world's great visionaries as being among the 'best and brightest' in important emerging fields worldwide.

This issue has so many worthy entries I can't even begin to summarize. However, one of the nominees that especially caught my eye was Rinaldo Brutoco, Founder of the World Business Academy. I have just learned of this gentleman and this organization. First impressions are great. I've ordered some of their materials to learn more. In short, what I know is that Mr. Brutoco is a solid business guy and a long time board member of The Men's Warehouse, which has created a sustainable, viable, multi-bullion dollar business model following high ethical standards.

So as a Christmas present, I'll post some of what Ode said about Mr. Brutoco and the World Business Academy: "The Academy encourages managers to see beyond short-term profits and look for sustainability in all areas of their businesses, from relationships with employees, to interactions with suppliers. Brutoco says this approach isn't just ethically sound, it's good for business. 'Current events show that we desperately need businesses to take responsibility for the whole of society,' he says. 'In the past business was encouraged to see itself as swashbuckling or raiding rather than contributing to and building an economically just society. When greed dominates, you get exactly the kind of crisis we now have.'"

Ode continues… "Still Brutoco sees business as the solution to the problems it helped create. 'The competencies of business, properly motivated and directed, can solve every problem in the world better than any other institution,' he says. The key is for business people to add values, not just value. 'What would it look like if you brought your compassion as well as your intellect to work? What would you do if you cared about how everyone in society fares?'"

Good stuff. I think this approach not only works with large businesses, it is a MUST for smaller enterprises of all types. The kind of economics that are emerging from this mess we are in will require that new and emerging enterprises provide value and values. This doesn't mean you have to cure cancer. It does mean you have to love what you are doing and put that sincerity into your offering. And you have to love and honor the process of doing enterprise.

And what does that get you? In this new emerging economy, a business model that can demonstrate its values in its products and services earns customers. Those enterprises that can live out their sustainable models with all stakeholders, in turn become increasingly sustainable themselves. That's what's required to be considered a professional going forward. Anything less marks you as just another vendor passing by unheeded and unneeded.

Remember, you have to be a professional at every level, even (especially!) if you are a one or two person enterprise just starting up.

I've seen sustainable enterprises work over and over at the small business level. This practice is now thankfully taking over big organizations. Put this into practice as you grow your own enterprise, and you'll find it works for you too.

My best to everyone! Merry Christmas 2008!

Ode Magazine

The World Business Academy

Friday, December 12, 2008

Oh what a place to grow your business!

You can't know how great it feels to say this:

Everything written in these blog posts solely reflects my own personal opinion. Nothing in these posts reflects the opinions of my past, current or future employers.

I have been looking for just the right way to use the ideas I discuss in these posts to make as valuable and widespread a contribution to entrepreneurs as I could manage.

I will forever be grateful to Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC) and their wonderful Small Business Center, led by Russ Roberts. Russ and the WCTC Small Business Center gave me the encouragement and platform to deploy my own set of courses in micro enterprise. We taught those online. The interactions with entrepreneurs in those courses was very positive and the feedback was really fun.

I've recently accepted the position as Executive Director of the newly created Iowa County Area Economic Development Corporation. I'm humbled and honored to have the chance to work with these great folks.

Iowa County is immediately West of Dane County (Madison area), Wisconsin. Iowa County is at the heart of what we call the driftless region of Wisconsin. The glaciers never reached this region leaving the spectacular beauty and outdoor excitement of these amazing landscapes to become sculpted by the environment for millennia. Throw in three spectacular state parks in our county alone. Throw in our own excellent portion and access to the Lower Wisconsin Scenic Riverway, about 95 miles of undammed, wild and scenic river, surrounded by 80,000 acres of protected, public land. Throw in the largest tall grass prairie East of the Mississippi

Wait a minute, I'm supposed to be talking about work. Yet I am.

The good people of Iowa County, Wisconsin have protected their resources and grown vibrant, livable communities within that context. It's a compelling vision and a wonderful place to grow your own business.

The area is situated exactly in the middle of a region of more than 25 million people. It has great shipping logistics (think Lands' End headquarters). It has an amazing ag sector and a growing, exciting arts and creative community that makes groundbreaking global contributions. Our manufacturers include one of the most innovative furniture designers in the world, Ulrich Sielaff, of The Sielaff Corporation, and Cummins Engine, a global manufacturing innovator, especially in our plant's contribution to environmental stewardship. Our world class health care systems have kept Iowa County rated among the healthiest and happiest people in Wisconsin. Do you like history? Ours is the oldest working courthouse in Wisconsin and a photographer's dream (as is the entire county). Like architecture and design? Iowa County is the home of Taliesen, Frank Lloyd Wright's home, studio and school. Like drama? We're home to the world renowned Shakespeare focused American Player's Theater and its magnificent outdoor stage. Wonderful tourism? You have to visit The House on the Rock and it's related golf amenities. At every turn of every beautiful road, I can find something new that amazes and delights. Log cabins, glass artists, potters, storytelling, dancing and strong cultural celebrations such as those found at our Folklore Village. Add in wonderful agricultural businesses of every variety, including our (delicious!) sustainable regional foods group. All of this beauty and dynamism is built around vibrant, liveable communities that create and support all this.

Can you see why I'm so enthusiastic? I get to help.

We'll be creating platforms for all our great communities and all our county enterprises to introduce themselves to you. We'll be rolling out a new Entrepreneurs and Inventors Club quickly. I love the empowerment these groups bring to emerging entrepreneurs. Through these clubs, we'll be launching as many smart, new, sustainable businesses as we can. We'll be sending out RFEs (Requests For Entrepreneurs) who would like to grow their business in beautiful Iowa County Wisconsin. Come join Iowa County. We're open for business!

The Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen wrote a great book on economic development called Development As Freedom. I see my role in economic development in that light. Building stronger enterprise skills among individuals and greater economic strength for existing businesses delivers more freedom for people, communities and their governments. This has never been more true than in the turbulence we've lived through this year.

I'm humbled and honored by the opportunity to make a contribution to this great region. I truly believe this is the renaissance age of entrepreneurship and that it's just beginning.

Come on out and visit our exciting county and our diverse region. We're looking forward to introducing you to each other. Oh what a place to grow yourself and grow your business!

Welcome to Iowa County, Wisconsin.