New Entrepreneurs – Overcome Information Overwhelm in Start-Up Business Development

After 30 years of being an employee who worked for attorneys as a legal secretary/assistant, the firm decided they needed fewer employees. That gave me the “opportunity” to go home to my computer, with all the current technology and online resources for learning, and start my own business as a virtual assistant. My initial vision was that all I had to do is set up shop online and in extra bedroom, get jobs, and start collecting checks. Sounds very logical, common-sense and practical — not!

The way an employee “works for a living” is completely different than being an entrepreneur “creating value” and getting paid for it. As stressful as a job may become as the employee is given assignments to complete in a certain time frame, that’s nothing to compare with the “dis-ease” called information overload that is waiting for the start-up Internet entrepreneur. Here are some examples of the painful symptoms:

  1. tasks that appear to be “must-do” activities are overwhelming in quantity and complexity;
  2. the need to take another online class or buy another “how to” digital program seems essential;
  3. the fact becomes clear that I don’t know how to identify and schedule short-term/long-term projects;
  4. my attention is constantly diverted by tasks that seemed A-1 in importance, but now appear as decoys;
  5. my feelings of being duped are mounting in inverse proportion to being drained of time and money resources;
  6. as I watch time and money flow out the door, in comes insecurity and lots of low self-worth;
  7. I never seem to have enough time, never finished, and that means 24/7 – is this a business or an addiction?

Why is it so much harder to produce results from the freedom of my own home? Why all this pain and paralysis, digging holes that never dig deep enough to strike pay-dirt? I knew the answer had to do with a difference in mindset between the employee and entrepreneur, so I decided to explore it with this article.

The Good News – The Problem is Solved by Tweaking The Mindset

It was easy to analyze – what I did as an employee was essentially a three-step process consisting of:

  • Receiving an assignment (a task to do) from a employer (boss) which included a deadline for completion;
  • Completion of the project (within or outside of deadline) by whatever means it took (nobody went home until it was done or rescheduled);
  • Payment made on a time or task basis (putting in the time or finishing the task essentially guaranteed getting paid). There was some performance review, but basically, if you showed up and did the work, and the company had money in the budget to pay employees, you had a job.

What is means is that an employee really is a cog in the wheel of production, not determining the very beginning (a call for the product or service) or the very end (marketing or collecting by way of invoice/charges). Compare this with the mindset of an entrepreneur who must do these activities:

  • rule owner’s enterprise by taking leadership role(s), control decision-making and, ultimately, is responsible for the outcome in terms of satisfied customers and payment;
  • takes risks, experiments with various methods and systems of production, marketing, collecting money, keeps track of outcomes (like a science project), keeps records (notes, journals, spreadsheets) in order to maintain an accurate history of actions taken, to be able to learn from both successes and mistakes. And, yes, to be able to make mistakes as the best/fastest way to learn sometimes, and since you are the boss, you cannot be fired for your mistakes — you can only quit!
  • learn to plan for and rationally expect a return on your investment (ROI), and look for ways to increase income flow (getting compensated for time and money invested in business), the whole purpose of which is to provide value to others. And, logically, as you provide actual value to others, you will get paid, but it may not be predictable as to exactly when and how much. Also, look for payment in terms of knowledge and connections, not just money.

The Bad News – The Problem is Better Solved by Combining The Mindset(s)

In the Old Days, the days before the economy actually demanded we create a business online as soon as possible, in those old days, we’d do a self-evaluation (whether on-the-job or as a potential entrepreneur) to determine whether we have what it takes to be an entrepreneur, or if we should shape up even more, and be the exemplary employee with an annual raise. Now, I suggest that the bad news is that there is no longer a choice — it’s essential to be both an employee and an entrepreneur, both at the same time.

What I’m suggesting is that we need to create a new mindset that incorporates the best aspects of the employee mindset (which is to ‘just get it done, no matter what, because that’s what I’m hired to do), and the entrepreneurial attitude that wonders “what will happen if I do it this new way, in answer to what appears to be a need to create value for our society?”

We become both roles, the boss and the employee; we’re here to “just do it” and get the product or services out the door and delivered. We need to judge only our own self, but not spend too long lingering over the hard lessons called “mistakes” or gloating over a success that really is temporary anyway. We need to think about the customer/client as our employer and allow these people to dictate what we need to do, how to value it, and how to give them more than what they bargained for.

Yes, I believe we need to stop thinking about our expectation of a paycheck and think more about the quality of the results we are producing.

Once we combine both mindsets and step into the dual roles of employee/entrepreneur, we’ll be living in a healthy and practical world of expectations where hard work pays off as long as we produce results and not get bogged down by excess information, self-analysis and procrastination — inaction.

And this productive behavior will keep us busy, solving problems, moving forward to test our theories in action. And certainly we’ll have no time for information overload, any more than Alice in Wonderland had when she faced the Queen yelling “off with her head”! Alice simply faced the noise and commotion and said rightly: “You’re nothing but a pack of cards.”

Business Development For Leaders

Lawyers with whom I speak are often uncomfortable in rainmaking, especially in moving from a general conversation to one in which the lawyer might ask for a potential client’s business. No one wants to appear pushy or desperate, and most lawyers have a natural aversion to selling themselves. A lawyer who’s always self-promoting and trying to get business is not appealing. Nobody wants to talk with that kind of lawyer, and most of us don’t want to be him or her.

It seems to me that there’s a parallel here with political fundraising. After all, what’s less appealing than a lawyer who sees everyone he or she meets as potential stepping-stone to wealth? Must be a political candidate who always has a hand out and puts on the hard sell.

President Obama’s campaign received more donations and more money than any other in the country’s history. Accusations of fraud are certainly a serious concern, and how those charges have been answered presents another leadership lesson, but there’s something more subtle here. How did Obama’s campaign generate so much money? He offered something that donors found to be of value, and they literally bought into it. A visit to Obama’s website even now starts with a “landing page” that offers readers the opportunity to donate or to go into the main website. There is (and, as pre-election, was) no pressure to donate, but the opportunity is apparent. No one could charge that the Obama campaign neglected to let its supporters know – smoothly and tactfully – that financial support would be welcome.

Obama outlined his vision and millions decided to come along for the ride because they saw what was in his vision for them. They believed that his vision was about him. Yes, he might get the glory and the big salary, but they believed he was doing it for the people he would be representing. Though reasonable people may hold different interpretations of his authenticity or his ability to deliver the promised beneficial changes, the people who donated and who voted for him believed that by choosing him, they were choosing a better future for themselves.

Let’s look back for a moment to see how Obama came to his political career and candidacy. He received a strong education from well-regarded schools, and most people who read The Audacity of Hope seem to agree that he is a deep and critical thinker. Do you suppose he sprang straight from his education and legal career into political leadership? Certainly not.

Though Obama presumably had his ideas about what was going well and poorly with our government, he started by talking with the people he sought to represent. I suspect that he had thousands of conversations, probably starting one-on-one and eventually expanding to town hall meetings, where he listened to what was worrying those who would one day be his constituency, and where he eventually offered his solutions to see how they might land. Those conversations shaped his thoughts and ideas, and his political career was born. But that isn’t unusual: I suspect that most successful politicians have followed a similar developmental path.

Do you see the parallel with legal rainmaking yet? The best rainmakers, and the best leaders, strive to put the focus and attention on those they seek to serve. They begin with determining the potential client’s areas of concern, and they seek to understand before trying to get the client to understand them. A lawyer may storm into a meeting with a potential client eager to tell stories of triumphs obtained through great legal skill and savvy strategy developed through years of experience and study. How do you suppose the potential clients will react? My bet is that while they might be impressed by skill and experience, they’d find those qualifications relevant only to the degree that the lawyer understands their needs.

So, let’s return to lawyers’ fears of being pushy or appearing desperate. The easiest and most effective way to avoid those is to focus on the potential client. But there’s another critical step: offering to meet the client’s needs once thoroughly understood. That’s where the fear of sounding like a sleazy or pushy used car salesman usually arises. Here’s a surprising truth: it is selfish to have a solution to a problem and to be unwilling to share it, and failing to ask for the potential client’s business represents exactly the same selfishness. If a lawyer has the skill and knowledge to assist a client but doesn’t offer it, the client goes without that help (or is forced to look elsewhere), all because the lawyer was too fearful of being pushy. That’s a lose/lose proposition.

Obama’s campaign and election teach us two leadership lessons in this context: first, listen. Understand. Then, and only then, offer solutions. And second, ask for the business. It’s a short but critical step from, “Yes, I understand what you need, I’ve done that work before, let me tell you about other clients I represented in similar situations and how they fared” to “May I help you with this matter?” When the first step is firmly in place, the second is a natural and gracious extension.

Social Networking As a Business Development Tool

Social Networking can be leveraged as an innovative opportunity to generate new business and drive sales. It generates opportunities that are additional to, and supportive of the results of more traditional selling methodologies. It does this by leveraging the capabilities and characteristics of social media platforms to virally propagate the personal and product identity of the agent. It significantly increases the capability of existing clients to deliver high quality leads and introductions while effectively distributing the work associated maintaining multiple relationships over time.

Socially networked selling becomes particularly powerful when targeting customers in technical and start-up companies where familiarity with social network platforms is the greatest. This community is already sharing information and insights within this space as well as using it to organize, communicate and create face to face networking opportunities. The agent can develop a virtual identity that exponentially increases his exposure and visibility within his targeted community. This identity will take on the characteristics of an actual brand and, as such, can be search engine optimized, shared, re-tweeted and otherwise rewarded for quality products and services that are well delivered. Face to face networking is supplemented by its digital footprint in communities like Twitter, Facebook and Plancast and allows for the establishment of relationships to validate the highly mobile, virtual identity.

Of course bad news travels as quickly as good but the real relationship that is established by the agent and the client mitigates the risk of negative press and allows for effective issue tracking and trouble shooting within a highly transparent and real time virtual environment.