Posts Tagged: Entrepreneurs


Finders. Minders. And Binders.

September 25th, 2013

ID-100170525Risk in the early years does not seem like risk at all! When I started my business and a customer sent over a contract to review I did not have the army of lawyers and professional service folks that are around to protect me today. The contract came in, I printed it off, read all 83 pages, learned as much as I could and then I signed it. Why? Most of that stuff isn’t going to happen anyway, right? Well, even though it was true, I signed it because making something happen in the business was a much better outcome than the alternative—watching lawyers markup and edit a document over and over again. The risk of signing a bad contract was lesser than the gain of working with a new customer, testing out our service line, gaining the revenues, cash flow, references, and the experiences that the contract provided.

This concept plays out across your entire business. My first employee was hired with a verbal acceptance. They worked for me for years and they had no offer letter—imagine that! We got along fine without a handbook. Everything was understood. We just stood and talked across the office. The purpose for the company was simple and clear.

Accounting was just as simple. We paid bills, invoiced customers, and made sure that there was enough money in the bank to do payroll. Then someone comes in to lead accounting and they want to build a budget like their last job in Corporate America. The budget process starts in the Fall, finishes by the New Year, and becomes outdated by February. Small business moves too fast and changes too much for a traditional budgeting process.

A business can expect to see this in all facets of the organization. The “little company that could” designs a marketing campaign and tries it without upsetting corporate. As the business grows, it eventually has a team whose job it is to keep that spirit and make marketing better. Staff members who often want to just go and fix things now have to remember who does what.  And in the process they often ask the question, “Why are we organized this way? It just slows us down…”

Years ago I heard a famous entrepreneur, the founder of Hercules, answer that question with a compelling speech about business and entrepreneurship. He shared that there are three types of people in business: finders, minders, 110819-Gulliksen-Slide3and binders. “Finders” start the business and figure out their market and their customer. They turn themselves and the business “outward” (Outside-In® in my world) and they focus on growth and winning. But as the business grows and gets more and more complex it requires different skills and expertise to keep advancing. Enter the “minders.” Minders are the functional talents that come in across the business to do a better job of keeping track of the company. Important and necessary. They are minding the store so to speak and helping create the scorecard of success.

And finally there are the “binders.” If you’re an entrepreneur this is where you exit perhaps. Binders are like the son who tells his Dad (a successful sandwich shop owner) to stop giving away free chips and pickles and to reduce his portion sizes because these are recessionary times. Of course the Dad listens and soon enough business is way down. The son was wrong! The binder ended up screwing up the secret sauce/brand promise of the sandwich shop. And a good business is withered away by the strain and scrutiny.

All three dynamics are contributing factors to the development of business. A finder’s role is to build the early business. Know when to bring in enough minders to keep the business orderly. Avoid the binder influence and phase of the business. Or know how to exit when the business achieves that level of “success.”

9/11 and the Resilience of the American Worker

September 11th, 2013

911Guest blog spot by Kelly Murray, Marketing Coordinator

Twelve years ago, our country sustained a tragedy so shocking that it rattled each American citizen to their core. We will always remember where we were the morning of 9/11, and the horror we witnessed as two landmarks of international commerce fell at the hands of terrorists. Thousands of lives were claimed that day but in turn, millions of Americans were united under the strength of our nation and a vow to Never Forget those lost.

As the years go on, 9/11 etches its place into American history and its symbolism grows. I was only thirteen when the World Trade Center fell, and at the time I struggled to comprehend what this blow meant to our country on an international scale. I understood the degree of death and destruction that had occurred and felt the confusion, fear, and grief that any little girl would at the time. Years later, now a young working professional, when I look back on 9/11, I am struck by the resilience our nation had to have in order to pick up the pieces and move forward – not only emotionally, but as a political and economic entity.

When hit with unexpected hardship, whether emotional or professional, it’s difficult to maintain focus on the job and push forward. Of course, the events of 9/11 exceeded any difficulty one could have expected to endure. However, I think its important to note that as Americans, both our humanity and work ethic were tested on 9/11. The al-Qaeda chose to destroy a symbol of international trade and commerce (as well as a symbol of defense and national security, the Pentagon) that day. The burden of strength in the eyes of adversity fell on our political leaders, but also on the American worker: corporate executives, entrepreneurs, young professionals, entertainers, laborers – no profession or discipline was spared. We had to dig deep and continue working to carry each other through.

As an entrepreneur, CBI Group’s president felt this burden especially hard that day, when his company opened its doors for the first time on the morning of September 11th. And yet, he and his employees, like many, had to press on and focus on creating business, even if it felt ‘wrong’ or ‘inappropriate’ to do so during a time of such great loss. Each year at CBI Group, this day is met with a bittersweet sentiment: as a celebration of another year in business met with a solemn reminder of a national tragedy. Over a decade later, we continue to operate successfully and help businesses fill jobs, recruit employees, and develop their workforce – a reflection of the resilience of an entrepreneur and his country.

So, this article is simply a testament to the American worker, for rising up and pushing forward in times of turmoil. Since 9/11, our nation has struggled economically and suffered the impact of war, but we have pressed on. In the American spirit, our country has rebuilt (quite literally, the National September 11th Museum and Memorial opened in 2011) and reclaimed our place as an economic force.

To all those lost and affected by the tragedy of 9/11, we honor and remember you. As citizens, we will never forget what happened that day and the toll it took on our country. As workers, we will continue to push forward and keep the American Dream alive…a notion that drives the belief that in America anything is possible and anyone can find success – if they work hard enough for it.

How an Entrepreneurial Mindset Encourages Innovation Within

August 14th, 2013

Photo credit: The New York Times

When I worked in corporate America one of the competencies I always thought needed improvement was political awareness. Truth is, I did not long to be politically aware. I wanted to stand up in a leadership meeting and share my own thoughts. One day, the Chairman of our company asked 60 of us a question to get our input. He wanted our thoughts, right?  Well little did I realize that even though the Chairman wanted our thoughts, his Senior Manager minions wanted to make sure our answers were approved, cleansed of imperfections, and void of insights that would make anyone in the room uncomfortable. In fact, it would have been best if we sat quietly, smiled, and let senior management solve the important problems of the company. Why even bother inviting us? I still ask that question, but now I kind of know the answer.

In corporate America, you are paid to do a singular job and paid well. Make sure you don’t rock the boat though! Remember, you’re paid to NOT rock the boat, to do your job, and to keep your head down. Alternatively, in most entrepreneurial companies, you are paid based on value that you create. Your ideas seem to matter more. Your actions and risks are more likely rewarded. Try it! Make something happen and take that risk! Most likely, nothing will happen immediately, but you’ll begin the build your confidence and aptitude towards continued risk-taking. Remember, everyone is valued to do their job and using their whole brain. Identifying something is wrong, fixing it and making the place better is a risk that is always rewarded.

Truth is, my story is flawed. The Chairman really did want our thoughts, but his culture would not allow it to happen. Politics, history, hierarchy, personal agendas, and poor leadership prevented him from getting what he so craved; which was an entrepreneurial entity that thrived from the bottom up. Where his employees could help him feel a part of something greater by being a part of the fix. None of us had the authority to participate and the fear of taking any risks. We knew that political correctness was rewarded, not risk taking.

So I started my company knowing I wanted to be the Chairman (funny thought) that could be trusted. Where risks are welcomed. In my company, there is no need for pre-meetings to make sure the staff know how to speak to me. At my company, the culture is transparent and free thinking is encouraged!

CBI Group, Placers, and Barton Career Advisors Announce Partnership

August 5th, 2013

Talent leaders band together under shared, values-based culture

Delaware-based talent companies CBI Group, Placers and Barton Career Advisors announced today a new partnership under their shared values-based culture, Outside-In®. The companies will work together under the Outside-In® brand and continue to serve the national marketplace offering recruitment, staffing, and outplacement talent solutions.

This partnership unites three companies based on a shared culture called Outside-In®; a mindset that advocates putting the customer first in all scenarios, at all times. The companies’ consider their customers to include clients, internal employees, and even vendors.

“My personal goal is to have Outside-In® be as meaningful to a business and its customer base as the good housekeeping seal might be on a household product” says Outside-In® Companies President and Outside-In® founder Chris Burkhard. “We hope to have our family of companies stand for an incredible customer experience where innovation and employee satisfaction are evident to all.”

Headquartered in Newark and Wilmington, Delaware, the Outside-In® Companies intend to change the way the Human Resources industry provides talent solutions. Instead of operating from a pre-packaged services mindset, the companies provide solutions “from scratch” crafted  specifically to solve the challenges that led the customer to work with a third-party service provider.

“Our expanded partnership with CBI Group and Placers as part of the Outside-In® Companies brings heightened market awareness to the Barton Career Advisors Outplacement business,” said Chris Barton, Barton Career Advisors Founder & Sales Group Lead. “Values are the secret sauce in business performance and I know we are on the right track.”   

As companies whose purpose is to handle clients’ challenges of bringing people in and letting them go, this service-based, cultural mentality is a conscious – and innovative – approach to talent management. To learn more about the Outside-In® Companies and their new partnership visit www.outsideincompanies.com.

Vacation and the Entrepreneur: 4 Ways to Allow Yourself Time Off

July 3rd, 2013

BeachIn the beginning, I never took a day off.  In fact, when I started my first company I worked over 300 straight days in a row. Weekends were just quiet moments to get more done until Monday rolled around. Then it was grow the business that week, until I could get to the next weekend to pickup the pieces.

Vacations? Well, no. I took my first vacation 18 months into the business to celebrate a wedding anniversary!  And then it was hit or miss for many, many years.

As a small business leader and coach, I have come to understand that time off is something that we make like a “badge of courage”.  Entrepreneurs and those that work for them need to view their time not as clock punching but rather as value creation.  This is the crux of the problem.  Value creation is intoxicating.  Growing your business, landing new customers, hiring new employees, solving big and little problems all are apart of increasing the worth or value of the business. Working in a small business is about taking some measure of risk with the possibility of reward. That value is the potential reward.

So what is the problem?  An entrepreneur’s world is all the same – and technology does not help.  We can be always connected. It is such a rush. To always wear the cape. To always be there for your staff or your clients for that answer or for direction. Until its not a rush. Every owner I have ever worked with goes through this vicious cycle.

“I have to work hard and create value.”

“I have to do everything because I am the business until I can hire staff to help with things I am not so good at.”

“I get in the habit of long, long hours and it becomes the way.”

One day you burnt out and you just can’t be effective anymore. Don’t get me wrong. You come to work. But as I have heard said, you vacation at your desk.  You’re not effective, focused, productive. In fact, at times you’re not even emotionally present.  You’re just physically present.

So what you do about it?  These are my learns.  Not my creations, but they work for me:

1.  Do not work one weekend a month. Turn it all off until Monday morning. This is so empowering.  And you know what? You get space to think because your not reacting or doing!

2.  Take time off.  Simple statement, but will you do it? The idea of recharging makes you better. Fresher. Stronger. And guess what?  If you have employees they can get along just fine without you. In fact, they will enjoy the break. I suggest one week every six months in the early years and more as you can do it.

3.  Set boundaries. I for one attempt to turn off all of the noise between 6-8 pm every day. This gives me a chance to workout. To be a Dad. To be a husband, etc. I find anything can wait two hours. (And the things that can’t have a way of finding you anyway!)

4.  Do not take your work with you on vacation. Disconnect.  Not my idea.  Harder to do.  However, if you do it you’re sending a message of trust and respect for those you have left in charge.  As they say, it is hard to stand with one foot in and out of the outhouse and make it work.  You’re either in or out!

An entrepreneur’s world is all one continual strand of DNA. Try to find the little vacations that can help you replenish and refill the reserves.

Passion or Profit?

May 29th, 2013

For many years I thought passion was all I needed to have success with my business. It is not true. Entrepreneurship (my personal definition mind you) is the balance of organization and structure with innovation and creativity in business. Can you really be too creative? Too market driven? Is it really that wrong to innovate constantly? Many entrepreneurs love the idea of being business. They love their invention, the technology, the notion of being in charge and out on their own. And I hear it all of the time. “Love what you do and the results will follow”. Of course, there is something to loving how you spend a majority of your waking hours. If you hate it, success is possible but not sustainable for long.

I am living proof of passion over profits. For many years, I pursued growth at all cost! (I am proud to say I am reformed growth junkie today.) I misunderstood the importance of running my company for profit. To leave money in the company. What did I do? I would reinvest it. Many times before I had it in hand! I have missed the point. I thought that top line revenues mattered more than anything – and frankly our egos and pride get in the way! Growth becomes intoxicating, but profits mean choice. They give you a point of comparison in our industry or market. Are you adding value more than your competition?

So few companies make it past the first few years and I have gotten clear as to why:

1.  We don’t know our numbers. As hard as it may seem, we don’t set and run our business to make money. We pursue growth. Growth takes cash. Fast growth often chokes a company.  We spend our profits on growth.

2.  We don’t realize that profits can drive innovation and investment. Most organizations have been damaged coming out of the recession. When facing new and big business opportunities few organizations have the reserves or resources to invest in new business opportunities!

3.  Our business strategy is the walking dead. Having a company that survives each month to the next one is common for most companies in the early years. But when do you need to look at making changes? Leaders find it hard to make tough changes to a business strategy, but business is designed to be profitable and must create a fair return for stakeholders.

4. When an entrepreneur is the only stakeholder, we rationalize. Sometimes there are advantages to having other investors.  I see entrepreneurs spend their life savings to invest in their business and to keep their business and dreams alive. However, business make money eventually!

So don’t get me wrong. Passion is a part of our purpose. And our purpose is why we get out of bed every day and go to work each and every day. But passion must be balanced with profits to have something sustainable for customers, employees,  and stakeholders.

Catching the Entrepreneurial Wave

March 20th, 2013

Don’t be an entrepreneurial poser. Yes, poser. (Thank you to my very cool son Josh for the edgy word.) Not really the words you might expect from a grown man but boy does it fit. When you go out as a teenager and buy a whole lot of skate board clothes but can’t stand on a board, they call you a poser. When you dress like a surfer, but don’t actually surf or even boogie board on your family vacation, you are a poser. Don’t be something you’re not. Be true to yourself. And by George, skate or surf a little bit, or try at least! This is coming from the Outside-In® Guy who had surfing on his bucket list. When I went surfing, the guide said, “Dude if the 400 pound Samoans could surf than, well, I guess you can too.”  Ouch! I’ll show him! All morning in the ocean, and a total of three seconds in an upright position and enough board rash and bruised ego to skip the next lesson!

So what exactly is an entrepreneurial poser? Lately, I meet many people who want to be entrepreneurs. I read about how hard it is today to start a business. That conditions are not ideal. That if money were easier to secure, or space was available, or “If I didn’t have all this college debt, I would definitely be starting my own business”. 

Starting a business is always hard. Starting a business is never easy. It is not supposed to be easy! You have to have a passion for what you’re trying to accomplish and you better believe in your big vision and in yourself. Because some days and weeks running a company hurts. But starting one? Bootstrapping was the hardest single thing I ever tried.

Today, there are so many resources to start a company. There are books, counselors, college courses, start-up weekends, angel networks, chambers, beehives, incubators, even junior high and high school programs with wonderful institutions like Junior Achievement. Some days I think this is the problem. You have too much information. Too many “so called” experts. Too many road maps that describe others’ path to “success”.

So, to all you entrepreneurial posers: Start a business because you have passion and believe in an idea. Because you see a gap in a market. Because you think you can do something better. But don’t you dare do it for the fame or the money. Without passion there are rarely profits in the long term!

Furthermore, please don’t tell me why you can’t start your business. It just gets old. A downturn is the best time to start a business by the way, less competition and labor is available. These are pretty good times too. There have always been barriers. There have always been funding issues. You’re not unique to think that living on savings and not drawing a salary for a year or two is too much to bare. Yes, I know, working 20 hours a day with no days off is hard, and you won’t get any days off (including weekends) in the early days. This is simply the price of admission. If you lack the money than you have sweat equity to give.

A business exists as long as the owner says it does. There is always a way. Trust me. I know. Floods, theft, fire, and collapsed roofs make competition seem like nothing! For all you posers, you have a choice, work for an entrepreneurial company, or get up on the entrepreneurial board and go for it!

Intrapreneurship is the Key to Culture!

February 13th, 2013

I am a fourth generation entrepreneur.  My family has worked for themselves for so long that it is all I can even remember.  My father always taught that it is best to control ones own destiny, to have your problems and opportunities be your own.  It sure makes sense to me.  The last thing I want is to have someone else make decisions that determine my fate.  By “being my own boss” I at least get to determine my own path.

When I started my company over ten years ago, I wanted my employees to get a taste of being an entrepreneur and set out to make entrepreneurial traits and qualities a part of the culture. In fact, we set out to select our values by trying to figure out what our customers needed us to be in order to serve them best.  This is the very nature of what Outside-In® is all about.  Do what is best for the customer all of the time.  Even when choosing values.  After all, values are the true personality of the company.  And this represents what I hoped would be the ongoing actions and behaviors of my people!

One of our values became Intrapreneurship.  I certainly didn’t invent the term; however,  the word seems to represent what I wanted from employees.  Be an entrepreneur.  Act like an entrepreneur.  Experience what it is like to be one.  Sell, Lead, Serve. Exist as an entrepreneur.  I felt then (and still believe) that if all employees embrace this then they can have a better day-to-day job.

You see, being an intrapreneur is about working day-to-day like you own the place.  To care like your name is on the door, and to have the kind of work experience and day-to-day role where anything is possible.  If you see a problem, prioritize and fix it.  If you want to more responsibility, go get more knowledge.  Perhaps you want and need more financial reward, well, find away to create equal or greater value for the organization.  Intrapreneurs look to create value.  They look for new market opportunities.  They figure out how and when to innovate new products and services that make our customer’s world a better place.

Without intrapreneurs we would not be in the contingent staffing business, which represents so much of our growth in customers, revenues, and of course opportunities for future intrapreneurs. Without intrapreneurs we would not be in the search business.  We would still be politely saying no to prospect and customer alike. Without intrapreneurs we could not help our relationships with services that support their job search with resume work, career coaching, and outplacement.

All of these seem big to me.  And they are.  Intrapreneurs help us change and evolve during turbulent and changing times.  But I promise you that the best thing about being intrapreneur is the growth and learning that one receives in exchange for their ideas, innovation and hard work. At CBI Group, our real challenge is that we are a flat, matrixed organization.  We don’t think much about titles, unless they make it more clear for our customers to deal with us.  We will always be adding talent to the business.  Everyone here is equal; we just play different roles!

Where else can someone do so much without taking on the financial risk themselves?  Sure, some alumni have left to do their own thing.  But, if you ask me, there is no greater compliment!

How will you apply your own intrapreneurialism to your company?

The Entrepreneurial Path to Happiness

January 9th, 2013

Many of us start companies because we are unhappy working for someone else. You don’t like the way customers are handled. You might think chasing profits is shallow as a sole pursuit. Or perhaps you think the products are crap. Or my favorite — it’s hard to identify with leadership, and get a sense of where and how the company is managing what can only be described as challenging but opportunity-rich times.

Yet, I meet just as many unhappy small business risk-takers. Newly minted entrepreneurs who are very, very unhappy. Why is that? Oftentimes, this new business owner leaves a job they were good at, to accept one they are a novice at.  Starting and running a new business is harder than you can even imagine. There are few blueprints and road-maps. Yes, there are lots of resources. Yes, there are chambers, coaches, counselors, incubators, universities, that all want you to succeed. YOU is the key part of this. This is all on you (or you and your partner) – but it is still on you.

There is little time to delegate. Even less to procrastinate.  You must make it all happen in the beginning. And YOU will not be good at all of the things that are necessary to survive to get to profits… But you must do them. Make the sales call. Design the website. Take out the trash. These tasks, duties and functions fall on you. Until you get to the point in your plan, that critical milestone where someone else can be hired to take that thing you started and make it better.

The Path to Happiness? Well, it took me forever to learn it.  Longer to teach it.  During the recession I had to learn to do it all again.  It was on ME to do everything. During that time I learned to enjoy it a little more. When I rebuilt my company, the hand off was much, much sweeter. And of course, the Happiness comes from doing what you are good at all of the time.  That is the holy grail for entrepreneurs.

The Top 10 Signs that You Work in an Entrepreneurial-Minded Organization

November 14th, 2012

Ever thought about how entrepreneurial-minded your company was? Being entrepreneurial has nothing to do with the size of the organization or the industry you work in.  There are easy ways to know if your company is supportive of an entrepreneurial way of operating.  Does having an entrepreneurial mindset even matter? Oh, it does. We all like to work differently and have a comfort zone. Think about it. What is your entrepreneurial comfort zone? The following ten descriptions identify the components of an entrepreneurial-minded organization, do any of them sound familiar to you?

10.  You do not have a job description for your role.  Your job allows you the freedom to explore and and help others with business challenges.  Many entrepreneurial companies like Google allow one day a week to work on big or new ideas!  At my company, employees have the freedom to think and join projects of interest – no matter what their job “title” is.

9.  Your company allows you to give back in the community through volunteerism of your choice.  Entrepreneurial companies live, work, play, even worship in the markets they serve and they find a way to give back! Whether its participating in 5Ks, attending charity benefits, or holding donation drives, entrepreneurial-minded companies make sure that they play a part in community service.

8.  Your company has a supportive organizational structure and tries to cut the “red tape”.  Heavy structure and elaborate policies are designed to create order, however, they can really stifle entrepreneurial activity!

7. You have access to resources.  Sounds like an odd one for an entrepreneurial culture where boot-strapping reigns supreme, right?  But the right companies know that the proper access to the right tools, resources, and materials can inspire the spark of The Next Big Thing.  Or many, many little wins that make the company stronger!

6.  You are encouraged to take risks.  You feel like you won’t lose your job or be screamed at if you fail.  I like to say, Make all of the $9 dollar mistakes you can, limit the $999 ones.  But maybe I am wrong in the end.  Great entrepreneurial companies have leadership that tolerates failure and learns to thrive on change.

5.  Your ideas matter. Your company knows that you might be a little closer to the customer.  And that the issues and challenges you face might be hassles in your job, but, if solved might be the key to retaining customers or growing new ones! When it comes to new ideas, your opinion matters.

4.  Your company avoids the creation of individual department silos.  When business people work together across department, at all levels, and skills sets great things can happen.  “No Silos” means one general company goal.  Think Steve Jobs and Apple.  One measure, one report, one P and L for the whole business!

3.  Your company balances risk-taking and innovation with established routines,  specialization, and structure and systems that create perceived stability.  This is not easy.  Too much routine and structure stifles the entrepreneur.  Too much entrepreneurial influence ?  Well, in my opinion never a bad thing.  But, at some point all products and services start to peak in their relevance.  New ideas and companies that listen to their customers generate new revenue streams. (Shameless plug, frankly, as they need to be Outside-In®.)

2.  You are asked for your opinion.  An entrepreneurial company stays this way if it monitors itself.  The best way to monitor oneself is to ask employees how they are doing on creating an environment that encourages risk-taking and team work on to improve the business.

1.  Senior management is committed to innovation and change.  New ideas are encouraged.  Risk-taking is often rewarded, even if it bombs.  Most importantly, delegation and appropriate authority to pursue entrepreneurial ideas that better the business are handed out liberally!

Sound like your company? If so, leave a comment about your experiences. Is there anything – as an intrapreneur – that you would like to see happen at your company? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts!

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