“He is shaking the rabbit.” (About Mr Hammond from my live comments on Autumn Statement)
As I was Live Blogging (stressful for a Swedish native btw) for Enterprise Nation commenting on the Autumn Statement earlier this week, I pointed out that Mr Hammond was “Shaking the rabbit”.
It is safe to say that none of the suggestions on my twitter feed following that was a correct description, hence this clarification. (This happens frequently for those who have the unfortunate of working with me on a regular basis).
I regularly use Swedish expressions to explain myself, with limited success of translating them into an English equivalent.
Shaking the Rabbit
Let’s say that you have a 3 hour presentation to Senior Management. You and your team have worked hard on your presentation, and it is as solid as it can get, with one or two exceptions where there just isn’t as robust and solid info as you would like, or an area of contention between board members.
That’s when you shake the rabbit.
By creating a focus area somewhere else that attracts everyone’s attention, you increase your chances of getting through your presentation while maintaining focus on the parts that you would want to emphasise. There are of course many clever ways to do this.
Next time you review someone else’s presentation, see if they have one. If so, chose if you want to call it out, or if you just want to use it as a landmark….what was it taking the focus OFF?
Office manager with a slightly concerned look on her face, trying to act casual, handing me a letter and says apologetically: “This came for you today. Sorry I opened it, but it didn’t say Confidential…”
As I scan the letter, she turns and walks away to her desk. I can sense her concern when my face breaks into a broad grin. I jump off my chair and stroll into the open-space office with a cocky smile and swaggering steps, fanning myself with the letter.
“Everyone, I’ve got something I want to share with you!”
(I know. A bit evil. But funny, as I watch the concerned look on OM’s face couple with tentative curiosity.)
The room stops, and everyone’s attention is on me and my little dance as I dramatically hold up the letter and make a grand gesture towards it.
“We have received the first letter of what I suspect will be many….from someone who wants to buy JUNE MEDICAL!”
The room cheers, but I can also tell that there are those who are looking at me tentatively and really want me to reconfirm what i have said in the past when we have discussed this possibility. I drag it out slightly. With a masterful (if I may say so myself) pause, I proceed to reiterate my stance.
“OBVIOUSLY…I am not selling! “
The relief amongst the group is visible, and louder cheering happens. We celebrate with a fika and chat merrily over the fact that we are so awesome.
It must be a horrible feeling to work in a company if you don’t know if you’ll be sold at any time. If you are running that company or leading that team, take that into account. You may not be able to change that, but you do need to understand how it affects your team.
And perhaps take a slightly more mature approach than I did… (but it was very funny!).
When you’re working on a project, it is sometimes easy to get emotionally attached. From time to time, that means that decisions are taken differently during than they would have been before the start of the project.
Usually when I ask people about their exit strategy, they think I mean how they will sell their company and retire. Not at all: I am talking about how to know when to abandon the plan.
Let me give you an example.
Marianne had been working with her Dance school for years, and she had made it a second home for her three girls who had spent pretty much every day after school in the studio. As a leak in the building made her financial situation strained, the smart move would have been to cut it lose, and to relocate to a different venue.
But, because her day to day business and personal life was entangled with emotional ties, she endured 5 really difficult years in the same location, before she finally gave up, having lost most her savings. Had she been making the same decision if this was identified as a risk and had a mitigation plan before she started? Probably not.
An exit strategy should contain the following considerations (…as a start. There will be more that are specific to your business):
Ask yourself this:
TIME: How long am I willing to go before I say this isn’t working? 1 year? 3 years?
MONEY: What is the maximum financial figure I can commit to putting into the business, and when do I cut my losses?
OWNERSHIP: What are the areas of the business that I would be willing to give up to take in financial support (if any) if I needed to? What’s the maximum shares I am willing to sell?
ILLNESS: What do I do if I or someone who depends on me get really ill? What is my contingency plan?
RISKS: What are the top 10 risks in my company and current set up, and how do I mitigate that?
TRADEOFFS: At what point do I decide the risks are not worth the (potential) rewards?
COMMITMENTS: Are there commitments that I am not prepared to sign? Long term contracts, legal obligations, other?
The above is tremendously useful things to consider and have a plan for. Discuss them with your business partner if you have one – more often than not we have very different views on things like this, and it is good to be VERY specific. And make a plan for what happens if you disagree. Write it down. It may all change, but at least you have a starting point when things get rocky.
Also discuss this with your family. Your partner may not have the same expectations as you, and after all, he or she is one of your most important stakeholders as you embark on a new venture.
Good luck. You have taken a whole list of unknowns and turned them into something tangible. Of course there can be surprises you haven’t planned for, but you have narrowed that down tremendously.
And hopefully you will never have to use any of this!
There is a short list of things that I am really, really good at:
Hiring good people and seeing their talents
Play with kids
Can’t cook for the life of me and would happily survive on bread for the rest of my life. Luckily my kids are getting nutritious and varying meals from both their father and our excellent nanny.
Delegation is one of those things that are usually hailed as a cornerstone of good leadership. People are usually not keen on micromanagement, and universally we hate when someone stands over our shoulder checking our work. As an entrepreneur in a startup, this is a challenging one. Coming from a background where there is just you, and your brilliant idea, all by your very self, getting to where you have to let other people into that sacred relationship is tough!
Delegating certain aspects of that startup is even harder. Few entrepreneurs I know think they are the expert on every little bits of running a company, but there is a lot of comfort in knowing
a) It has been done
b) Knowing HOW it was done
It is not that we mistrust others, not at all. It is simply an emotional aspect of growth. Sort of like when your child thinks another mummy “is really cool” and “can even do the splits!” You think it is great that your daughter has another grown up role model, at the same time as your heart secretly bleed a little and you spend the next month stretching on the bedroom floor before you tear a muscle and decide that you can be cool in other ways.
Back to delegation.
What people rarely mention is that delegation travels with two unwanted cousins:
“Risk” and “Cost”.
Risk, because when you start letting go of control, there is a couple of things that have to happen before. You have to establish an understanding of Purpose, Vision, Ethics and Values. Otherwise your carefully created baby may be taking off in a direction that you didn’t intend. Or worse, someone you delegate to may do something that is unethical or even criminal.
And then there is Cost.
The perception is often that as a business owner you have a fat salary, a fancy car and always fly business class. I am sure that is true for some, but most of us actually surviving on peanuts, foregoing shopping and flying economy to Santiago Chile with an 8 hour stopover in Miami Airport to save money is more accurate, cash is a highly guarded asset. So to delegate, one has to have someone to delegate TO. Cost. And that someone needs training. Cost. And that someone must be allowed to learn and make mistakes. Cost. (Sometimes high.)
So the big question: is it worth it? Don’t know, but it is necessary.
Just make sure you do the prework well, and have a plan for contingency when it doesn’t work they way you hoped.
There are a several people whom I have the utmost respect for, and then there are people who have impressed me. The difference is important. I have had the (debateable) pleasure of coming across people who have impressed me, but that I don’t respect at all. I still learned from them, and I wouldn’t want to be without the experience. Sometimes NOT learning from a situation is the best lesson of all. Here is how to impress me:
Be true to who you are
Like the guy at Johnson & Johnson who didn’t give a rats about the fact that his spiky hair and colourful socks made him stand out from the rest of the ambitious crowd. Over 10 years ago, this was quite a talking point in corporate and conservative blue chip companies. He told me to never ever let work change what I liked about myself. Good advice that I wasn’t always strong enough to follow, but now something I won’t ever compromise on, and certainly never forget.
If you can do good, you should. Simple as that. I don’t care in what format: give someone change for the supermarket trolley, compliment a stranger, build a children’s hospital, found a charity, give your time and knowledge. Pay it forward, and you’re my hero. Teach your children (or someone elses) the joy of giving.
Work hard at what you have committed to
There are a LOT of things that will make you great at what you do, and talent is only one of them. Be on time, study your topics, be polite, be coachable, keep deadlines, look for solutions, help your colleagues. If you’re unhappy, get out.
Are you afraid? And still doing it? Then you rock. I am not saying that those who just do things without being worried about it aren’t brave – I am sure they have areas where they have to be courageous as well. I am just of the firm belief that true bravery is best proven by those who are terrified…and do it anyway. I met an inspiring woman called Marta on Thursday who told me her next meeting was to donate blood; her way of getting over her fear of needles!
5. Lie well
I can’t stand bad liars. I know this is a weird one…most people don’t being lied to, but I actually don’t mind. People lie for all sorts of reasons, and it would be arrogant of me to think that I deserve honesty that may be uncomfortable or painful for people to share. That’s fine. But I do have one request; if you’re going to lie to me, put some effort in. Half ass lies that are easy to spot, where the liar really has neither skill or finesse. See Point 3.
6. Find your element
When I see someone who is passionate, knowledgeable, engaged, excited and “in the flow”, I always need to take a deep breath. It is SO powerful to see someone who have found their place, their space in the universe. Nothing is as attractive as when you watch that magic happen, and the force coming from individuals like that is pure power. “Find something more important than you are,” philosopher Dan Dennett once said in discussing the secret of happiness, “and dedicate your life to it.” How you arrive at your true calling is an intricate and highly individual dance of discovery. See Point 4. Last time I saw someone do it was when I watched a candidate in an interview with me last week. I think I may have to hire her.
I know how easy it is for entrepreneurs to be obsessing over sales — especially before you have any, and especially if you don’t know how to sell. And many entrepreneurs don’t. They are enthusiastic experts in their field, but rarely do they have the benefit of having gone through a career in sales and marketing (I consider myself VERY lucky that way, and that’s why I have decided to Pay Forward what I’ve learned.).
I asked my Twitter followers a while back if Marketing or Sales was harder to get right, and the majority said Marketing. I believe the two are closely linked, and if you get your marketing right, your sales will come. I strongly encourage having a clear image of who your customer is, and to segment your market. MAKE CHOICES and stick to them. I call it the Anti Crow Rule: stay away from the shiny objects! It is VERY easy to get distracted, and as an enthusiastic entrepreneur we are flattered and grateful when someone wants our stuff. Don’t get me wrong, do sell….just stick to your overarching plan.
Bank people DO make good friends
If you don’t have finance experience, I strongly encourage you to collaborate with someone who can build you a solid budget, including cashflow projections. Not only will it save you eons of time, it will also ensure you won’t find yourself in a situation that you have a profitable business but no money o pay people or buy stock with. In addition, it will also make any bank conversations you will have a lot more productive. (I never borrowed any money to start my companies, but I do recognise that it is very common to have to do that. And even if you don’t need a cash inflow at the start, having your bank team well informed is a plus should you ever need their help and/or advice.
I am done for tonight, but I do want to talk Exit strategy (because you need not just one but several, and I don’t mean just different versions of you selling your company to the highest bidder and taking off to Aruba) and what/when/how to abandon your plan.
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(No spam, no selling of your data, no me selling to you. I #neversell and am just Paying It Forward. Why? Because I can.)
When I talk to people who are just about to start their own company, they usually have one thing in common: they are experts at what they do. While that is a GREAT thing to get you to where you can deliver a FANTASTIC PRODUCT OR SERVICE, it usually is NOT what you need to get started.
Why? Because you should NOT BE SELLING ANYTHING yet!
Let’s start in the other end, shall we? Here are the questions I usually ask.
Don’t tell me what you’re going to do first as you try to sell stuff. Tell what problem you will have solved 10 years from now? (Someone said “To make aviation have zero environmental impact”. Another one said “All clothes will be made to measure”; Excellent!)
What do you need to have accomplished in 5 years to make that happen? (As you can tell, timings here are arbitrary — that depends on who I am talking to. Point is, it starts from the future and goes back to today.)
How will you bridge the income gap until you are into your core business? And how will you make sure you don’t get stuck in that “bridge business” as people start knowing you?
What is the vision in your head (and we all have one — once you start talking about it you realise you know more about your future business and plans than you thought!)? Do you have employees? How many? Where is your office? Will you employ people or work through contractors?
And then, my favourite question of all: Describe your customer to me. Is it a person or an organisation? (If you say organisation, I say Dig Deeper. It is ALWAYS a person. Always.) Who is she/he? What does she do? What does she like? What is her motivation? Is she a cat or a dog person? Does she do team or individual workouts? Heels or sneakers? You get the point. DESCRIBE your customer, and THEN start thinking about how to package and sell your product, what marketing channels to use, if social media is relevant (and which one?!).