Do You Need a Business Plan

Do You Need a Business Plan?

I get this question very often, many startups ask me how to put a business plan together, what goes into a basic plan, and how long does it have to be? Well unfortunately the answer is, “It depends”. But that is also fortunate!

You see, every business is different. Some are single member, some may have contracted services. Some may have goals to scale big in 3 years. The needs will all vary and they will all need different kinds of plans. But a plan is needed.

Here is a short video explaining my why on this:

There are several approaches to getting a business plan going. BPlans has a simple one, or if you want to use their Live Plan service it’s very intuitive and you could turn one out in a month if you were focused. There is still the one page canvas if you’re just looking to map things out as well.

Whatever the need is, look at what you are asking of the business. If it’s sales volume, generating exposure, or gathering following you’ll have to have those things in your business plan. Use S.M.A.R.T. goals if you can, and have a coach or trusted peers help you out if you can. I hope this is helpful, leave any questions in the comments below, happy to help!

Asking the right question

Asking the right question

As a startup consultant I get asked a lot of questions, but sometimes I get things that are a little off target. Asking the right question is critical for staying on target, especially when a new company is navigating unfamiliar waters. Don’t get me wrong, I love curiosity and when clients are inquisitive but I also think directing feedback is very important.

On target
On target

Occasionally I get asked if a new business idea is ‘a good idea.’ Is that the right question? 99% of the time it really doesn’t matter because I’m not the target market for a business idea. Yes I see a lot of ideas come my way but I have a hard time convincing entrepreneurs that my perception is irrelevant. But I turn it around and emphasize that if I were the market that would buy the product/service/offering then yes it would matter what I thought.

It really comes down to focusing on who would be a potential buyer/user is and seeking structured feedback about the market need and their opinions about what the best solution is. If I’m the target market then great, I’ll talk with you all morning about my experiences and perceptions. If I’m not, then it isn’t valuable to put too much stock into my opinion as I won’t buy. When the market votes with its dollars then yes, take that seriously. But don’t build a business concept around opinions that aren’t potential buyers.

Build the idea around the wants, needs, and desires of the potential buyers. That way you can adjust your offering to be the best solution your market needs and stay ahead of the competition. There are ways to solicit feedback from a market segment, that I can help with.  Find out what the competition offers and based on feedback, build a better offering that will excite your users and clients. Standing out is important because there are many businesses that create sub par solutions and compete on price. If you offer something great then your customers can have something to talk about.

So direct your questions to the right segments, ask things that will give insight to the existing need and build something your customers will get excited about. Many industries have competition that is building average and sub par offerings, if you can build  a product or service that is unique and addresses nuances that don’t exist then people can go to you for a solution that is better than most. That’s how to effectively compete and stand out. And for small biz asking the right questions will get you there faster. Let me know how I can help with this.

This is where business and spirituality meet

Wooden mala

Most of what I do doesn’t really fit in a box. I’ve tried for years to find the connections and an application for all the interests, talent, and experiences I’ve had. I’ve done assessments, informational interviews, volunteer work, certifications, and meditations to try to find the connection or application. After reading a Facebook post by Chris Brogan about not being able to find a box to fit in to, it really made me slow down and look at myself. Yes, I have many talents and yes I fit into some areas. But there really isn’t a box I fit into.

Here are the interests I was trying to find a place for:

  • I earned a degree in Religion with an emphasis in comparative religion
  • My minor is in chemistry and I understand quantum physics
  • I had done local theater for 16 years
  • I’m a whiz with business financials (P&L’s get me excited!)
  • Business Model Canvas also excites me
  • I’m Level 2 Reiki Trained
  • I’ve done some impressive process improvement projects turned best practice
  • I’ve learned Zen, tantric, and shaolin meditation
  • I learned boxing, Oom Yung Doe, and Kung Fu techniques
  • I’m a car guy and the terms EJ20, Hemi, and VQ35 make me grin
  • Talking the difference between gross margin and bottom line are fun
  • I know the Chinese astrological signs and tendencies of my family and how to work with them
  • I’m a certified business coach
  • I am a career coach and know what Holland codes mean
  • I can perform a few Tibetan chants in multiphonic vocals
  • I know how many beads are on a mala

When I slowed down, considered Brogan’s post, and spelled out what I do, it was then that I found the place where all of these things needed to go. Right here, me.  And I need to then share it with my readers. Yes, this is what I bring to the table. I can create a professional development plan, incorporate your MBTI type with the 5 Elements, and help you launch a business all in the same conversation. It’s  bit crazy but it works. Not everyone needs all of that, but there are some that do. That’s why I’m here and why I do it.

I’m happy to serve relate in a way that some quirky and unique individuals may need. I’m not for everyone, only those who need this approach. So I think I’ll write about these topics, offer perspective on how some of them relate to each other and connect the dots in ways people may not expect. This is where business and spirituality meet. Drop me a line or connect to me on social if you want to learn more.

Quarter Mile With the Hand Brake On

Inner Conflict Creates Friction

Inner conflict does some unfortunate things to the self. Most annoying is the distraction that pulls attention and energy away from the work towards the goals and aspirations we have.  Inner conflict takes several forms including self doubt, self sabotage and confusion. Sometimes the mind gets overly critical and puts us in analysis paralysis. It’s like trying to race the quarter mile with the hand brake on.

This inner friction not only reduces the effectiveness of the efforts exerted but saps motivation when the mind perceives an increased challenge. And the worst part of all of this is that it is self imposed. How can one be aware of these unfortunate actions? There are a few questions to ask to consider if this is happening:

1.  How often is there a consideration of the ‘downstream effects’? While it’s good to anticipate the cause and effect relationship of actions, if it consumes too much energy or starts to paralyze you from moving forward it may be too much.

2.  Is there a trend towards not being able to find a positive outcome? If most roads lead to an undesirable consequence then are there too many limiting beliefs or constraints in the analysis? Might want to take a wider look at options available.

3.  Are there a high number of ‘conflict fantasies’ where negative situations are played out in the mind? Planning how to deal with potential roadblocks or conflicts is good to ensure a positive outcome but over indulgence in this winds up feeding negative inner emotions.

Where does it come from?

Several factors can lead to these exaggerations in the mind including unresolved conflicts from the past, unexpressed emotions in relationships, stress not being managed, or balance in physical/psychological/emotional/spiritual needs. Often times there are situations, interactions, people or themes that can trigger the out of balance reactions of the mind. Understanding and having awareness of these triggers are key to resolving the over active games that our minds generate. Really the only way to put these things to rest is to give the triggers attention, go to the core of why they are there and to then resolve the discord. It’s a choice, and may be a runaway train if you’re not careful.

The job seeker’s Catch 22 mindset

Yesterday on LinkedIn I read a post about the Entry Level Epidemic that college grads face.  Tracey Edouard wrote a strong piece about the feelings that what I feel both grads and job seekers sometimes encounter when they are venturing into the next leg of their professional journey.  The article can be found here:

http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140702051331-112825940-the-entry-level-epidemic

Having coached adult job seekers as well as college students I discovered one concept in Tracey’s article that really got to me:

“Companies won’t hire you because you don’t have enough professional experience, but how else are you supposed to gain professional experience if you’re not given a chance to work in the professional field?”

I call this the Catch 22 mindset which I’ve seen many times.  This belief is a self perpetuating loop that will keep you in the cycle of never getting experience.    Searching on a job board and going through the application process and getting screened is not the only way to get a job.  During my stint as a career advisor for students in the medical field, I wouldn’t allow my mentees to fall into this trap.

As a former job seeker I felt well qualified for positions only to get rejected after a week or two.  After repeated attempts and failures, my ego painted a picture that narrowed my hopes and possibilities.  That personal experience allowed me to understand how that state of mind began and built a limited view of the world around me.  In my journey I did learn new ways of adapting and moving beyond that point.

  1. Get volunteer experience in the areas you want to work in.  Is there a university, non-profit, or municipality that could use some assistance on something despite lack of budget?
  2. If you can’t find a volunteer experience, start a project and make one.  I know of a person in my network that wanted to get more into marketing so he decided to be a campaign manager for a local candidate in an upcoming election.
  3. Create a community group that does projects for the surrounding area.  There are some great local groups that do very good things for charity.  In my area, WGirls chapter does quite a bit of good.

The fundamental problem I have with the Catch 22 experience model is that there is so much external locus of control with the perspective. Yes, there are certain aspects of the deck that are stacked against recent grads, but instead start looking at what you can control. When in college, it is important to start building your experience early on (like sophomore year) so you can have a couple years of transferable experience.

I believe college students could benefit from more mentorship.  A capable mentor can help you structure what you want to do and help navigate the changes that occur in college studies. I changed my major in my senior year from a BS to a BA. I did not have mentors or seek other professional guidance that would have helped me establish clarity. I roamed and searched in my 20’s and stumbled in my early 30’s. Looking back I wish I had more mentors along the way to authentically help me.  Here is what I’d advise to others:

1. Start planning your sophomore year.  Create plans for 1 year, 2 years, and 3 years out to clarify your goals post graduation.  This doesn’t have to be etched in stone but it will help start the process.
2. If direction is a challenge, look for some assessments and a coach/professional to help you with it. I’ve seen good things come from MBTI, Enneagram, Talent Dynamics and more.
3. Join professional groups to meet people that can help. I do some work with the Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee and they have a fantastic student program. Find something that can put you in contact with those who can be of service.
4. Every 6 months, do a head check. How is my perspective, what are my limiting thoughts, what is motivating me right now? If it’s healthy then keep feeding that process. If there are unhealthy things then hit those head on.

In my opinion Awareness is the key to it all. An honest examination of your beliefs and willingness to create your own opportunities are your ticket to success.  Career opportunity is not a closed loop, but a rather complex journey in which we all probably need guidance at some stages.  Take control, ask for help and don’t lose heart.

 

-Jason

Animal Symbolism

For many years I’ve  been fascinated by dream interpretation and symbolism. I’ve always felt as if there were important lessons to be gained from our subconscious mind processing our day’s happenings. One perspective I came across a few years back was looking closer at animal symbolism and interpretation. I’m a huge fan of Carl Jung and his work on archetypes and dreams and I find his style of symbolism to be intriguing and useful.

This could be a huge post, hundreds of pages long if I weren’t careful so I’m keeping it focused on animal symbolism. One very useful book I like to reference is called Animal Speak by Ted Andrews. He draws upon a very spiritual look on how animal symbolism had played out in North American history and how it can still be relevant today.

One technique I like to use is to read about the animal symbols and how they were interpreted by medicine men and shamans. His book will talk about animal behaviors as well as traditional history and interpretations of animal symbolism. Then it wraps up with possible interpretations of animal symbolism and what it might mean in the reader’s life. Here are a few examples:

Hawks:

Associated with Visionary Power and Guardianship as well as higher levels of consciousness. How would you feel that vision and soaring to new heights is relevant to your world right now?

Coyote:

Associated with Wisdom and Folly, sometimes coyotes are incredibly wise and understanding creatures but if those around you don’t understand, you may need to simplify things in order to communicate that perspective. They also hunt in packs by coordinating and cooperating. Is cooperation an aspect of one’s life that needs work?

Frogs:

Associated with transformation. Since frogs start off as tadpoles in water, and then eventually grow legs to navigate on land, there is a tremendous amount of adaptation and trasformation in this symbol. Are there aspects of life which need transformation in order to move forward? Since frogs start off in water and then land, how do the elements of Earth and Water become relevant?

Sometimes these animal symbols won’t make sense when you first think about dreams and what plays out. But in the context of a deeper wisdom it may illuminate a much needed perspective on what is going on in one’s life. But if a bizarre dream of your parents sitting in water holding a frog doesn’t make sense, try thinking of the wisdom of the symbols and consider if a moving beyond old family patterns and transforming the self to something beyond that would be a benefit.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a reference book that will give meaning/interpretation to cover all situations but consider what animal symbolism could teach you. One must make their own assessments and interpretations based on situational and personal relevance. Are there animals you seem to be naturally drawn to? Have there been odd symbols that didn’t make sense but could have a deeper meaning? Feel free to share some things that stand out or seem like they would be worth exploring, I’m curious.

The Five Elements

There is an interesting concept I came across in some of my Eastern studies relating to the five elements. In Chinese astrology for example, not only is there an animal symbol for your birth sign but also a corresponding element relating to what part of that year you were born in. Also in certain Tibetan traditions, five elements were useful in bringing balance to the self. Let me lay out a summary of the elements and what they may mean.

Earth: This is a very solid, grounding type of energy. Things like dirt, metal, and stone are examples of this. The Earth element can bring about stability, heaviness, or solid protection if needed.

Water: A very flowing, fluid type of energy. Water conforms to it’s container, holds no shape of its own, and is less dense than Earth. It can represent the ability to flow with changes around the self, is sometimes associated with vast ‘oceans’ of wisdom, and other times can be a tsunami of force.

Fire: This energy is passion, motivation, drive, and motion. The element of fire also tempers and purifies. Sometimes things need to be burned away to give way to something new, this is another way in which fire can help.

Air: The element of air also takes the form of wind, fresh perspective, change, and freedom. Very light and expansive, air can be a sense of peace and freedom in certain cases.

Space: This element is the fifth element, a little more abstract. All matter occupies space, this is where the potential lies. The larger the space the more one can allow in to certain situations. It can be expansive or restrictive depending on the need.

In all of this lies the concept of balance. Within all of us is aspects of all of these elements and a certain strength in each of these. The energies of these elements can be strong, weak, or in a relative harmony. The goal is to try and assess where each of these reside and what type of adjustment may be needed.

For example, I worked with a manager who tended to be hot-headed. When too many things came his way he tended to be short, make rash decisions and at times lash out. Interestingly enough, one of his favorite past times was boating. He felt relaxed and peaceful while on his boat. In this case his element of fire was probably too strong and water was a way to ‘flow’ better and even out some of his temper.

In another case, a job seeker who is unhappy in their position but is afraid to leave the security of where they are, may actually have too much Earth element (grounding) and could use a little fire to motivate.

Another example could be the pessimist who thinks that they are out of options and can’t actually change their situation. This individual would benefit from increasing the element of space to allow in possibility as well as increasing the element of air to usher in some fresh ideas and perspective.

It gets interesting when you start using elements to assess workplace culture, work styles and leadership styles. When elements are incorporated into the perspective then it sometimes is easier to see potential solutions to change. A stagnant work culture may need more fresh ideas (air), then introducing new trainings or newer personnel may be useful.

What I suggest now is thinking about these concepts in different aspects of work and life and see if you can measure them:

1. What elements seem to be more prevalent?

2. How do you think they are weighted? Too much, too little, neutral or in balance?

3. What counter elements could be introduced to bring a better balance?

4. What activities or solutions could reflect those counter balancing elements?

Let me know what you think, I’m curious to hear your assessments!

Observations from coaching job seekers

I recently gave a presentation on, “How to Navigate a Career Transition” for the Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee.  As I was thinking about what to share in this session, I really felt torn because I really only had 45 minutes or so to present  some key take aways.  Navigating a jump in career can take different forms and can be a relatively planned event or a chaotic chain of unfortunate circumstances.  I decided to cover more of an outline of what I use as a process in identifying direction, strategy and resources to help people along.

One trend that really stood out to me in my experience coaching was that seekers had the most trouble with communicating scope in both their resume and the interview process.  I think that most workers in the field wind up doing their day to day jobs and hitting benchmarks, metrics, or whatever it is called in the organization.  Few stop (or maybe don’t have time)  to reflect on the depth of work they do.  Which is really too bad if you think about it, a worker may spend 8-14 hours in a work day and not even having the chance to contemplate what they have done before tending to the next committment.

Here is an observation I’d like to share: You will do better in position as well as in a career transition if you are aware and conscious of your accomplishments and understand your scope. Here are some examples:

-It’s one thing to tell someone that you are a supervisor.  It’s another thing to say you have been a supervisor in position for  over 5 years, had been responsible for performance management of 55 team members and led that team in the best safety streak the company has seen.

-It’s one thing to say you worked in a coffee shop but it’s another thing to communicate that you’ve trained over 25 employees in the last 18 months in a high volume store.

-It’s one thing to say you’ve taken on special projects but another to tell how you led a process improvment initiative which saved the company 100 labor hours every month.

One way to stay out of this trap is to meet regularly with a mentor to talk about your career experience.  A good mentor can have discussion to help see different angles in situations as well as be a sounding board for your concerns.  Also, by telling someone your goals it kind of forces you to stay on track.  Mentors can either be in your company or outside. A very wise woman in my network recently taught me you can have a ‘kitchen sink’ of people you can regularly count on to help you out.  It doesn’t hurt to tap your regulars for their perspective.

By utilizing this type of resource one can keep professional performance and goals at the forefront as well as get outside perspectives on the situation.  So when it comes time to write your resume or answer the interview question of ‘what was that result?’ you will have plenty of examples in mind because you had been regularly reflecting on them.

Been too long

Ok, I know it’s been too long but I’ve been regrouping and putting together some new ideas.  Much more to come, stay tuned in the next 4 weeks for more updates, new visual, and of course more quirky content.