Starting a good business, just like living a good life, requires planning and discipline. I know because I struggled for many years to develop my company into a successful organization. [more]
One of the most effective ways to guide young entrepreneurs is to tell my own business story.
This month, it will be in front of some larger audiences so I’m wrestling with the temptation to paint my story from the other side. I want to tell them how I started with nothing, had a brilliant idea, pursued it with a passion and paint a rosy picture of each time we made good decisions while glossing over the bad ones that set us back.
Success always looks better from this side, especially if you’re a good storyteller.
But I’m finally cured of any temptation to dress my story up.
I’m looking through an old calendar from 1988, the year I opened my business, and it’s a good reminder of what I really need to tell people. After each day during that February I wrote my day’s reflections.
First a little background to make some of the notes make sense. I was 36, my wife Alice and I had 9, 8 and 4 year old kids named Tim, Kevin and Caitlin. My Dad was near entering a nursing home with Alzheimer’s and my brother Terry’s wife, Jan, was bedridden with cancer. At Christmastime, I’d been fired by surprise from my senior corporate position and I was working from an outplacement office while pursuing both job interviews and a business concept.
Here are a few notes from that journal:
Feb 8....... It’s apparent I’m going to need to stay pumped up. All these cold calls are killing me. I hate this outplacement office, it’s depressing. But I saw my kids for two hours this morning and played with them all evening. I think I’m going to be okay.
Feb 12....... Doner and Fallon were the most welcoming of the agency calls – maybe there’s something there. I hit bottom at 5.30 – 25 straight calls following the letters I sent last week; all “nos” and voice mails. But I had to take the boys to gymnastics then I met Alice and Caitlin at Golden Corral for dinner. They brought Cait’s friend Barbie and her Mom who is very funny. We then went and watched the boys.
Feb 17...... I made scheduling calls for COEX conference appointments all day – exhausting but I scored two dates set with good prospects. Then after doing a new set of letters, I took kids to Hobart Arena for an open skate with them and their friends. Sometimes that saves my sanity.
Feb 18...... I talked to Mom about Dad, I am so very sad and I don’t know what to do. What a mess, and Mom is stretched to her wit’s end. She is torn between her love and loyalty and Dad’s current reality. Late this afternoon, I scored a big interview with Pizza Hut and a lunch in Atlanta with the President of Coca-Cola’s fountain division!
Feb 22...... I had a great interview at Hasselbart and Mitten in the morning. This could be a job worth having. Then I went and helped do a home Mass service for Jan at 1.00 pm, then drove home to Dayton. Jan looks bad but, as ever, acts good. How does she do it? It breaks my heart to see her but she’s teaching me hope and how relatively manageable my own misery should be.
Feb 25...... I’m leaving tomorrow for Atlanta, then to Orlando for the COEX conference. H&M job fell through; that sucks. But Alice arranged that the boys can go with me on the trip then I’ll send them home when conference starts; that will help a lot.
Based on re-reading (and to some degree, re-feeling) these moments, here is the message I will take to my audiences this month and it will be more truthful than telling them that “I knew what I was doing from the start.”
I’ll tell them to get a plan, even if only short term. Without it, you have nothing but hope with no foundation. My plan that February was to make lists, send letters, make calls and go to conferences.
I’ll suggest that once they have a plan and are following it, they must work hard to live one day at a time.
My notes from February, 1988, reminded me that some days were good for business and bad personally; other days were the reverse.
Then and now it’s important for me to remember that both types of days, even our moments of gladness and sadness, are simply part of our human condition. The trick is to see these moments just as they are and deal with them skillfully.
One of my favorite early entrepreneur friends is in his forties and lost his brother two years ago and his other brother’s wife last month. He hurts deeply over these losses, I can tell. And yet, I watch him push through his days with humor and hard work.
What’s your story today? Is it darkness or light?
It’s a challenge but entrepreneurs must avoid getting trapped in our stories of darkness and our stories of light.
So I will tell these audiences that any success I’ve had is because of a long succession of days that included BOTH darkness and light. They need to see that whether today is a wedding or a funeral, a big client lost or a big client gained, it will help if they remember it was still...... only a day.
And neither good days nor bad ones are permanent.
One time, my mother-in-law noticed me having a pity party and said:
“Tim, pick up the Bible and show me one place that it says ‘and it came to stay’.”