My Learns as an Outplacement Entrepreneur
by Chris Barton, President & Founder
Over the last three years I have learned a lot about being an entrepreneur. I would say that 50% of what I have learned has come from actually “doing” my job as a leader of a business that is innovating in the outplacement industry. The other half of my learning has come from a combination of sources: reading (I’ll share my list shortly), networking with other leaders of high-growth organizations, business development wins/failures, insight and collaboration of partners, and a confidential entrepreneurial mentoring relationship. If I was put on the spot, it would not be easy for me to assign a percentage to each of these channels of information. I’ll say this though, with 100% certainty, you are going to need all of it.
Being an entrepreneur can be lonely – particularly if you have experienced rejection from others who do not share your passion for changing the world. So, finding and defining trusted channels of information is critical. There is a statistic that is widely quoted from a study done by Inc.com and the National Business Incubation Association. Simply stated, 80% of new entrepreneurial businesses fail within the first five years of operations. That’s a mind-blowing number for most people and more than enough to convince many not to take the chance.
If you are considering launching a new venture or interested in joining one as a leader, you should take some time to reflect on your resolve. It goes without saying that your “risk tolerance” should be high. But that is not enough. If you are going to make your “roll” on the big craps table of entrepreneurship, I’d like to share just a few diamonds of information distilled from my learning over the past three years since launching our outplacement business.
Define Your Values Early On
When you get started with any new venture, it always seems as if the mere momentum and passion for your new idea are going to be enough. Trust me, it will not be. Becoming an entrepreneur is a whole lot like getting married. If you want the relationship between you and your company to last the test of time, then you better get clear on values right from the beginning. I am not talking about personal values. I am referring to the values you want your organization to live, breath, and display every day.
Defining and knowing business values early on can give you some solace when the monthly revenue numbers are not going your way. We have a set of ten values that we live in the outplacement business. One of the most prominent is “Investing in People. Investing in the Future.” I ask myself each and every day, ”Are we true to our values? Did we make a difference for this client?” I know if we get the values right that the P&L will take care of itself (for the most part). Further, one can go back to their values regularly (particularly when you are feeling stale) to regain energy and passion for the long fight ahead.
Measure Your Performance
Many start-up ventures, including mine, do not hit their initial, overly optimistic financial projections. This does not however excuse the fact that a line in the sand has to be established somewhere. You have got to figure out the key performance indicators for your business and attend to them like a hawk. If the numbers don’t say what you like against the plan, resist the temptation to lower your goals. It might make you feel good today, but you will pay for it down the road when it is time to ask for funding and other outside assistance.
There is yet another reason to measure performance. Celebrations! There is nothing more important than planning a reasonable reward for yourself and your team when the business exceeds its projections. Celebrations and rewards are an affirmation of your hard work, diligence, and intelligence when it comes to “making it happen” on a weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly basis. You are going to need this because there will be many times when you have to say, “No celebration this quarter. We missed our numbers by 9%.”
I am still amazed at how some professionals will strike out on an endeavor without having some knowledge of their individual attributes as a person. Specifically, if you want to be an entrepreneur, you better know yourself. Let me say it again. You better know yourself. Why is this so important? Well, there are some things that you are just not going to be good at in business and you will need to find others to help. Further, it is important you understand your skills, personality attributes, desired work, risk tolerance, and working methods.
An example from my own personal background might be worth the effort here. My Myers Briggs personality type is ENTP. In the assessment we use in our outplacement business, I am described at a high level as a “Classic Entrepreneur and Inventor”. Sounds great doesn’t it? My personality seems almost perfect for someone in my line of work! My “dark side” comes out when I recognize the opportunities for growth in my personality. Specifically, I like to design things and then move on to the next thing. This is not always a good thing. I have learned to surround myself with great project managers and structured people who can bring necessary order and rhythm to the business. Where would I get this insight from had I not invested the time to get to know myself?
Pick Great Partners
I am fortunate to have had picked some great partners as I began my quest to change the outplacement world. Specifically, I get to work every day surrounded by a great bunch of entrepreneurial minds at CBI Group and Placers. These are people that understand what it is like to structure a business, build a business plan, develop a culture, and be the driving force behind a dream. More importantly we share a set of common values that allows the combined group of entities to share resources and key market insights. Even more powerful is our ability to scale and capture business opportunities only available due to our combined competitive advantage.
As do most start-ups, Barton Career Advisors needed to establish both formal and informal partnerships to grow the business. While CBI Group and Placers represent our formal partnerships we also have developed informal linkages to complimentary referral sources, executive search firms, business leaders, consultants, clients, and friends who share our vision for the future. These informal partners have become an invaluable part of our support network and a community of believers that perpetuate the story of a new paradigm in outplacement and career transition. Great partners, both formal and informal make the odds of success in entrepreneurship just a little less daunting. If you want to win as an entrepreneur you need to create a fellowship of believers and supporters. Pick your partners wisely!
My Entrepreneurial Reading List — As Promised!
Here are a few titles that are on my reading list. All great reads for those of us with entrepreneurial ravings!
- Mastering the Rockefeller Habits – Verne Harnish
- Delivering Happiness – Tony Hsieh
- Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson
- Losing My Virginity – Richard Branson
- When the Little Things Count…And They Always Count – Barbara Pachter
- The One Minute Manager – Ken Blanchard, Ph.D. & Spencer Johnson, M.D.
- Born to Win – Lewis Timberlake with Marietta Reed
- Business Relationships That Last – Ed Wallace