Sunday, March 27, 2011

Don’t Despise Small Beginnings

Small beginning but this guy will grow
(photo credit: GR Sipe)
Small beginnings:  many times they are what lead to the “Big Middle” or “Successful End” (although there never really is “an end” only milestones we reach).  Many of us in business didn’t start out where we are now.  Especially if we own our own business, many of us started from humble beginnings, some beginnings more humble than others. 

 I started my own company at 24 years old.  There were times, during my start, that I felt so small-time I wanted to throw in the towel.  I’d think, “What am I doing?  Playing business?  This is ridiculous, who’s going to buy from me, why would any other respectable business patronize this small fry?”

But you eventually find your niche.  You eventually find your stride.  There were clients you impressed, who stuck with you, in spite of your company’s size (or in spite of your age, as was my case).  There were employees and teammates that shared your vision.  There were collaborating companies that gave you sweet deals and favorable service (in my case, a multitude of suppliers and our shipping partner Ms. Fanny who is absolutely priceless).   People helped you grow, offered advice and didn’t discount you because of your size and lack of bankroll.

And when I talk about growth, like I learned from my good friend John Falchetto (expat and entrepreneur coach extraordinaire), I’m not talking about an out-of-control, ridiculous growth.  I’m talking about a make-sense-and-eventually-brings-you-to-a-level-of-success growth….in a smart way, a stable way and a long-term way.  John will ask questions that'll make you take a hard look in the mirror…. 

My expat business clients are always looking for growth, and this is natural. I always ask them what do they mean by growth. More sales, more employees, more clients, etc.. how do you define growth for your expat business?

John wisely exhorts any young business, “not to grow bigger, but to be different

Let’s be sure that the same help that was extended to us along the way, the same encouragement, the same “treat you as an equal even though our businesses and experience levels are light years apart” treatment…all this, we need to return the favor and do the same to others.

Potential Clients:  Not every client who contacts you is going to be huge.  They may be the “small-fry” you were at your early stages.  Not everyone who contacts JLmade is going to be the big fish that Leeds and are hoping sends us into retirement into the wide-open plains of Montana.  But we know folks got to start out small.  Sure, use wisdom, see what clients are worth investing into, what client has potential, but be sure you’re liberal with your “potential-gauger” and see how you can take an up-and-comer, that has that “extra spark” (just like you like to think you had in your starter years) and help make them shine.

Other businesses and even…*gasp* competitors:  Someone starting a restaurant in your neighborhood?  Frequent it, even if it’s just for drinks and appetizers.  Tell your friends about it.  

Rule #1 in helping others:  get  your mind OFF self and on to liberal, generous, “not-even-going-to-think what have you done for me lately" giving.  And the great thing about this is, sowing seeds of goodness always find a way of bringing a harvest. Like Paul Castain so clearly teaches, find them on social media and make them look like a rock star. 

The surest way to your rock stardom is to make others look like rock stars. Always ask yourself how you can make others look good!
Don’t be stingy in sharing industry tips.  Find a business in your industry, one that’s knobby-kneed and slack-jawed just like you looked in your infant stages and share with them what you know.  You don’t have to spill the beans and give away all your trade secrets, but the world is big enough for some of the pie to be shared.  Take a big slice of mentoring and educating-pie and share it with the new kid on the block.  

Employees:  Keep this in mind with your team.  Not everyone is a “one-man or one-woman show “ as they like to think.  You need help.  It’s especially important in China to remember that employees start out even more unskilled.  It’s not uncommon to find kids in their mid-20’s (in China, mid-20’s is considered a kid) who have never had parttime jobs, no work/industry experience and are as green as grass.  You cannot discount this, if you did, you’d be hard-pressed to build a team.  Find folks you can motivate, inspire and help to grow

(photo credit: GR Sipe)
Ourselves:   Don’t be so hard on yourself.  Realize you had to crawl before you walked.  Don’t think so much about what you don’t have and where you want to be, but be grateful for every milestone, every success.  Keep a journal showing your success and different phases you passed into.  Think about where you are now and where you were a few months back.  Find the things you did right, reflect on them and be optimistic that if you could do it those few times, more are around the corner.  Find your mistakes, see where you missed and be glad it’s a growing process and you got that under your belt and out of the way with it.  And if you make the same mistake twice?  No big deal, you’re all the stronger and can deal with it in a less-painless method than you did the first time you ran around your office screaming about it.

Don’t forget where you came from.  Anyone’s small beginnings can become someone’s tomorrow “Big Middle” and then it stops at a “Successful End” (or satisfactory pit stop?) and circle of life repeats.

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