By Doug Knight
[Editor's Note: This is Day 13 of the Be Your Own Guru series. Today, we roll into more of the "brass tacks" of building a Noble Empire. I met Doug at a local TEDx event, and was blown away not only by his passion for non-profit work, but also his ecclectic music tastes. Over the past year, I've come to learn how dad-gummed smart he is. If you're looking to dive into a new venture, this could be the kick start (or the warning flag) you've been looking for.]
A friend of mine asked me the other day, “How do you…you know… start something?” My friend was having trouble articulating what truly he was trying to get me to talk about, but after a round of drinks it came out a little easier to understand.
“I’m just afraid to drop everything, risk failure, and start off cold and at the bottom. But I know I would love to be my own boss.”
Ah…. got it. The old “High Risk, Tough-to-see-but-know-its-there Reward” thang.
It’s one of those weird things, especially now with our economic situation as a country (broke), as a typical American (in debt), and as a community (“get a real job” talkers). But I think the first thing I would say to someone who is even just considering such a move is to first ask yourself…. “Are you Happy?”
Now this “do what you’re happy at” talk is obvious to many and simple to say (hard to do). But I don’t just mean the personal happiness that you perceive in your dreams when you see yourself as the President/CEO/Chief Food Taster at Honkin’ Industries, Inc.
I’m not talking about money or being a boss per se; I’m talking about that happiness that happens when you live by a “Work Hard, Play Hard” mentality – where you’re not sure when you are working and when you are playing because both bring you so much JOY.
That’s my belief on the whole “Work/Life Balance” question… Balance it so that it feels great no matter what column you are in.
Being happy also doesn’t mean always in the positive column. You must also know (it is guaranteed) that the road to this happiness includes obstacles and challenge – and you must be happy to face them too!
Suppose you have that friend who talks about the ping pong match he lost with his supervisor while working on a project in the office and you say quietly to yourself “Man, I wish I could kick my supervisor’s ass at table tennis on a Tuesday afternoon” while imagining where you’d put the table and paddles in your cubicle. Well, you’re missing the part of that reality that shows your friend working on a project at the office for 13 hours straight, missing dinner with friends or time with his lovely partner, or missing sleep for about a month.
Happiness? Yes. But Happiness without sweat equity? Um, no.
Back to my pal’s initial question: how do you “start something?” I think you need to follow a couple of signposts, which I will describe below, but my first golden rule still maintains. Will you be HAPPY? So first, define THAT. Before mission statements and business plans built on napkins at the bar… take a few minutes and learn about what is your happy quotient… that sets the needle. Now... sewing time:
1. Stop. Collaborate and Listen. – Thanks Vanilla. But really – and ironically – you need to gain some info. Having a good idea for a nonprofit or a small social enterprise business is super cool, but your idea might be happening already in town.
Check out what you are thinking by doing some online searches, asking around to friends and colleagues. This is especially skipped in the nonprofit sector, where wonderful leaders and go-getters commit to starting an organization, only to find out at the first grant application process that ten other groups do the exact same work in town – and all are gunning for that same $10,000 unrestricted grant award. Save on the duplication and frustrations. Check your surroundings and see who’s in your idea-space right now. Then you can decide if Step 2 is a go or no-go.
2. The 5 Ws – Who, What, Where, When, and Why? Gotta have solid answers to these. If you don’t build it, no one will come. If you focus on the fun work (like how the coolest new site will be designed with your personal flare in mind), then the actual business at www.supercoolsitewithfancystuff.com will be just that. A nice website. Not a business, but a nice site. Honesty is the best policy here too. If you can’t answer these basics, then you’ve just located the holes that you must fill before "starting".
3. We’re Living in a Material World, and I’m a Material Girl (or Boy) - OK. I’ve stalled long enough with the most obvious, and practical, STOPPER to this here new gig you’ve imagine: Cash-ola.
Yes, you will need it. Yes, you won’t have enough. Yes, you will be living off Mac n’ Cheese and picking up “extra” napkins from your local Baja Fresh to stock those "supplies" at home and at the office. This goes without saying. You will be living a low-fi life for a while.
Key to this is along two camps: Budget for Idea and Budget for You/Your Life.
A realistic budget must be made for your new business. Even if it’s a home-based business where things like “office space rent” don’t seem to be needed -account for it! Treat this exercise not as single guy sitting in his one-room flat wishing to be based inside the Empire State Building. Treat this like you must account for all business operations. That way your conservative approach to what it would “cost” will check your feelings that you will “save money” by holding off expenses.
Assume you need them. Get that number to a point where you are cutting back because of a realistic look at your cash flow and P&L statements, not your gut.
The other half of this is personal budget. While your "Noble Empire" is starting up, you will be living like the serf of the kingdom. Many pros suggest you need to plan for six months of ZERO income being produced, and so you need that much to maintain your current living operations. Enough for rent? Gas? Insurance?
The old days (aka about 15-20 years ago) you heard about all these small business people putting their dreams up on credit cards, maxing a fleet of cards to get things going. Avoid this like The Plague. Does it make good financial sense to start off with debt or a line of credit from Ye Local Bank? Please try not to get in hock even before that first widget is sold. On the other hand though, it might be time to sell a couple of personal things and cut back on those lovely dinners at The Palm (shout out to my 837 Club members!). You’ve got to save those nickels and dimes so you can start making that paper.
4. Capital Idea, Sir. Capital Indeed – You need investors. You need supporters. You need BELIEVERS. Fundraising is an ongoing ask. If you are willing to risk and go for it, you must be willing to go out there and ask away.
Fear of asking? Being a start up may not be best for you. No, you can’t do this on your own. No, being afraid to ask isn’t an excuse, it’s a non-starter for your idea of ownership. No, you can’t rely on a wave of support and money just by being “innovative” or “unique” or even “revolutionary.” Why? Because, in no order: (1) Innovation won’t pay the bills… cash does; (2) Unique is based on perception.. so you probably shouldn’t wait for others to see your perceptions, because the bills are coming; and (3) Revolutions need funding. Don’t think so? Ask the French. They bankrolled a lot of our little fight with the Brits back in the 1700s - enough to give us the fighting chance to take down the crown (Merci beaucoup, Frenchies!).
5. You Gotta Sham-Wow This – Yeah, he’s a little creepy, but Vince has a point. Show and tell. Gather around and see how this silly sponge-thing sucks up the water… and your checks.
You must be the #1 Promoter. Wherever you go, it’s networking time. Pass out business cards, grab names and numbers. Invite people to lunch or set a time to pitch that idea to your 10 best buds (with money).
However this happens, it MUST happen. You have to talk about your idea and how the listener can engage… to ACTIVATE. As a new business, you are not top-of-mind for anyone to consider. You have to build that consciousness. One person at a time. Be relentless. Be confident. And most of all…
6. Be Fearless – Business schools across the country and self-help books all tell you the same thing about those who innovate by creating their vision of a company or corporate culture:
Those who succeed do so because of a doggedness and tenacity about their vision… and themselves.
Confidence is key. You know failure is your first partner in this venture. He will check in every so often and deliver a body blow to you and your plans. But he’s no Iron Mike Tyson… he’s Glass Joe from PunchOut! He might get the best of you, and yes you might get an 8-count periodically… but last time I checked, a TKO was a count to ten. So you get up, work the jab, and put him on the canvass (use the upper cut, it’s devastating). Confidence in yourself will build confidence in others. Slowly, round by round, you will garner more supporters, more investors, more believers. And before you know it, you next decision will be the hardest of all…
7. 90 Feet to Go – Time to fly. You are ready. You will reach that moment where the building will become a “Building/Operating” combo package. Time to get rolling. An old quote says "You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first." There’s a moment when it’s time. If you’ve done your homework, asked and asked again, built your realistic budget, and presented fearlessly… you’ll know. Then it’s time to go. Don’t wait for the third base coach to give you the sign. You’ve got the green light. Just don’t come up short, it’s embarrassing.
Douglas Knight (“DK”) is a social entrepreneur, activator, speaker, coach, and cheerleader for the
non-profit FOR-IMPACT sector. In roles as staff member, board member, coach, and consultant, Doug has worked with organizations of various sizes and scopes, to best maximize their abilities to provide impact in their respective communities. From “friend” raising to fundraising, strategic planning to event management, and everything in-between, Doug looks to bring passion and excitement to projects and campaigns with organizations ranging from mid-size associations to small, local start up organizations. Doug’s focus areas include: strategic fund development, strategic planning, special event management, marketing/PR, and communications. His website is a wide-ranging collection of strategic ideas, pop culture, and no-nonsense help for growing your organization. You can also connect with Doug on Twitter and Facebook.