I recently decided to take my first ever solo vacation to Sayulita, Mexico. Earlier this year I made a list of the 52 Things I Wanted to Do in 2017 That Scared Me or I Had Never Done Before. Traveling solo was #38. Learning to surf was #39. In comes Alejandro. “Alex” was introduced to me by a friend as a “forgiving” instructor. He is a father of two teenage boys and, as it turns out, has a knack for teaching a middle-aged, non-athlete how to get up on a board.
Alex and I spent two mornings together. As you might imagine, I spent a lot of time hanging out on my board waiting for the moment Alex would say, “Paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle. Paddle harder. Now, get up!” It was during these moments that it hit me. Learning to surf is a lot like starting a business. Read more after the jump…
Ramonna and I are flying back from Austin having just presented a session we called “Coding Culture: Programming a Best Place to Work” at SXSWi. As most of you know, we are passionate about promoting the concept of creating unique and bold corporate cultures that keep team members smiling (and not walking out the door), providing deliriously strong customer service and driving profitability to the bottom line. While we can’t share all of the war stories we were able to share with our session attendees, we wanted to share the top 15 tips we created in the spirit of spreading the concept of building a great workplace culture at SXSWi 2015.
Recently, I joined my colleagues Alexis and Ramonna to present to members of the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce on PR in the Digital Age. It’s an interesting concept that many communicators and executives are trying to understand and apply to their business. The emergence of digital and social media has changed the way companies interact with the public. There is an understanding that what people say about you can really build your brand—or do it great harm. That’s what the digital world is all about. It’s changing what we do and what everyone in the market and industry does.
I think it is fair to say that the Internet has affected every one of our clients. There are some companies that have chosen not to embrace social and digital media because of regulatory issues, company history or a host of other reasons. Regardless, all of us are impacted because of how fast news—and misinformation—can spread. When I first started the agency more than 12 years ago, clients could get away with saying, “Let’s not address this issue. It is an isolated incident and it will blow over.” Now, those isolated incidents can blow up in a matter of seconds as a potentially harmful video hits YouTube or a disgruntled employee or customer sends a damaging Tweet. PR in the Digital Age has changed how we counsel clients to protect their reputations and manage crises.
As I gear up to reengage with the Colorado Entrepreneur’s Organization after a personal hiatus, it hit me how many of us in the Chapter have been at that place of pure terror at the thought of going out on our own. I was thinking about the spirit of entrepreneurship and how every few weeks someone emails or calls and asks if I would spend a few minutes sharing what I think of their idea of leaving Corporate America behind and heading out on their own to start a professional services or creative company.
The last call I took was from the younger sister of a good friend of mine. She is a brilliant, outgoing young woman who will do well in anything she sets out to do. However, she has the same fear that many do when deciding to embark on the path to entrepreneurship. I shared some tips with her and I want to share them with you. This is not brain surgery, but this advice has been worth sharing with others who are about to embark on the same road. Take them with a grain of salt…
Ramonna and I are at the Inc. 500|5000 Conference (#Inc5000) in Phoenix and started our morning by listening to Simon Sinek, the inspirational author of Start with Why. His audience? A group of ADD-challenged, private U.S. business owners who got less than a desirable amount of sleep last night after watching the aftermath of the debate and consuming far too many mashed potatoes, quesadillas and dirty martinis (not in that order). If anyone could cause this group to wake up, it was Simon.
His basic question? What do you want on your tombstone? It’s not about the awards you receive or the success you build. It doesn’t matter what you do. It matters WHY you do it. What do you believe in? It made me think about the why behind the way we live our life at GFM and what I actually believe in.
Last week I attended a beautiful funeral service for a good friend’s father. The chapel was standing room only, the flowers, plants and photos of his family were abundant, but the space and décor paled in comparison to the words that were spoken during the 90-minute tribute. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to spend Memorial Day with this family and was well aware (after a competitive afternoon of washer toss, knockout and listening to funny family stories), of the kind of man he was simply by being a witness to the incredible family dynamics he and his wife of 58 years had created. So as much as I dread funeral services, I found myself looking around the packed chapel curious to know more about what kind of person would command such an unbelievable crowd. Needless to say, I was not disappointed.
The memorial service began with a tribute by his business partner of 32 years and was followed by a moving speech from his older brother. But what was even more touching was that seven of his grandchildren got up in front of the crowd to speak, as did all five of his children. Their eulogies were personal, poignant and full of the specific life lessons he had imparted on each and every one of them. While their stories were all different, they shared a theme that couldn’t be missed. It was a theme of compassion, acceptance, and kindness to all o fthose he encountered; unbridled love and commitment to his family, and a strong work ethic (he was still happily working at age 78) where his business associates were treated as family.
So I ask myself – in your business and your professional life – does it really matter what awards you win? What titles you hold? What contracts you secure? The size of your paycheck or the year-end revenue you report? At the end of the day – or your day as the case may be – you won’t be remembered for these things. You will be remembered, as was this amazing man, by the friends you keep, the kindness you show, the quality of time you spend with friends and family and the legacy and lessons you leave your children and grandchildren. It really is that simple.
Last week I had an incredible opportunity to travel to Vancouver to spend 48 hours on the Downtown Denver Partnership’s (DDP) 3rd annual Urban Exploration trip. I had the chance to get to know an entertaining and energetic group of business and community leaders including David Kenney of the The Kenney Group who received the 1st annual Fellowship of the Explorers Award because of his creativity, tenacity, curiosity and longevity, as well as the fact that he hobbled through the entire city with a broken ankle and a smile on his face. As a group, we shared a great deal of caffeine, a few Band-Aids from the long walks and a greater appreciation for the staff of the DDP who managed to herd an extraordinary number of cats around an international city in the midst of a few rain showers.
We were prepared to get a behind-the-scenes look at a number of Downtown Vancouver projects that coincided with a few of the priorities of the Downtown Area Plan and the 2027 committee. “Downtown residential” is the mantra for urban vitality in the new century and we were there to see the city that has often been described as a living example of a successful and vibrant residential downtown. Yes, they had a boost from EXPO ’86 and the 2010 Winter Olympics, but the city did not disappoint.
As a newbie, I walked away understanding more about this beautiful downtown than I do the city I grew up in for the first 18 years of my life. I was struck by Vancouver’s confidence in setting – and maintaining – its priorities. “Living First” has been the strategy for growth in this city since the 80’s. It seems to have a formula that works. A few things to note…
1.) Pedestrians are first. Cyclists are second. Cars? A distant 5th.Vancouver limits the amount of commuters into downtown. There is no freeway system into downtown (which was a surprise) and therefore it forces multiple modes of transportation throughout the city that are all linked together.
2.) The city creates complete neighborhood units. Yes, they have schools, daycares, grocery stores and parks smack in the middle of the places people work and sleep. I considered moving to Downtown Denver several times and the only major reason that I decided against it was because of the lack of families. This is a wonderful goal for our city to continue to keep in mind as it grows.
3.) It creates a rich housing mix of residential and commercial. City planners and developers have also focused on “third places” where people gather after home and work to create a neighborhood. Cafes, art districts, street performers, all make up the mix of living vibrantly.
4.) The use of public space is unsurpassed. The city puts resources into their sidewalks, street art and unique lighting and signage. The sidewalks serve as living rooms. The open space is developed as carefully as the towers and townhomes and the water’s edge is always dedicated to the public.
There are nearly 87,000 residents that live in Downtown Vancouver (compared to Denver’s 10,000) and 40% of those residents walk to work every day. It is no wonder that its carbon footprint is one of the smallest in North America. More than 25% of its residential spaces are designated for families. They have schools, day cares, urban markets, dog parks, bicycle paths and its own gum removal machine (for $5,000 you can have one for your house too!). One of our presenters said, “If you offer residents clean, green, safe and schools, you can give them everything they get by going to the suburbs. They just don’t have to commute.
We left the city impressed by its unique urban design, sustainability efforts and generous hospitality. We will bring back ideas that will be turned into action as we continue to build an even more vibrant Downtown Denver. The best part? We live, work and enjoy a downtown that rivals Vancouver. Our strengths are different, as are our challenges. However, both downtowns share a passion of continuous improvement where, as Tami Door said as we departed, “our people come first.”
I have a fear of heights. I also have a fear of snakes crawling all over me and of getting stuck in elevators with more than two other people. But I digress. To be perfectly clear, the actual ascent is not the problem. It’s the looking down – or the coming down – that makes my heart feel like it has been shot with a large syringe full of adrenaline. At one point in my life, I thought that if I went skydiving and bungee jumping in the same day, I would conquer this fear forever. I was wrong.
In 2003, our team started working with facilitators from Outward Bound Professional (OBP) to conduct off site professional development sessions in order to create collaboration, foster creativity, and truly ‘dig in’ to the good, the bad and the ugly to figure out what we could do to create an even stronger agency. We refined our mission and our vision and created a few BHAGs along the way. We have each asked the tough questions about our own personal growth, the partnerships we create with clients and how we want to work together to build a stronger team and culture.
Unfortunately (or fortunately) for me, I have a business partner who thrives on adrenaline. So Ramonna led the charge of turning our offsites – once conducted in a hotel setting – into an offsite conducted in a natural setting (translation: ‘naturally vertical’). Last summer, we spent the day with OBP on the high- and low-ropes course in Genesee. Last week, we repeated this insanity by rock climbing at OBP’s base camp in Leadville. I can’t say that I will ever feel the need to be suspended 50 feet in the air by a rope and a harness again; however, I can say that I learned – once again – that regardless of my fear, I have an amazing team that I trust will get me off the side of a giant rock through encouragement, laughter and teamwork. These are the moments that you see the most incredible personalities unfold. As I watched colleagues volunteer to climb blindfolded (helmets off to Wendy and Carrie) while others volunteered to share their deepest fears, I am reminded that we are all human. We all have fears. We all need a team to help us get up the mountain safely and provide us with the strength and support to fall gracefully.
A smoke signal, a carrier pigeon, and a good, old-fashioned land line.
There are times that I would opt for the way things used to be in a nano second. Last week was one of those weeks. We were hit with a major technology disaster and in the words of the owner of our outsourced IT firm, “this is simply the worst hardware failure I have seen in twenty years. This I have never seen. This is like the 100-year flood – the one you don’t really plan for. We plan by having spare firewalls, spare hubs, spare servers, spare hard drives, documentation, MS Support, and backups – but never have I seen catastrophic failure of hard drives like this.”
For a small business, we invest in the tools and technology necessary for our team members to have the ability to work 24×7, should a client need arise. For good or bad, our agency has evolved into a state where we sleep next to our smartphones, Tweet from events, manage a crisis from a soccer field and respond to emails at a rapid pace before leaving the next parking lot. We aren’t unlike many other creative agencies. As a team, we rely heavily on email, cell phones, SharePoint and our disgruntled server, appropriately named “LaMonna”. When it all failed, we quickly remembered that technology is both a blessing and a curse.
While I wouldn’t wish this exercise upon any small business, we did learn a few valuable lessons. When it all goes quiet on the technology front, it’s amazing the space it creates for the rest of the world to keep moving.
I guess I should start this post with lesson 5.5 – when starting your business, deadlines should be honored, but you should also be flexible enough to recognize when deadlines can be changed. That said, part 2 is going live today, Tuesday, as my original goal of Monday was sidelined by a “typical Monday.” Here is part 2 of the top 10 things I learned during the first year of entering this insane world of entrepreneurship:
6) Treat starting your new business the same way you would treat finding a new job. When I first dipped my toe in the entrepreneurial water, I knew very few people in Colorado. I made it a goal to set up at least three “coffee” meetings a week with people I didn’t know well and then asked them questions about their business, the community and the trends they were seeing in the economy. It never failed that from those meetings I was introduced to a few of their personal and professional contacts. I drank a lot of coffee (not that I minded) and heard some great stories. Many of the contacts I made in the first year are still confidants today.
7) Reduce overhead. Don’t move into a fancy office the first year or two, unless it’s absolutely critical to the business. Spend money wisely. I worked out of my basement the first two years and then rented a small house off of Pearl Street in Boulder. It was so small; that the kitchen doubled as the conference room. It still remains my favorite office.
8) Spend time with family and friends. Make sure you talk about your plans with your friends and family so they know that this venture into entrepreneurship will consume you in the near term. At the same time, schedule dinners where you leave your smartphone at home. Plan a vacation and make a goal to check in for an hour in the morning and an hour at night. It’s not reasonable to think you can be “off the grid” in the early years, but put some parameters around the time that you will take away from your family during your getaways. We fondly refer to this concept as the “work/life blend.” The idea of achieving ‘work/life balance’ was thrown out with the bathwater early on.
9) Join professional organizations. But don’t just join – get involved – really involved. Try to pick the one or two groups that are most meaningful to you — either personally or professionally. Once of my greatest experiences was joining EO Colorado http://www.eonetwork.org/Pages/default.aspx nearly five years ago. It is a global organization of more than 7,300 business owners in 42 countries that provides opportunities for entrepreneurs to learn and grow from each other. I served on the board for the past four years and recently completed my term as president of the chapter. While the time commitment was considerable, it has been rewarding on multiple levels. EO just launched a new program for emerging entrepreneurs called EO Accelerator. accelerator.eonetwork.org If you have the desire to connect with like-minded folks, this program is worth considering 10) Market yourself. You are fortunate. You are starting a business when it has never been easier to market your company. Social media is the least expensive and most powerful way to start conversations with potential customers, partners and employees. Use it wisely and you will gain far more traction (and spend far less money) than advertisements provided entrepreneurs in the 90s.
You will never catch me advising someone against starting his or her own business. I just wished someone had spent time telling me the pitfalls to avoid before I dove in headfirst. But, then again, I may not have gotten on the diving board at all.