Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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How to get from where you are to where you want to be

Where Did the Day Go?

The great dividing line between success and failure can be expressed in five words: “I did not have time.” Franklin Field

Since the start of this year my plate seems to be extraordinarily full. Days go by so quickly that it is becoming difficult to keep track of what is being accomplished and what things are being left behind. My action days are getting mixed up with my preparation days and everything seems to be moving too rapidly. Whenever I experience times like these I need to actually take a step back,  stop auto piloting for a while and stop to reflect about what is really happening. If one does not do this, you get lost in the moment and one day blends into the next and pretty soon the day, week, month or year has passed you by. A story I re-read at such times is this one. It helps me put the bigger picture in perspective and clearly shows that the bigger things in life are what one needs to be focused on. If we continuously  work on developing the little things, we forget the big rocks and after a while there is no more space for them.

Last year I wrote about the time management philosophy I follow which includes a mixture of preparation days, action days and relaxing days. In the last quarter of  ’08  I started to integrate  GTD  a lot more into my life. Apart from the usual split of days for that system I also do three other exercises. The first one of these is to set some big goals for the month, chunk them down into smaller ones to be done weekly and lastly chunk them even further into mini steps to be done on a daily basis. The daily basis steps comprise of my “Most Important Tasks” for the day. These range anywhere from 2-4 tasks. It is important to take consistent action on the goals we are working on. Although I have some large yearly goals such as writing a book this year, I tend to keep most of my goals on shorter time frames. This adds the often much needed sense of urgency and stops me from procrastinating.

When I start to lose track of time it is either that I am focusing too sharply on micro goals and have forgotten the bigger picture, or the fact that mini steps are taking longer than usual thereby dragging my day.  General frustration builds up when you work hard but do not get the results that need to be there. Being a highly result oriented person, when I begin to miss daily or weekly targets, flashing red flags force me to take a step back and re-evaluate what am I doing wrong, and gauge whether the path  I have selected is truly the one I want to continue on. Having such built-in systems helps keep me on track, focused and provides the sense of motivation to get things done.

Start with simple steps and goals and steadily increase their number and complexity as you become more adept. Hopefully you will get more things done and see your productivity sky rocket.

Related Posts:

- An Inspirational Story

- 5 Steps to Manage your Time Better

- 5 Steps to Get Things Done

Filed under: Time Management, , , , , , , , , ,

The Secret to Success

“Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill

Unfortunately there is no magical formula or path to guarantee success. Reading autobiographies of some of the most successful people in the world and engaging in conversations with successful entrepreneurs, the one common tread that is always brought up in one way or other, is their level of persistence. This theme is stressed upon vigorously and they reiterate how they nearly gave up, but something told them to keep going on. I am reading the “Second Bounce of the Ball” by Ronald Cohen these days, a founding member of the private equity industry, and he brings up this point in one of the early chapters of his book. In the first couple of years of setting up his business he lost both of his partners because they did not think the business was going to survive. However he kept faith and persistence in the inner conviction that he was onto something and kept plugging away. Success came 7-8 years into his venture but at the end of his career he was managing $2ob.

Starting an enterprise is hard work. Everyone knows that, but I think many of them underestimate just how challenging it actually is to get a venture past the break even point into profitability. However, plugging away on a venture without changing the strategies that are not working, is obviously not very smart either. Listed below are a couple of pointers to assist you push through the challenges and achieve the goals and results you want.

1. Clarify your goals: I have reiterated this point many a time on my blogs. Before starting any venture, ensure you know what you are working towards. What is the final end goal? What do you want to achieve, and by when? Make your goals as specific as possible and ensure that they are measurable and time bound. Without clear goals, chances are that you will lose steam half way, begin to doubt yourself and lose faith in the venture. You need to be emotionally and mentally connected with your goals and believe with conviction that you have the abilities to reach them.

2. Have a Plan: If you set a goal for your business to achieve a $1m in profits in 3 years time of selling your product/service, then chart out a plan how you plan to achieve the goal. What are the steps that need to be taken? What are major milestones that need to be achieved along the way? What resources will you need to realize your plans? What are your backup strategies if you are unable to hit some of your mini goals? A plan is a critical element in keeping you focused and provides much needed motivation during those rough times.

3. Partners: These could be your business partners or they could be associates from your mastermind groups or mentors who help push you when the chips are down. When you are riding solo and business is not going as planned it can get very lonely, frustrating and demotivating. Without an adequate support system even the most persistent and determined individuals can falter. Make sure you have partners who will be there to catch you in case you fall and will help you get back up again.

4. Shrug of Negativeness: How many times have you heard someone shoot down a business idea that you may want to pursue or tell you that the economy is so bad that your chance of succeeding is negligible. As an entrepreneur you need to be able to shrug of this negativity without letting it affect your mental capacities. By surrendering to external circumstances we will find ourselves paralyzed and often unable to think or act correctly. Have faith and believe in what you are doing  rather than other people, let concerned people give you feedback and take it from there.

Success is usually the last person still hanging on when everyone else has given up. It takes patience, persistence and a level of self confidence that enables you to weather the storms when the going gets tough. Remember not to fight through the challenges blindly without adjusting your strategies along the way. If you really believe that what you are wanting to achieve is possible and you can do it, you are more than half way there.

Filed under: Advice, Inspiration, , , , , , , , , , ,

What do you do when you fall?

“Why do we fall, sir? So that we might learn to pick ourselves up.” Alfred (Batman Begins)

I was having an interesting discussion with a friend yesterday about the economic climate and the alarming rate of business closures in multiple sectors. We were sharing personal stories about how we had dealt with difficult times in our respective businesses and what things kept us plugging away even when it seemed to be the end of the road. I am sure you understand that problems are part and parcel of starting a new business or being part of a new venture. Some problems will be larger than others but you never really quite run out of them. When you solve a specific challenge in a particular segment of your business it does sometimes manifest itself in another aspect of it.

For example, suppose your business is struggling with sales generation. After brainstorming and overcoming that problem, the next challenge is often managing the inflow of new orders which the business may not be equipped to do. This forms a cycle where it is possible to continue moving forward and facing new challenges as they appear. However, it is not usually as simple as that. There are three potential stages we can go through when facing a challenge.

1. Ignore it: How many times have we been faced with a problem either of a personal nature or in a professional aspect of our life and chosen to ignore it. There have been many times that I can personally recall where we knew something was wrong with the way our business was doing a certain process yet we never changed it. Wanting a different reaction from the same action is unfortunately something that many of us find ourselves doing when we do not want to move out of our comfort zones. We pretend that our problems do not exist or are not affecting us and hope for a miraculous change. Unfortunately that usually never comes and most of the time we just end up amplifying the problems.

2. Blame somebody: This is probably the most used excuse whenever we are faced with a problem. The economy is bad, my partner cheated me, we lost our star sales person, we do not have the funds or I am not skilled enough. This is another easy way to deal with problems. We shift the blame to anyone we can, including ourselves sometimes in the face of problems we cannot pass on. This creates a detrimental and negative cycle that ends up sapping all motivation and drive we may have left in ourselves and we let our environment condition us in whatever way it deems fit. This is giving up  control in our lives by burying our head in the sand.

3, Solution: The most productive thing we can do for ourselves whenever we face a problem is to correctly identify it, document where it is stemming from, brainstorm with individuals who will be able to pinpoint pain areas and develop a set of options that can help us deal with them. As start ups, we go through some tough challenges such as getting your first big reference customer, securing funding or convincing a star player to join your team. We have to look at each of these problems with an open mind and no matter how many times we fall down, we must learn the lesson inherent in the fall, then learn to pick ourselves up again.

Most of the things discussed in this post may appear extremely obvious. I mean who wants to admit that they are actually not dealing effectively with a problem that they may have in their life. I recommend getting a piece of paper and writing down all the major problems that you may be facing in life right now whether of a personal or business nature. Next, identify how you are dealing with these problems. We are often surprised to discover that we focus so much on the fact that we have these problems, that we forget to think of  necessary solutions. In order to move forward we need to understand that problems are a natural part of life, the quality of our lives however depends primarily on how we deal with them.

Filed under: Advice, Change, Inspiration, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Small World

“Never before in history has innovation offered promise of so much to so many in so short a time.” Bill Gates

Today after being on a conference call between three different time zones, I stopped to marvel at the amazing transformation the internet and telecommunication tools have had on business. My father reminds me of the days he was in Saudi Arabia in the early 80′s, when using the telephone was a luxury and all business transactions were either done in person or through telegrams. I cannot even begin to fathom doing that today. With the explosive growth of computers and the internet, the world has suddenly and truly become a small world. No one is really inaccessible and everyone is linked to each other through various social networks. At times however it can be quite overwhelming knowing that one is constantly plugged into this network be it through a computer, laptop or mobile phones.

The world having become increasingly more connected has brought about many new opportunities for entrepreneurs in it’s wake. Today you can be sitting in Singapore talking to your supplier in Guangzhou, China and selling your product to someone in Brazil. All this with the help of Skype, E-Banking and some collaboration software. However, not enough entrepreneurs are being able to see the multiple opportunities that exist now that we are able to bridge these massive divides. My father and many of his friends are in the import/export business. They can literally conduct business anywhere in the world just by using a phone. Other opportunities such as outsourcing are also becoming increasingly popular and Timothy Ferris has dedicated an entire chapter in his book “4 Hour Work Week” to it.

I have quite a few friends who use e-bay and other such websites to make a decent part time income to supplement their primary income streams. Some of them are the first ones to get the latest mobile phones from Asia and sell them to buyers in the West; others buy handicrafts from China and supply major retail stores. This definitely requires doing your homework, finding a niche and seeing whether you can locate a gap to fill. By leveraging on technologies which are readily available today this has become increasingly simpler from days of yore when you needed to go to the post office to send out a telegram. This is only one of the ways we can leverage on available technologies. I will discuss the impact of these technologies on various aspects of business processes in the near future.

Filed under: Communication, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Inspiring Entrepreneurial Story

“I’ve always learned on-the-job, in real time. A problem comes up; I research it, and try to solve it. You can’t study to be an entrepreneur; you have to develop those skills day in day out. “ Tom Szaky

I have memories of going to a video rental store over the weekend when I was around 6-8 years old. The video store was called Star Video and when they gave us the videos they were packed in a paper bag which had the logo of a restaurant called Barbeque Tonite on it. The restaurant was the final aim of the owners of this small video rental franchise that had a couple of locations. The owner’s son used to school with me  and was a friend. Eventually they opened a small restaurant that served traditional barbeque food and very wisely paid an exceptional amount of attention to detail and quality. The place could probably hold a maximum of around 50 odd people in those early days. Fast forward to today, the restaurant has witnessed an absolutely explosive level of growth. Today it probably has a capacity of at least 500+ customers spread over 4 floors. They have a limited menu but the quality has remained evenly and  exceptionally good, this has kept most of us coming back for more week after week.

Seeing the level of success of this restaurant, many have attempted to replicate it, as close to them as possible, to cash in on the spillover since there are always  huge crowds waiting to get into the place. However, none of them have succeeded in coming close. Having dinner there tonight, I was once again amazed at the level of success that they enjoy and whenever I visit their restaurant it renews my faith as an entrepreneur. The owners knew from the very beginning what they wanted. The vision to be the leading provider of local barbeque food was something that each of them were passionate about and they figured out a way to raise money for the venture. Once they had managed to do that, there was no looking back.

There are two important lessons from this story. The first is, before you start whatever you want to,  ask yourself  “Is this something that I am truly passionate about?” If the chosen line of business is something you are passionate about, the next step is the need to articulate a vision for the business you want to run. I have made the mistake of not thinking through the second aspect with enough detail on several occasions and have paid a price for it. Without a clear vision one usually spends a lot of time going round in circles not quite knowing which direction to take. This problem is overcome when you think things  through and know and visualize exactly what you want. During the course of working it out practically things will change somewhat but the fact that there is a guiding principle from the very beginning is essential for starting on the right foot.

Filed under: Inspiration, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

My Big Challenge for 2009

“If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Toni Morrison

I have been thinking about my goals and aspirations for 2009 for the last couple of days. I have been setting goals for various aspects of my life. When I reached the category of personal goals, I began thinking on similar parallels to my goal of starting this blog in 2008. I believe starting this blog was one of the most rewarding goals that I have set to date. It has come to a point that I am motivated on a daily basis to write something and if I don’t, it feels as if I have forgotten something during the course of the day, in short I miss it! While thinking about this I began debating the idea of possibly writing a book in 2009. It would be a book about entrepreneurship and detail the major joys, hurdles and learning experiences I have had on my journey so far. The primary objective would be to assist others out there who are wanting to start a business or have started a business recently. After thinking about it in depth, I know that such a book would have been of great help to me when I was starting up a couple of years ago. I have thus decided to set myself the goal of completing the e-book version by Dec 31st 2009.

I realize there are many “How-to” books on starting a business as well as entrepreneurship in the marketplace today. My only gripe with most of them has been that they are very technical in nature and instead of always inspiring someone to take the leap, they often lead to self doubt. The objective of my book would be to provide advice on some of the biggest lessons I have learnt during my entrepreneurial journey. That would include setting visions, finding the right partners, the importance of marketing, how to manage cash flows and other very expensive lessons that I have learned over time. After reading this book I hope the reader will be able to see entrepreneurship from a 30,000 ft level as well as some of the intricacies that need to be addressed during the first year of starting up.

I would really appreciate feedback from readers of this blog about whether this is a book that would be of interest to you and what you would want to learn about, and see included in such a book. Your feedback will be critical in assisting me to choose the right focal point of the book. I look forward to hearing from you either through email at blog (at) usmansheikh.net or in the comment section below.

Filed under: Ideas, , , , , , , , , ,

The Little Things

“People expect good service but few are willing to give it.” Robert Gately

I was having a meal at a restaurant today (Nandos) where I experienced a very high and professional level of service. This is a place I frequent occasionally. On some occasions the level of service is high for a mid tier eating place where the emphasis really is on turn-around time on the tables. However there have been occasions when the level of service has left a lot to be desired. Thinking about it today as we were being served and looked after by the individual assigned to our table, it really takes very little effort to make such an experience turn around from an average one to one that gets me blogging about it. There were a couple of things that I think were done really well:

1. We were greeted with a smile and asked about our day. That just made the entire relationship get off to a good start.

2. I wanted to make some difficult changes to what I was ordering and he made sure it got done without getting flustered. He did not give me a flat out yes or no when I asked him whether the changes could be done. He merely said he would do his best and let me know as soon as possible. Needless to say the changes were made and I was very happy when I got my meal.

3. During our meal he checked up on us a few times. He was never hovering around the table while we were eating, but was always there when we needed something.

4. Upon presenting the bill he asked us to fill out a feedback form on his service during the meal. This was a person who was serious about the job he was doing and was making sure that he got feedback to ensure he could do better.

The things listed above can surely be duplicated relatively easily among the staff of a restaurant. It depends largely on management to ensure that their staff provides customers with superior service and provide them the necessary training to help deliver it. The importance of good customer service is paramount irrespective of your  line of business.

Are you doing all that you can to ensure you give your customers the best level of customer service possible?

Related Posts:

- Non Financial Metric #1: Customer Satisfaction

- 5 Steps to Better Customer Service

Filed under: Customer Service, , , , , , , , ,

My Top 5 Posts for 2008

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Herman Cain

The first day of the new year is always a special time. It is like you have a fresh start, and can start off with a clean slate. Undoubtedly the forecasts for 2009 are not as rosy as the year before. However, I believe that we are all in charge of our own future. If we want it to turn a certain way, we have to make a conscious and concentrated effort to make sure we do whatever we can to ensure we achieve what we want. It is a lot easier to sit on the sidelines and just accept the fact that it is going to be an extremely difficult year and do nothing about it. If however you do want to bring about a particular change in your life, there is really no better time to start than…. now. Listed below are my top 5 series posts, traffic wise. I hope they will help make 2009 a great year for you.

1. 8 characteristics of Ideal Business partner

2. 5 Steps on How to Make a Decision

3. 5 Steps to Write a Customer Value Proposition

4. 5 Steps to Creating Winning Teams

5. 5 steps to Ensure Effective Meetings

Filed under: Advice, Inspiration, , , , , , , , , ,

Looking Forward to 2009

“When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.” John M. Richardson, Jr.

As I look back at 2008 it seems a bit of a blur. Everything moved so fast I can’t believe the year has already come to an end. I can clearly remember setting up this blog exactly a year ago and posting my first entry in the early hours of 2008. A lot has happened in these last 365 days. I am really happy that I was able to keep my resolution of blogging everyday and to tell you the truth, I am quite relieved that the pressure has finally been lifted today. However, what I have gained is hopefully a lifelong habit of documenting my thoughts in writing and also sharing them with the rest of you. The act of writing down your thoughts on a regular basis has been therapeutic and a great learning exercise. A lot of things have become much clearer and more importantly my thoughts seem to be much more structured.

Looking at 2009 I have not really had the chance to sit down and think about the resolutions I want to make for 2009. My life has been a bit of a tizzy these last couple of weeks with a lot of traveling and more recently being down with a nasty bacterial infection. However, I plan to use the next couple of days to reflect and think about what I want to achieve this year. There are many new ventures I have planned for the coming year which I will be sharing with all of you in greater detail in the coming weeks. There is an e-book I want to publish this year. Lastly I want to really improve this blog in 2009 and actually convert it into a profitable one with strong growth prospects. What I need to do with the goals listed above is to convert them into SMART goals. Ones which I will be able to measure and be specific about in order to reach them.

Unlike last year I do not plan on making any one major commitment without giving it adequate thought and research. This year my resolutions are going to be well thought out and be formed on the basis of some larger goals I want to achieve in the next couple of years. Keeping the bigger picture in mind when developing your goals is essential. We need to take these small steps in order to finally reach our destination. Expecting to make huge leaps is possible, but that is associated with enormous levels of risk. One of the things that this year of blogging has taught me is that slow and steady wins the race. We need to begin our journey somewhere to be able to make a impact. I will keep all of you updated on resolutions in the next couple of days. I want to thank all my daily readers for their continued readership. I look forward to serving all of you in 2009 and if there is anything I can do to help improve your experience on my blog please let me know. Happy New Year to everyone.  I wish all of you the very best of luck and success.

Filed under: About Me, Advice, Change, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 Lessons from a Year of Blogging

“There are no mistakes or failures, only lessons.” Denis Waitley

I made a resolution on the 31st of Dec 2007 to blog every day for an entire year. Not quite knowing what I was getting myself into I started writing and have not looked back since. Through the course of the year I realized that the goal I had set for myself was very challenging and required a lot more time and effort than I had expected. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed writing on a daily basis and aim to continue blogging through 2009. Next year I do not plan to blog everyday but have added some new twists along the way to help differentiate my blog from others in my niche. Listed below are 10 lessons that I have learnt after a year of blogging. If I had read these lessons prior to starting my blogging journey I would have been more prepared for what was in store for me. I hope these lessons will help new blog writers on their journey.

Lesson #1 – Selecting a Niche: Before one starts to blog, clearly identify the target market that you want to serve. This will provide definition and boundaries for your blog and help you to be more focused and become an authority figure in that particular niche. To learn more and access some helpful links on selecting a niche please click here.

Lesson #2 – Passion: The niche that is selected must be something one is truly passionate about. If you just begin writing about something that seems to be the buzz these days, it is most likely that motivation levels will fall drastically over a short period of time. To learn more about passion and selection of your blog niche please click here.

Lesson #3 – Have a Goal: This helps put things in perspective as well giving you achievable targets. Some metrics to track progress by are, number of posts, number of blog hits, number of comments etc. Set specific goals that can be measured and tracked. By doing this simple goal setting exercise , you have a far greater chance of success. To learn more about goal setting for your blog please click here.

Lesson #4 – Commitment: If you are planning on starting your blog next year, I suggest you give serious time and thought  to evaluate how much time you can actually spare in your day to blog. How long does it take you on average to write a blog post ? What other factors will help your commitment when you do start? Lastly, make an open commitment to the blogsphere about your aspirations and goals for the year of 2009. To learn more about commitments and blogs please click here.

Lesson #5 – Providing Value: I use the NABC formula to develop most of my value propositions. It simply helps you identify the Need, Approach, Benefit and Competition. Based on these core principles you can come up with a proposition that will help generate considerable value for your target segment. To learn about this formula in greater detail and how to apply it to your blog please click here.

Lesson #6 – Importance of Reading: If you plan to write a new blog in 2009 then reading is something I highly recommend integrating into your daily schedule. This will not only increase your knowledge base it will also help you get a better command over how to write as well. One needs to be constantly aware about the changes taking place in one’s niche and what authority figures are talking about. To learn more about my daily reading schedule please click here.

Lesson #7 – Dealing with Writers Block: Writing on a regular basis is a challenging feat. One which is bound to frustrate and irritate you at times,  it is also one of the most satisfying and rewarding things to be able to integrate into one’s life. Dealing with writers block is a part of being a writer. Some of the things I use to deal with it are taking short walks, doing a brain dump exercise or even using mind maps. To learn more about the strategies I use along with some helpful links please click here.

Lesson #8 – Patience: Developing a readership and increasing your daily traffic takes a lot of hard work. Expecting to make 6 figures a year from part time blogging is wishful thinking. One needs to focus on developing great content and using it to drive traffic to your blog. The beauty of the internet is its ability for the rapid exponential growth of your blog. A blog that is growing at a monthly pace of 10% will see traffic increase steadily through the course of the year and eventually those numbers will begin to multiply. To learn more about patience and blogging please click here.

Lesson #9 – Networking: A lesson I learnt late in my blogging journey was networking effectively through the blogsphere. If I were to start a new blog in 2009 I would spend more time building a comprehensive blogroll, concentrating on cross linking from high traffic blogs, commenting regularly and using social media to develop strong relationships with authority figures in my niche. To learn more about these techniques please click here.

Lesson #10 – Having Fun: This is an essential factor if one is wanting to blog on a regular basis. If one does not enjoy writing or reading, blogging on a regular basis is going to be more of a chore rather than something to look forward to. Pick a niche that excites you and half the battle is won. For the other half I recommend you should just write,  slowly and over time the content of your blog will become better and eventually blogging will become a lot of fun. To learn more about having fun while blogging please click here.

I hope these lessons will be of some help to first time bloggers. If you have been blogging for some time and have learnt or experienced some other lessons please share them so that we can build a repository to help first time bloggers. I wish you all the very best of success in future blogging ventures.

Filed under: Advice, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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