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1 Sharing Stories from Some of My Favorite Entrepreneurs

I conducted a live to YouTube Google+ Hangout yesterday to tell some of the stories of the very cool entrepreneurs that got to know in the process of writing The Commitment Engine.

I love the streaming technology and plan to use it more.

During the 30 minute session I talked about

  • How Mary and Tony Miller found their purpose for Jancoa while driving a the company shuttle around
  • How Jason Fried of 37Signals turned Clarity into Strategy
  • How Bill Witherspoon of The Sky Factory created a culture of shared ownership
  • How Natalie George of Cafe Gratitude built community before you even had a business
  • How Jack Nickell of Threadless views his community as the business

Learning and sharing these kinds of stories is what makes being an author so very worth it!

Today is the official launch day for The Commitment Engine and for the rest of today I am giving away a free copy of my last book, The Referral Engine to anyone that buys a copy of The Commitment Engine. Get in on the Twin Engine Deal here

4 Clarity Makes the Best Strategy

I’ve made a bit of a career out of talking with, listening to and understanding entrepreneurs and small business owners. I’ve worked with thousands of you over the past twenty plus years or so and at some point most of the discussion I’ve had center on the idea of strategy.

It’s something I’m absolutely fascinated with and it’s something I’ve been on a quest over last 18 months to understand more fully.

I firmly believe that strategy, success and happiness are strangely intertwined when it comes to growing a business and I’ve deposited many of my thoughts on this subject in my new release – The Commitment Engine: Making Work Worth It shipping this month.

In order for clarity to become strategy you must remove all doubt about what your organization believes and you must be crystal clear about what that looks, sounds and feels like in the simplest way possible. Once you do that everything else just follows form – it’s clarity amplified.

Below is a very short presentation of one of the key ideas contained in the book that I gave at this summer’s TEDxKC event. The title of the talk is Rethinking Commitment and in it I introduce Tony and Mary Miller – I also share their story in my upcoming release, because the Jancoa story is a brilliant illustration of the power of clarity as a business strategy

I hope you draw inspiration from the Miller’s as I have and check out additional stories on What Makes Worth It at www.makingworkworthit.com (Download a free chapter and grab 6 audio interviews I captured from some amazing thought leader and authors such as Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, Derek Sivers, Nancy Duarte, Chris Guillebeau and Steven Pressfield.)

Okay, and now for some final pandering to my readers – you truly make work worth it for me and I feel blessed that I get to do what I do particularly when something I’ve shared or experienced offers a fellow entrepreneur and business owner some measure of comfort, control and insight.

Peace!

11 How to Turn Your Business Into a Commitment Factory

Commitment Factory

You’re passionate, you care, you get it, you think about your business day and night, but let’s face it, you’ve got a big vision for that business and you probably can’t realize that vision all by yourself.

Your passion and commitment are essential, but it’s your ability to build passion and commitment for that vision in others that is going to be the key to growth.

You need committed and connected staff members. You need committed and loyal customers. You need to create a commitment factory.

Now I understand that the idea of the traditional factory, the kind that once manufactured goods and became a symbol of the industrial age, comes with some negative connotation.

A commitment factory, however, is my idea for the new model of business. A business that manufactures ideas, brilliance, passion and commitment in a community that chooses to join what might be more apply described as a cause.

Generating commitment is the new currency of American business and the most important task of a leader of a business defined in this manner is to guide passion and purpose in a way that encourages staff and customers alike to find, nurture and grow commitment around the things big and small that make a business something worth joining.

A loyal, committed, paying customer is the ultimate expression of a commitment factory.

Below are a handful practices to consider in the creation of a commitment factory.

Get the right people

Hire for fit is a common bit of advice, but fit means many things. What you need are people who want to excel at the exact work you need them to do. You need people who ask why you want them to do something instead of just how.

You’ll eventually need people that foster purpose, people that invent projects and people that operate process – these are rarely the same people.

Tell the story over and over

One of the acts involved in getting the right people is telling a story about why you do what you do in a way that attracts the people you need.

When you connect why with how in the form of a story you allow people to find their place in the story and that’s where commitment starts.

Protect the standards

People need to understand how to tell the story in a simple and consistent manner and the symbols, words and phrases that position the story in the mind of the customer need to be fostered and protected.

Little things like color and typography use need to be defined and reinforced. How you speak about your customers sets the tone for how they will be treated by all. How you treat your staff is precisely how they will treat your customers.

These are standards that you need to create, enforce and leave no room for deviation

Make meetings about action

Meetings are where people go to get the life sapped out of them, but it certainly doesn’t have to be that way. Most people make meetings about trying to decide what to do when they should be about taking action on what’s been decided.

If you run your meetings that way, then they will be full of life. Then you can install real brainstorming sessions as a way to spark big ideas, refine innovation and plug gaps in processes.

Teach and share the metrics

In order to get everyone on the same page they need to be looking at the same page. Your factory needs to know what’s important to measure, the key indicators of success, and you need to teach everyone in the business what those key metrics are and what they mean.

This may mean teaching basic accounting measurements to everyone, holding all hands quarterly marketing message training and connecting little things, like customer support high fives, to big things like profit.

Creating a system of bonuses tied to key metrics, such as finding ways to reduce costs or convert and retain customers, is how you turn attention on the right things into a game worth playing.

Invest in the best tools

People perform better with the right tools. Combine the best tools with a clear understanding of how to win and you’ve got a potent combination.

Invest in the best technology you can afford. Invest in chairs, fitness equipment, water, coffee, apps and music – things some would suggest you could live without, things that help your people stoke their passion and commitment for the work they need to do.

Building a business, even a small, virtual business is more about building a spirit of commitment around a single minded purpose than it is about building walls and doors and windows – it’s the model for the new factory and it’s the future of business that works.

10 Authenticity Is Easy

I find it amusing that businesses strive to be authentic, or at the directive of the CEO, more authentic. The thing is, authenticity is the easiest thing there is.

kiara_ via Flickr

Every business is authentic, what choice is there? Authenticity is simply the manifestation of what you truly believe, the core values, the basic identity of the leader of the business. I suppose there are businesses that in the short term can fool people into buying a manufactured brand of authenticity, but in the long run, there’s really no hiding what you stand for.

The question, I suppose then, is does what you believe, what you stand for, allow you to build a business that draws people and things that propel the business upward or merely hold it in a constant state of lifelessness.

Now, here’s the part where it gets a little muddier. Some businesses would thrive if they would simply be authentic instead of attempting to be something that’s wrapped up in the mask of industry best practices.

Best practices rob you of your art. No two businesses are alike, just as no two people are alike. Attempting to copy what works for another business is the surest path to mediocrity that exists.

Success in business comes from serving a purpose or reason for being that is much greater than what your business sells. Knowing why you do what you do and attaching that as the only reason you do what you do eliminates any doubt about the authentic nature of your business.

When you uncover a higher purpose that your business serves, or at least the thing that gives you the most joy, and that becomes the total focus of the business, authenticity simply blooms.

Purpose doesn’t really care what you sell; it’s mostly concerned with why you sell it. Purpose invites others to belong to something that gives them clarity about what they truly believe.

Purpose is authenticity. Purpose is strategy. Purpose is advantage. Purpose is message. Purpose is direction. Purpose is innovation. Purpose is proof. Purpose is community. Purpose is balance. Purpose is your gift.

46 My Daily Productivity Routine

gagilas via Flickr

I’ve been accused over the years of getting a lot done in a day. So much so that the assumption is I don’t sleep much. But, the truth of the matter is that I don’t really work that many hours at all (Okay, I know that’s relative, I work more than some, but I love it.). I’ve developed my own little routine, aided by some technology, which allows me to stay very productive.

Now, I don’t always get to live my perfect work day, but just for grins I thought I would share my routine and some thoughts on productivity.

So, here goes:

  • 5:30 am – Rise and shine – coffee first – meditate – read something that inspires
  • 6:00 am – Write and amplify daily blog post
  • 7:00 am – Empty inbox – I don’t check email until after I’ve worked on something for at least an hour – I adhere to GTD rules on email – if it takes 2 minutes or less deal with it, delegate or create action step for later – I’ll deal with emails again at 10, 2, and 4
  • 7:30 am – Exercise – mix of running, biking, yoga, and strength – goals is 5-6 times a week – this is one of the biggest payoffs in terms of energy and productivity
  • 8:30 am – Breakfast – just like mom said – best meal of the day
  • 9:00 am – Daily reading routine – this is RSS feed, magazines, and random exploring
  • 10:00 am – Head to office tackle to do list – I focus on the list in 90 minute chunks and take routine breaks to stretch or do something physical. I also have drink 32 oz of water during each chunk. I have a stand-up desk and try to spend at least an hour during the workday standing instead of sitting. I’ve noticed that I have intra day cycles where I’m most productive – 10-Noon and 3-5 are my most productive hours and I schedule most meetings in the first period and most of my creative work in the 3-5 period. I usually eat a snack around now. I avoid phone meetings as much as I can – it’s not that I’m anti social, there’s a place for meetings, just not in place of a well-written email that accomplishes the same.
  • 11:00 am – Meet with staff to go over projects and action steps
  • Noon – I get out of the office to eat lunch – my office is in a commercial area and I can grab lunch with a ten minute walk.
  • 1pm – 5pm – Back at the to do list in 90 minute chunks, with some meetings mixed in. This is where I do power writing on projects or create slide decks for presentations and products.  Try to eat a healthy snack around 3pm
  • 5pm – 6pm – Inbox zero, recap the day and map out tomorrow’s to do list. I also review my big plans and goals list just to make sure I stay focused on high level thoughts.
  • Unless I am working on a book, as I am right now, I stay unplugged all evening and generally choose to read something unrelated to work, but I must admit, my mind does have a tendency to apply everything to work.

I don’t know if this is helpful or not and I’m certainly not suggesting this is perfect, but I do think the act of conscious planning, energy monitoring and use of rhythmic patterns of work keeps me focused and enjoying the ride all day long.

So, what’s your routine look like?

22 Out of Chaos Something Remarkable Emerges

kevindooley via Flickr

I’ve owned my own business long enough to have experienced many things. I’ve seen what happens when I’m impatient, when I try to be something I’m not, when I trust my gut, when I overcome fear, when I wait something out, when I start something, when I finish something, when it’s time to move on, what it’s like to start over, what it’s like to commit fully and what it’s like to let go and embrace whatever happens.

 

But, mostly I’ve come to understand that if there’s no tinge chaos, no doubt about what’s going on around me, no lingering sense of unknown – nothing magical will happen.

My best work, I’ve discovered, is to construct questions – not to have all the answers.

I believe anyone has the ability to create the most remarkable business ever imagined and to do so only requires letting go of the need for what most define as order. So often we are so afraid of own chaos that we try to copy the rules, methods and processes of others in an attempt to mask it.

We fear above all else that this chaos might make us look foolish as we attempt to fashion something that we hope is art.

It is the illusion that this fear creates that leads us to generate businesses that are lifeless and dreary.

I’m not suggesting that we throw all process to the wind and intentionally build businesses that don’t serve, I’m am suggesting however, that this seeming chaos which we feel is actually a laughing, singing, dancing, remarkable order or its own.

If we can only find a way to embrace this order, the businesses we build will be the kind that feed the heart and soul.

This is strategy, this is culture, this is customer – this is the essence of a business that’s truly alive – embrace it.

116 Work as Craft

Owning a business is a beautiful thing; a thing done quite often, not for riches, but to fulfill a dream or carry out a passion for doing something. Work viewed in this fashion embodies the qualities of a craft: skill, passion, knowledge, pride, and ownership.

Yet this expression is so easily silenced in the rush of business life. We don’t even feel it coming making the loss even more painful as it goes largely unobserved.

I meet business owners, employers and employees all over the globe that tell me that their work is sucking the life out of them and they wonder how it’s happened and what to do get it back.

For most the answer is pretty simple – it’s all about commitment. For a business to truly serve one’s life I believe you must identify and make a strong commitment to what you want out of life and how this business will ultimately aid that.

But a commitment alone isn’t enough to sustain, you also must practice and feed the elements of your commitment that allow you to advance in your craft towards some sort of mastery. Buying into talk about a recession or spending silly amounts of time on Twitter will derail your craft as surely as a misguided product launch.

For me, the key is to place total focus on several key ingredients and to practice, nurture and return to each whenever in doubt, scuffling or complaining.

The elements of a commitment filled business

Purpose – Why am I doing this? That’s the question isn’t it? Sure, it’s become cliché in business circles to suggest that need for this, but until you’ve got this, work will rarely be more than a series of activities loosely tied to a set of objectives.

Years ago one of my clients was indicted for some shady business practices. Did I suspect something was fishy? Perhaps. But I know that was the day I vowed never again to let myself work with people I didn’t respect.

In fact, my higher purpose was crystallized in that moment. I realized after some soul searching that my business could be a vehicle for helping small business owners get their lives back and that is what drives everything I do and fills me day with an incredible sense of purpose and meaning.

Love – Thankfully, this a word we can now use in business without being thought weak. Ironically, it takes a great deal more strength to do things in business out of love rather than out of profit, and yet, to do so may be the most profitable methodology you can adopt.

I really love the people I work with and for. I love the people that are drawn to this brand and community and the only way that happens is if you continuously communicate what you believe is important.

Wonder – Some roll their eyes when I say this, but I wake up every day expecting a miracle and, consequently, I’m rarely let down. I am blessed with an insatiable curiosity and it helps me marvel at all the cool things I get to do.

Sometimes in business we can’t control everything that happens, but we can control how we react to and view what happens. If you choose to let what happens around you be your teacher, you’ll end up with an incredible education in a very short time.

This isn’t a wide eyed, no information kind of wonder, this is the kind of faith that comes from experiencing the payoff that comes from nurturing a commitment to purpose.

Courage – Many people picture the entrepreneur as the risk taking go-getter braced against the rain and wind beating the odds as others choose to stay on the porch. Of course few pictures could be more inaccurate.

Entrepreneurs don’t enjoy risk anymore than the next person, they’ve just accepted a few things and grabbed the courage to push on. I work with an awesome bike trainer and during tough interval workouts he always reminds us that we should be having some serious doubts and questions while in the middle of this or we’re cheating ourselves.

Your commitment must contain certainty about where you are going while allowing for and accepting a great deal of doubt about how you might get there. Now that takes courage. Once you accept this, you’ll never stress about where the money is going to come from again.

Grace – Business can feel like one jagged, lurching ride at times. When you replace doubt with purpose, ambition with love, dread with wonder, and fear with courage, something incredibly graceful can emerge.

A commitment filled business has a rhythm that is both intimate and elegant and people are drawn to it not by word or even action, but by something much harder to describe – authenticity.

If this post has made you even the least bit uncomfortable, or even if it’s made you smile with recognition, I’d like you to consider the following question – What are you willing to give up in order to create a commitment filled business?

13 The 7 Verbs of Commitment

In the end, what every business seeks is commitment – from our customers, our staff, our partners, and our entire collaboration universe. Commitment erases friction, creates momentum and drives substantial profit.

Commit

tornatore via Flickr

But in a world where most everything our companies offer can be acquired somewhere, perhaps even from our own company, for free, how do you create the kind of company, product or service that drives people over the edge to commit – to pay for something that’s available for free, to evangelize something for no tangible gain, or to pour their heart and soul into building something that yields far more than a paycheck or a promised result?

Those are the questions I’ve begun to explore of late. It’s easy to look around and cite Apple or Zappos as shining examples of the kind of commitment I’m describing, but what about the company of two that’s not quite crossed over the million dollar mark or the start-up or the company that’s toiling away building a remarkable business completely out of the spotlight of the media.

I wanted to know if there’s a formula, system if you like, for building that kind of company – the kind or commitment that you’re seeing towards a service like Evernote or the kind of customer passion I’ve witnessed towards Shatto Farms, a small local milk producer that’s bucking the system of corporate co-op milk production.

As I’ve ventured out into this exploration I’ve become convinced that there is indeed a systematic path to building commitment into the DNA of an organization and it’s an active, intentional and strategic approach that involves the careful blending of a set of characteristics that I’ve started calling the 7 Verbs of Commitment.

The interesting thing about these verbs is that none of them would be readily applied to the kinds of things we think about when it comes to building a product or service. In fact, the companies that embrace these characteristics at their core often do so in spite of what they happen to produce.

Companies that enjoy the highest levels of staff and customer commitment focus almost entirely on why they do what they do as opposed to simply trying to do what they do better.

The product is almost secondary to this single-minded purpose – we bring a return to what’s good about creating all natural products in small, hand crafted batches and, by the way, we sell dairy products.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, has said repeatedly that Zappos is a customer happiness business that happens to sell shoes.

I submit that the following 7 characteristics can be found to some degree in most every company, large or small, that enjoys raving fans and zealous employees.

Simplify – Life’s too complicated, instruction manuals and return policies and messages and mission statements and features and design are all too complicated. One of the most attractive features of organizations that enjoy high levels of commitment is a lack of features. Simplicity is the most appreciated attribute of the products and services we love to love. And yet, it can be one of the hardest to actually achieve. This can’t really be achieved by simply stripping out features, this is a way of life that must inform every decision. Many business that have instantly built a committed fan base, such as 37Signals, were started to simplify something in the life of the founder.

Hear – It’s often said that a person is a great listener and that we need to listen to markets and customer and while I think this is great advice, particularly in the age of instant social communication, the true skill goes beyond listing to hearing what’s being said in a way that can be applied to overall vision of the business. This actually takes a special filtering device that starts with a question – How can we hear and view everything through the vision of our business?

Surprise – Few things enamor like exceeding someone’s expectations. This might end up sounding more like a personality trait, but companies that turn customers into volunteer sales forces fully understand and use the power of giving more than was promised and surprisingly beating expectations. Who doesn’t like to get little unexpected gifts, free overnight shipping, and hand written notes? And yet, when was the last time you got any of those?

Resonate – If I were going to point to a requisite characteristic it might be this one. When a company is built with a single-minded purpose and can communicate that “why we do what we do” in a way that makes meaning in the lives of its customers and prospect, magic can happen. This is a tricky one too. A customer can resonate with the fact that your mission is to bring peace and harmony to the world, but it’s just as likely that there’s a market hungry to commit to a company that believes bringing beauty to the world through incredibly simple design is why they do what they do. The key is a thorough understanding and simple and consistent communication of the why. It’s kind of hard to fake this one.

Play – In Pine and Gilmore’s great book – The Experience Economy there’s a line that has always stuck with me. “People will give their last dollar to be entertained.” I believe this has never been more true than it is today. If so many of the products, services and ideas we sell can be acquired for free, then the money’s in the package and the experience. Fun, joyful, theater and stage aren’t words that are always connected with business, but bring them in and a new world opens up. I had reason to spend a day at Google recently and they get this one very well. Work is often long, hard and boring, but when do we ever tire of play? Make yours a business that’s fun to go to work in and fun to do business with and people will commit to the game.

Inspire – People want to go on journeys they feel are epic in nature. Now this may sound a little far fetched if you’re simply building a small law firm focused on small businesses, but every business can inspire. We can inspire by telling stories, by communicating the why, by standing up for simplicity and by bravely connecting our own purpose in life with that of the business and that of the goals and objectives of our clients. Leadership, the kind that’s drawn from from deed and word, the kind that understands that the best way to get more is to want more for others, is inspirational. Firms that draw commitment from customers and staff give them a way to sign up for something that can allow them to be their best self.

Easy – This one goes hand in hand with simplicity and surprise, but it’s something different entirely. Some businesses are actually hard to do business with. We may love what they do, but scratch our heads at how they do it. This one is all about non friction, speed of change and a mentality of yes. Take down the barriers to communication, give people the tools to do what they want, rethink meetings, eliminate the policies of control, trust your customers and staff and, above all, use technology to enhance personal relationships rather than wall them off.

So, you can expect a great deal more on this subject from me over the coming months as I believe that while every marketing strategy and tactic that we employ can take our businesses one step in right direction, the idea of systematic commitment is indeed the difference maker for those trying to fully realize the incredible journey that building a business is.

3 Are Your Doing Something Heroic

Blind Faith CafeThe ultimate quest of any organization or cause is to develop an army of committed fans, customers, employees, volunteers, or contributors. And yet, developing loyalty and commitment, the kind that makes people want to reach for their wallet and evangelize products and companies, remains a mystery seeming left to chance.

I believe there’s a pattern to commitment – why we give it, how we earn it, and how we build on it – that can be understood both strategically and tactically and used to develop a systematic attachment or commitment to any organization’s mission or cause.

Now, I hope you understand that my intentional use of the word heroic in the title of this post suggests that building the kind of commitment I’m talking about isn’t something that’s made up or faked – this is the real deal through and through.

This is a topic I plan to explore extensively over the next few months because I believe it is fundamental to the success of any business and critical to the realization of any marketing plan. (If you find this topic interesting I hope you’ll jump in and discuss it here.)

Below are some of the first questions or positions of understanding that must be explored to set the table for a deeper conversation on commitment.

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