December 27, 2010

World of Abundance or World of Scarcity?

“You either live in a world of abundance or a world of scarcity, and whichever one you choose affects everything you do. “

-Chuck Blakeman

It’s two days past Christmas. I’m hunkered down in my childhood home back in Colorado avoiding the retail rush of Christmas sales and returns, not simply because our consumptive society drives me slightly batty, but also because I’m one month into a seismic shift in my main income source – and funds are tight. It’s that moment that every risk-taking entrepreneur faces – the moment your ideas are put the test of profit and loss. The numbers are no longer projections in a spreadsheet. The game is real now and rent, that staggeringly large San Francisco number, aloof and uncaring, is still due on the 1st.

I know this doesn’t sound like much fun, but like many in my community – a community of yogis, artists, dancers, small business owners and cliff hangers, you kind of get used to having trust for breakfast. Which is certainly the glue that holds the animalistic and instinctual ‘get yours or die’ at bay. According to Chuck Blakeman, a small business expert, speaker, coach and writer – and, guiltily, my dad, says that unfortunately, big business mentality, and the industrial-age, outdated business models we have to look to for help, only exacerbate this instinctual knee-jerk reactivity – scarcity thinking, that he says, will keep you poor.

It’s a kind of poverty consciousness that I know all too well. Three years ago I founded an online retail company that sold fire hula hoops. I founded it on accident really, stumbling upon what would soon be a very popular hand-made design that I persistently helped to craft, fueled out of frustration for what was then available. To my bafflement this hobby quickly turned pro – to become consistently labeled the best in the industry – and over the following years I came to depend on the income that funneled in from fire-prone niche dancers.

When another company began to make and market similar designs I fretted, I fumed and I fell, every now and again, into a dangerous mentality of victimhood. Like a cat licking her wounds I glared out from my corner of the ring at the injustice of it all… I simply couldn’t believe why someone would do something like that, how they could sleep at night taking sales from me – my sweat, blood and tears, my livelihood no less.  In my worst moments, which thankfully didn’t always prevail, I felt downright threatened, and that, made me a very angry entrepreneur.

The next few months that anger fueled a huge push of innovation in the design, the branding, and the customer service and as a company we reached unprecedented levels of success – both to my delight and my detriment. You see, I had grown myself into a not-so-figurative corner. I maxed out my man-power and found myself working 15 hour days. I’d sneeze and a hula hoops would fall off their hooks on the walls, I was knee deep in packaging paper and at a standstill, frozen by my own order queue, by customer service inquiries, by raw material shipments on backorder. It was, by many people’s standards, a good problem to have, but at that point more than ever my sweat, blood and tears, my lifeline and income source, the company I worked so hard to grow, to hold onto, to protect, was at risk of going down.

“Traditional business plan thinking tells you that if you plan well enough, you’ll avoid all the “problems”. But usually it’s those “problems” that lead you to the best plan.”

-Chuck Blakeman

And this is the point in the story where the hero surprises us all, where the bad-guy turns out to be your own misconstrued understanding of reality and the prince on the white horse was in fact, the slimy toad you chose to ignore. Six months ago I found myself in preliminary conversations with my main ‘competitor’, Hoop Drum – who also happened to be my friends – about merging our two companies to become one powerhouse of freed up schedules, more efficient services, and one bad-ass product. The best of both worlds. Synergy Firehoops, was born.

It was a good move. We’re one month into our launch and, although we all walk the cliff edge of new business nerves and grasp our wallets tightly, our numbers, and future, are looking promising. Whattya know.

What I didn’t know then, but know now, is that business doesn’t exist in a pre-disposed bubble of big-business capitalism. That we can choose how we view reality and interact with the world there, just as anywhere else. That competition and challenge are only ganesh-like obstacles that sharpen your knife edge of relevancy in the market. That vulnerability, even there!, is potent and real and relationships, with our customers, with each other, reign supreme.

One week ago my dad posted the following article on his blog, which just about sums it up. We all deal with imitation, with competition, with perceived threats, with scenarios that feel less-than-comfortable, but as he always says, ‘circumstances do not make you who you are, but how you respond to them does.’

——— by Chuck Blakeman, Dec 5, 2010 ———-

Your Competition, Isn’t.

I’ve sold millions in big contracts and small and never once thought about “competition.” It’s NEVER a factor. I don’t think I have any. I don’t believe you do, either. If you think you do, you’re probably not thinking straight.

Big business loves to teach us to do “SWOT” analyses” where the “T” is for “Threats”, those evil competitors who are going to swoop in and steal our clients any day. The only threats you should ever be worried about come from within your own company and your own head.

The problem is bad thinking and bad strategies on your part. Some examples:

You either live in a world of abundance or a world of scarcity, and whichever one you choose affects everything you do.

This isn’t woo-woo crap. This is hard-core success thinking. If you live in a zero sum world then there’s only so much to go around, and you better get yours before the next guy gets his. If you live in a world of abundance you figure out how to help other people be successful so that you can be, too. I do a weekly lunch with 50-60 business owners and regularly have “competition” there who “steal” potential clients. I’m glad they find clients there. I do, too. Everyone says it’s the best weekly lunch environment they’ve ever been around, because it’s based on living in a world of abundance.

People who focus on trying to figure out what makes their competition successful don’t have enough good ideas of their own.

We don’t have time to figure out what others are doing – we’re too busy trying to breathe life into our own ideas. Focus on getting better, not on your competition.

Focus on your client’s needs, not your competition’s products.

I expend a lot of energy figuring out what my clients need (which isn’t necessarily what they always want right away). If you do that, you won’t have time to focus on what other providers are doing.

You’re a terrible guesser, anyway.

I’ve seen companies dissect the products, services or marketing of other companies, then mimic it, only to find out they were mimicking the worst part of what the others were doing. You thought it was what made them successful and so did they. They’re thanking you for helping them see it clearly while you go out of business.

The two last words of a dying company are “Me, Too.”

The best way to ensure you are irrelevant is to mimic other people’s successes rather than creating your own. That strategy is fundamental to a world of scarcity, but worse yet it shows a complete lack of originality, passion, cause, mission, or joy in what you do. And it means you’re only in it for the money and people who try to make money make a lot less than people who birth something the world can use.

If someone “beats” you, they simply have something the customer needs that you don’t.

Rejoice for the customer. If you also have things other customers will want, you’ll attract those relationships and the other guy won’t. When you try to be all things to all men you become nothing to anyone (a wandering generality vs. a meaningful specific – Ziz Ziegler).

If you have something meaningful to offer, you will get customers. If you don’t you won’t. Blaming “competitors” for “losing” contracts is nonsense. Just get better in a few things and go deeper, not wider. If you’re not losing a lot of opportunities, you’re too wide and likely are delivering on the edge of mediocrity. Not a great long term strategy.

The bottom line

Get the idea of competition out of your head and focus on being the best at whatever great idea you’ve birthed. And while you’re at it, try to figure out how to make the other guy successful, too. You’ll make a lot more money and have a lot more fun.

A Business of Significance – Quick Vignettes

Read more about Chuck Blakeman on his blog.

Follow him on twitter.

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