Entrepreneurs Need Pilgrim Character and Gratitude

Thanksgiving is upon us. As a small business owner, think about the traits that make you successful…can you trace them back to the spirit of the Pilgrims whom we commemorate with gluttony once per year? What was it that set these pioneers apart and made them successful? Alan Hall, a columnist for Forbes, wrote a blog post about 9 behaviors our forefathers embodied that he thinks are significant to remember:

  1. Take Risks: The Pilgrims took a huge risk: they left their homes, got on a ship with few belongings, and set sail for the New World with little idea as to what would happen to them when they got there – if they got there at all.  While we might never take a chance as big as that one, every new business comes with significant risk.  Did you quit a full-time job?Risk. Bootstrap your business with credit cards maxed to the limit? Risk. Hire family members to cut costs? Huge risk. Bet the bank on a previous successful entrepreneur with potential in hopes of leveraging his/her expertise, no matter the costs? More risk. 
  2. Sacrifice: was a key characteristic of the early Pilgrims–homes, relationships with extended family members, money they would have earned in their jobs back home, or in worst cases, their own lives or those of their children. They believed in what they were doing and prayed that they’d be successful. But as William Bradford, the second governor of Plymouth Colony, once said: “All great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.”
  3. Set Goals: someone had to make plans and set goals for success. Writing down the goals – and referring to them often – is critical to reaching them. 
  4. Be Flexible: As the Pilgrims quickly learned, though, they had to be flexible.  Their intended destination was (the) Hudson River. As we all know, rough seas and storms moved them far off course near the shores of Cape Cod… If you’re steadfast in your goals (yet flexible in how you reach them), you can overcome most any challenge.
  5. Be Persistent: Those that made it through the first winter were diligent..strong..(and) didn’t give up..You might feel like your struggling business can’t survive another day, but unless there’s really no hope, come back tomorrow and try again. 
  6. Work Hard:  Unfortunately, after the leaders organized a collective farm, without free enterprise, many of the men were unmotivated to work. The crops suffered.. (but) the leaders decided that the land could be divided and each family grow its own corn..Within two years they had a surplus and began trading it with Native Americans and other small settlements for furs to export to England in exchange for supplies. Corn became currency as entire families worked on their own patch of soil.. (E)ntrepreneurs!
  7. Form Partnerships: The Pilgrims learned to partner with each other and with the Native Americans to survive.. (P)artner up with an expert.
  8. Be Teachable: If the Pilgrims hadn’t been willing and humble enough to accept help from the natives, they would never have learned to live off the new land.  As entrepreneurs, we need to be willing to ask for help and be teachable enough to learn and apply the new direction. 
  9. Be Thankful:  After arriving at Plymouth Rock, Governor Bradford wrote in his journal, “Being thus arrived at a good harbor, and brought safely to land, they fell on their knees and blessed the God of heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof.”

What a great list! Take the time between now and Monday to thank those who have made your choice of entrepreneurship possible. Be reminded of these character traits of the Pilgrims and use them to develop into the entrepreneur you’d like to become.



Risk Assessment for Small Businesses

When someone talks about risk management in a business context, usually the risk is of a financial nature. Yet, other kinds of business risk that cannot be taken care of with an insurance policy or other financial tool  are just as important for you to consider and make plans concerning.

New product roll-outs  mergers and acquisitions, and similar considerations all carry an inherent element of risk. If your company does not have cash reserves or strong current year cash flows, it is very hard to make up for a mistake in terms of something attempted that does not work out. The smaller the organization  the more a setback impacts your ability to recover. If the executive team understands this important principle, then you are well on your way to avoiding unnecessary risks that will kill your long term prospects for success and growth. Three areas of risk are significant:

Location risks:

Location risks include choice of where to offer your products and services, where your staff is located, and where your customers are located. It is extremely unwise to not think through these various parameters and how they impact your strategy and planning. Whether you are thinking of location in terms of geography or online versus in person, you have to wrestle this subject to the ground, develop a keen internal understanding within your team as to how to optimize your choices with regards to locations, and adhere steadfastly to your plan. Any forays into new locations–whether in terms of sales presence, staff, or customer preferences–should be scrutinized with the intent to preserve or improve efficiency in meeting customer needs. In addition to these considerations of location, there is also a need to think about your suppliers, strategic allies, and key advisers. You want to be as close as you can to key stakeholders who can drive your business success.

Locations that you choose should be that delicate balance between affordability and high traffic. being able, for instance, to  get banking and other errands done quickly will make your organization more efficient and, hopefully, reduce costs while improving customer service. Keeping in mind that you can’t spend too much money for a prime location, make sure that you have adequately researched alternatives before settling into a choice.

Design risks:

Market research should support all design decisions. Whether your company makes software, consumer goods, runs a retail store, or delivers a service, the design of your offering to your target market should reflect tat you have done your homework. Your offering should have strong appeal to each target buyer persona, with features and benefits that are tailored to identified preferences. However, designs can become  stale in a short amount of time, so it is advisable to create and revise based on prospect needs as well as initial customers. To only look to keep providing the same thing to an established clientele shuts your organization off from new opportunities and the need to replace customers over time with better ones. Once you have a series of strongly designed offerings, look to promote and sell as much of it as you can as quickly as possible because you will “iron out the wrinkles” and become proficient and prolific in delivery of something in which your fixed cost does not increase and you can exact better margins.

Sales risks:

Sales risks include the reputation of the sales force, distributors, resellers, etc, pricing competitiveness, and product price bracketing. Those who are charged with selling your offering are selected by prior performance in similar situations. Familiarity with your pricing, offerings, and market is a baseline–you want someone who will give you continuous feedback to keep improving what you offer. You need to educate some sales people on both the importance of this feedback  and what you require (and when).

Pricing should be within the boundaries  the market will bear. Not wanting to forego sales for higher prices, or profits for lower prices, it is important to devote a goodly amount of time to setting prices that will attract buyers from each target buyer category at profitable levels.

Being able to address each of these risks is vital if you are going to create and maintain a thriving business. Make sure that you develop plans for risk management in each of these categories, as well as the financial risk that most every business faces.