I have been traveling in Asia for the past month and my travels took me to a country where few Americans have visited: Myanmar, fka, Burma. Although I was there on vacation and spiritual enlightenment, I couldn’t help but be enthused and taken by the entrepreneurial skills shown by children and young adults.
A quick discussion is in order on the politics and business of Burma. The government is a military dictatorship that is modeled after North Korea. One big difference is individuals are permitted to conduct business as long as they don’t achieve “great” financial success. Once a company becomes too large or successful, they are required to give up control and profits to the government. The U.S. government has also banned commercial transactions with any business in Burma, although travel is not restricted.
Many sections of the country have not changed in 200 years and their existence depends on their skills as farmers, fisherman and peddlers. The latter group is mostly young people who after morning studies congregate in areas where tourists MIGHT be.
What was intriguing to me were the infectious smiles, good humor, bartering and focused approach of all the “vendors” I came in contact with.
One specific encounter was on a 200 year old .75 mile teak bridge that I was crossing with my wife. Immediately five children approached us and began talking to us in excellent English, not about what they were selling but about the history of the bridge, important landmarks nearby and questions about America. One boy, he was about nine, spoke 4 languages. Our walk took about 20 minutes, many locals, few tourists, no other Americans and many missing planks on the bridge. I don’t think OSHA has entered Burma yet. :-)
OK, so what does this discussion have to do with business and entrepreneurship? During the bridge crossing none of the “salespersons” tried to sell anything, in fact one young girl GAVE my wife a watermelon seed bracelet. We aren’t naive and knew at some point there would be a quid pro quo. What was facinating was how each of them tried to personally connect with us. THEY DID CONNECT!!! We did give some money to each when we reached the end of the bridge.
The lesson learned was, they approached their customer and tried to assist us in having a better experience even if it meant no sale at the end.
How many of us approach marketing and sales by focusing on the needs of our client even if we don’t initially close the sale?
According to Clate Mask and Scott Martineau in their recently-published book, Conquer the Chaos: How to grow a successful small business without going crazy, chaos is an inherent part of small business life. The question, they suggest, is how you will deal with it – accept it, fight it, or conquer it.
Conquering it sounds best of course. The book offers six ways a small business can be less chaotic and more effective, profitable, and enjoyable. The first three are mental and emotional, the last three are physical and pragmatic, and combined, they offer a smart plan of action:
1. Build your emotional capital: In the beginning of your entrepreneurial venture, it is easy to have passion and excitement for your business, after all it is a new (ad)venture. But the trick is to keep that passion alive down the road when bills and employees and products and vendors take turns giving you problems.
That is where emotional capital comes in.
“Emotional capital is the currency you use to wake up and fight the battle every day,” say the authors. It is that positive outlook, the balancing of work and home life, and the caring for oneself physically and emotionally. Building your emotional capital gives you the strength to handle and conquer the chaos.
2. Practice disciplined optimism: To make your business run efficiently and with a minimum of frenzy, you must be willing to take a good, long look at the reality of your business, confront and deal with any lingering issues that give you problems, and then remain strong in your belief that you can foster and achieve the success you have long envisioned.
3. Assert your independence: The authors suggest that one reason too many small businesses are overwhelmed is that they lack direction. As a result, the owners seek out too many opinions, and in turn that leads to disorganization and a lack of purpose and focus. What Mask and Martineau propose instead is that small business owners have the courage of their convictions and navigate their business course accordingly.
Trust your feelings, Luke!
4. Organize your stuff: To run an organized business means that you must organize your business. You cannot very well have some of your files at home, others in the car, others at the office, and others in your computer and expect to not have a chaotic business life. If you centralize and organize your business, you begin to tame the chaos monster.
5. Follow up, follow up, follow up: The authors say that the epiphany in their own business, the moment they moved from chaos into a multi-million dollar business (they are the co-founders of Infusionsoft) was when they realized the power of follow-up. Failing to follow up means lost opportunities, never-ending to-do lists, frustration, and yes, continued chaos.
6. Burn the to-do list: To-do lists are lists of things that never got done. Instead, the authors suggest that small businesses automate whatever possible. This saves times and creates order.