Recently I described my experience trying to fly a simulated aircraft during training.  As I described it wasn’t pretty and I hoped that the instructor would be merciful and put an end to the sim session.  Instead he calmly said, “fly the plane,” and I was left with no choice but to continue.

When we hit crisis points in our lives, especially in our business, not giving up is the first key to surviving and thriving.

This is a lot easier said than done!  Often when we are pushed to our limit everything inside screams at us to just give up.  And sometimes we do, unfortunately.

Even amid crisis we have a powerful aid that can help us through.

In my sim session, in addition to skill and determination, I had the assistance of a professional pilot sitting next to me.  Did he do anything overt to help me?  Did he encourage me?  Did he give me suggestions of any kind?  No, he didn’t do any of those things.  What he did was sit there and watch.  I think that was among the reasons I made it through.

See, I didn’t want to screw up in front of him.  I didn’t want him to think less of me as a pilot for giving up even though it was just a practice session.  The social pressure of his sitting there watching me was a huge motivator, and I needed that.

All of us have people constantly watching our performance.  We have employees, family, business partners, clients and others who are paying attention.  When we become aware of that, then of course we want to be seen at our best.  That in turn, helps us to be our best!

Most of the time we aren’t consciously aware of the watching, but it’s happening.  When we become aware we can feel pressured, uncomfortable or even resentful.  Or we can turn it to our advantage, embrace it, use it and grow.  It’s a bit like coaching.  No athlete ever performs their very best without help and coaching.  It’s hard for entrepreneurs who are at the head of an organization to receive coaching, but this social pressure, that is very real, can serve that purpose for us if we recognize and embrace it.

I’ve trained in a simulator by myself and with another pilot.  It’s much easier by myself, but I perform much better when there is someone else sitting there.  I encourage you to see the watchers, embrace them and let that drive you to be better!

We all know what integrity is.  I define it as doing what you say you’re going to do.  Personally, I think it is one of the highest virtues.  It is something to aspire to and to try my very best to embody.

Last week I was meeting and catching up with an agency entrepreneur who I hadn’t seen in about ten years.  He’s been quite successful and grown since we last talked and I was impressed with what he had accomplished, but I was impressed far more with the story of struggle he told.

The economic recession of 2008 didn’t impact the insurance industry the way it did many others.  I almost think of it as a nonevent for us, but my friend Terry had a different experience.  His business, which is unique in our industry, suffered terrible setbacks.  They were so bad that the obvious solution was to file bankruptcy.

Terry didn’t do that.  Instead, he got a job at Walmart on the weekends, working 40 hours a week for an hourly wage. His wife got another job as well.  They did this in addition to unending hours of work in their business; and they survived!

As he told me the story I tried to put myself in his position.  Terry lives in a smaller community where everyone knows each other.  Friends, and customers of his agency, saw him working there.  I thought “Wow, that must have been humiliating!  Here is a successful businessman, a community leader, reduced to working for minimum wage at Walmart!”  Could I do that?  Would I do that?  Would you?

I hope I would.  Because I was flooded with respect for Terry and his wife!  They exemplify integrity!  They didn’t expect anyone else to carry their burdens.  They weren’t going to take the easy road of letting their creditors suffer because they refused to.

Would you do business with someone like that?  Would you loan them money?  Would you trust them with your future?  I would!

Every good business person has a plan.  Failures wander but successful people plan.  However, plans almost never work the way you think they will.

I sit on the board of directors of a community bank.  Our bank is small, but it has big plans for the future.  The most important plans are for the current year because those are the ones we must accomplish first.  For us, growing revenue, which means loaning more money, is the most critical thing.

During our most recent board meeting we were reviewing February results and we are behind on our plan.  Since it was toward the end of the month I asked if the 1st quarter results, available in a few days, would still show us behind.  The answer was yes.  My next question was, “will we be back on track by the end of the second quarter?”  I was stunned by the response:

“We don’t know.”

That is completely unacceptable.

Again, plans almost never work out the way you think they will.  But if you want to achieve your goals you have to continually evaluate where you are and make plans to correct your course when you aren’t on track.  If you are a couple of degrees off course when flying an airplane, and discover it early, it makes no real difference in the time to fly to your destination, but if you ignore it for very long, you’ll be hundreds of miles off course and it may be impossible to ever get there.

So, the key to achieving your goals is to correct your course early when you get off!  In this way you recover quickly, and you accomplish what you set out to do.

We’ve reached the first milestone of the business year.  The end of the first quarter.  Are you on track?

The airplane was veering side to side while climbing, then diving crazily.  Clouds and sky were replaced by visions of the ground rushing up violently from second to second.  As alarm bells went off, while buzzers were ringing and lights flashing, I felt the overwhelming urge to panic and give up.

It seemed that no matter what I did the problems were only getting worse and the situation was increasingly out of control!  My body was flooded with adrenaline, my heart rate and blood pressure through the roof, and my brain was absolutely overwhelmed.  Finally, in desperation, I yelled “stop the sim!”  To which my aircraft simulator instructor calmly answered, “fly the plane.”

Crying for Mama wasn’t going to work!  I had to fix my own problems.

From the recesses of my memory I recalled my primary training instructor telling me long ago, “fix one thing at a time and make small corrections.”  Carefully, I put the artificial nose of the airplane on the horizon line on my instruments and held it there.  Then with great effort, and using both hands, I steadied the wings and held them level.  Breathing deeply and exhaling slowly as I tried to control my physical panic, I slowly brought the plane back to altitude, switched off the flashing lights and faced the failures.  Using my checklist, I carefully and methodically dealt with each problem in turn and finally landed the plane safely.

When we have serious problems arise in our business (and every business does eventually) the first tendency is often an overreaction.  If one negative thing doesn’t get compounded by another automatically, it often does from those overreactions.  Now we have a mess, but this isn’t simulated reality and we can’t “stop the sim.”  Our choice is fixing the problems or perhaps die (lose money, opportunity, progress or even bankruptcy.)

To negotiate a crisis successfully, we first must make the commitment to running the business regardless of the problems (fly the plane!)  This is often not as easy to do as it is to say, but without that firm and conscious (and communicated to others when necessary) resolve, we won’t recover.

Then, we must identify the most critical issue and fix it carefully (“fix one thing at a time and make small corrections.”)  Panic only makes things worse.  Calm, deliberate and consistent actions are required.

Every business owner will face crises during their career.  Storms, failures, mistakes and things beyond your control guarantee it.  How you react in those moments determines the outcome in advance.  Knowing this, it’s worth the trouble to “simulate” problems and your reactions in advance so muscle memory can help in the moment of a real crisis.  My time flying a simulator has made me a better pilot and your forethought will make you a better business owner.

When the crisis comes, remember. “fly the plane!”

The futurist Ray Kurzweil, author of “The Singularity is Near” describes his idea of escape velocity as that point in time when for every year you live, science will make another year of life possible for you.  The essential idea is that at some point humans will reach the theoretical and practical ability to live forever.  While this sounds good on the surface there are all sorts of practical problems that will have to be solved along the way.  One of those is how do you pay for never ending existence?  (For others please watch the 1970’s movie “Logan’s Run” but I digress).

A similar idea occurs to me in the financial realm.   Is it possible to reach a point where you continually attract more resources than ever before, regardless of what you do?

I think it is not only very possible but happens with some regularity.  How it happens, and why, aren’t necessarily obvious, but they are no big mystery either.  The secret to financial escape velocity begins with mindset.

Almost everyone believes that virtually everything is scarce.  Water and food are scarce according to Malthus.  Peace is scarce according to the politicians.  Life itself is scarce to most, other than Kurzweil.  And money is scarce according to the gold bugs.  As Peter Diamandis points out in “Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think” none of these things is true, and they are increasingly false unless you believe them to be true, act on that belief and make them real.

The truth about money is that it is essentially limitless. History proves this, without question, as the wealth of the world continues to expand exponentially.  But history also proves that money doesn’t end up in the hands of everyone equally.  No, it has always, and always will, end up in the hands of entrepreneurs.  When you think about history in this way you will see that princes were just enterprising business people!

Increasingly in the modern world it isn’t princes (government) who determine who makes money, it is the entrepreneur.  The entrepreneur is classically defined as “one who takes assets to a higher level of production”.  In other words, one who constantly creates value.  If an entrepreneur never ceases this activity, it is possible to come to the point where his own consumption needs, even though always increasing, are no longer limiting and more and more financial resources are continually being created.  In other words, it becomes a virtual motion machine.

We can see this in people like Jeff Bezos quite easily.  But there are millions of others like this in the world.  What each has in common is the willingness to continually invest, take risk and create value.  At some point they reach escape velocity where their progress is no longer a function of work effort but return on investment.  Escape velocity is possible for anyone.  How about you?

I’ve written before about the business wisdom of my father who taught me, as fathers are, wont to do a great deal; but he wasn’t infallible.

Dad used to say that “if you can avoid increasing your standard of living as you make more money compound, interest will make you rich.”  The essential idea is that money is scarce.  There is a limited amount of it, and the more of it you save, the more of it you will have.

On the surface this makes a lot of sense, but in actual practice for the entrepreneur, it is very limiting.

In the first place, acting in this way tends to make one more focused on the idea that money is scarce.  When you give in to this way of thinking it becomes something to be safeguarded, which leads to hoarding.

In the second, it leads to personal denial.  It reinforces the idea, already prevalent in our society, that you shouldn’t long to enjoy things that money brings.  It reinforces the idea that money is scarce.

What I have learned through observation is that this leads to a love of money.  By this I mean, that it causes one to place a higher value on it, than on other things.  My further observation is that those who love money never seem to have much of it, or enough of it.

In turn, this leads to fear of risk because one increasingly doesn’t want to lose what one has gained.  This turns the mind inward and backward as one seeks to hold on to what one has rather than what one hopes to get.  Think of a fist closed around a wad of dollar bills.  Yes, it’s unlikely anything can remove it from your hand, but it is also very unlikely any new dollar bills will be able to get inside your fist.

Fear of, and unwillingness to take risk kills entrepreneurial progress.

What if instead, one thinks of money as unlimited?  What if one increasingly seeks to satisfy what he wants?  I think this approach leads to the willingness to continually reinvest and redeploy what one has already made which leads to never ending progress.  This isn’t to say that loss never happens but on balance that more progress, than loss, continually occurs.

This attitude leads to increasing abundance and continually removes scarcity.

Justin Wilson the departed Cajun chef, humorist and philosopher observed that, “the coon ass thinks of money as something to spend just before you get it because he has never seen an armored car in a funeral procession.”  The entrepreneur takes this philosophy and builds, always increasing success and prosperity from it.

I was once asked by a floundering insurance agency owner how he could grow his agency from where it was to something bigger.  I gave him the advice to do more of what had gotten him where he was.

This was not good advice.

In the first place, as we grow our businesses, complexity increases.  Doing more of the same thing often results in diminishing returns.  This happens because the owner gets increasingly “busy” and therefore less effective.  Also, this busyness (oddly I keep spelling that “business” which is sort of ironic if you think about it) spreads organizationally to the ultimate result that one is working harder and harder to stay in the same place.

The actual key to continual progress is to increasingly stop doing what you have been doing. 

This sounds nonsensical on the surface, i.e. “why would I stop doing the things that have brought me success thus far?”  However, what gets us where we are is a combination of using our giftedness (what Dan Sullivan calls, “Unique Ability”) and doing a lot of other things that are just necessary.  We do this until we run out of time and then progress stalls.

I am fond of saying that your time has no real value until you run out of it.  You can test this for yourself with a thought experiment.  There are 168 hours in a week.  No one has more than that – time is a finite resource, but as long as you can expand the number of hours within that 168 that you devote to work, you can still add to the number of dollars you generate.  When you run out of time you are forced to reckon what your hourly rate is and then the only way you can improve your income is to increasingly focus on raising your hourly rate.  This requires that you “stop doing” some things to do more of others.

This requires a different way of thinking.  To make progress from here, you must increasingly think about what you can stop doing to have more time to focus on those things you are best at.  Of course, this forces you to confront whether you are basically oriented toward a philosophy of scarcity or abundance.  In other words, do you believe that giving up some activities in exchange for paying others some of the money you have made “costs” you or “makes” you money?

The answer isn’t as obvious as you might think.

In my experience, most small business owners reliably make the wrong choice.

Well, this idea certainly flies in the face of conventional wisdom!

I’m sure that you, like me, have read and heard all your life that you must capitalize on your strengths to be successful.  Certainly, this is the accepted common-sense approach to life and usually “common sense” is correct.  While it is valuable to understand your strengths and “play to them,” I’d like to offer a different perspective.

When I was a skinny teenager afraid of bigger kids and bullies I looked for a way to not only defend myself but avoid the problem in the first place.  I discovered martial arts in the process and learned how one skinny person could reliably defeat bigger foes and many bigger foes simultaneously.  I realized I couldn’t out muscle the bullies, but I was faster than they were.  I learned I could hit them many times before they could recover, and I could use their size against them and to my advantage.  For the first time I realized my weakness had tremendous value.

In business if we don’t understand our weaknesses and only focus on our strengths we inevitably find trouble.  I find that most agency owners are excellent sales people and can sell more insurance than they can take care of.  Ultimately this leads to client dissatisfaction, defection and growth either stops or goes backwards.  If the agent understands this from the beginning, she can focus on finding people who complement her strength by bringing their own strengths to her weakness.  This is a powerful formula for never ending success.

Unfortunately, if we don’t understand this, we will focus on “systems” or “processes” or other means to deal with our weakness.  Not that there is anything wrong with this approach, but in my experience, it isn’t sufficient.

What is necessary to build and sustain success after we understand what we lack is to find the person(s) whose strengths and weaknesses complement our own.  When we do this, we move from thinking about “what” or “how” to “who”.  This is a subject Dan Sullivan explores in his book “Who Not How” available here:

The more I work on this idea the more I realize that I’m not equipped to backstop my weaknesses.  I need someone else to help me.  That is how I came to be in the national karate championships at the age of fourteen.  I learned to cooperate with those who had the strength of bigness to magnify my own strengths of quickness and agility.  The reliable result was winning.  It took me a long time to understand that the principle is the same in business and to build a company on that principle, but the result has been two decades of increasing growth and opportunity for us and dozens of others.

What are your weaknesses?  “Who” can make those into strengths for you?

As an independent insurance agency owner, time is of the essence. When your inbox is a flurry of emails from customers, carriers, partners, and others all at once – time management and streamlined processes are vital in order to ensure your customers are provided great service.

Below is a method for organizing your email to save time and energy, while ensuring nothing slips through the cracks.

Steps to Create a Rule for Sorting Customer Email and Forwarding to Proper Department:

  1. On Outlook main page, select “Rules” drop down and “Manage Rules and Alerts”.
  2. Select “New Rule”
  3. In “Step 1: Select a Template” – select “apply rule on messages I receive”
  4. Click “Next”
  5. Under “Step 1: Select conditions” – Select “with specific words in the subject or body”
  6. In the bottom in “Step 2 Box”, click on the blue text that says “specific words
    1. Enter the words you would like Outlook to search for (i.e.: ID Card, verification, etc.)
  7. Once all the word you want sorted are entered, click next.
  8. In “Step 1: Select action(s)” –
    1. Select “forward it to people or public group”
    2. OR Slect “move it to the specified folder”
  9. Once again in the bottom “Step 2” Box click the blue words link to determine the destination.
  10. Select Next
    1. On this screen you can choose and exceptions to the rule you would like to include. If there are none, Click “Next”
  11. In the final screen:
    1. Name the Rule
    2. Choose to Run the rule on messages in the current account
    3. You can also choose to “create this rule on all accounts” this will run the rule for all accounts on your outlook.
  12. Click “Finish”
  13. ALWAYS test the rule by send yourself a test message FOR EACH WORD SEPARATELY.

That’s it! You’re finished, and your email is now more organized and ready for your inflow of daily emails.


About the Author:

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Brandon Sherman, owner of S&H Insurance and an OAA member, has over seven years experience in the insurance industry and operates his business in Alva, Oklahoma. He has been an active member of OAA since November 2017. As an independent agency, he has access to thirty insurance companies; giving S&H Insurance the ability to find his customers the best coverage for the best rates. Connect with S&H Insurance on Facebook. 

Person Holding Pink Piggy Coin Bank
We recently had a Circle of Excellence (our regular informal discussion with high performing partners) discussion about the role of a Chief Financial Officer in a growing business. One of the great questions that came out of that discussion was how to prepare to borrow money from a bank.

I’d like to address that question here from the perspective of an active entrepreneur, bank board member as well as the CFO’s expressed perspective.

Essentially, it all comes down to building a relationship.

The smart business person understands that she may need to borrow money to grow the business, even out cash flow, buy assets, or for some other purpose somewhere in the business’s development. It’s very important, regardless of how you feel about debt, to prepare for contingencies.

The first step in preparing to borrow money is to do it before you need it. Wherever you have your business banking set up go meet a loan officer. Take them to lunch and talk about your business and your plans. Get to know the kinds of business, and the kinds of loans, his bank likes to make. Understand from his perspective what they look for.

What you’ll hear in that conversation is that they like to loan money to people who are well organized, know how to run their business and have a plan and solid ability to pay back the money. For new business people the most important thing may be an excellent credit score.

If you haven’t had a good set of financial statements prepared for your business and a comprehensive and a well prepared personal financial statement, get your CPA to assist you in putting them together. What is on there is important, but so is the presentation of the information. Ask your new banker friend what he thinks of your business and your financials. Are there things you could do to improve them? Are there areas he thinks he could assist that might speed your growth or boost your cash flow?

Even if you don’t need money now, consider asking for a small line of credit. These are profitable business for a bank and offer an excellent opportunity for you to begin borrowing and repaying financing. The point is, to get started well in advance of when you might really need to borrow. Perhaps you never will, but the wise business person is prepared.

Remember that your banker is a business person too. He needs to make loans to generate income and so has a genuine interest in loaning you money. He would also be grateful for referrals and is also able to give you referrals.

If you haven’t already established a lending relationship for your business, resolve to do that during the first quarter of the year. From a financial statement perspective, it’s a logical time to do it, and it is a great idea to go into the new year with new capabilities!