The founder of Patagonia sportswear, a $750 million-dollar company started from scratch in 1973, has an interesting take on what it means to be an entrepreneur. He says, “if you want to understand the entrepreneur, study the juvenile delinquent. The delinquent is saying with his actions, ‘this sucks. I’m going to do my own thing.’”

I think there is more to delinquency than that, but I get what Yvon Chouinard is saying.

Michael Gerber, in his book “The E Myth,” points out that most businesses are created by someone who doesn’t like their boss, wants to make more money or wants more freedom of time. Often, but not always, the businesses that are started due to one of those reasons, are just clones (more or less) of the business the founder used to work for. These types of businesses tend to do for them what their previous CEO set out to do, but they don’t ever really succeed at a high level, change the game in their industry or make them tremendously successful.

The kinds of founders Gerber talks about, who found the overwhelming majority of new businesses, aren’t entrepreneurs. That’s why he titled his book, “The E Myth.”

Chouinard is saying something very similar. The true entrepreneur is the person who decides to take a different approach because they hate the ones currently in existence, or at least think there is a better way to do it.

Right now, the insurance distribution business is full of entrepreneurs who, like delinquents, have declared that “this sucks.” They are all trying to reinvent distribution. Typically, most will fail, but in failing they will change the industry, and some will succeed wildly.

Being an entrepreneur isn’t limited to game-changers though. Even small businesses, with no real thought of world domination, can create business models that become wildly successful on their terms. This is in fact what happened to Chouinard who just set out to build a small company that would allow him to only work half the year.

For Chouinard, the norms of business weren’t good enough. He thought, “this sucks,” so he intentionally created a business that would give him what he wanted whether anyone else thought it was appropriate or not. He has built a successful company that hasn’t changed the clothing game – but it is successful – both in his and in everyone else’s opinion. However, success only came because he was willing to do things differently – his way.

As you build your business, you have a choice. Follow a conventional model, work hard and become conventionally successful, or say, “this sucks” and do things differently. Both work! What do you choose?

My business coach, Dan Sullivan, wrote a little book entitled, “WhoNotHow,” which describes a powerful means of getting unstuck and making additional rapid progress in your business. The idea, which I have written about before, is that not knowing “how” to do something creates paralysis and procrastination.

This procrastination always leads to delay and loss of opportunity. Projects that might eventually happen, often never do because the delay causes defeat and one simply gives up. Focusing on “who” already knows “how” allows the entrepreneur to continue to make progress as the focus changes to looking for the appropriate “whos” instead of trying to learn to do yet something else, according to Dan.

I’ve worked at freeing myself up to focus on the things only I can do by working on this principle for the last year. The results I’ve had in terms of personal and business progress have been amazing!

Yet I find that I am still frustrated sometimes at my progress or lack of it. Recently I was speaking to a close friend of mine, Mike Sterlacci, of Dallas, Texas. Mike is a very successful entrepreneur and insurance agency owner himself. I described my frustrations to him and told him that even though I’d freed myself up, that it’s hard to stay that way. Things that happen in the business seem to conspire to pull me back into things I had given up. I told him that my impulses to want to control things also became an issue as I found myself in a self-created push-pull.

Mike, who shares my Christian faith, said simply, “feed my sheep.”

His point was that freeing myself isn’t about me. It’s about a team of people around me. He said that the frustration I feel when I’m doing things I should better delegate to others with giftedness in that area is the Holy Spirit telling me to let go.

Mike’s comments gave me immediate and absolute clarity. As I free myself from those things I am not good at, I not only enable my progress but the progress of others. That’s a valuable lesson; even if you don’t view it from the lens of faith as he and I do.

When I hold on to things or retrieve responsibilities from others instead of letting them spread their wings, I not only frustrate myself but deny them the opportunity for growth. Yes, sometimes the people you entrust don’t deliver, which creates an opportunity for creative trading up of people or capability, but not an excuse to not let go, or, as Dan Sullivan says, “who up.”

What things are you holding onto that would be better accomplished by someone else on your team? What progress can you AND your team make by letting go and “whoing up?” It’s not just about you – it’s really about your team – and those who make the most progress build great teams. Feed those sheep!

For years I’ve written and spoken about the damage the comparative rater has done to the independent agency business model. In my opinion, raters have served to destroy agent capability as “trusted advisors,” commoditizing personal insurance transactions and focusing consumer attention solely on price as the only rational insurance purchasing fact. Yes, they’ve been assisted by billions of dollars in price-oriented advertising by non-agent companies and there has been a historical shift of captive agents to the IA channel.

My concern has always been that once commoditized, there would be no turning back for agents and that agent’s sole resulting value proposition would be a cost number that algorithms and computers would always beat.

Well, I wonder if that day has arrived?

According to the most recent J.D. Power report on U.S. auto insurance consumer satisfaction, 2019 had a record high level of customer satisfaction with carriers. According to the survey, “72% of customers said they’d switch insurers for any level of financial savings.” (As reported in the July 1, 2019 “Insurance Journal” underline mine.) Other significant findings of the study published in the “Insurance Journal” are that, “customer reliance on agents has declined by 33% over the last 20 years,” and that, “17% of customers hadn’t met their agency face-to-face or on the phone.” (Underline mine again.)

Let’s unpack this.
• For the overwhelming majority of auto insurance, the buyer’s price is everything
• For a big chunk of them, an agent is irrelevant
• Another large chunk had never even spoken to an agent! Their entire experience has been by email, website or some other digital means

If all of this is true, and J.D. Powers has an excellent reputation for veracity and accuracy, then who needs an agent? With agents comprising carrier’s largest non-claims expense, what does a rational insurance company think? Add to that another study I wrote about last year that shows underwriting results are better for the direct response carriers like Geico and Progressive than agent represented companies. You should be concerned if you’re an agent.

These studies aren’t canaries in the coal mine; they are tectonic explosions threatening to trap an entire industry. Consider that most of the typical small agency’s revenue comes from personal lines and that 60% of revenue comes from auto insurance. With all of this in mind, it’s pretty easy to see why we have commission compression and why agents are fighting over fewer customers.

Ok, so is it the end?

I don’t think so. First, customers are much happier when they bundle home and auto according to the study, so good agents, selling solutions, still have an edge. Also, the study points out that consumers value “superior digital experiences and easy access to account management,” which is something that agents can easily provide.

There is an opportunity to go after a big chunk of the market that has no relationship with an agent. (The 17% that had never met one – even by phone.)

Finally, carriers and agents aren’t created equally. Those that couple excellent digital capability and lowest price assurance with relentless shopping on behalf of consumers with multiple carriers, (old fashioned independent agent value proposition anyone?) serious effort at cost controls in the agency, (benchmarking?) aggressive marketing for new business, state of the art digital and personal service to leverage retention and increased focus on placing business with insurance company price and tech leaders, (one leads to the other) will not just survive, they will thrive.

Part of that thriving will be picking up the pieces from a lot of agents that didn’t make it.

Which kind of agency are you now? What kind of agency are you working to become?

Have you ever thought about how important the name of your company is? Does your name attract business, or does it repel potential customers?

One of my first businesses was called, “Real Estate Control Corporation.” The name implied the ability to control expenses, which after all, is important to make a profit. We were in the subsidized housing management business (Section 8), with a large market and rent amounts set by the government. Expense control was a key success driver for owners of apartment complexes, but as we tried to increase our business in the “conventional” market, we struggled. One day the owner told us our name was disqualifying because it implied that we weren’t focused on increasing income.

My retail insurance agency is called “Oklahoma Business Insurors.” When we decided to get back into the personal insurance business, this wasn’t a very good fit! So, we created a different marketing entity for that line of business.

The name, or brand, of your business, is critically important in attracting the customers you want. How does your name impact your business?

Recently my wife and I were on vacation in France. While leaving the small town we were staying in one morning, I noticed a sign for a restaurant called, “The Monte Cristo.” I commented to her that I would never eat in a restaurant with such a cheesy name. The name itself, in that locale, implied to me, that it would not be high quality.

Later that evening, returning hot and tired from a day of sightseeing, we looked all over that small town for a place to eat. It was Monday and apparently, nothing was open. Noticing a few cars in front of the “Monte Cristo,” and desperate to eat so we could shower and go to bed, I swung in. Nearly deserted, but open, the “Monte Cristo” provided one of the best meals we had on our trip!

The restaurant had excellent food, service, and nice décor. Everything one would need for success in the restaurant business, but the unfortunate name kept potential customers from going inside. Unless, like me, they were desperate. I wondered what a simple rebranding would do for their business.

Do you have the name you want for your business? Does your name give you the results you expect? Have you asked potential or current customers how your name impacts their interest in doing business with you? It is worth thinking about.

Statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square in a beautiful summer day, London, England, United Kingdom

I recently watched a terrific movie about the beginning of World War II entitled, “Darkest Hour.” The movie features the tremendous challenges faced by Britain and its new Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. It opens with Churchill after twenty years of being out of power as a result of the Gallipoli disaster in World War I. He is immediately faced with the collapse of Europe, the imminent defeat of France, 300,000 British soldiers trapped on the beach at Dunkirk, a King and Cabinet that despised him and defeatist attitudes on the part of virtually the entire population and politicians. All of this and many other urgent and difficult problems. What a way to start!

In one early scene, Churchill is in the toilet talking to, well, begging really, President Roosevelt for any kind of help. It is a pitiful thing to watch and shows how truly desperate and despondent Churchill was.

How did he get from there, to the defiant radio speech where he vowed to, “never surrender?”

He did it by recalling that Britain, in its 1,000-year history, had never given up before. He got there from developing a resolve that regardless of the outcome, Britain would only move forward and that defeat was preferable to surrender.

It’s now the middle of the year and for many businesses, it is time for decision making. The year is not working out as planned. Sales are not what they need to be. Income is tight. New employees have not been hired. Bills cannot be paid. Carriers are demanding more than can be provided. Other problems, small and large, loom and the end of the year does not look the same from here as it did in January.

What should the business owner do?

There are only two choices. Fight on, never give up and work to correct the problems that arise is one choice. Accepting a lesser fate, as Neville Chamberlain and Viscount Halifax would have, is the other.

Churchill’s case is instructive for the business owner. He made the choice not to accept defeat and to fight. This led to creativity and solutions to the many problems he faced. He organized a fleet of boats to rescue his army, the U.S. provided help and his team (the cabinet, Parliament, and people) rose to meet the challenges with him. While the war didn’t end that year, progress was made, and supremely important, the groundwork was laid for an ultimate victory.

How will you decide, at the midpoint of the year, to finish? Will you give in and give up? Or will you work even harder to carry the day? Churchill’s answer to his people is inspiring. You can read it here: https://winstonchurchill.org/resources/speeches/1940-the-finest-hour/we-shall-fight-on-the-beaches/

My young friend and personal trainer is a budding entrepreneur.  Between gasps for breath we’ve been discussing his business plan, which he is struggling to finish.  His problem, like many business people I know, is finding the time.

The truth is we all have the same amount of time, but have you noticed that really busy people always seem to have the time they need?  Let’s talk about high performance time secrets.

The first common time use trait I see is a keen awareness of what matters.  Highly effective people set goals that are time limited and they always seem to have so many that ordinary people scratch their heads and wonder how they get them all accomplished.

The second trait is what makes the first work: urgency.  Above average performers have a strong sense of urgency to achieve their goals and have an internal drive to get them done as fast as possible.  When they set time limited goals they often underestimate the time required to achieve them but work with urgency to finish.  This can lead to a disconnect with ordinary people for whom manana is always possible – but they accomplish a lot.

The third thing I’ve noticed seems a bit paradoxical.  People who continually accomplish more than others have an unusual degree of patience.  By this I don’t mean that they are laid back or are at war with themselves internally, (after all they are urgent) but they put their plans in perspective.  They tend to understand that some things take time to accomplish and so their daily urgency is balanced by long term thinking.  They plan their business, their personal lives and what they intend to get done in one year, three years, and even further in advance.

People who really accomplish a lot use all their time.  They know that when they are eating, engaged in recreation, driving, brushing their teeth, sleeping and other normally nonproductive times that their subconscious mind can be employed to continue working on creative solutions.  They engage neuro linguistic techniques to ask themselves questions like, “how can I …?” and are tuned in to the answers their sub conscious provides, even when they come at odd times.

World class time maximizers automatically use “chunking” to make the most of the time they have available.  They have learned, somehow, what science has demonstrated conclusively, which is that when we do a series of similar or related tasks at the same time, we do them faster and more effectively.  Dan Sullivan of The Strategic Coach employs this in his “Entrepreneurial Time System” which I’ve been using for the last eleven years to leverage myself.  Other highly effective business management coaching systems like, The Entrepreneurial Operating System, teach similar techniques.

Successful time managers also make sure they get plenty of rest.  Unlike workaholics they understand that the mind and body need to take a break.  They provide for complete mental downtime regularly knowing this is what fuels creativity and accomplishment.

How about you?  Do you wish you had more time?  Try some of these proven techniques and discover how much more you can accomplish and how much fuller your life becomes.

Not long ago my 21-year-old son reminded me of a time when he was 11 that he advised me to buy stock in Apple Corp.  I remember when we had that conversation a decade ago. I thought Apple had already had a great run and its future wasn’t as full of investment promise as its past.  So, I didn’t invest.

I’m sure many people have had similar experiences.  The reflection often begins with “if only…” and ends with wistful disappointment at our own inability to see the future and act on it.

I find that business people, as a rule, fail to invest in themselves.  Perhaps for the same reason I failed to invest in Apple – because they don’t see the potential return.  Or perhaps because they think it’s unnecessary.  Even people who spend large sums training their work force often refuse to take more than the required education themselves.

This is a tragic mistake in my view.

Looking back, I find that I am my company’s most valuable asset.  After all, I started it and have propelled the company forward with vision, leadership, hard work, investment and risk taking.  Isn’t that true of your business?

I also think I’m either my company’s biggest limitation, in terms of its future, or its largest opportunity for continued growth.  Since I believe that about me (and I believe it about you too, by the way) becoming my absolute best and continually improving my own knowledge, capabilities and performance is worth time, effort and investment.

I find that the entrepreneurs who are involved in training, coaching or other self-improvement programs are the ones who seem to be making continual progress.  The ones I’ve met that I most admire seem to be involved in multiple opportunities for learning and personal development.

Years ago, at a conference, I met a man who had grown his income ten times in only a few years.  He gave credit to Strategic Coach for the learning that allowed his progress.  Someone asked him, “how much does it cost?” To which he replied, “I don’t know, and I don’t care!”  His essential point was that he understood the program cost wasn’t the important thing, it was what he gained from it as a return on his investment that mattered.  That conversation led to my own involvement in Strategic Coach, which in turn has helped me grow my business and my income tremendously.

There are many coaching and training programs for entrepreneurs available.  Many seem expensive if you only consider the cost, but when you understand the potential return, due to increasing your own performance, they are the best investments you can make.  They are investments in you!

During breakfast this morning with a friend and successful entrepreneur, we talked as we often do about sports.  We’re both former college athletes and share a competitive mindset.  We agreed that championship sports teams are always those who are willing to risk everything, including humiliating defeat, to win.

I recalled deciding in 1973 that I wanted to be a national karate champion in the sport of Tae Kwon Do.  Upon telling my teacher (a former national champion) of my goal, he promptly beat me severely in the ring; multiple times.  He saw to it in the coming months that others beat me regularly.  In losing I learned to maximize my capabilities, I honed my determination to win and I gained a lot of bruises, a broken bone and hands that would be disfigured later in life.  Nevertheless, by being willing to lose, I learned how to win.

Ultimately, I came in second in the national championships because of stupidly losing my temper, (which is the subject for another blog) but the lessons of what it takes to be successful, including the willingness to dream big dreams and take risks have stayed with me a lifetime.

I notice that many talented business owners fail to maximize their own potential because they aren’t willing to risk what they have already achieved.  To lose what they’ve gained is more psychically fearsome than the prospect of winning.  When someone gets in this position they have already lost.

I find it fascinating that people who never played a sport can become rabid fans.  They cheer when their team wins, and often hurl criticism at them when they lose, but it is the athlete who is playing the game.  The champions are the ones who, in moments of maximum risk, and when the game is on the line, want the ball in their hands.

It is the same in business.  To win you must be playing the game, and when the game is on the line, and the risk is at its highest, the entrepreneur with a winning mindset demands the opportunity to carry the ball.  He knows he may lose; perhaps everything he has worked for up until now.  It’s not that he’s fearless.  He is full of fear, but fear doesn’t stop him; it empowers him.  Having lost before he understands the consequences of losing.

Sports champions and successful entrepreneurs learn in similar ways and they behave in the same ways too.  They have sacrificed to be where they are.  They have lost many times before.  They have learned that to win they have to play the game.  They can’t just cheer from the sidelines and that by playing they risk losing, but that is the price of winning!

I was discussing with a young friend how his business plan was coming along, and because it seemed to be taking a long time to finish, I encouraged him to set a deadline for himself. We then discussed the value of building in milestones for his new business. The purpose of milestones is to set, in advance, points where he can evaluate his success. If, when that time comes, it isn’t what he wants it to be, he can pivot to a new direction.

The value of this is that decisions are already made and much easier to execute.

This is also true when dealing with problem employees.  Many years ago, I had a sales person who had a lot of talent and capability yet wasn’t being very successful.  Despite training and coaching, he wasn’t anywhere close to hitting the numbers he needed to.   We had a conversation about this early in the year and I gave him a goal for the first quarter, which was eminently achievable and that we both agreed to. I told him that if he hit the goal, we would celebrate and move forward, but if he didn’t, I expected him to bring his keys.

Unfortunately, we were never able to celebrate, but when the quarter was over, and he brought me his keys, he felt that his leaving was fair, and we parted on good terms.

From that, I learned that I should always make sure my employees know what they are expected to do and that when they aren’t performing to expectations, having a calm, dispassionate conversation about it with clearly defined consequences for not correcting it, is the best way to go.

I always hope that performance will change, (and I’ve discovered that when performance improves, attitude usually does as well) but if it doesn’t come to the mark that’s been set, by the deadline, both the employee and I know that it’s time to pivot.  They know that new employment is in their immediate future.

This “automates” the process of firing someone should it become necessary.  Letting someone go isn’t ever pleasant, but when both the employer and the employee knows, in advance, that it is going to happen on a certain date, unless a measurable result is obtained, it makes it much easier on everyone.

If you have goals for your business, (and why would you be in business without them?) then you must accomplish many of them through others.  If those others don’t accomplish what you need them to, then you can never get where you want to go.  What kills progress is when this happens and we’re unwilling to pivot because it’s unpleasant.  Automating this process by setting milestones for people makes sure that an underperforming team member doesn’t cause you to lose the game you’re playing.

I know a man through an online pilot forum I participate in who lives in Wisconsin and in Florida, and who is less than a year older than I am.  I am 62.  He is a very nice fellow who invested over the years, made a good living and is now in classical, comfortable American retirement.

As I read what he writes, it is clear to me that he is also classically “retired” from a mental standpoint as well and is focused on his limitations.  What he cannot do is more in the forefront of his thinking than what he can.  He is very limited in his vision of the future.

I also know a man who is 69 and last year climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, which is 19,341 feet above sea level.  He plans to do it again next year.  I know many other men and women who are also in their late 60’s and early 70’s who are in the midst of starting new businesses.  All these people have visions of their futures that reach out decades and they are focused on capability and growth; not limitations and decline.

The fundamental difference between my Florida friend and the others is mindset.  The latter group doesn’t necessarily possess greater wealth, ability, health or genetic longevity.  They just have dramatically fewer self-imposed limits on their thinking.

They believe they can.  They believe they will.  My Florida friend believes he can’t, so he won’t. 

I encounter business owners every week who fit one or the other of these mental positions.  Those with can do and will do mindsets are much different in terms of their results than the others are.  They generally make a lot of progress financially and obstacles that stop the latter group, they just take in stride and overcome.  I believe it is their mindset that makes the difference.

When you talk to the people with the can do and will do mindset you find that some of them have always been this way, but that’s not always the case.  Many had a “eureka” moment.   According to the dictionary eureka means, “a cry of joy or satisfaction when one finds or discovers something.”   Somewhere on their journey they discovered that if they will, they can.

Where you go in life and business is up to you.  Yes, it’s true that some are more successful than others.  Not everyone ends up with a huge organization, fabulous wealth or the ability to do everything their mind can dream up. However, every single person who ends up more accomplished, satisfied, and usually surprised by their “success,” is someone who decided to try and who never “retired” from active belief in their thinking that they can or will.

Which mindset do you have?  If you believe you can’t or won’t, may I encourage you to try to think differently?  No one reaches the end of the journey or achieves the goal immediately, but everyone who does starts!