When Right is Wrong

I see the rapid increase in the number of podcasts focused on analysis of news and current events  as a good thing.  I like to believe that the average audience member considers podcasts as only one of many media channels for sourcing interpretations –liberal, conservative, progressive, establishment or anti-establishment sentiments – of the complex world in which we reside.  The diversity of opinions is especially valuable to any entrepreneur considering entry into global markets.

HOWEVER, the hair on the back of my neck rises when I hear a podcaster continually inserting “right” in his or her statement.

If you are making a point, make it.  Don’t second guess yourself by inserting a questioning “Right?” into your opinion unless you are truly looking for validation from the other members participating in the conversation.  Similarly, interjecting “right, right” into another speaker’s statement is not adding value.

This morning while enjoying breakfast, I listened to VOX.com’s new foreign policy podcast Worldly  with Yochi Dreazen, Jennifer Williams and Zach Beauchamp discussing the potential for a US-Russian conflict in Syria.  

Jennifer Williams’ bio on  Vox.com reads: Before joining Vox, Jennifer was a senior researcher at thee Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and the deputy foreign policy editor for Lawfare Her work on jihadist groups, terrorism, and the Middle East has appeared in numerous publications including Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and The National Interest.

Reading some of her older blog postings, reinforced my impression that this is a woman who “knows her stuff”; she is a strong communicator in the written form. Unfortunately, when speaking live during the Vox podcast, she comes off much less polished than her male co-hosts because of her verbal “hiccups”.

Public speaking is a critical communication skill. If you want to be heard and respected, I urge WE Speak members to take the time to enroll in a public speaking class or Toast Masters club. At a minimum, identify a mentor who will coach you to not only develop your business pitch, but also how to deliver it. Doing so will help you develop a rhetorical style that is free from the “um, right,  like….” ticks that hamper effective speaking.

The Value of Cohorts

I’ve recently returned from a 14 day trip during which I reconnected with three fabulous women who I had not seen for years – in one case, not for decades! The first woman I’ve known since age 6; the second was my college roommate and later my maid of honor; the third, who I met during my soccer mom era, I call my backyard bff.

I organized a Sunday brunch at a great bistro in Denver, during which my backyard bff would meet my other two friends for the first time. Beyond the amazing fact that it took fewer than 30 seconds of face to face time to recognize the old bonds were still intact and new friendships were instantly formed, was the confirmation (at least by the waitstaff at the restaurant) that we truly are interesting, intelligent, fun women who individually have had creatively diverse and successful careers and lifestyles.

All of us are strong life-long learners who collect university degrees, certifications and awards at an overall rate akin to shoe hoarders!

Each of us has lived abroad. Each of us has changed jobs and disciplines multiple times developing zig-zagging career paths. One woman, following her innate talent for helping others, earned a degree in education, became a chef, later studied to become a member of the clergy, and now is working in the insurance and finance industry. Another woman leveraged her passion for the arts to become a top-notch photo director for many well-known national publications. All four of us have flowed through various changes in our lives – some deliberately chosen, others not – which resulted in expanded horizons and a network of friends and colleagues that makes our shared lives rich and rewarding.

Three of the four of us married; two have grown children. Collectively we have faced numerous challenges including: a stubbornly independent, runaway child; the craziness of being “down-sized”; loss of significant personal relationships; discrimination in the workplace; family traumas including the squeeze of parenting kids while one’s own parent fades away due to Alzheimer’s; starting a business; walking away from a business; receiving a promotion with accompanying relocation… and much more.

women need to celebrate their personal cohorts more.

View from Pikes Peak, elevation 14,100 ft

As the brunch ended, business cards were exchanged along with heartfelt hugs; I knew for certain that the “Colorado high” I was experiencing was due to being 100% present and rejoicing with these women about the fabulous successful humans we’ve come to be.

Weeks later, what still resonates is the realization that there are certain points in each individual’s life when the people she chooses to spend time with become incredibly important contributors to her life journey.

Look for people who share your interests and passions, but more importantly friends who will push you to your next horizon by offering you a piece of themselves. By staying connected or reconnecting, you have the ability to access amazing creativity and subject matter expertise which will likely provide the strength and inspiration that propels you to reach your next peak.

When to Begin? How About Now?

You don’t have to have everything figured out in advance. Small steps eventually lead to conquering enormous mountains.

 

How many excuses do you think there are for not starting a business, or launching a new venture or initiative?

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that this number may be one of those ad infinitum situations. Excuses are easy to come by, but excuses don’t build dream companies, nor do they create change in anyone’s life. So, if there is some idea that has been nagging at you, some creative idea you want to explore or a new business that is fueling you with a passion, today may be the day to flip the switch and start turning your dream into reality.

Whoa. I hear those voices in your head and that cacophony of reasons why you can’t do that thing you really want to do just hit me hard.

“But I don’t know how.”

“I’m not sure how to get started.”

“I don’t know if there is a market.”

“I’m not experienced enough.”

“Someone else is already doing this (bigger, better, etc.)…”

What if I fail?

A million phrases like these prevent the majority of people from ever starting anything, but I’m sure that we can also agree that anything that currently exists was started from nothing. How many startups began in garages, coffee shops, bedrooms?

How many people just got on with it and figured it out?

See, I believe that it is not necessary to have every step of your journey mapped in advance. In fact, I think that knowing all those steps up front is practically impossible. Sure, you can plan and strategize, but you’re never going to be able to accurately predict every detail of your journey, and believe me, even if you could do that it wouldn’t be wise.

If you really knew up front how everything was going to play out, where would be the room for spontaneity, for miraculous serendipities and coincidences, for things to turn out far better than you were even imagining?

I think that, rather than waiting until you think you have the “how” all figured out, that a better strategy is just to start. Start by figuring out what success looks like – what your vision is, and decide that “this or something better” is what you’re going to create.

Then the fun begins and it’s just a matter of taking little steps towards your goals. Figure out small “bite size” things that you can do to support your dream on a daily basis. You might call someone up to ask advice, or put up a simple website. You might send out ten emails and follow up with calls. You might do a free talk or offer a class to your community. Maybe you start a blog or just start talking about your new venture and watch who starts showing up to support you. When you start to see the journey as the fun part you begin to shift your whole attitude. Instead of focusing on how far you are from the top of the mountain and how many thousands of steps it’s going to take to get there, you begin to see the whole trek as an adventure of epic proportions, and rather than dreading the start you begin looking forward to whatever lies before you.

This, my friend, is how great adventures begin and how great businesses are born – with an inspired idea and a determination to make it work. But please, whatever you do, don’t forget to enjoy the journey and to stay open to new opportunities along the way. You’ll be amazed at what starts to show up.

Good luck and bon voyage!

Elin Barton is a graduate of Cornell University (ALS ’91) and the Goldman Sachs 10KSB program. She enjoys speaking engagements and is finishing her first book, Ready, Set, Grit, which is due out in the fall of 2017. Elin is the CEO of White Knight Productions, Inc., a marketing and video production firm, and she also provides business training and coaching to entrepreneurs and corporate clients. Find links to Elin’s social media, her weekly podcast series and more at elinbarton.com.

Can You Create a Business that is Both Successful and Mindful?

Today is March 25 which means it’s a mere 87 days until summer’s official start, and there are only 39 more weekends before you’ll be opening Christmas presents again (just 38 weeks until the first day of Hanukkah!)

That’s pretty shocking, isn’t it? But I hope that instead of causing you to have a mild anxiety attack I can convince you of the importance of living in the moment and enjoying today for the miracle that it is. I recently read something that said if we only had seven more days on earth that we would surely make the effort to see all seven of those sunrises AND sunsets. We’d take the time to sit with loved ones, holding hands, hugging, talking… We’d eat ice cream, laugh and cry. The moments would be meaningful and our senses intensified to notice every detail, every nuance and bit of beauty.

The “small stuff” (i.e. most of what takes our attention on a daily basis) would seem insignificant as we got back in tune with that which really matters. I like to think that we would be kinder, more loving, more intentional with our thoughts and actions. In our “normal” every-day life, however, we tend to live with the illusion that we have all the time in the world. So often you hear about someone who gets a terminal diagnosis only to go on to say that in fact, that news was the best thing that could have happened to them because of the way it changed their entire outlook and life experience.

Without getting too esoteric, I would like to suggest that we don’t need the knowledge of a diagnosis or the threat of having just a week left on earth to decide to be more conscientious, mindful, and committed to finding in our work a real alignment with our true purpose.  I believe that business and the higher sense of purpose/ spirituality/ mindfulness are all intertwined and actually lead to better business decisions and a stronger brand and culture overall.

I have to be honest and say that a few years ago the main reason I was running my business was for profits. With my eye firmly on the bottom line I lost sight of the more important questions of our mission, how we were serving our customers better than anyone else could, and how we were ultimately going to give back to the community in a meaningful way.  During the past 18 months or so my business underwent a major shift that allowed me to rediscover the company’s core values, and to make decisions based on how aligned they were with those values. I stopped chasing the wrong clients and started doing the work that felt meaningful and important.

When this happened I started seeing some very interesting results. More of the right kinds of clients started finding us, which meant that I had to spend less of my time and energy on business development. Profits started climbing and the work started becoming fun again. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night now and start working on my laptop, not because I am stressed and worried, but because I am inspired and have so many ideas for our clients that I want to get them all down before I forget them. I rediscovered a passion for the work that I hadn’t experienced for a long time, and I think that for many of us that is the elusive element, the thing that got away, the answer to everything.

Rediscovering the passion and the purpose doesn’t necessarily mean leaving your job or starting a whole new company. It can, instead, be just a small shift that brings it all back into alignment. The first step is raising your awareness that something more really is possible and then it’s a matter of taking mindful and intentional steps towards discovering (or rediscovering) your mission and purpose and aligning everything and everyone with that vision.

Elin Barton is a graduate of Cornell University (ALS ’91) and the Goldman Sachs 10KSB program. She enjoys speaking engagements and is finishing her first book, Ready, Set, Grit, which is due out in the fall of 2017. Elin is the CEO of White Knight Productions, Inc., a marketing and video production firm, and she also provides business training and coaching to entrepreneurs and corporate clients. Find links to Elin’s social media, her weekly podcast series and more at elinbarton.com.

 

To MWBE or not to MWBE, that is the Question

submitted by:  Elin Barton , CEO of White Knight Productions

My husband was, at first, not a huge fan of the concept of MWBE certification. If you’re not familiar with it, the designation stands for “Minority or Woman Business Enterprise”, meaning that the majority shareholders of a company are either female and/or a minority. The reason that this is important is that there is a lot of money at stake. In New York State the governor has deemed that 30% of all state contract work should be given, whenever possible, to a MWBE-certified company, which is one of the highest percentages in the nation.

My husband’s objection to the whole MWBE thing came not because he doesn’t want my company to get more work, but because he felt that the longer we as a society continue to draw attention to our differences – whether race or sex or anything else – we help to perpetuate the myth that we are not all the same. I do see his point, in theory anyway. People are people, after all, and doing any kind of business should be based on a company’s ability to deliver a good product or service at a competitive price.

However, the truth of the matter is, it rarely works that way. Decisions about whom a company decides to do business with are more often than not based on connections and relationships at least equally as much (maybe more so) than ability and acumen.  In my small city in upstate New York I have repeatedly experienced the challenges and frustrations of not being in the “old boys network”.  I’ve even had people directly tell me that they were unhappy with a competitor’s work, but that they would not be changing vendors because “we play golf together” or “it’s the way we’ve always done things.”

It’s certainly any company’s prerogative whom they decide to do business with, but as someone who has been struggling for nearly eight years to “break into the market”, I was ready to try something new that might finally give me an advantage, and to consider trying to get MWBE certification.

I was at first unsure about applying to become an MWBE. I had heard the process was daunting (an understatement) and was annoyed that I had to provide so much paperwork about my company when anyone – from my banker to my employees – could tell you that I am indeed a female and that I am fully responsible for everything from the company’s payroll and finances to decisions around hiring and firing, sales, strategy – everything, really. I felt that it was obvious, and given all that I was doing, I didn’t have time to add a layer of paperwork to everything else.  I also didn’t do much government work, so wasn’t even sure if the whole ordeal was going to lead to anything worthwhile.

But finally, in 2014, a potential contract came up via one of our strategic partners, and they told me that if I could get MWBE certified it would be easier for them to make the case for using my company. Finally I was motivated to look into the process further, and I visited the Entrepreneurial Assistance Office at our local community college for guidance. That office was extremely helpful in orienting me to the process and to getting me started on the road to certification.

They explained that everything is submitted online, and if you go to the site and start answering some basic questions about your company, your portal into the site will populate with a list of documents you need to submit, based on your legal business structure. Be prepared that the required paperwork is significant, but one of the nice features of the portal is that you can work on the application over a period of time. You will see a list of red and green checkmarks – red if you haven’t yet completed a section of required docs and questions and that beautiful green mark when you have.

The state gives you a couple of months to complete the process, and if you need more time you can “request an extension” which gives you additional time. Whenever the extension period is ending you will receive an email letting you know that you need to complete the process or renew again. I offer you a word of caution: if you forget to renew your extension your entire file will be deleted, causing you to have to start the process over from scratch. Ask me how I know this.  Yes… that happened, and I assure you, it was a dark, dark day when my file disappeared.

In fact, I was so discouraged after “the incident” that it took me almost another year before I applied again. This time, with another potential contract hanging in the balance, I was determined to get the certification. Having made the decision to take the whole thing more seriously the second time around, I blocked out days in my schedule and started gathering paperwork, facts and figures.

I finally completed the application and although I was “fast tracked” due to my pending contract, the entire process took several months. I ended up having an in-person interview at my place of business, which surprised me, as many of my friends who got certified were not required to go through this step. The gentlemen who visited me said that my case was flagged because my husband is a minority shareholder in my company. Because there is so much money at stake, they explained that there’s also a lot of fraud that they’re trying to weed out – companies that are actually well-engrained in that old boys network but which are trying to give themselves an extra advantage by getting MWBE certified.

So, how does this story end? I finally did receive my certification last October. I got the contract that had spurred me to apply the second time, and then I started doing more research and participating in webinars and other events to learn how to best leverage my new certification. I’m still figuring that part out, but I have certainly had some contracts and opportunities that came my way at least partly because of the certification.

I wouldn’t say that becoming a WBE has completely leveled the playing field for me, but I greatly appreciate the fact that it’s making things a little bit easier and sometimes has given me a competitive advantage. And what about my husband? Well, he is slowly coming around to the idea of the MWBE, though he will still say that he believes it fights discrimination with another type of discrimination. I’d answer that by saying that one day in a perfect world we may not need to make allowances for companies that are women or minority owned, but today, with women still making 79 cents on the dollar compared to men, and where old boys networks are still the status quo, it feels like a positive and necessary step.

 

Elin Barton (Cornell ’91), is the CEO of White Knight Productions, a firm that is known for compelling videos and digital marketing expertise. She also works as a business coach and consultant and frequently speaks on entrepreneurship, overcoming perceived failures and the importance of changing your mindset first, for future successes.

 

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