Our encore voyage began when I asked Jeremy, "What do you really want to be when you grow up?" Our journey into our entrepreneurial adventure started that very day. Up until that time, we had both been working since we were about sixteen years old...for someone else! And let me tell you...starting your own gig and working for yourself is a whole different animal, for sure! Fast forward four years, and our business is growing nicely. The Frank, Warren and Jimmy plan is coming to fruition and the Jimmy part was recently able to take a nice vacation to visit Chicago.
The other day I was freelancing at a meeting, where one of the participants was a representative from Junior Achievement. Junior Achievements works with high school students to teach entrepreneurial skills and financial literacy. One of the points the presenter made is that Junior Achievement is placing a heavy focus on teaching "soft skills." Today's employers are complaining that young people entering the work force may have content knowledge, but they are lacking in interpersonal skills, presentation skills, and general work values.
In looking at our business, and evaluating just why we are able to pull this off, it has occurred to me that my guy has incredible soft skills - I know that sounds kinda weird, but just read on! It's one thing to be good at the technical aspects of your career, but real success comes from the following things:
1. A daily routine - Even though we work out of our home, there is a business routine in place. Jeremy gets up, showers, shaves, and is in the office before 7:30 every morning. We treat the business as a business! There is a schedule of projects and a priority of what needs to happen, and in what order. Even though there is some flexibility in our scheduling, the business comes first.
2. Dressing the part - I know this sounds strange, but Jeremy does not wear jeans to his office. He generally dresses in khakis and a casual shirt, unless he is meeting a client, and then he steps it up a notch. If he takes a break to mow the lawn, he will change into jeans, then change back when he returns to work. The right dress puts him in the right frame of mind. We treat our own business with the same respect we would if we were working for someone else.
3. Keeping connections - I believe that one reason Jeremy has been so successful in this second act is that he not only knows hundreds of business people, but he consciously makes an effort to keep in contact with those folks. Sometimes it's just to check in and see how they're doing. Sometimes it's to buy a lunch or a cup of coffee. If he has time while working on an out of town project, he'll try to fill his day by meeting up with other business people. But the most important thing is that it's always genuine...never a leg humping sort of thing. It is important to let people know that you value their friendship - not just their business.
4. Keeping your word - If you say you will do something, you do it! It's as simple as that. Yet so many young people do not understand the concept that your word is golden. At the end of the day, your word is all you have!
5. Being punctual - I sometimes tease the hubs that he is going to arrive early to his own funeral. But it's a fact that being late to anything is a sign of disrespect. It says simply, "I am more important than you are, and your time is of no value to me."
6. Choosing your words wisely - Handle conflict gracefully. This is one that is particularly difficult for me, and I learn from the hubs every day. He is an expert at holding his tongue, or negotiating his way through a difficult conversation without getting someone upset. Unlike me, he rarely just shoots off his mouth. His responses are careful and considered, and that skill has served him well.
7. Marketing what you do well - It's important to have a business profile, to understand your own strengths, and to be able to sell your skills, without sounding like you are bragging. But it's also important to just be genuine about what you are trying to accomplish, so that you don't come off like an annoying salesman. Have an "elevator speech." Know how to describe what it is that you do.
8. Being respectful - Jeremy is one of the most respectful men I know. And most others know that about him. That quality has indescribable value.
9. Never burning a bridge - This one can be particularly difficult to master. When you want to tell someone to suck eggs, just suck it in and keep your mouth shut. You never know what the future may bring. The damaging words you say today may end up damaging your reputation tomorrow. The person you want to rail at today, may end up hiring you tomorrow.
10. Looking to the long term - Success doesn't happen over night. It comes from doing your best over and over again. To that end, take enjoyment in the little victories. What did you do today that promoted your business goals? Yeah that...do it over again tomorrow and know that nothing worth doing well is easy. We knew going in that the second year is the year in which many businesses fail - and we kept focused beyond that second year!
11. Being charming! - Have you ever noticed that many people who are successful in business are just awesome to be around? They are often funny or charismatic and make those around them just feel good. Sometimes they joke around, but always they leave people feeling valued. It's really an art - but it can be developed by emulating someone whose business personality you admire. But be careful...there is a fine line between being charming and being a "suck up." And the latter can be deadly in forming business relationships.
So how about it, you entrepreneurs out there...are there any other soft skills you can think of to add to the list? Leave a comment - I'd love to hear about your own experiences!