The 2010 runaway hit The Social Network had many movie-goers questioning themselves if they would mind affording the risks of obtaining success. Considering the banality of pop culture classic Office Space, one wouldn’t hesitate to take said risks… probably not even risks taken the likes of American Gangster, perhaps?
Breathe deeply. In spite of the current economic downturn, thankfully there’ll be no need to turn to the streets, a la Denzel Washington’s Frank Lucas. If there’s a fire burning in your heart that could bear legitimate economical fruit, then Washington, DC-based Cogent Consulting Business Coach Michael Nelson is just the guy to help stoke it.
For the past 10 years, Nelson has helped the small business person realize their dreams by providing direction in weaving one’s personal goals into profit. He’s helped both corporate and federal clients, and has leadership experience gained from a decade in the Marine Corps that has enabled him to understand and help small businesses define and achieve their goals.
Realize your dreams in just 3 months
“This [promise] comes from having my E3 (Envision, Enable, Enact) Business Transformation System© in place. It’s a foundation and a framework I use for business owners to go through the process of setting up what they want to do when they grow up, so to speak,” Nelson said.
Some important questions to ask before going solo: “[First is the Envision step]: What should the business look like? What are my goals? What does the business stand for? Why does it exist?
During the Enable phase, Nelson says, “I then help to create a business model that will support those goals. Together we’ll validate that business model; making sure that it’s real. We would take time to make sure that your assumptions are actually proven, and ensure you’re not spending money and time doing something on a guess,” he added.
“I’ve got a number of tools to support this. These tools help in understanding objectively where a business is today and provides a measuring stick to check progress against.
“During the third phase, Enact, we take the business model and take it “live.” We’ll bring in a marketing plan that lets the business model arrive at its goals, then put together an operational plan that supports the process of bringing the value of the organization to its clients, whether its producing or delivering services,” he said.
In a nutshell, the system helps determine what a business owner wants to do, establish a realistic and proven method of achieving those goals, followed by the marketing and operational efforts to make the goals real via the business model.
According to Nelson, three months is enough time to do a good job and be very thorough, but short enough span of time that a business owner doesn’t lose momentum pushing into the future.
“In a year’s time, we can use this system to move past the foundation; moving forward into how to build the organization and set up training, with typical results of around a 40% gain in profits. It also helps align the company and to communicate your intent in those three months so that everyone will understand it, and join in on that team,” he added.
Current solopreneur case studies
Nelson is currently coaching a graphic designer who left corporate America eight months ago to run her own design firm, but has stopped growing as she has exhausted her network of contacts. She’s now seeking to do missionary work and to live abroad, but at the same time needs the income from the business.
“It’s just not just the business goals, but your goals as a business owner,” Nelson said.
“The two have to be congruent. You can’t work 80+ hours a week for the rest of your life because that’s how you earn income. It helps if you’re purpose-driven. It helps if you understand what the business is doing for you and if it’s tied in,” he added.
He calls his current client’s challenge “fun and rewarding,” and said that it’s because this client has particularly significant personal goals that she is passionate about and that the business has to enable, making it a challenging model to create. In sitting down with her, Nelson got to understand her goals and what would be fiscally required for her to realize them.
“We turned to the business model that told us several things: a virtual model operated through the Internet would be needed. We established what she needed to have in place internationally, including her marketing plan.”
Another current client of Nelson got his start in trying to be all things to all people.
“This client would tell his clients he specializes in strategy, but when they would visit his website, all they found was verbiage on IT. There was no connection. A real challenge in branding and marketing is having congruent messaging,” he said.
“Branding on your website, business cards and glossies should all look and sound the same,” he said, adding your message would need to be conveyed from those same vehicles.
“Being all over the map was keeping him from growing. We managed to find his key strengths, took what work he had done, and [looked at] where he could continue to work, and be able to sit across from someone; look them in the eye and tell them you’re the best there is in solving their particular problem,” he added.
Nelson helped this client pare back “about two-thirds” of his offerings and let projects, once completed, “die on the vine and go away.”
“We got him to build on what he’s proven to be good at and where he could build and lead a team. In about four years he was able to successfully build a team of 40,” Nelson said.
To create a business plan or not to create one: that’s the question
You could possibly believe the internet hype that drawing up a business plan isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Nelson agrees that the business plan as it’s commonly used isn’t very useful, but business planning such as he uses in his system is indeed a foundation for success.
“What I’ve found is that business plans are like fairy dust. Everyone knows you need one, but not exactly why? You’ll hear that VCs or angels read the executive summary to see if [the business concept] is an original idea that can displace a portion of the marketplace, or create a new marketplace or new product. They want to know if this is a compelling enough case that can be pulled off. The rest will be looked at as just fluff – which will prove what they’ve just read, even if it’s wrong.”
He added that on average, even banks and the American Small Business Administration (ASBA) typically don’t look at business plans.
“Banks like to see that you’ve been in business for a while and you’ve been successful at it. They’d like to envision a business owner continuing to be successful for whatever a business owner is going to use the funds for (commercial space, etc.)”
Entrepreneur vs. “wantrepreneur”
So what’s the difference between the Entrepreneur and the daydreamer who just so happens to believe their idea will “fly”? And what differentiates the two in knowing one is a business vs. a project or hobby?
“That’s what I like to call the Entrepreneur vs. the wantrepreneur,” he said.
The entrepreneur has the idea, skills, service concept or invention and has the guts to cut ties with corporate America, step out on faith and just do it. They’ll throw the chips on the table and say, “OK, I’m in!”
“The wantrepreneur, or hobby business, has something that they really like doing, and are certain that their friends and others will like it, buy it or need one, just because [in their minds] they can see the value in it. They’re from the category of business owners who don’t want to grow, and is OK with returning to a day job when their solo venture fails,” he said.
A great deal of Nelson’s job is, well, consulting. So he does a lot of free initial consultations to find if both sides will be a good match for each other.
“There’s a connection where I provide value, and it has to work both ways. A lot of folks are stuck. They’re one, two, three persons and are just reaching out for help and ideas.”
He said a lot of people he comes across are ultimately people who just don’t want to work for somebody else, so they’ll use entrepreneurship as a primary driver.
“Even when they fail, they’re honest with themselves in being content on being a small firm. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
The SBA cites statistics that approximately 50% of businesses fail within the first year. Nelson’s not entirely comfortable with such statistics because of what isn’t disclosed.
“The problem with these statistics is that they don’t tell you which business failed, or the why, or where these businesses are. I speculate this is where a lot of these failures come from, though. Eight months down the road, they’ll see the grass isn’t the shade of green they thought it would be, so they’ll go back to the comfort zone of the day job.”
Nelson says the average top entrepreneur has failed up to three to four times, but they’re OK with that, “because they’ve learned what does and doesn’t work. Next time they were more successful before they’ve figured it out.”
“Where your gifts are is just where you should be,” he added.
What’s in your wallet?
Nelson’s advice for the wannabe entrepreneur who’s scared to go into their pocketbook to pay for leadership is pretty simple:
“Think about what you want to do and understand your goals. That person who’s looking for coaching needs to know why? Do they want to grow? Professional athletes have coaches. Olympic athletes have them. Coaches are accountability partners, and they’re joining in partnership of the goals. You have to know what needs to be done, and remember why you’re doing it. Coaches actually help accelerate success,” he said.
Nelson stresses the importance of finding a business coach “who has experience, the education, and the interpersonal skills to relate to you and your situation, and who is willing to work towards tailoring their efforts to where the business owner is.” He believes these values could help bootstrappers “avoid the trial and error way of learning the business game. Coaches help you succeed faster and save you years of trial and error.”
Even Dr. Melfi had a shrink
Nelson’s answer came easily when asked who’s watching the watchmen?
“In getting my start, I found a coach and mentor. I learned from them, and then got certified. When I wanted to branch out online, I discovered internationally-known speaker Ali Brown, who is a phenomenal business coach and has managed to launch a huge business online.
“When I wanted to learn speaking, I found Lisa Sasevich, who does a lot of great speaking and has a great knowledge of sales conversions, but focuses on the needs of the business owner and do they have what it takes to express them. When I wanted to learn copywriting, I found someone to teach me,” he said.
Like any system, you don’t always use everything, and learn what saves and costs time. Being an avid reader of all things business and coaching doesn’t hurt, either.
“I read and read and read, so [a lot of successful businesss] authors are my coaches, as well.”
Nelson’s long-term career in business coaching has undoubtedly endeared him to many. He refers to the role as a “confidante who has been where you’ve been and can provide direction wherever you have challenges. [A business coach is] someone who can provide a lot of knowledge, recommendations, a framework, a pat on the back or a kick in the heiney.”
For Nelson, a coach remembers first and foremost they’re an advocate, an accountability partner for the business owner client.
The always optimistic Nelson has a pretty bright outlook for the number of small business launches in 2012. He’s certain those numbers will go up, and it’s due to the economic downturn.
“I think that when we all decide to stop being pessimists, and get tired of seeing all the pessimism realizing itself, everyone will gain some optimism. When optimism is up, the economy goes up.”
His outlook on the economy – though tight well over two years, with businesses working as lean as possible through job sharing due to job eliminations – is high in anticipation of more small business launches.
“There’s a lot of pent-up future entrepreneurs on the job with a lot of desire in their hearts to leave corporate America, but are just waiting for the market to swing,” he said.
He predicts that as soon as the economy comes back, and businesses return to hiring and buying, there will be a lot of markets to fill, so those who already have small businesses will continue to grow, and will only become stronger as a part of it and new small businesses will launch to help fill the market needs.
“I’m optimistic, but I usually am,” he laughed. “Everyone has a huge influence on the world. I’m going to create the future I’ve invented for myself, and I intend to help my clients do the same thing.”
Well said. Even Frank Lucas couldn’t (or wouldn’t!) guarantee that.
To find out more about Michael Nelson, the E3 Business Transformation System©and other business consulting services offered through his Cogent Consulting brand, visit: http://thecogentcoach.com or http://www.cogentconsulting.org.
You can get social through Liking, connecting with, Following and subscribing to his blog.