Extra! Extra! Newspaper Routes Create Leaders

This week I taped some segments for my new talk show, “Talk About Choices.” Once again, I asked successful, entrepreneurial leaders, “What was your very first job?” And once again, I heard the response: “I had a paper route.”

One of my first guests, Bob Carey, chief market strategist for First Trust Portfolios, told me how having a paper route shaped his business acumen. Bob had a route that few kids in the neighborhood wanted–all his customers were in a retirement community. Previously there had been a lot of turnover because kids his age didn’t want to deal with older people. Bob took it on and built his route from 30 customers to 100. What were the secrets he learned as a paperboy?

“Provide great service,” he said. “Show up. Do what people want and good things happen.”

There’s a lot of wisdom in there for anyone running a business, leading a team and/or serving clients and customers. Let’s break it down:

  • Provide great service. This seems obvious, but anyone who is in business knows it’s easier said than done. How do you define great service? More importantly, how do your clients or customers define it? Do they expect you to return your calls within the hour? Within the day? 24 hours? When is the last time you asked them how they define great service? There’s sometimes a gap between what we think is great service and what the client thinks is great service. We need to be crystal clear about their expectations if we want to have any chance of meeting them.
  • Show up. There’s a saying attributed to Woody Allen (no longer my favorite director for reasons that should be obvious, but have to give credit where credit is due): “85% of life is just showing up.” Ain’t it the truth? Or, to quote the old tagline from the lottery, “You can’t win if you don’t play.” Showing up on time, showing up ready to do business, showing up all ears, committed to listening–those are variations on the theme. But first, you gotta show up.
  • Do what people want and good things happen. Let’s assume that what people want (the market) is what you’re good at, what you’re passionate about and what you are burning with desire to deliver (your service). And let’s assume it’s legal, moral and ethical. Do that–just that–and good things happen. Deliver the paper on time, every day, on the stoop where they like it, collect on time and have a smile on your face when that customer opens the door, and good things happen. For Bob, those good things include a role as chief market strategist for a highly respected investment management company, a role that allows him not only to make a difference in the world of finance but also subsidizes his penchant for fabulous guitars.

What was your first job? I’d love to hear about it. (Comment below, please.) Did you have a paper route? Did you babysit? That was my foray into entrepreneurship. I’ll save those stories for another blogpost. First, I want to hear yours.

P.S. Millennials, since paper routes for kids may have gone the way of the rotary phone, please tell us: what was your first job?

 

 

Feed Me, Seymour

In the Broadway play and film “Little Shop of Horrors” there’s a plant named Audrey II that has a voracious appetite and must be fed a steady diet [of blood]. This comic rock horror musical featured Rick Moranis and Steve Martin in the movie, but the biggest star may have been the plant himself. The line most remembered is when Audrey II continues to implore his owner, “Feed me, Seymour!”

I think of the Internet as a kind of Audrey II. Like the plant, the Internet has a pressing need for content. Our job is to keep feeding it. What we feed it, and how, was the subject of a great presentation I heard last week, “The Path to Member Engagement: Consistently Delivering Highly Valued Content,” expertly presented by Doug Klegon, Principal at Klegon Strategic Communications. This presentation was hosted by the Association Forum’s Shared Interest Groups (SIGs), the Marketing SIG and the IT SIG.

Mr. Klegon’s presentation was geared to association professionals whose main audience is their members. But the principles he shared can apply to anyone who is responsible for continually providing valued content to an Internet website, a blog, or even to social media outlets like LinkedIn and Twitter. Lesson #1, he said, is that content strategy is critical to delivering member (read: client) value. He said it’s crucial to plan for useful, usable content that is, most importantly, easily retrievable. I leave it to the IT geniuses to work out the back-shop mechanics of making content easily retrievable. My focus in on developing valuable content and reinforcing the connection between content and strategy, both for my clients and for my own efforts as a business owner.

“Content strategy is change management in disguise,” said Hilary Marsh, another Association Forum member, during the presentation which was graciously hosted by the Association Management Center. Ms. Marsh is president and chief content and digital strategist at Content Company, a firm providing consultation on web, mobile, social media and e-communications. Mr. Klegon loved Ms. Marsh’s line so much that he nimbly incorporated it as his own later in his presentation, providing a good laugh for his audience. Both were saying the same thing: a content strategy begins and ends with an organization’s strategic plan.

Like that insatiable plant in “Little Shop of Horrors,” the Internet demands content. What we feed it and why is up to us. Having a plan in place that aligns with our mission, our vision, our values and our audience is critical before we go lobbing stories and articles onto the web. Without that discernment, like Seymour, we risk being eaten alive.

The Picket Fence Dilemma

Being an entrepreneur has its advantages. There’s flexibility, the ability to do work that aligns with your vision and values, the challenge of generating new business and balancing sales with service. Every day, an entrepreneur gets to choose what action steps she needs to take that day to meet her goals and objectives.

Being an employee has equal advantages. When you work for someone else, you have the satisfaction of being part of something larger than yourself and working with a team. While there may be politics, and no company is safe from change, working for a company typically provides stability that includes a steady paycheck, benefits and other perquisites.

What, then, do we do when we can’t decide between the two–entrepreneurship or employment?

Picket FenceI call this “The Picket Fence Dilemma.” You might also call it The-Grass-Is-Always-Greener Syndrome. People who are employed have wild fantasies about what it would be like to work for themselves. “Isn’t it great being your own boss?” people asked me when I left my job as vice president of marketing for a hospital to launch my coaching practice full-time. “Don’t you just love the freedom?”

“Yeees,” I would reply cautiously. How could I communicate the cost, and benefit, of being an entrepreneur? How could I tell people who are dreaming of bolting from a corporate cubicle that running your own business isn’t really being your own boss? Running a business is like having dozens of bosses, and they’re called “clients.”

When I work with career coaching clients, one of the first things we have to discern is which side of the fence they are choosing: employment or entrepreneurship. Getting a job and keeping it involves a host of skills and talents that are quite different from running a business. Choosing self-employment is not, I would venture to say, the easier choice. Gratifying, yes. Challenging for sure. But not easy.

The worst thing of all is to be on the fence about that choice. Whether you want to be employed or grow a business, choose. Pick a lane. Then give it all you’ve got. Otherwise, you’ll end up straddling that picket fence. And that’s gotta hurt.