Photo by Niba DelCastillo
It is a new year, and we sure have some work to do!
I wanted to lay out my big vision for my business this year, so that you are crystal clear what I stand for and the many ways we can collaborate, connect and support small businesses everywhere (including yours!).
Here is my brief video update, complete with new turquoise hair highlights. #bold2017
I, along with my clients, partners and mentors, believe that the small business sector, a full 53% of the U. S. Gross Domestic Product, is a community ripe with opportunity, creativity, innovation and power. When things become unstable and unpredictable in the larger world, we know that we can move, shift, create and hustle to make things happen.
The economy crashes?
We innovate and adjust, quickly.
We are faced with uncertainty?
We find our feet and voice.
We open windows.
We are threatened?
We organize, activate and mobilize.
As the wise Seth Godin says, when you own a small business, you do not wait to “get picked.” No one is going to anoint you with a special sales power or magical supply of customers. You must make things happen, or they do not happen.
This broad, diverse group of small business owners have great responsibility and accountability.
We are the heart and soul of our country, and world.
To flourish, we must be prepared, motivated, competent and connected.
We must continually hone our craft.
Our greatest strength is that we are a diverse community, who works and lives in every neighborhood, big and small.
We are working out of our homes, in the air criss-crossing the country on planes, in brick and mortars on Main Street, in co-working spaces and cafes, full-time, and in side hustles alongside our day jobs.
When we are strong, our community is strong.
Creating thriving businesses is our form of resistance — against the status quo, against threats to human rights, against uncertainty, against lack of progress.
How will we support these amazing revolutionaries?
I have been thinking long and hard about how to frame this next phase of my body of work. After a lot of travel and research, I made some really big moves last year, resulting in ideas for brand new projects and initiatives.
The first, as many of you are aware, was to open a local small business incubator in my home town of Mesa, Arizona.
The other big move, as I will lay out below, involves building some strong, deep and continued programming around building core small business competencies.
So let’s start with the vision for the new space!
K’é: A Small Business Incubator in Downtown Mesa
Thanks to the massive generosity of contributors to our Indiegogo campaign, last summer, we raised over $40,000 which was used to completely transform and equip a beautiful, creative space in downtown Mesa. We have tables, chairs, couches, computer screens, audio equipment, a functioning kitchen area and office space that have allowed us to host over 25 events and over 15 different local organizations since we opened the door on September 1. We have hosted over 10 all-day client intensive sessions for folks traveling from other parts of the U.S. who have come to Mesa to work on designing and strengthening their business models.
Countless community members, local organizations, government officials and art organizations have come through our doors, participating in conversations, meetings and workshops.
Start with curiosity
My main objective when I first opened the space on September 1, 2016 was to be an interested and curious neighbor, and get to know as many groups down here as possible.
Because my background is in training and development, I knew that before undertaking a big program design initiative, I had to do research and needs analysis.
Through these conversations, a lot became clear: there are many resources here already to support small business owners. We can support and strengthen those efforts, while creating something truly unique and strategic in this downtown ecosystem.
There are also a lot of groups in the community that are left out of the bigger conversation, who have extremely important and valuable things to contribute to downtown.
This research slowed down our pace (Indiegogo contributors have been super patient as we delayed the deployment of lots of online classes as we did our assessments), but was essential to making sure that we created a business model and space that really made sense for the community we are in.
Where we are going
We now share the vision of K’é as a physical and virtual learning laboratory where we will focus on testing and trying a whole number of different approaches to solving business problems.
Supported by our ongoing training and coaching services, we can focus the learning laboratory on what works to solve problems, not just what sells to people longing for instant solutions (so much of the business advice, coaching and training offered these days promises a mountain, but often delivers a molehill).
We want to be a true laboratory — the IDEO of small business innovation.
We want to hold ourselves accountable to best practices, so that we serve our community with the very best tools, advice and resources.
And we are committed to, as Shonda Rhimes said in her great book Year of Yes, normalizing our community of business owners so that it reflects the people who actually make up this sector. We will feature, recommend and celebrate a broad diversity of small business owners.
Our first step – gather data on the problems
As the first step to building our learning laboratory, under the guidance of expert researcher Susan Baier , we are undertaking a large national study of small business owners to get to the root of what stops small businesses from being more successful. We will send the survey out to our own communities, partner with many business coaches who serve the small business market, as well as connect with companies who serve the small business market, like GoDaddy and Infusionsoft.
From this research, we will identify 5-7 core problems a year to focus on (things like “getting a business launched” or “getting more customers” or “building sustainable small business operations”), that not only affect business owners here in Mesa and Phoenix, but that are also pervasive around the country and globe.
We will then bring these problems to the lab, one theme at a time, to dive into many ways to solve them.
We will also use this research in my New Book (details below).
In this learning laboratory model, we will:
- Test and try a whole variety of approaches to solving these challenges. Everything from workshops to self-directed learning to collaborative circles to technology to …. many things we have not even discovered yet
- Process, document, discuss and synthesize our recommendations
- Share findings and resources with our national and global small business community through consistent communication and helpful reports
- Create a robust, rich library of resources (many free, some for a fee) that we will use to make this learning laboratory self-sustaining (we have to model smart, profitable business practices if we want to be honest mentors of small business owners!)
- Connect with other incubators, co-working spaces, non-profits, economic development departments, universities and small business associations and others to share ideas, practices and innovations.
Where do non-local small business owners fit in?
As we work on solving these business problems, we are going to conduct experiments in many ways, including virtual, so we can involve our big small business community around the country, and globe.
We are going to invite your ideas, participation, expertise, and physical beings into the space so that we make sure we develop solutions that work for a broad range of businesses in a broad range of places.
And we will continue to offer and expand coaching and mentoring services to serve our global community of clients. Our deep research, development of new tools and continual improvement of coaching practices will benefit our clients in numerous ways.
I have always said that a big part of my DNA is a coach. I am proud of the profession, and think we can play a pivotal role in developing the strength and leadership capacity of the small business market.
The Emerging Team
My collaborators Susan Baier, Chris Lee and I are working on the funding plans, program design, communication plans and technology deployment. Mark Otto is advising us on business model design and strategy. Amber Anderson is working on the marketing infrastructure. Jessica Steward is consulting on program and product development.
We have a lot of other great local talent who have lots of ideas for the laboratory, like Ita Udo-Ema and Isha Cogborn. And we have some generous mentors like Heather Dobson, Shawn Pfunder, Greg Head and Marc Chesley, who have encouraged our plans, and challenged our strategies and approaches.
This mission is not one that we can undertake alone, so we are actively seeking to expand our circle of partners, supporters and collaborators.
As we model a new way of working on hyper-local efforts with extra-global footprints and implications, we fully expect to meet and partner with all kinds of people who are also committed to the success of the small business market.
The New Consulting School
One exciting new program that we are starting to develop is The New Consulting School.
In my 12 years working with people leaving corporate jobs to start a business, I have seen many people take the first step into entrepreneurship by becoming a consultant (that was my first step, 20 years ago!).
There are a LOT of questions that come up when you first start consulting:
- What is the actual role of a consultant?
- What is the line between advising and doing?
- How should I price my services?
- How do I scope out a project?
- What kind of proposal should I submit?
- How do I sell my consulting services if I have never done it before?
- What do I do if a project goes haywire?
- What happens if I don’t know all the answers to questions required for the success of the project?
- How do I find new clients?
- How can I estimate how long a project will take if I have never done one before?
And a million more.
Some people are well-aware of what consultants are, and don’t want to become The Bobs from Office Space.
There are a lot of tremendous books and resources to help you figure things out, like my friend Daryl Gerke’s Jump to Consulting, where he shares wisdom and advice from his 30 year consulting practice.
We want to involve seasoned consultants like Daryl in the design and delivery of a deep, rich curriculum that allows new consultants to develop ethical, helpful consulting competencies, solid and streamlined business operations and a flourishing sales and marketing model.
My longer term vision is to develop a 9-month intensive program, that combines in-person and online learning.
We are going to start with a shorter, accessible class that goes over the fundamentals of launching your consulting practice.
If you are curious about this and want to learn more, let me know!
The New Book
Those of you who participated in the Community Tour of 2015 know that a big objective was to be an Un-Book Tour, where I reversed the usual trend, and did a book tour of 25 cities before writing the book. (Shoutout to Scott Stratten for my appropriation of “Un”).
My expectations were massively exceeded, as I learned so much by workshopping ideas, and seeing which really resonated with my core audience.
After the tour, in 2016, I spent a lot of time doing short experiments with client groups to further refine and test the main ideas.
I met with my agent and editor, and discussed the big idea for the book. I feel it in my bones, like no other book before it (and I felt both of them mighty strong!).
This quarter, I will finish and ship my proposal, and, publisher willing, will start writing shortly after that.
I will of course let you know all the details as soon as the deal is done and we are ready to share!
Questions? Comments? Ideas?
I would love to hear them!
Or leave a comment down below!
We have work to do. Let’s’ do the work!