The 'Paradox of Progress': A Year-End Reflection

As an entrepreneur, you started your business for yourself and to fulfill your goals. Sometimes we lose sight of why we started on this journey in the first place. The end of the year is a good time to pause, reflect and potentially realign your current strategies to accomplish your original intentions.

2017 brought many changes to our lives. Some were positive; some were not. Maybe you were able to turn a long-time dream into a reality. Maybe you struggled personally and saw the end of a relationship. We all have our individual journeys, but, if we observe closely, we can find truths in every story, and we can extract lessons from each tale.

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    With that in mind, this narrative below might resonate with your ongoing quest to be the best business owner in the world….

    As Mr. James Williams, owner of J.J.W. Lumber, parked his Stingray in the driveway and silenced the engine, his entire body ejected a booming sigh. He clutched the steering wheel and let out a groan as he thought about the latest incident at work. “I have to do something,” James told himself as he swiveled out of his jewel and headed toward the house. “I just don’t know what.”

    Like so many of us, Jimmy built his company through sweat equity, wise decisions, and support from friends and family. It took a few years to really get going, but in year four, he truly started to reap the fruits of his labor. Sales were booming and he realized that if he did it correctly, J.J.W. could give him what he truly wanted from life: More freedom and time to spend with his family. If he could find someone to run the business and move it in a new direction, he could step away and just oversee the overseer.   

    He discussed his idea with his three best buddies—John, Joe and Mike—who had worked with him from the beginning. Jimmy had hoped one of them could step into the role, but, after a lengthy discussion, they all agreed that none of them had the expertise needed to take J.J.W. to that metaphorical “next level.”  

    After about 50 interviews, Jimmy settled on a candidate, Noah Smith, to run J.J.W. “Settled” is the perfect word to describe his hiring process. During each interview, Jimmy asked some questions he pulled from the Internet (and a few others that he and his wife, Karen, had developed). Noah had the best answers, and he got the job.

    A few months into Noah’s tenure, however, Jimmy started to notice some curious changes within J.J.W.  A few company mainstays were no longer around. Other employees were working later into the evening. Customer issues were handled with a sense of nonchalance. Fewer and fewer workers were smiling throughout the day, and, in the break room, instead of talking to one another, they were glued to their phones, trying to escape into their own happy places. One afternoon, he even overheard Noah yelling at a receptionist. 

    Jimmy asked a few questions here and there, but Noah always seemed to divert the conversation back to the bottom line. Profits were up! “Everything’s great here! Look at the numbers! Be happy!” was the melody, and Jimmy decided to harmonize with that song. After all, numbers don’t lie….

    But then, today happened. Somehow, there was a miscommunication with a major order, and J.J.W. didn’t deliver the expected lumber to a worksite. Instead of taking the blame and trying to fix the situation immediately, Noah spent about 20 minutes arguing with the client. Jimmy learned about this on the way home from the golf course….

    'Paradox of Progress'

    This imaginary tale isn’t new or novel. Its lessons aren’t unique. In fact, the scenario reveals a common woe many owners encounter as they confront the “Paradox of Progress” misalignment.

    Every owner (and employee) has values and those values are manifest through actions. In many cases, however, people aren’t in tune with their principles and this creates misalignment within relationships. When this happens, stress grows, discord festers, the culture suffers, and productivity and revenue eventually decline.

    When we revisit the story, we can see that Jimmy is a good-intentioned owner. He values time with his family and he cares about maintaining healthy relationships with customers and employees (even with Noah!). Noah, upon closer examination, also appears to have good intentions. Think about it. If we were to ask him why he’s behaving in a certain way, he’d probably argue that he’s operating with Jimmy’s best interests in mind. Afterall, doesn’t Jimmy want more money so he can have more freedom with his family? Doesn’t Jimmy want to be free from the day-to-day operations? Isn’t Noah making that happen? Why aren’t they aligned? The problem is more complex than it first appears—and the solution rests with Jimmy.

    Your business, your vision

    Imagine how this might have played out differently if Jimmy had known what was truly important to him at an earlier point in time. Imagine if Jimmy would have been able to articulate his vision for the J.J.W. workplace before he began the interview process. He could’ve created better questions that incorporated his values and ensured that whoever he hired would operate in accordance with those principles. If the owner’s vision is clear, then everybody can align with that mission.

    It should come as no surprise that the very best leaders—in the business realm and life at-large—are clear about their goal and vigilant about moving toward that direction. We all know these people. They know exactly what they want and can transfer that vision to the collective whole. Maybe it’s your aunt who always throws the best cookouts and family parties because she puts everyone in the best position to contribute. Maybe it’s your old high-school track coach who always knew how to push the right buttons to get the most out of the team. Maybe it’s your former boss who helped nurture your dreams and gave you enough confidence to set out on your own.

    Remember: As an owner, it’s all about you. If you want to use your business as a vehicle to drive you to your life’s destination, you need to be clear about your focus. If you’re clear, you will set a solid framework with which everyone can align. And once that happens, you will find even more seasons to celebrate. 

    Christopher Leo is the President and CEO of Flash Three Consultants. A former English teacher, newspaper editor and football coach, Chris is committed to helping business owners get what they truly want from their personal and professional lives. Visit flashthree.com or email him (cleo@flashthree.com) to continue the conversation

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    Next up: Strategic Volunteering: The Power of Pro Bono

    Strategic Volunteering: The Power of Pro Bono

    Volunteering your time and skill set to organizations in need isn't just the right thing to do, it can also help your business' marketing efforts. Behold the power of "strategic volunteering."

    Going pro bono is a win-win. An organization gains your expertise and talent at zero cost, and you gain more experience and positive exposure—not to mention a good feeling. Here’s how to go about it.

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    Here’s a simple but very effective strategy to maximize the impact of a ‘No Budget Marketing’ campaign you may create for your employer or your own business—harnessing the ‘Power of the Pro Bono’ or Strategic Volunteering.

    Why volunteer at all?

    Whether you’re marketing the products or services of your employer or your own business or just simply enhancing your image and value to the people you work for and with, the Power of the Pro Bono can be a simple, quick and no-cost self-marketing strategy. Effectively done, it can help accomplish several important goals for you, including:

    •          Creating positive exposure for yourself as a caring and giving professional or a very positive reflection on your employer;

    •          producing positive name recognition and credibility;

    •          creating tools that can showcase your skills if you produce a newsletter, brochure, video or event. You can even win awards for your work;

    •          helping you learn new skills or enhance existing skills in leadership, project management, social media, accounting, e-marketing, writing or presenting;

    •          making you feel very good about yourself by doing the right thing and helping out a worthy professional, civic or charitable group; and

    •          stroking your creative ego and professional self-esteem by being involved with something worthwhile, creative and fun.

    How do you get started?

    As they say, getting started is the hardest part. We’re helping you ease in by giving you the following five steps to beginning your pro bono journey.

    Going Pro Bono Step No. 1: Clearly define your or your business’s value proposition. What do you do well that adds value to customers who will pay you for it at a profit?

    Going Pro Bono Step No. 2: Determine those professional, civic or charitable groups where lots of your customers and prospects are actively involved. 

    Going Pro Bono Step No. 3: Search for linkages between that group’s needs for support, other than money or pure volunteer time, that relate to your value proposition. For a web design firm, that could be a website makeover. For a writer, it could be help with their brochure. For an accountant, it could be serving as a volunteer auditor.

    Going Pro Bono Step No. 4: Reach out to each group and offer your services. It really helps if you’ve been an active member for several years rather than a stranger—yet another great reason to get involved with your profession or community.

    Going Pro Bono Step No. 5: When your task is completed, ask for a ‘subtle’ acknowledgement: ‘Website designed by x’ at the bottom of the home page, ‘Brochure content and design courtesy of y’ on the back page of a brochure or a glowing letter of thanks from the group leader with reference in their routine member communication.

    Where do you volunteer?

    There are lots of effective platforms for strategic volunteer activity. Be creative and think outside of the usual box with the following ideas:

    •          Start with your own industry and the professional associations that support it. Those groups can probably use the help and you can benefit from all the good will you will gain from the experience.

    •          Other professional, business or civic groups you may belong to or where you’d benefit from the exposure. Start with COSE and your local Chamber. 

    •          A charity or non-profit that has personal importance to your family, your boss, your boss’s spouse, the big boss, the big boss’s spouse, or an important customer.

    What volunteer activities should you consider?

    Strategic volunteer activities are “win-win.” The organization benefits from what you contribute, but you also benefit from what you learn or gain. What special skills or talents can you contribute and showcase beyond simply giving of your time? What skills do you want to learn or enhance? What will give you the kind of exposure you need and want?

    If you want to enhance or showcase ...

    Leadership or management skills: Manage an event or fundraiser, chair a committee or task force, hold an office or sit on a board

    Writing skills: Edit the group’s newsletter, write articles for it, PR releases, promotional pieces or blog posts

    Creative media skills: Coordinate the advertising or PR for the group a major event. Write or produce a video or media tool that helps them recruit members, raise money or train volunteers.

    Graphic design skills: Design or improve their logo, letterhead, brochure or newsletter layout

    Web design skills: Design or improve their website

    Social media skills: Create blogs, their presence on leading social media sites, regularly post content.

    Presentation skills: Deliver a presentation, emcee an event or serve on their speakers’ bureau or improve their PowerPoint presentations

    Training or facilitation skills: Teach or facilitate classes or workshops for members or leaders

    Financial skills: Serve as treasurer or audit their books

    As you’ve seen, Strategic Volunteering through the Power of the Pro Bono involves simple, quick, no-cost and personally rewarding strategies to promote your image or the image of your employer. The organization wins because you give of your talent, not just your time or treasure. You win because you earn ‘Psychic Income,’ gain positive exposure and learn or enhance career-related skills.

    So, begin volunteering strategically and see how it can add value to your ‘No Budget Marketing’ Tool Kits. It has worked well for me for over 25 years.

    Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication, www.communicate-confidently.com, 440 449-0356, and empowers business leaders to reduce the pain with workplace communication. A popular trainer and executive coach on writing, styles and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. 


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    Next up: The Top 5 Reasons to Attend BizConCLE 2018

    The Top 5 Reasons to Attend BizConCLE 2018

    From powerful lessons delivered by nationally known business leaders to a series of workshops focused on the most pressing issues facing your company today, there are plenty of reasons why BizConCLE 2018 needs to be on your radar. Here are the top five ways you can leverage BizConCLE to help your business succeed. And scroll to the bottom of this article to view a video detailing more ways BizConCLE helps companies grow.

    Northeast Ohio’s only conference for small- and middle-market companies—BizConCLE 2018—is coming up fast on Nov. 1.

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    Here are the top five reasons why you need to register for this event today.


    1. Convenient Location

    This year’s BizConCLE is happening right in your own backyard at the I-X Center. Not only is this an easy location to get to, but the cost of parking is included in your registration.

    2. Powerful Keynotes

    Not one. Not two. Not three. But FOUR nationally known keynotes will be taking the stage and imparting their unique business insights during this year’s convention. Click here for a rundown of the four leadership lessons that the keynotes at BizConCLE 2017 shared with attendees.

    3. Strength in Numbers

    Speaking of attendees, BizConCLE draws hundreds of attendees every year, meaning you’ll have the chance to network and connect with like-minded entrepreneurs and executives as well as take advantage of a full exhibit hall and interactive show floor.

    Darlene Campagna, the president and CEO of Direct Opinions and a multiyear attendee of BizConCLE, said she appreciates the opportunity to learn from others at the convention.

    “I like the structure and pace of the event now which provides for opportunities to learn from experts and peers,” she said. “I have made great connections along the way and have established several key partnerships as a result of attending this event that I wouldn’t have found otherwise. I enjoy participating every year!”

    4. Resources to Help Your Business Grow

    From getting an intro to online marketing taught by actual Google employees to learning how to retain and develop your staff, BizConCLE 2018 features 10 educational workshops related to the challenges facing your business.

    Marvin Montgomery, another longtime attendee of BizConCLE and committee chair for the convention, said the educational sessions have been particularly helpful for him and his business.

    “I have been attending every year since I started my business in 1990,” he said. “You can network with other business professionals and share best practices. You can hear from relevant keynote speakers and attend workshops that will provide educational value to you and your business and you have a prime opportunity for Business Development in a non-threatening environment.

    5. The Price Is Right

    All of this is available to COSE/Greater Cleveland Partnership members for a special rate of just $59, which includes breakfast, lunch and an epic closing night party to wrap up the big day. Nonmembers are also welcome to attend. Contact Chad Hamman at 216-592-2329 or via email at chamman@gcpartnership.com to secure your ticket.

    Don’t wait! Secure your place at BizConCLE 2018 and join hundreds of other Northeast Ohio business professionals for a full day of learning and networking. Click here to register now! And check out the video below for even more reasons why this is one convention your business must attend!



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    Next up: Turning Passion Into Giving Back

    Turning Passion Into Giving Back

    No one wants to admit that they’ve had to deal with pest or insect problems in their home or business, but hey – it happens. Dealing with an infestation is probably one of the most frustrating experiences to deal with on top of everything else, and it always seems to happen when you are least prepared for it.  Fortunately, with someone like John Young, owner of Speed Exterminating Co., in town,  you can rest assured that if you were to run into this pesky dilemma, you'll be bug ridden in short time. 

    No one wants to admit that they’ve had to deal with pest or insect problems in their home or business, but hey – it happens. Dealing with an infestation is probably one of the most frustrating experiences to deal with on top of everything else, and it always seems to happen when you are least prepared for it.  Fortunately, with someone like John Young, owner of Speed Exterminating Co., in town,  you can rest assured that if you were to run into this pesky dilemma, you'll be bug ridden in short time. What's more is that Young isn't your average termite terminator. He runs his business with the same passion, integrity and honesty that his family instilled in the business years ago. 

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    While Young has been at the forefront of Speed Exterminating since 1998, the business dates back more than 106 years, founded in 1908 by John W. Speed (Young’s great grandfather). After Speed, the business transitioned into the hands of Young’s grandfather, and later his father.  In 1963, the pest company was relocated to Old Brooklyn before once again being passed down to the next generation -- at which time Young acquired the reigns to the family business.

    Alongside his dedicated and passionate perspective toward the family’s industry and business, Young has also maintained a deep-rooted connection to volunteering and service.

    “I saw [my father] take great pride in having a strong small business community in Cleveland, and I feel that way too,” Young says. “Small businesses are the back bone of Cleveland. If there is going to be an economic revival in Cleveland, it’s going to be because of small businesses.”

    Turning his passion into action, Young co-founded the grassroots event, “Pedal for Prizes,” and has also provided leadership for the Cleveland/Akron Cystic Fibrosis Annual Bike Race. In doing so, he has achieved the ideal combo of mixing work with pleasure.

    “When I want to get away from the office, I’m big into bicycling,” Young says.

    Having been an avid cyclist for over 20 years, Young -- along with four other Old Brooklyn residents -- eventually came to unite his love for cycling with his deep-rooted Old Brooklyn heritage to create the event, “Pedal for Prizes”.

    The objective for the event is simple. “The idea is to just get on the bike and ride,” he says.

    With its inception in 2010, the event was founded with the idea of bringing together businesses in the Old Brooklyn community while also promoting a healthy and active lifestyle. Each participant is presented with a map that pinpoints 20 destinations. For every destination reached, the riders are given a raffle ticket to be entered for a chance to win various prizes such as Cleveland Indian’s tickets or bicycles. Destinations are divided between local businesses/merchants and points of interest, and are announced on the day of the event.

    The event, says Young, provides him the opportunity to give back to and promote a community that means so much to his family and business. “You succeed because the neighborhood succeeds. It’s not my success; it’s the neighborhood’s success,” Young says.

    Growing from 75 participants in its first year to over 600 people in 2013, “Pedal for Prizes” has been making a noticeable impact in its surrounding communities.

    “Biking gives me an avenue of things I’m capable of doing. I can’t solve world hunger, but I do have a connection to cycling,” says Young.

    Along with “Pedal for Prizes,” Young has also been actively engaged in the Cleveland/Akron Cystic Fibrosis Annual Bike Race. Created in 2012, the event raised $40,000 its first year and doubled to $80,000 this past year.

    For an involved small business owner like Young, the desire and urge to volunteer is always in abundance and, despite a busy work schedule, he always finds time to give back.

    “I want to give back to this community. I want to take time to make a difference,” he says.


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    Next up: What the Cleveland Indians Can Teach Small Businesses About Beating Big Competition

    What the Cleveland Indians Can Teach Small Businesses About Beating Big Competition

    During the 2018 COSE Annual Meeting, Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, Chairman and CEO Paul Dolan and play-by-play announcer Tom Hamilton explain what small businesses can learn from the team. Read on below for a brief summary or click below to listen to the full audio of the session.

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    Small business owners have a lot more in common with the Cleveland Indians than they might think.

    During a panel discussion featuring Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona and Chairman and CEO Paul Dolan and moderated by play-by-play voice Tom Hamilton, Dolan said the team in many respects is like a small business in how it is a small market team competing with franchises in major media markets such as New York and Los Angeles.

    The key, he said, to being successful in a situation such as that comes down to making sure you have the right people on your team.

    “The beauty of the game of baseball is the $25-million guy has to get on the field with the $500,000 guy,” he said. “But when you get the right $500,000 guy, you draft well, you develop them well, they turn into guys with names like (Francisco) Lindor and (Jose) Ramirez.”

    Francona agreed with Dolan’s assessment, adding that while it might not be fair for smaller market teams to compete against the bigger market teams, he’s not one to accept excuses.

    “We may not have the same payroll as the Yankees or Detroit or whatever, but we trust the people we have,” he said.

    The COSE Annual Meeting is just one of the many events COSE hosts each year that help small business representatives learn what they need to know to grow their business while also making new connections. Click here to view a list of upcoming events and find one that will give you the tools you need to succeed.
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    Next up: What's the Hardest Thing About Being an Entrepreneur?

    What's the Hardest Thing About Being an Entrepreneur?

    We met recently with two of the nine finalist small businesses for Season 2 of Cleveland Chain Reaction and asked them what the hardest thing is about being an entrepreneur.

    What began as a field of more than 100 hopeful small businesses hoping to receive a $100,000 investment from the project’s investors has been narrowed to a field of just nine.

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    We had an opportunity recently to meet with two of the finalists—Hatfield’s Goode Grub (a food truck and catering business) and Cleveland House Hotels (a provider of vacation and temporary rental homes around Cleveland)—and asked them what the hardest thing is about being an entrepreneur.

    Jessica Hatfield of Hatfield’s Goode Grub pointed to the unique situation she has of being Ken Hatfield’s first employee when the business started and of the two of them being married as well.

    “Working together as a team, it’s really awesome but it has its challenges,” she said.

    Nick Semertsidis of Cleveland House Hotels also pointed to the importance of communication with others on the team when growing a small business.

    “At times we have different ideas on things, but we always work it out in the end,” he said.

    See what else these entrepreneurs had to say in the video below.

    Learn more about Cleveland Chain Reaction and its mission to create jobs, investment and prosperity in Cleveland’s neighborhoods while providing education and information for entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners to benefit the community by visiting www.clevelandchainreaction.org.

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