Friday, September 15, 2017

Counting The Cost: The Business Owner Beatitudes Blog #4

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Middle-aged Money Man 

a blog devoted to considering and choosing the wise money moves 
one needs to make between the ages of 35 to 55.

Counting the Cost:
The Business Owner Beatitudes

Early in my 20s, I became acquainted with some great authors.  Thomas Merton, Brennan Manning, St. Augustine, and others brought richness to my life that continues to grow each year.  Their words about prayer, authenticity, the nature of real love, and trust have lived with me now for over 20 years.  These thoughts and reflections ushered me into continual deepening of my understanding and wonderful renewal of hope.

But it was Henri Nouwen who taught me about compassion.  He famously wrote that Silent and Listen are made of the same letters, meaning that if I am to understand others, I must first become silent and patient and attentive.  Nouwen was a Catholic priest, born in the Netherlands.  His work was with the physically and mentally disabled at L’Arche in Canada.  He taught that compassion flows out of a real sense of community, a sense that we are contributors to the greater good in whatever our profession may be.

So, this set me to thinking about being a business owner, a financial advisor, a part of my community, a father, and much more.  I started identifying principles for a business owner that would grow out of a true sense of belonging and community, a deeper compassion for those I serve and know.  It hit me one day – everything I do as a business owner must come from a place of interconnected, compassionate guidance.  Beyond objective advice and best-interest recommendations, I must seek the safety and well-being and utmost development of those around me.  Likewise, I must remain open to the ways in which they do these things for me.

As I refined my thoughts on being a business owner, the idea of the Beatitudes came to me.  From Matthew 5, we read the story of Jesus’ simple teaching to his disciples.  Given on Mount Eremos near the Sea of Galilee, this sermon is considered one of the greatest recorded ethical discourses in history.  In it, Jesus gives his vision for how we are to conduct ourselves, the attitudes and perspectives we are to have, and the way of life for his followers.  You may remember………:

    Blessed are the poor in spirit; 
    Blessed are they that mourn; 
    Blessing are the meek;
    Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness; 
    Blessed are the merciful; 
    Blessed are the pure in heart; 
    Blessed are the peacemakers;
    Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake….

They are both ideals to strive toward and attitudes which we are to adopt as our own.  It’s about progress, not perfection.  When we keep these ideals as our goals, even if we fail to some degree, our lives will offer much more in the long run.

So what is the connection?  How do we blend the two?  What does being a business owner have to do with the Beatitudes?  How can I live in a sense of community and show real compassion for others as a business owner and financial advisor? I think the answer is found within this: when I nurture, for myself and others, a better understanding of what it is to be human, a finer vision of what interconnectedness really implies, I am then able to operate in this world as a gentler, more helpful, more prudent person.  If I cultivate and work toward an understanding of the Why in life, I am thus enabled to be kinder and more attuned to the Who that I meet with each day.  We belong to each other in a way that scares us to admit, a way that requires more vulnerability and more discernment than we like to exercise.

You don't think your way into a new kind of living.
You live your way into a new kind of thinking.
– Henri Nouwen

So, let me offer my version of the Beatitudes for the Business Owner.  There is nothing magical about this list.  Each of these grows out of my reflections and is offered with full realization that they can be fallible.  Taking Jesus’ words to a special application for business owners is risky. I certainly mean no disrespect.  But if it is helpful for my fellow entrepreneurs, let us consider these principles for the greater good:

1. Blessed are they who Plan, in Detail:  Taking on the mindset of a planner can be difficult.  At times, we become excited by an idea or concept and want to charge in full steam ahead.  But when a good idea is coupled with an excellent, executable plan, few things can stop the business owner.  And there are several perspectives from which a soon-to-be entrepreneur can plan.  One method is the entry / management / exit way of evaluating and planning for business.  Another method is the profitability way of measuring the time from start-up to breaking even to a time of true profit.  And many more….

Planners are blessed because they have considered the business from many angles, in diverging scenarios.  Asking the ‘what ifs’ about the business is one way to manage risk and prevent pitfalls.  For instance, what if sales are much slower than I expect them to be?  What if my supply chain is interrupted? What if I am sued?

To plan is to create a flexible, workable method within which the business can operate successfully.  Those who focus on doing and working hard can find themselves left holding the bag when they have not stopped to consider legal documents for the business, liability protection, adequate cash on hand, credit line management, personnel considerations, product / service quality, marketing, and more.  Planning adequately up front can really save you from landing flat on your back.

Plan, then plan again, then check it over, then run through the plan….. then begin to work….

2. Blessed are the Prepared:  As a natural outflow of planning, being prepared for the seen and unforeseen is a means to blessing.  One example of being prepared is maintaining adequate cash in the business.  I have seen owners who take cash or a dividend out of the business as soon and often as possible. This can be a big mistake!  Also, maintaining adequate credit lines within the business is vital.  One never knows when emergency cash or big purchases or large repairs may be necessary.  But it is not just preparation for bad turns, being prepared means staying open and ready for opportunities, new lines of business, new streams of income.  Positioning your business with an eye on emergencies AND additional profit making can be key to long-term success.

One thing that experience has taught me: Have legal documents in place, for several scenarios.  Be sure to have general and financial powers of attorney in place.  If the business is a partnership of some sort, legal documents can be invaluable if something goes wrong.  For the business, be prepared to purchase the right types and amounts of insurance to make sure that your family (personal wealth) is protected.  Let me say it again, take the time and spend the money to get your legal documents completed for the business.  Get them done right.  Use an attorney that is experienced with business entities.

Being prepared is something of a discipline, a habit.  I can think of very few occasions in which one episode of readiness and preparation covers being prepared for the long haul.  Preparedness takes systematic and regular review.  But more than that, preparation requires a diligent set of thoughts and behaviors and actions that lead to ‘being prepared’.  Develop a regular review process of your business that asks the questions and considers the status of all aspects of your business.  Being Prepared is more about method and revisiting a business’ status than it is about one-time decision to be ready.

3. Blessed are the focused: Once the plan is in place and you are prepared for an assortment of eventualities in the first year of business, then comes focus.  Focus is related to diligence, but it is not the same.  Focus is maintaining a clear understanding and vision of the original purpose and the plan of action.  Focus is eliminating most other things that could hold your attention in order to keep your mind on the fundamental tasks at hand that will make your business profitable.

Focus involves an appreciation and respect for boundaries.  Boundaries are those mental and behavioral fences that we erect in our daily lives.  The plan defines the thoughts and behaviors that will fill our days.  Fences are erected to both keep certain things inside and certain things outside.  One instance in my own life: Facebook is a morning and after-work activity in my life.  I know that I cannot grow my business if I am constantly checking, updating, reading, and responding on Facebook.  So it is eliminated for the most productive part of my day.  But knowing what to Keep Inside my daily business fence is perhaps even more important to long-term growth.

Here it is in summary: I don’t focus on my goals, I focus on my daily behaviors that get me to my goals.  Big difference.  I can have three or four wonderful goals, but if I do not know the behaviors and thoughts that help me reach my goals, all the focus in the world on goals will do me no good.  Focus on those things that produce positive results. Focus off things that (although fun or interesting or seeming busy) do not produce positive results.

4. Blessed are the makers of excellence:  In all that they do, really successful people are about making excellence happen.  Whether it is personal or professional or both, highly achieving people create a culture of excellence in their lives.  But what is excellence? Is it defined by mindset or behavior or something else? For me, excellence in product or service is a result of excellence in belief, thought, and action.  In few scenarios have I ever seen an excellent product or service coming from a person or team that does not value excellence of training, preparation, communication, delivery, and follow up.  An excellent product results from excellent process.

I am familiar with a home services company here locally. They do very blue-collar, difficult work.  It is very easy to conceive of such a company NOT valuing excellence in dress, conversation, or performance. Why? It is because so many in their industry do not seem to value any of these practices.  So what sets them apart?  It begins with one business owner, a business owner who came from poverty but whose mother valued excellence in everything he son did, that respects himself, loves his family, and values each person who works for him.  This fundamental belief system, valuing self and others quite highly, changes every system and process within the company.  Thus, the service that they deliver is defined by and enveloped in excellence.

And people have noticed.  They are one of East Tennessee’s faster growing firms, regardless of industry.

Reputation is made of several habits and practices and deliverables.  Reputation is more subtly influenced by respect for others, systems and processes, and beliefs.  An excellent reputation is created and sustained by intention, choosing to be and remain excellent in all things.

5.  Blessed are they that consider the consequences of their own behavior:  The ability to sit and reflect on previous behavior AND make adjustments to improve future behavior is a pathway to maturity and substance.  When a person is said to have ‘gravitas,’ it is this ability that I think of most.  Once we are in a thing, whether we have a plan or not, we make mistakes and need to readjust.  It is this process of constant refinement and improvement that leads us to excellence.

This is what separates those who are otherwise prepared from those who achieve truly excellent results.  There are many recommendations for how to do this most effectively.  Some suggest getting feedback from others, from co-workers to clients to family, is one of the best practices.  Statisticians will tell us that measuring and tracking certain variables will help us refine our process.  But it seems to me that the best first step in reflecting on our own behavior is to ask, “How did this all begin and how is it now?”  Comprehensive with an eye on original vision.

6. Blessed are they that work with experts and advisors:  The great writers capture the big themes. One big theme that writers across the centuries have noted is that no man is sufficient only and just within himself. We all need others. We must exist and operate with a social context.  A skill that must me mastered as a business owner is to know when to hire outside professionals to help on the development and operation of the business.  No business owner is sufficient to cover all areas all of the time.

Knowing oneself, one’s own skills and weaknesses, is a key to executing any plan. Being honest with oneself about one’s limitations is another important part of the mix. Trust is an additional important consideration…. some of us have a very hard time trusting others with important assignments.  And then, there are the inexperienced and the charlatans that would perform poorly in the business-building process.  When considering all of this, we can see that there are several challenges to hiring the right people at the right time to improve vital areas of the business.

However, when contracting with qualified experts to help us, there is no better use of time and resources to refine the organization into something special.  Profit, execution of important processes, human resources, bookkeeping, marketing, and several other areas can be enhanced vastly and made more effective with good relationships.

7. Blessed are the pure in intent:  This trait may seem misplaced or incorrect.  Pure in intent??  What does that even mean?  Essentially, it comes down to this, are you as a business owner a user of people or a service-minded professional?  We’ve all met them, business owners who show neither appreciation for others’ best interests nor any respect for others’ well-being.

This entire concept goes to the reputation of the business owner.  Most of us have witnessed great businesses with great plans go belly up when an owner or representative of a business has a major moral lapse or continuously shows disregard for clients.  As proof of this, corporations across America have and are still showing a reflexive reaction to any suggestion of poor service.  Companies run from any political or social controversy.  But in regard to small business, the issue of quality service offered in the spirit of courtesy may be even MORE important.

Stated simply, if customers / clients become convinced that a business owner has a callous attitude toward them and offers an inferior product / service to them, customers / clients have SO MANY other options and will take their business elsewhere.  Perhaps in some industries more than others, customers will flee those with ill intent and flock to those with pure intent.

8. Blessed are the humble:  Humility can be differentiated from false, inauthentic self-effacement.  When we are with a genuinely humble person, we can sense that this person has come to see themselves within a larger context, outside the viewpoint of “get what you can while you can”, and has arrived at a realization that all people are interconnected and interdependent.  Humility changes the way that we see ourselves for sure, but it also changes the way we see and interact with others.

Arrogance is often considered the opposite of humility. I would suggest that the true opposite of humility is a lack of caring, an absence of compassion, and a cavernous disconnection from others.  Why?  The end result of arrogance is separation, assuming oneself to be superior and above everyone.  The effect of humility is deep and deeper connection with those in our lives simply because we see ourselves differently in regard to others. 

Humility leads to better business practices, more quality interpersonal interactions, and a more sincere regard for the needs of others.  That sounds like a good process to refining business reputation.

9. Blessed are the connectors and movers and shakers:  All that has been noted in this article has pointed toward developing the personal characteristics that make one a more effective business owner. This one is no exception.  Becoming a successful business owner often means also becoming a person of influence.  Whether it is personal expertise within an industry, effectiveness at running a business, or developing skills and traits that lead to success, connectors and movers and shakers create opportunity for themselves and others.

To be a connector of people is to operate with a referral mindset, a builder’s perspective. The desire to give others opportunity and to assist in the creation of new business process is empowering.  It is the highest level of networking, always being on the lookout to create a change for someone to profit or benefit or improve or create.  Every person one meets becomes a good fit to meet others, to do a deal with someone, to enrich their business with this new relationship.  This is true possibility thinking.

If you have ever been a part of a referral group, one characterized by warmth and profitable results, you know the power of relating to people on a higher level.  Getting to know and trust 30+ people on a weekly basis translates into influence and resourcefulness and enrichment.  Likewise, when we take that same mentality into our daily lives, we meet folks every day who need to know particular other people. So, we connect and introduce them.  Great things happen over time. Move the earth and shake the ground by connecting others, and be personally blessed by what happens.

10. Blessed are the insightful:  We end with insight. Insight takes us back to the beginning and then brings us to the end with comforting understanding of the process.  To begin, we had to know why we were getting into our business / industry.  Then we needed a solid plan to bring about profit, growth, and more.  We had to have a firm vision of our exit from the business.  But at each step along the way, beyond numbers and naysayers and all other steps, it was insight that allowed us to fall asleep each night in peace and wake up with hope.

Insight is the trait and skill that helps us know why we are doing what we are doing.  It gives us the ability to see our own weakness, to recognize our own strengths, to understand our options and make a determined decision, and to feel the right time to retire.  Insight is the understanding that lies below, beside, and behind understanding.  Insight gives us the meaning and reason and importance of it all.

Insight reminds us of why we got into the business, what to do in and after the business, and where
the truly valuable things in life lie.  Some may call it wisdom, or prudence, or deep understanding.  One way to see insight is to be reminded that our significance and purpose are within sight, within our ability to comprehend.  Another way to conceive of insight is to remember to look unto the heart, the seat of our humanity and soul, to perceive what was really important all along.

Within the context of business, insight teaches us that every customer we serve, every employee we hire, all products / services that we sell, exist within the larger meaning of life. The bigger picture of humanity is to love, to raise the next generation, to learn and grow, to do good work with a real purpose.  The US Constitution alludes to the formation of a ‘more perfect union’ of people, of states, of governments. I can think of no more eloquent way of expressing our greater role in this world.  To create a more perfect business can be our role in creating that more perfect union.

I do hope that this review of The Business Owner Beatitudes has inspired you and led you to consider things again. It was a time of renewal for me when I developed them.  And we all need reminders each day and each week, of the important things in life.

So, I hope that this blog article has been useful to you. My team’s goal in working with clients through the financial planning process is to build solid foundations, save wisely, invest profitably, and rest easy.  Until next time…… Be Blessed.

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Richard Barbee
9724 Kingston Pike #701
Knoxville, TN  37922


These are the opinions of Richard Barbee and not necessarily those of Cambridge, are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed or acted upon as individualized investment advice. None of the above should be construed as individual legal, investment, or tax advice. Please consult with a legal, investment, or tax professional regarding your unique circumstances. Neither Richard Barbee nor Cambridge can offer legal advice.

Securities offered through Cambridge Investment Research, Inc., a Broker/Dealer, Member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services through Cambridge Investment Research Advisors, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor. Cambridge and Slate, Disharoon, Parrish and Associates, LLC are not affiliated.

Financial Advisor   /  Financial Planner  /  Money  /  Richard Barbee  /  Knoxville  /  TN  /  Tennessee  /  Greenville  /  SC  /  South Carolina

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