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Distraction vs. Opportunity

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It’s 8:45 AM and I just realized that I’ve gotten nothing of value done yet this morning. Once again, I got distracted; this time, searching for more books on Amazon. It started innocently enough with looking at a leadership book I heard about; I then followed the trail of crumbs Amazon so kindly left for me of more and better books. And now, it’s 8:45. Dang.

Distractions often disguise themselves as an opportunity, something entrepreneurs love to pursue. The thrill of the chase, the excitement of something new, a chance to escape what is becoming mundane and routine are like adrenaline candy to an entrepreneur. The most dangerous type of distraction promises new projects, lucrative revenue sources, and new paths to business bliss. Before we know what’s happened, we’ve lost sight of our original well-thought out path and we’ve lost precious time and energy.

I’ve thought a lot about how to tell the difference between a distraction and an opportunity, and let me start with what Webster’s Dictionary says the difference is:

Distraction: Anything that draws away in another direction confusingly or amusingly.

Opportunity: A combination of circumstances favorable for the purpose.

Key word: purpose; also known as a plan, or intention. Opportunities are in line with our intention; distractions may feel like they’re part of our plan but are usually just outside of the scope. Here are two ways to tell if you’re chasing a distraction or an opportunity:

  1. Distractions have an element of “thrill” to them and you’ll experience a surge of adrenaline thinking about or working on them.
  2. Draw a straight line from where you are to your goal. A distraction will branch off or go beyond the current vision. If it fits your business but falls beyond your current objective, keep the idea in your “idea bin” for a later time.

I’ve successfully brought myself back to this morning’s goal and will diligently pursue my opportunities. Please, just don’t send me any book recommendations.

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Need Fresh Ideas? Expand Your Thinking

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Let’s play a game of free association.

If I say “blue”, what word comes to mind?

If I say “dog”, what do you think of?

The Rockport Institute, a career choice service and aptitude testing company (the best, in my opinion) have determined that 75% of people will conjure up the same word. If I‘m looking for fresh ideas or a different perspective, I want someone from the 25% group. Why would I want someone to give me ideas that 75% of my competitors have already thought of or ideas I can come up with on my own?

Our friends typically think like we do, have similar educations to us, sometimes they even dress like we do. That can work for a smooth, easy-going lunch, but when is the last time that colleague gave you a completely different perspective on something? Caused you to question your beliefs or understanding of something? If you’re looking for someone that leads you to learning, someone that encourages you to turn accepted practices upside down, you probably need to look outside of your typical orbit and expand your thinking.

Back in college, I remember a semester where I had back-to-back business classes – finance, taxes, and managerial accounting. My fellow students and I had similar study habits, liked the same movies. But then I sprinted across campus for music appreciation class. Just my quick pace said I was an outsider. I loved that class…my mind had to work in different ways, I relaxed, and the professor and certainly the students thought differently, dressed differently, expressed themselves differently; in short, they exposed me to a new perspective. All that and beautiful music, too.

While it’s reassuring to hear ideas and thoughts similar to your own from colleagues, if you really want to expand your thinking find a new place to meet people. Volunteer for a not-for-profit, join a group on meetup.com, or take a music class. You will hear ideas, opinions and views that will expand your thinking and, if you’re mindful, your business, too.

– Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Learn From an Expert

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Business owners often tell me that they learn how to run a business from listening to other business owners. You can learn an awful lot from others in the trenches, but when it comes to your livelihood, don’t you deserve just a little bit more?

Think of it this way: when you were a kid, who did you take piano lessons from? Skating lessons? Chances are, you didn’t take lessons from other kids; your parents probably paid a piano teacher, a skating teacher, an expert to teach you.

Some of the best learning I’ve had as an adult is when I’ve paid an expert to provide me with one on one training. I hired a nutritionist to teach me how to create healthy, easy meals and snacks for on the run; I hired an expert to teach me the basics of SEO. I still outsource the maintenance of my SEO, but having a solid understanding of it gives me more confidence in my own business and the ability to advice my clients. Years ago, I taught a group of business owners the basics of financial statements – how to read them, what elements to watch most closely. For many entrepreneurs that I meet, a stronger understanding of their financials would not only improve their financial health but would also give them confidence, security, and peace of mind.

Consider your business (or personal life); in what areas could you most benefit from a crash course? Here are some ideas:

  • Computer basics
  • Website design
  • Bookkeeping
  • Public speaking
  • Performance evaluations
  • Office design
  • MS Office applications

There are even classes to help you use your cell phone more effectively!

Sure, you can muscle your way through and figure it all out. Or, you can invest in your business with some one-on-one hands on training. Although your pride may take a small hit by asking for help, in the end you (and your business) will be stronger, and smarter, for asking.

  – Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Get Connected, Get Smarter

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Q: What do you get when you put a couple of business coaches, a financial planner, an on-line business entrepreneur, and the owner of a successful NYC printing company in a room together?

A: New ideas, insights, out of the box thinking and knowledge from adjacent industries.

I’ve been looking forward to a retreat with my business coach and other business owners. Even though I’ve experienced the magic that happens when I’m with a group of bright business owners, it wasn’t until I read Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Stephen Johnson that I discovered that the “magic” was backed up with historical evidence and science. Studies revealed that innovation is a result of people gathered together; individuals get smarter because they get connected to a network. The story of a scientist having a “Eureka!” moment is more often a group collaborating, of one idea leading to another. Better yet, I think, is when a group of seemingly disconnected people, businesses or ideas come together; without the constraints of each individual view, education, or experiences the ideas grow by bumping into each other, so to speak. A B2B service provider recently loved the idea I borrowed from a client in the financial services industry – the collision of the two industries accelerated his growth. Scientist Stuart Kauffman named these new combinations “the adjacent possible.” I love this phrase, because it reminds me how important it is to step out of our comfortable box to find what is possible.

If you’re feeling low on ideas, there is scientific data that suggests one of the best things you could do is go hang out with someone in a completely different industry. Have lunch with a musician; attend a conference or take a class on a subject you have an interest in, but one that is not related to your work. Cooking classes, anyone? Make new connections, get smarter.

  – Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Exercise Your Muscles and Increase Productivity

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Me, exercising some of my own muscles in the gym!

My son is classic ADHD; he sees something that interests him and he’s off pursuing it… until something else catches his imagination. It reminds me of a boss I once had who managed his ADD by following a very strict schedule – he did the same things, the same way, at the same time each day. By eliminating options he kept his impulsivity in check. One thing I’ve always loved about ADD-er’s, though, is their creativity, and I’ve always wondered if my boss’s systems also kept some creativity at bay.

As we enter a new school year, I’ve been reading about systems and structure to help my son stay organized. Many of the recommendations could be written for the average small business owner! One often repeated suggestion is to let my son play and create after school, before sitting down to homework. The way I think of it is he needs time to let that muscle – his ADHD muscle – get some exercise.

Clients hear the same from me, whether it’s their perfectionism streak, their impulsivity, or their physical energy; they need to let those “muscles” run so that they don’t interfere with their business and so they can increase productivity.  For example, I give my drive for perfection full rein when I quilt. Over the years I’ve had a couple of clients tie flies (for fly-fishing) to satisfy their attention to detail muscle as well as their need for solitude. If you can find a way to leverage these as a strength in your business, that’s great, too. Someone strong in diagnostic reasoning quickly and easily sees flaws; a plus for critiquing your latest web copy but dangerous in other scenarios.

Consider what “muscles” you have that need to get out and run and find an outlet for them. These are natural tendencies and there’s no sense fighting them just as there is no sense in trying to stop a Labrador retriever from chasing a ball. Use your muscles wisely by giving them some exercise.

  – Helen Dutton, Business Coach

Helen Dutton, A Vision of Your Own, has provided business and personal coaching for small business owners since 2000, providing online and face to face coaching for entrepreneurs, small business owners, start-up businesses as well as established businesses across the country. Clients come from New Hampshire, her home state, but she has also acted as a mentor to business owners in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Denver area, and closer to home in the Boston area. Helen helps her clients develop their small business ideas, create marketing plans, improve operation efficiency, build customer service systems, build management and leadership skills, and develop confidence as a business owner. Helen provides business tips and resources through her blog and her newsletter, where you can also find business templates to help your business prosper.