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Those of us who’ve been in the business world for some time know what it’s like to lead without a clear vision. It can be challenging to lead a team or follow a leader when we don’t know exactly where we’re going. It’s in these moments we can lean on fundamental business practices and strategies that will move us forward regardless of the vision we end up with. It’s especially important to follow this process when we’re in a context that requires immediate results.
The best way for me to think of this process is to use a building metaphor. As entrepreneurs, we’re planning and building our businesses according to our vision. This construction project is our wall. When we’ve finished building the wall, we’ll have fulfilled our vision and our priorities will shift from building to maintaining. When we don’t know what the wall (or vision) looks like or where to build it, it doesn’t have to stop us from building bricks. We’ve got to ask ourselves, what are the bricks (strategies, projects and actions) that will be a part of our wall regardless of the type of wall we build?
Finding your vision
In the spring of 2014, I shut down my marketing company of seven years. I had made the decision to do so six months prior as a result of a mid-life career audit. If I were to start over vocationally, would I launch and run a marketing agency? I couldn’t enthusiastically answer that question with a definite yes. So, I decided to shut down the company and community we loved and move forward. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure what that would entail, so it was difficult to know what I could do today that would be beneficial to the end goal.
I lacked a clear vision of my vocational future. Would I work for someone, start a new business, freelance, become a missionary, start a non-profit? I didn’t know, but I didn’t have the luxury of staying in the unknown. I had to act because I had a lovely stay-at-home wife and four kids depending on me to provide.
By the time I shut down my company, it had been the last of several projects that left me starting from scratch. If there was one thing I wish I had started and sustained a decade ago, it would have been maintaining a personal blog. Doing this would have empowered me to build a personal platform to leverage toward the projects I had going, as well as acting as an incubator for new and interesting ideas and systems. As a budding freelancer, it allowed me to communicate what I was up to while helping me cultivate leads and generate new business.
Three months before the company was set to shut down, I began blogging three times per week and sharing my activity on social media. I also knew I couldn’t finish this race and start a new one alone. I needed the help of others to succeed, so I met with over 10 people per week during the three months to establish, rekindle and grow relationships.
Strategizing your vision
Three months later, the company shut down and I was in conversations with a handful of people about employment, new business and freelance opportunities. I hadn’t expected that, but I certainly didn’t shy away from it. Within a month of starting this new journey, I had eight paying freelance projects on my plate.
Freelance work was paying, so it got priority. With some stability in place, I thought about what would contribute to my success regardless of which path I would later choose. As a result of this reflection, I decided to follow three strategies in my work.
First, I would focus on cultivating authentic relationships with agenda-free meetings. Second, I would communicate proactively with my network, prospects and clients. Third, I would focus on the projects in front of me and the clients who were paying as opposed to neglecting their project while I sought out the next one. When you look at these three approaches, it’s easy to see how they would contribute toward any direction I take in the future. They help me now, and they empower me later.
This is the practice of building bricks, knowing the bricks would some day be used to build a wall, or vision.
Eight months into freelancing, the work continued to flow as a result of successfully executing these three strategies, and I decided to explore how I could master it.
Continue the practice of building bricks
As part of my offering, I work with business owners to help them bring order to chaos by jumping in the trenches alongside them to affect positive change for their business.
When I work with my clients I bring a specific mindset to the fold. It’s called SOFI (so-fie) which stands for seeking opportunities for improvement. As I help resolve the problems I’ve been invited to fix, I’m also surveying the landscape to see how else I can bring order to chaos and buy more time (thus leveraging revenue generating opportunities) for the company to make this transition. I’m going about improving what I’m able, filling the gaps and moving things forward.
I had a client who had hundreds of blogs that needed updating, consolidation, graphical improvements and clean up. At the same time, we were seeking his vision about whether he wanted to build a scalable national business or just keep it a small local one. While this important decision would make a difference in the various strategies, it didn’t change the fact that we needed to optimize his existing content. We moved forward on it before we ever got clarity on the overall vision. We built bricks we knew would contribute to any potential wall.
The key here for all entrepreneurs is to look at the areas we have responsibility for and make the improvements we deem necessary. It’s about good stewardship, meaning we run our area of the business as if we own it. When we improve the people, culture and systems around us, we’ll position ourselves to more effectively execute the overall vision when it does finally arrive.