Are you a Victim of Entrepreneurial Mis-Thinking?

During my consulting career, I have met with thousands of entrepreneurs. As a professor in the USC entrepreneurial department, I teach students how to determine if their concept is feasible. As a business advisor at the Small Business Develop Center, I work with entrepreneurs who are in the start-up phase. In my consulting practice, I help established businesses manage growth or prepare financial documents for banks and potential investors.

Here is the interesting part—during the consulting engagement conversations often progress to emotional expressions of fear, frustration and stress. This situation occurs independent of the age or experience of the entrepreneur, the stage of the company or the purpose of the meeting. It then becomes obvious to me that the person’s mindset needs restructuring– not the business concept. I intuitively recognize that the best way to assist my client is to cross over into the personal side of coaching. I find ways to communicate the message that will allow the mind to hear and the person to take the actions required to achieve the desired results.

As a strategy and finance consultant, I have always preferred the non-emotional aspect of the subject matter. However, personally I have always been fascinated by human behavior (an interest peaked mostly by my own behavior at a young age). This caused me to study Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) even though I had no idea professionally why I should invest the time and money in something I did not intend to pursue. After all, I never wanted to be a therapist. Yet it is these non-business skills, an understanding of the mind, that has allowed me to really help entrepreneurs.

Having seen some common characteristics I decided to stray from my usual no-nonsense business writing and discuss the human side of being an entrepreneur. My goal is to share the experiences I have with other entrepreneurs — so entrepreneurs can gain insight into their own behaviours. This post is the first in a compilation. I hope my stories help you to overcome some of the limiting beliefs and behaviours that keep entrepreneurs from truly experiencing success.

This week I had a man contact me for advice. He wanted to know how to grow his health and fitness business. He described his current client acquisition strategy. Reasoning that physical conditioning would help patients recover, he had decided doctors would be a good referral source to grow his business. I quickly stated concerns about this approach. I explained that often there is a gap in business between logic and reality, due to other circumstances. To be successful, entrepreneurs must focus on reality and constantly question–does this really make sense in this situation? This is one such case where something appears to have sound reasoning but in actuality, the action will not yield the desired results.

I explained that the doctor and patient are functioning within a system—health care insurance. This is especially true in California where managed care provides the doctors with clients and dictates referral behaviors. The patients may not be willing to pay out of pocket for additional care or be interested in pursuing physical activities. Although you may find a few doctors who recognize the benefit to their patients and may be willing to refer clients, the amount of time and effort to locate them is too high. As the sole provider of the both the services and the marketing efforts, your time would better spent elsewhere.

I suggested he consider how to directly approach his target market. Begin by identifying the origin of his current clients–seek to emulate those results. Spend time thinking about the ideal client–where does he/she go? What do they read? What behaviours do they have in common? Use this logic to develop a strategy to locate and communicate with this audience.

At the completion of my statements, he once again acknowledged his lack of success in approaching doctors. Rather than actively listening for a solution, his mind was fixated on expressing his frustration. He continued to tell me why his idea to align his company with doctors made sense. He spoke of the “big picture” for his company and how he intended to grow it to a size that it could employ others so he was not just selling his time. He stated this was another reason why the doctor referral program was a good idea.

I once again acknowledged his statement as a worthy goal. I repeated the same words spoken earlier. I mentioned other referral partners in the healthcare field that may be more approachable. Massage therapist, chiropractors and other independent alternative health providers who are also looking for new clients, would consider referral reciprocity as a benefit. I told him to consider the types of purchases made by his ideal client. If you want to develop a referral source, contact the providers of those products/services and inquire about strategic marketing efforts.

When I finished speaking, he talked about the difficulty in arranging a meeting with a doctor. This time as he spoke, he became more animated –directing some of his anger towards me. He said he came to me for advice. He coaches his clients, he needed me to coach him–to tell him what to do and then keep him on track. I took a deep breath, knowing it was not me he was angry with. He was simply expressing his emotional stress over the failure of his plan. I have seen this many times in meetings with entrepreneurs. It is tough starting and growing a business and sometimes it simply wears you down.

Over the years, I have become skilled at delivering messages in the way that the listener needs to hear them. I tried another approach. I said basically the same words but this time I prefaced it with–What You Need To Do …#1 Identity how you currently got the clients you have…# 2 Identify your ideal client…and so on. With the new delivery format, he finally heard some of my words. After 30 minutes of discussion, he accepted some of the reasoning and started to consider other options.

I know he left the meeting still feeling a sense of frustration. Those intense emotions he expressed had built up over time and were not going to go away until he chooses to release them. My hope was that he heard enough words to stop questioning the failure. That he would stop aggressively looking for new ideas and begin to implement some of them.

Although this story is entertaining, the purpose of telling it is to illustrate a behavior that we all experience at one time or another; the inability to leave a failed idea. It is hard for us to abandon a plan that we believe should work. Our mind wants closure—to say, now I understand why it did not work. The more we are committed to the idea, the harder it is for our mind to recognize the logic behind the failure. It simply skips over the data and continues in the pathway of questioning why it is not working.

Often the problem is our comfort with the invested behaviors. The contradicting message that we are receiving may require travelling down an unfamiliar pathway. We will need to spend time assessing the actions steps, which takes critical thinking and hard work. For many people sitting still in a room and trying to solve a problem is unsettling, especially if financial problems are feeding a sense of urgency. This is especially true of the person who prefers action over cognitive brainstorming. Unfortunately, that same person goes full force after a failed strategy and in the end is exhausted, frustrated and disillusioned.

How to avoid this cognitive pitfall; have a self-checking mechanism in place. Notice when your logic is heavily wrapped around intense emotion. Are there clues being spoken that you are not hearing? Are there circumstances that contradict your logic?

One of my more humorous statements made in a client meeting–“I have never seen anything good come out of distorting reality. Now that we have identified the truth, we can do something about it”.

Are you accurately assessing reality?

In the next post, I am going to address another one of my favorite statements made by entrepreneurs. All I need is just a few…

Lori educates and inspires entrepreneurs. Her company Business Simply Put provides information, advice and tools to succeed in business. Whether you are starting a company or growing an existing business, these tools will define your pathway to success. For more information visit or send an email to [email protected]. She loves to hear from inspired entrepreneurs!

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