Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Exploring entrepreneurial inertia

I've had a lot of feedback on my latest column in the National Post (March 17), on "entrepreneurial inertia." That's the weird phenomenon in which business know exactly what they should do to drive their businesses forward, but for some reason or other - they don't.

The column itself was inspired by reader reaction to my previous column (March 10), which explored branding. It was based on a recent HP survey that found that only 45% of Canadian business owners say they are “very satisfied” with their company’s current brand, and just 32% are confident they are making the right branding decisions. Yet 59% say branding is a priority! I went on to write:

Sadly, such disconnects aren’t rare in small business. Entrepreneurs know they need to market smarter, or become better employers, or revamp their product line. But most don't know how to do it, they have no time to learn, and yet they're reluctant to pay for professional help. I warn many would-be suppliers to this sector that small business is a “heartbreak” market – you can go broke marketing to business owners who need your services, and can afford them, but never buy.

This week's column explored more examples of this "entrepreneurial inertia" and speculated as to its roots. I identified 4 probable causes:

* Entrepreneurs are just too busy to do anything new.

* The people promoting these actions or solutions (e.g. marketers, consultants) have not devoted enough attention to execution.

* Failure of owners to motivate themselves.

* The "I bought the book, don't expect me to read it, too" syndrome. As Concordia University marketing prof Harold J. Simpkins mentioned in an e-mail to me last week, for some entrepreneurs simply having a plan may satisfy their need for actual marketing.

Responses to this week's column came primarily from consultants who have noticed this phenomenon and blamed themselves for their clients' inability to execute, or from entrepreneurs who have been struggling with turning intentions into action.

I think my proposed solutions still apply:
* Learn time-management principles to create more time every day.
* Use common motivational techniques (visualization, goal-setting) to commit emotionally to the projects you've been putting off.
* Delegate!
* Seek external motivation, e.g. coaches or “accountability buddies.”

If I'd had room for one more paragraph, I would have cited putting together a board of advisors - as outlined in the series of columns I wrote last year with Greig Clark for PROFIT Magazine. Having someone hold you accountable, knowing that they are going to ask, "Did you get this done last month?" -- that's the best motivation I know.

Read the column on "inertia" here.
Click here for the previous column on branding (and the branding disconnect).

1 comment:

Jim Crocker said...

Rick, long time since we connected when I was running company on the Fast 50. Since then, I've done a ton of work with entrepreneurs.

I have a bunch of observations about inertia but I'll focus on one that I've identified as a killer: it's exceptional to find an entrepreneur with a well-defined vision for building a serious business. My observation - the majority of entrepreneurs are motivated by controlling their own destiny (a job, lifestyle, ego choice). So, while it's easy to convince them intellectually about better practices for building their business, momentum stops the minute those practices interfere with THEM - their job, lifestyle or ego choices.

As a result, I start all my engagements with one simple question: what do you want? There are only two answer choices. Get rich or nice lifestyle (including remaining in firm control). There is no wrong answer, but the path to each is different.