The value of mindful listening for entrepreneurs
“If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again…”and so the chorus of the song ‘Try Again’ by Aaliyah goes. This probably sums up the entrepreneurial process best. There are highs and lows. Sometimes, it can feel like the lows far outnumber the highs.
Unfortunately or fortunately, most ventures will require that you pitch your ideas to some or other funder who may have their own ideas about what you should be doing. Even without funding, the entrepreneurial process requires that you test the worth of your ideas with different audiences. Needless to say, some people will find your ‘revolution’ underwhelming and may be quite willing to tell you as much. Herein lurks the trouble if you are not made of stern stuff.
When we start businesses, we are so passionate and so convinced of our ideas/offerings that we don’t take into account that others will actually not find the offering compelling. This is a fact. Somehow, we neglect to mentally prepare for the inevitable rejection that comes with starting and operating your own business.
I was reminded of this just this week. A fellow entrepreneur has been looking for funding for the past three months. When I asked him how things are going the other day, his response was “I don’t know what’s wrong with these funding agencies. They are very tentative in their decision to fund me.” When I asked if he had considered what was and was not included in his proposal, I was a bit taken aback by his knee-jerk reaction. It went something like; “There’s nothing wrong with my proposal! My idea is solid and they are not grand in their thinking that’s all”.
I was startled by the thinking behind this response. There are various reasons that could account for the lack of funding commitments thus far. Below I explore a few of these:
Wrong target audience: Sometimes we tend to cast the net too wide hoping for a catch, any catch. Through this mass targeting, we sometimes end up talking to the wrong people. This usually results from using imprecise methods for selecting who to speak to and about which aspects of our business. Proper research and planning can mitigate this. It takes time, but it works.
Product feasibility not convincing (and financial projections): I’m sure those who started with the business plan before operations will attest to the fluidity of this document. What you may have first started with is not necessarily what you end up implementing. This is because with research, pilots, etc. you may find that the feasibility is not where you had initially anticipated it was.
Owner’s bankability, ability and attitude: I used to hear people say, ‘you want to do business with people you like’ and it never really meant much to me until I ventured down this road. This is so true on all levels. Obviously you need to have something worth selling, but whether the person likes you or not will actually be the decider. I have experienced this first hand a few times. Are you likeable? Are you someone people will want to listen to?
Back to my fellow entrepreneur: on further enquiry on his dilemma, it turns out point 3 was at play. Apparently when he was funded the first time around, there were concerns raised with him about the scale of the project, the roll-out strategy and the fact that he is ‘micro-managing’ everything around him.
I bring this issue up because it speaks about leadership. Most of us never really associate the concept with small business. Somehow, we tend to think it’s a matter only for big organisations, when it is in fact absolutely critical for the success of all businesses. Listening is at the core of leadership as well as knowing when to go back to the drawing board.
When you receive feedback, do listen. When you listen, do so mindful that every input is an opportunity to revisit your offering and make refinements if these are warranted. Also keep in mind that ultimately, your offering must respond to real needs, and not just your need to be successful. Thus, sometimes you need to take ideas from others and see if they help you improve your offering. And most importantly, in this journey, there is no room for ‘I know it all’!