The Secret Sauce of Success

The other day, I talked a friend who was struggling in his business.  He is a very talented person with a lot of skill.  But he’s working long hours and struggling to keep up.  I tried to encourage him, let him know his struggle was normal, and ask a few tough questions.

One of those tough questions was this:  Who are you learning from? 

It might not be the best grammar, but it really is a powerful question. When we’re stuck in the day to day, we often can’t see a way forward.  It’s classic Michael Gerber stuff – we’re so much IN the business that we don’t have time to work ON the business.

We all need people in our life to push us forward.  We need people in our lives to pull us forward. Those who push your forward are friends, family members, and inspirational figures.  Those who pull you forward have been where you’ve been before.

You need heroes and mentors.

When I asked my friend who he was learning from, he mentioned someone very famous and very successful in his space.  Later, it dawned on me.  That guy was a hero, but he wasn’t a good mentor.

If you’re leading a church of 150 people, Andy Stanley might be a great hero, but he’s not a good mentor.  You need to find someone who has grown a church from 150 to 250 and learn from him.  If you’re running a one person law firm, your hero might be the top partner at the biggest firm in town, but you need to be mentored by someone who made the jump from one man show to a small, successful firm.  If you’re running a photography business,  your hero might be the girl talking celebrity photos and making millions in the process, but your mentor needs to be someone who turned her passion into a lifestyle business with 3-4 freelance employees.  Do you see the difference?

It’s great to have heroes.  We need them. But we also need to choose mentors who are a few steps ahead of us, people who have been where we are and still remember what it was like.  People who can provide practical advice not paint a picture of the ideal.

Part of our text message conversation, when my friend helped me realize the difference between heroes and mentors
Part of our text message conversation, when my friend helped me realize the difference between heroes and mentors

Learning will always cost you something.

If I had a dollar for everyone who wanted to get together, buy me coffee, and “pick my brain,” I could probably make a good living as a consultant.  I hesitate to write this because I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I feel like it needs to be said.  When you email that mentor and offer to buy him a cup of coffee, you’re essentially saying an hour of his time is worth $3.  As if he’s sitting around saying, “Man, I wish someone would buy me a cup of coffee…where can I find this person.

You don’t need to hire your friends or sister or neighbor to give you advice.  They will do that for free because they are your friends.  But don’t approach professionals and ask them to pick their brain.  It’s like stopping by a doctors office and asking him to take a look at your heart real quick.  Or asking your mechanic to work on your car over the weekend.

Most professionals I know interpret “pick your brain” as I’m too lazy to read your blog or book and too cheap to hire someone to really help.

Right now, I’m going through Ramit Sethi’s course Zero to Launch.  People say it’s expensive.  And it is expensive when you compare the dollar amount to zero.  But I’m not comparing the cost of the course to zero – I’m lining it up with my hopes, dreams and lifestyle.  I’m looking at the potential and the possibility.  On a side note, he told me not to buy it if I wasn’t willing to do the work, because he knows there are no shortcuts or silly guarantees.

It took me a while to learn this (and I actually learned it from Casey, who invested more money in education than anyone I’ve ever worked with, which is one of the main reasons The Rocket Company has been so successful).  Learning from friends is awesome, but if you really want to learn, pay for coaching.

Here’s a snapshot of a Dropbox folder of some of the courses and networks I’ve paid to be in over the last couple of years.  These folders represent thousands of dollars of learning.

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 9.16.35 AM

Practice is not enough.

On the weekends, I try to take one of my three children to breakfast.  We order waffles or pancakes and then talk about life.  They each have a notebook and we scribble down thoughts and drawings.  It’s an awesome time.

Recently, I taught my middle child a lesson on how to get good at anything.  “Emma, there’s three things you need to know if you want to get good at anything,” I said.  “And these three things work for piano, school work, raising chickens, or whatever you want to get good at.”  The rest of the conversation went like this…

First, you gotta learn.  Isn’t it amazing that people can spend two years of their life researching, writing, re-writing, re-researching and writing a book and you can buy it for $15?  Isn’t it awesome there are how-to videos online for how to fix a car or cook rice?  There’s so much good information out there, and that’s the first step to getting good at something.  You gotta learn.

Next, you gotta practice.  You can learn about songs and composers and scales, but if you want to get good at the piano, you’ve got to practice.  Experts are really just people who practiced and worked hard.  When you see people who are really good at something, remind yourself you’re looking at someone who worked really, really hard and practiced a lot.

Finally (and this is the silver bullet), you’ve got to get a coach.  Your piano teacher is your coach.  She knows stuff you don’t know but she can help  you.  All the great performers and athletes and successful people have coaches.  This is what will separate you from the rest of the pack, and this is the secret ingredient.

After this, we went back to the strawberry pancakes.

There are no shortcuts.

I’ve bought my fair share of online courses and training programs.  Along the way, I’ve noticed something interesting.  The products or services that promise shortcuts or easy steps or time-saving tricks rarely work.  They sound good and they sell good, but they aren’t real.

When people promote three easy steps to this or offer seven weeks to that, don’t just turn the other cheek – run the other way!  This is surely someone selling something. THEIR seven steps starts and ends with getting you to buy something.  An article at 99u says it like this:

Having recently concluded four years of interviews for a book on the topic of making ideas happen, I can say one thing for sure: Hard work is the single greatest competitive advantage. Ideas don’t happen because they are great. The genius is in the execution, aka the “99% perspiration” that has become this site’s namesake. 

Perspiration implies sweat, self-discipline, and (yes) occasional exhaustion. I think this is what Malcolm Gladwell teaches us in his book Outlierswhen he proposes that a true mastery of anything requires 10,000 hours of doing it. There are no shortcuts to lasting success.

Hard work is the single greatest competitive advantage.

It’s easy to look at someone else, see their success and miss the hard work parts.  We envy their story but forget their backstory. We want their results without their sacrifice. But no matter what the online product promises, deep down you know there are no real shortcuts.

Opportunities are everywhere.

Let’s end with some good news.  If you want to learn, grow, get better, change or make something, opportunities are everywhere.  There are books, conferences, podcasts, coaching programs, online courses, free webinars, and so much more available to us all.  You no longer have to look for information, you have to find the best information.

Investing in yourself is one of the best investments you can make.  It will take some time, and it will cost you something, but there are opportunities for growth all over the place.

Remember my friend at the beginning of this article?  I’m hopeful.  He’s a hard worker and he seems willing to learn.  I believe in him and will keep encouraging him to keep going.  The journey isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.

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Behind the Scenes of a Startup – Creating a Brand

I heard a commercial on the radio for business cards.

They said just $10 on new business cards could be THE difference maker in life and business this year.  Man, I wish it were that easy. Building a business is hard work and anyone who says otherwise should take it back.

Don’t let any online marketer or self-help book sell you shortcuts. People that promise six easy steps to this or time-saving shortcuts to that are trying to make a buck off your misery. Creating something of value always takes hard work. It’s supposed to be that way.

The purpose of these posts is to pull back the curtain on what it’s like to start a brand new business. In the first post in this series, I wrote about choosing a name, which turned out to be so much more than choosing a name.  It was more about choosing a focus.  It was about zeroing in on what this company would actually do.

In this post, I want to talk about creating a brand. I’ve been a part of three logo-design or branding projects.

olc

The first one was Oak Leaf Church, a brand new church in a small town outside of Atlanta. The name didn’t have any significant meaning – it was actually inspired by the name of a subdivision in another state. But I had the domain and it sounded different from all the other churches. I personally created the logo and later hired a friend to redo it. The red leaf was easy to recognize and we used that mark everywhere. I still like that logo.

logo_rc

The next brand was The Rocket Company. When I got involved, it was called Giving Rocket and the focus was helping churches raise money. We wanted to expand so a name change was in order. We became The Rocket Company and the brand got instantly bigger. Sub brands like Preaching Rocket, Worship Rocket could fit inside the family and there was room for expansion.

Church Fuel, LLC needed a logo.

Where you go for logo design?

If you need a logo, here are five options.

  1.  Fiverr.com.  This is the cheapest place to get a “logo.”   For “five dollars”, a “designer” will customize a “logo” and you’re off to the races.  Notice all the quotation marks, which are absolutely not misplaced.  Now I love fiverr.com and have used them many times.   I’ve ordered funny videos, tweaks to graphics and audio work from this site.  50% of the time, it’s turned out to be exactly what I needed.  I use fiverr.com all the time when I need a funny video, but it didn’t seem like the right choice for this big project.
  2.  One step up from there is a website 99 Designs. Designers submit their ideas, and you chose finalists and eventually award a winner.  Prices start at about $299, and designers from all over the world will compete for your business.   You can get eBook designs, websites, logos and lots more.   I’ve used it several times for small to medium sized projects, and will use them again in the future.  But for Church Fuel, I felt like I needed something more.  Some people have a problem with spec work, but I believe a contest is different than spec work. You should do the research yourself and make an informed decision.
  3.  A friend.  I don’t have proof, but I believe most small business logos are created by friends or family members.  Which would explain why most logos look like friends or family members created them.  This wasn’t a serious option for me. Besides, it’s tough to hire friends…it changes the relationship.
  4.  A designer. There are a lot of one-person operations that create beautiful things. They might freelance for larger companies or have a handful of clients on retainer, but you’ll surely get much better quality than options one, two and three. And the price tag will likely be lower than option four.
  5.  An agency.  A creative agency usually has multiple people on staff, each with different expertise.  There’s usually a formal process that starts with a discovery period.  You’ll answer questions and the agency will do research on your target customer.  This is the most in-depth type of project, and you’ll pay the most amount of money. Reputable agencies can start at 10k and go up from there, based on your needs.

But Wait…What is a Brand?

Sometimes, I introduce myself as a consultant.  It sounds better than “someone who used to be a pastor but is now starting an online company to help churches move forward.”  But saying you’re a consultant still sounds a little bit sketchy, like you don’t have a real job. It’s like saying you’re an entrepreneur.  Or a social media expert.

Casey and I used to joke that nobody knew what consulting was and nobody knew what branding was so we should become branding consultants.

I’m definitely not a brand expert, but I’ve helped build a few of them. And one of the most important things I’ve learned is this…A brand is not a logo.

A brand is what they think about when they think about you.  It your language and your message.  It’s your values and vision.  It’s what you stand for.  What comes to your mind when you hear the words Disney, Apple, or Coca-Cola?  That’s branding.

I’m convinced most people don’t really like Starbucks Coffee. The beans are over-roasted so the blend is consistent and the result is a flavor somewhere between bitter tree bark and charred ground. But there’s no denying the popularity and power and brand that is Starbucks. I’m convinced people like Starbucks because they like the idea of Starbucks.

In this post, Seth Godin talks about the mythology of branding.  He says brands like Google, Starbucks and McDonalds have narratives around heroic beings.  It’s why people USE Dell, but they ARE an Apple.

Your brand is more about your story than your logo.  It’s more about emption than pixels. It’s what people feel not just what they see.

When people think of Church Fuel, I wanted them to think about practical resources.  Not just theory or principles, but ideas and practice.  After all, ideas are everywhere – it’s execution that counts. You can’t create this feeling with a logo – you have to build it over time. But it can start with your logo and continue throughout a design.

Making a List of Brand Deliverables

Aaron Skinner has done lots of good work for me in the past, so I gave him this project. I asked for a logo, fonts, colors, and an overall “look.”  In fact, here’s the list of all the phase one deliverables.

  • Logo with and without an icon of some sort
  • Fonts, Colors and Standards
  • Keynote template we could use for webinars and products
  • Ebook template we could use for lead capture and products
  • Icons we could use on websites and in products
  • Facebook profile picture, header and post ad graphic (Here’s a handy, always up to date Google doc with current sizes)
  • Twitter profile picture, header and promoted tweet graphic
  • Graphic that illustrates a digital product
  • Podcast Cover Art

The Process of Brand Building

It’s easy to ask a friend to make a logo, but building a brand identity is a different story.  Take a look at this brand process from Matchstic, one of the premier branding houses in Atlanta.  I actually worked with Matchstic a long time ago when me and a friend started a summer camp for students.  Today, they are big time.  They describe their process on their website.

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 7.06.45 AMLook at all the steps they take when working on a project.

  1. Audit – any good process must start with an honest look at reality.  Who are you trying to reach? Do you have clear goals?
  2. Strategy – before you start building things, you need a solid plan. How you’re going to move through the process is just as important as the process itself.
  3. Design – Most people start here, and it’s certainly a necessary step. This is where the stuff is built.
  4. Implementation – once you’ve got something good, you’ve got to push it across all of your platforms.       Things can get expensive here, because you’ve got to print and code the cool stuff you create.
  5. Measure – This is another forgotten step in the process.  Who cares if it looks cool but doesn’t work?

A different designer might have a different process and use different terms, but what really matters is there’s a process.  If you’re thinking about any kind of brand creation for your organization, let me challenge you to get really clear on the process. Before you talk deliverables, understand the process.

The Church Fuel Logo

Aaron pulled together a mood board with images and concepts based on what we had discussed. He found all kinds of stuff that seemed to fit our name and purpose. Here’s the first page of bis design brief.

intitial

Next, he created the first logo concepts for Church Fuel. Here’s the initial concept:

intial2

To be honest, I wasn’t feeling it. I’m always sensitive about critiquing someone’s work because I’ve been on the receiving end. For designers, their creations are an extension of themselves. To critique the work is often to critique the designer. But I couldn’t see our company in any of these designs. I let Aaron know and he offered to do a second round of concepts. He sent this a week or two later:

next concept

I loved the color scheme and the idea of the hexagons, but I still didn’t love the overall design. I asked friends, family and clients for feedback, and they didn’t love it either. I heard a lot of “it’s okay.”

Some designers think family and friends aren’t qualified to provide critiques on design, but ordinary people are the customers. To me, they are PERFECTLY positioned to give feedback. I honestly value their feedback more than the feedback from other designers. The Screen Actors Guild often gives awards to movies real people will never understand or appreciate. I didn’t want a logo that would win design awards or make sense to designers. I wanted a brand that connected with real pastors and real church leaders. Aaron and I both agreed we wanted better than “just okay.”

How to Work with a Designer

Two or three more concepts landed flat in my mind. This process was tough. I called Aaron and the conversation went something like this:

Hey man…I don’t know what it is, but I’m just not feeling it. Maybe it’s because the name Church Fuel has built in metaphors and we’re trying to be creative. Maybe I’m not communicating well. Maybe, maybe maybe.

I’ve worked with Aaron on a dozen projects and have never gone more than two rounds on a project. The quality of work is always top notch, but there was something about this project that wasn’t connecting. He was frustrated and I wasn’t satisfied.

So I called a mentor of mine. Actually, he’s a paid business coach who also happens to run a creative agency. We talk once a month. I sent him the concepts and shared the story and asked him what I should do. He asked, “Have you given him examples of what you like and explained what you’re looking for to the best of your ability.”

He said if Aaron really was a good designer and had done good work in the past, sending additional inspiration could be a spark. Talented people get in ruts from time to time, and if the skill is there, give it another shot. Pull the plug if the talent level wasn’t there, but communicate better and take responsibility if he’s the right guy.

I realized I trusted Aaron’s skill to the point where I didn’t feel the need to over communicate. I needed to do some more work on the front end rather than trust someone to read my mind.

I collected logos I liked and sent them to him along with comments about what I liked, didn’t like and what I think could work. I decided to give it one more chance. Here’s the actual email I sent.

Aaron took a few more days and came back with this… 

logo

The orange and the flame symbolize growth, and the blue water drop symbolizes health. Together, the logo captures what we hope to help churches do – grow the healthy way. The mark of the logo could stand on it’s own, and there’s space to add a tagline. All in all, I was happy.

With the logo done, Aaron started work on the additional assets. There were Keynote files we could use to build presentations and create webinars. Here’s one of them…

webinar

There are icons we could use to describe products…

icons

There was an eBook design that we could use to create free resources as well as course transcripts…

ebook

If you want to see one of our free eBooks in the wild, you can grab one here.  There were social media graphics, like this Facebook header….

facebook

There were product graphics, like this one…

unnamed

And there was a brand dashboard, one of the most important but overlooked deliverables in the branding process…

dashboard

Aaron designed Twitter ads, Facebook promoted posts, Podcast cover art and all sorts of goodies. Aaron delivered each file in multiple formats, as well as the original design files. Since I’m a Photoshop and InDesign hack, I can modify things slightly or create new products using his templates.

It took a few rounds and a lot more time than I thought, but in the end, we are very happy with the quality of work and the versatility of the designs. Church Fuel had all the building blocks we needed to create a brand.

Along the way, I learned a lot more lessons about brand building. If you’re thinking about a redesign or a launching a brand, here are some big mistakes to avoid.

Big Branding Mistakes

  1. Designing for designers. Most people don’t even recognize, much less care about, the things designers think are cool. I don’t care if our logo wins design contests – I want it to work. Be careful not to design for professional designers.
  2. Limiting it to your logo. The logo is the starting point for your brand, but your brand is so much bigger. That’s why all the pieces of the brand needed to be created at the same time. That’s why we needed so much more than a logo.
  3. Valuing cool over community. Great designers know how to create something that fits. What works in Brooklyn doesn’t fit in San Antonio. I didn’t want a cool logo that didn’t’ make sense to our clients.
  4. Competing brands. I wanted one giant brand that could hold everything – a consistent look and message for every product and service. You don’t want one part of your organization to have a totally different look than another.
  5. Not pushing it everywhere. It may take time, but your brand elements need to be pushed to every area of your organization. If your Facebook page doesn’t match your website and your website doesn’t match your printed pieces, you’ve got a disconnected look. Here’s a video from a church who rebranded and did a great job pushing their logo everywhere.

In a way, brand building is never done. There are certainly things we missed and there are revisions to be made. We’ll update and expand and as we launch new products and services. Building a brand is about building trust, so the quality of our products and the spirit of our team matter much more than our logo or eBook design.

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Behind the Scenes of a Startup – Naming a New Company

In March of 2014, I stepped down as the CEO of The Rocket Company, a company I did not start from scratch but helped build.  During my tenure there, we grew about 5x in revenue and made the Inc 5000 list.  We also helped a lot of churches raise money, recruit volunteers and have better services.  I’m really proud of what we did.  And The Rocket Company is still a great organization doing great things.

People sometimes ask if there was tension between me and Casey.  Of course there was tension.  A business partnership is like a marriage, and I don’t know of a marriage that doesn’t have tension.  But the standard for health is not a tension-free relationship.  In our situation, Casey and I had different strengths, and I strongly believe that was one of the biggest reasons for early success.  Casey, the founder of the Rocket Company is a brilliant marketer and a great leader.  I’d like to think I was great at content and leading a team.  As we worked together, we learned a lot from each other.

Marshall Goldsmith says the factors that lead to early success can easily become the factors that hold you back later.  In our business partnership, it was just time for something new.

When most people leave a job, it’s because they got another job.  This wasn’t the case here.  I didn’t leave for greener grass and I didn’t have another opportunity waiting in the shadows.  When I stepped down, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.  I wanted to do something on my own, but I wasn’t sure what it was.

Change, it seems, likes to attach itself to other change.  During this time of transition, our family moved to a new city.  We would have to find a new church.  Our kids would have to learn a new school.  My wife and I would have to forge a new path.  In 2014, we basically started over.

Naming a Startup was Harder Than I Thought

In the process of launching a new business, I’ve learned a lot.  But in this first post in the series, I want to start at the beginning. I want to walk you through the process of choosing a name.  It’s something that happens thousands of times a day, but it proved to be much harder than I thought.

Lesson #1:  You can build your startup fast or slow.  

When I stepped down from The Rocket Company, I sold my stake.  Everyone told me my experience was normal, but selling your part in something you helped build just feels weird.  Not bad, but weird.  “I may look back on this and say this was the second dumbest decision I ever made,” I thought many times.  But the sale provided a cushion for our family and some much-needed time to figure things out.  We had some money in the bank which put some time on the clock.

Normally, when I start things, I move very fast.  When we decided to broker Beanie Babies (yes, really), we had a road side stand in a week.  When we moved to Atlanta to start a brand new church, we went from idea to name to organization in less than a month.   There’s nothing wrong with starting fast.  In fact, if you’ve got a side project you want to turn into a real project, I recommend you stop waiting for perfect conditions and put something out there.  “Just ship it,” as Seth Godin would say.  I’m naturally  a 7-day startup guy, so starting slow is a new experience.

Every January, I purchase a new Moleskin notebook and carry it with me throughout the year.  In 2005, my notebook was filled with ideas and notes on church planting.  Two years ago, it were filled with lists and notes for a book.   But in 2014, my notebook held the written drafts of my dreams for this new business.  Fifty years from now, when my grandchildren find these notebooks in a box, they will likely come to the conclusion that I was crazy.

While dreaming up the business, I needed to earn a living.  So I spent the next three or four months coaching and consulting with people I had worked with in the past.  I selected a handful of clients and committed to six months of retainer-based work.  I did some coaching online and took on some writing projects.  These are enjoyable endeavors, but they provided something else I also needed: time.

I needed time to talk to potential partners. And I needed time to decide if this was really something I wanted to do.  And I needed time to figure out what to name this new venture.

When I get an idea, I register a domain.  If you were to hack into my Bluehost account, you’d find all kinds of domain names for all kinds of projects.  My wife and I still own backyardcamping.com (and we have a pretty sweet logo for it as well).  I’m holding on to brooklynchurch.com and christmaseveeve.com.  And about 40 others.

Maybe I should start a marketing company to help businesses or non-profits learn how to get their services out there.  After all, that’s one of the things we did really well at The Rocket Company.  Heck, our software provider even named us “Ultimate Marketer’s of the Year”  as we perfected a version of the customer life cycle.  Besides, I owned a suitable domain name.

Or maybe I should start a publishing company.  People say that business is dying, but I think there are considerable opportunities.  People have been reading books for hundreds of years and while things may change, this industry isn’t going anywhere.  Having self-published a few titles, I knew a little bit about the industry and learning more would be a lot of fun.  And I owned the domain caufieldandfinch.com, a brand named after characters from The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird.  I’m actually doing this, but this project deserves its own series of posts.

But there’s an “industry” I just can’t escape.

When I coach people on how to start something, I often walk them through a series of questions.

  • What do you do now?  Henry Ford started Kingsford Charcoal because he had leftover material from his primary business.
  • What can you do?  Most people want to do the big stuff, but it’s the little things that get you started.
  • What do you have?  Selling stuff on eBay or Amazon won’t lead you to the Inc5000 list, but it’s a start.
  • What knowledge do you possess? What can you write?  What can you teach?  What can you explain?  Who can you interview?
  • What do you like?  No niche is too small…in fact, you might find the smaller the niche, the bigger the opportunity.
  • What do people ask you?  If people continually ask you how you get your kids to eat vegetables or you do so much travel, there’s potentially a business there.
  • What will your friends pay you for right now?  Go ahead and ask them.  There’s no better way than a sale to validate your idea.  You don’t need an LLC, website or business cards.
  • What are people looking for?  Helping people is a great business plan, so if people are searching for solutions and you can provide them, you’ll have a great business.

Ever since I played Michael the Archangel in First Baptist Church’s production of Angels Aware, the local church has been a part of my life.  It’s shaped me and impacted me, not just in elementary school, but through high school and college.  And it has been my area of expertise for a couple of decades.  My skills, experience and passion all converged here.

This new venture would serve the church.  And while it took months and months to arrive back at the original location, this would be the direction of this new company.

Lesson #2:  You can live in the past or learn from it.

Once I settled on a direction, I was faced with an important question.

How would we be different?  When I surveyed the landscape, there are already so many people providing coaching and resources and help to the local church.  Nelson Searcy has been providing resources for quite some time.  Tony Morgan is a good friend of mine and is the best consultant in the industry.  Bob has Church Ninja.   There are books and podcasts better than the ones I could create.  And of course, there was The Rocket Company.

“We provide the best coaching and resources for church leaders,” it says right there on the website.  Preaching Rocket is an incredible tool to help pastors preach better sermons.  Giving Rocket is a powerful program to help churches raise more money.  Volunteer Rocket contained everything I knew about volunteers.  And when I left, Worship Rocket was about to be released to the world.  These are some powerful and effective resources.

If I were to be honest about the struggle, this was more about a search for identity than it is about a sustainable business model.  Because significance is my top strength according to Strengthfinders, I want people to think I’m useful.  If it goes unchecked, my desire to provide practical help to people degrades into simple people pleasing.  So a big part of this is just pride. That’s why I ultimately had to wrestle with this question:

Do I want to be original or do I want to be effective?

Maybe it’s just me, but I wonder if other leaders struggle with this, too.  Are there creative people that feel like they can’t get their art to the world because it’s not original enough?  Are there writers who want to start writing who feel like their idea is already taken?  Are there people who want to start non-profits who sit on the sidelines because someone else is effectively doing something already?

I realized my desire to be original was more about me, not about the business model or the people who needed help.  The need to be different was keeping me from the ability to be helpful. This soul-searching led to clarity on this new business.  And I kept asking questions.

  • What did I learn during my time there that could help me be effective?
  • If I could go back and do it again, what would I do differently?
  • What do pastors and church leaders truly need?
  • Why do people come to ME for help and advice?
  • If a new CEO and board took over, what would they do? (This question, asked by Andy Grove at Intel, is my favorite leadership question of all time.  It led the board to get out of the memory chip business and to focus on microprocessors.)

Since time was on my side, I actually had some time to think through how this would be different than some of the other people I know and love in this industry.

Instead of focusing on year long training courses, we could shrink the topic and shrink the timeline.  We could adopt more of a semester-based strategy based on one aspect of the larger subject.  So instead of a massive course on small groups, let’s create a course on How to Start Small Groups in Your Church.  instead of a course on leadership, let’s focus on a resource to help people lead team meetings.  I’ll share more about the product model later, because these short-term focused courses are just a part of it.

With this new company, I would not set out to recreate a better or slightly different version of The Rocket Company.  That’s my past – a very grateful part of my past. It’s time to take everything I’ve learned and build something new.

I wonder if this is true for you.  Maybe your past experiences have perfectly positioned you to pull the trigger on your passion.  Maybe those years of questions were really the education you needed all along.  I like to think about Moses and his time as a shepherd – that waiting period between his Egyptian upbringing and his Hebrew leadership – as a training ground.  It wasn’t just a time of waiting; it was a time of forming.

So, back to the name of this company.  And the third lesson learned.

Lesson #3:  You can be creative or you can be clear when naming your company.

The reason I got into this business was probably a downloadable resource called “Docs and Forms.”  When I was pastoring a growing church, I realized we didn’t have any systems.   We didn’t have a clear strategy or processes for doing the things we did every week.  And it was really hurting us.

So we went to work and created job descriptions, flow charts, spreadsheets and about sixty documents.  I realized other churches also needed these things, so “Docs and Forms” became a product.   The name wasn’t terribly creative, but it was clear.   People LOVED this product.  Church planters and mega-churches purchased it and used these documents in their ministries. When I became a part of The Rocket Company, this product became a part of that family.

I’ve never been that good at naming things, because I just opt for calling it what it is.  It’s like the old days in the Wild West when the businesses were just named what they did.  The Saloon.  The Hotel.  General Store.

When it came time to name this new company, I wanted something that was clear.  When people heard it, I didn’t want to leave any doubt as to what we did.  I love creativity, but I don’t want creativity to keep us away from clarity.

  • We’re going to serve churches so I wanted the word “church” in the name.  We’re not going to be a marketing company that serves churches, we’re going to be a church company that utilizes marketing.
  • We were going to help them with growth and health, not one or the other.  So I wanted a name and logo that communicated both.

I visited sites like panabee.com – a fun way to combine words and see what domains might be available.  I scrolled through sites like brandbucket.com and logoturn.com and namerific.com to see if anything caught my eye.  Startup, a storytelling podcast I discovered during this time, devoted an episode to this same topic and I listened to every word.

So after brainstorming, searching domains and talking to designers, I stuck with something familiar.  It was the name I had in mind all along.  What it lacks in originality, I hope it makes up for in clarity.

The new business is named Church Fuel.

In the next post, I will pull back the curtain on the fairly-frustrating-but-in-the-end-I’m-proud-of-it brand-building experience.

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Book Notes: Customer Mania by Ken Blanchard

Here are my notes from Customer Mania: It’s Never Too Late to Build a Customer Focused Company by Ken Blanchard.

51W16Z9jRvL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_If you don’t take care of your customers, someone else will. The goal is not to create happy customers, but raving fans (example: a personal 7 AM wake up call with the weather report)

Keep people well informed and let them use their brains (example: restaurant staff understanding the profit margin is only 5-10%)

Casting a Compelling Vision

  • Disney said he was in the “happiness business.”
  • Picture of the future.  “keep our guests smiling”
  • Disney – safety, courtesy, the show, efficiency.  These were ranked in priority and all employees knew it.
  • Culture – shared system of what is meaningful.

When casting vision, be a 3rd grade teacher – say it over and over until they get it right.

Listen – defending what you have done will irritate people.  Help them understand. Leaders are responsive to the needs of people.

Creating Customer Maniacs…recruit and hire, train and develop, performance management, career development.  Hire for character, train for competence.

Do role plays in interviews.  Good people love to be tested. Nobody says “we lost some of our best losers last year, so let’s go out and replace them.” A coaches job is to help stars shine and help team wins.  Good coaches are not figureheads, they are nearby.  Coaches are not successful if their teams are not successful.

Anybody can coach anybody – it’s not limited to top-level leaders.

Effictive leadership requires good systems.  People who seem to always remember birthdays have a system for reminding them 10 days out to send a card.  Effective systems always include accountability (people knowing what they are being asked to do – where to focus their energy), information (what the goal looks like) , feedback (how well they are doing), training (redirection), and recognition (catch them doing good).

Praise progress – it’s a moving target.

“How many of you are sick and tired of all the compliments you get at work?”  Recognition is a universal need – people everywhere want to be appreciated.  Find reasons to celebrate achievements.  Recognition is your secret weapon as a leader.

We believe in people, trust in positive intentions, and encourage ideas from everyone.

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Starting Something New

startup-sign

If you’ve been here for a while, you might have noticed a redesigned look and a little shift in the content. That’s been intentional, because I want to use my blog to talk about starting things, starting things again, and starting things that matter.

For the last six months, I’ve been working behind to launch a new company (well, two of them actually…but I’ll get to the other part of the story later). I’m going to use this blog to share some of the behind the scenes stories from this new venture.

The next series of posts (at least seven of them are in draft mode right now) will cover these topics.

  • Naming a new company
  • Building a brand
  • The partners and the team
  • Clarifying mission, vision, and values
  • Defining a strategy
  • Building a suite of products
  • Lessons learned along the way

After this “Behind the Startup” series, I’ll write more on startups and creating things that really matter.  I’ll share some leadership and productivity stuff as well.  I’m excited about this new direction.

For those of you who are pastor types and church leaders, don’t worry. You’ll still have lots of ideas and resources coming your way. I think you’ll love it.

And if starting things that matter interests you, consider joining my mailing list.  It’s brand new, which means even if you’ve subscribed to things in the past, you’ll need to opt in to get this newsletter.

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