As I sit down to write this post, I am watching my two-week-old son swing back and forth being soothed by the vibration and motion of the mechanical arm attached to his elaborate swing…
Looking at him I reflect on my business and the team we have assembled.
I think about the recent injection of talented, motivated, young apprentices that have now become flourishing full-time, well-trained sales and support specialists; earning an excellent income and growing in skill and experience daily. They are one of the main reasons we are poised to take another giant leap forward as a company. We are sitting high atop the apex of a significant tipping-point as a company, and it hasn’t been easy getting here. After many years of hard work between my partner and I, we have finally formed a company that is beginning to evolve organically in areas with less and less micromanagement — that feels good.
Scaling on the human side has advanced quickly since our decision as an organization to participate in the Praxis business partnership program. It was a decision that had an unexpectedly steep learning curve that everyone had to adjust to. There aren’t any tutorials that list out all the steps a company must take to embark on such an endeavor. As with most projects entrepreneurs take on, you learn on the job.
Seeing my son sleeping in his swing, reflecting on my past, thinking about what he may want to do one day when faced with the prospects of going to college and finding himself or finding himself without college, I think back to my struggles trying to pinpoint what I should be doing with myself limping out of a broken education system as a natural born entrepreneur.
Inevitably, there will be much drama when that time comes with him — many opinions will be asserted along with commentary about the weight of such decisions — but that is far away, and I have the opportunity to work with young people who are facing that challenge right now. So, I figured that I would write a post to a motivated young apprentice who may be searching for wisdom that resonates with their feelings concerning this struggle.
This advice is meant to guide you, young entrepreneur.
But as with any bit of advice, weigh it against your experiences and develop your own truths; suspend disbelief long enough to give it a fair assessment, though. It’s all a giant balancing act, but feeling at home on the tightrope is what being a good entrepreneur is all about.
Millennials have been labeled.
Okay, first let’s address the elephant in the room before we dive into things — millennials have been labeled. I won’t waste your time iterating through those labels, if you’re reading this then I am going to assume you’re already well aware of them.
Your generation doesn’t define you, though, and therefore neither do trends, fads, mantras, or anything else large groups of people suffering from group-think may say about you. You are a rapidly evolving individual, unlocking new aspects of your personality nearly every second of the day.
Take some time to identify your ideals — what is most important to you. Do not mistake this for your ‘passions,’ as chasing passions will betray you. Any labels ascribed to millennials are merely reflections of previous generations’ failure to engage and properly guide you. Don’t be a victim, though, and don’t look for saviors. You are your own savior. Tune out the white-noise and hone in on what you are good at; find areas of business where you can add value.
Keep in mind that specialized learning should be highly technical or creative. Anything that is easily taught to you can be easily taught to your future replacement. You must decide what is right for you, so don’t take this as an imperative to enroll in the Praxis apprenticeship program. This has been written for those that already know that they will be an apprentice.
To the motivated young hopeful apprentice, there are attributes and behaviors that your business partner will want to see in you.
These will serve as indicators for the business partner. In answering a request from the Praxis team recently, I put together three qualities that we view as key indicators which helped us select the apprentices that have had success with at our company.
These qualities are attributes that you should consciously work towards developing if you want to position yourself as a sought-after apprentice. They will also increase your odds of being successful throughout your life. These qualities are demonstrative ones. What I mean by that is that these attributes are ones that can easily and clearly be conveyed to your potential business partner. What you are attempting to show your audience — your future business partner — is the real you; the one that they can expect will come to work every day with their hardhat on, ready to learn and bust their ass (take that, millennial naysayers!).
The people sitting across from you in your first interview know that a well-polished pitch and the right combination of buzzwords are not strictly correlated with success on the job. In fact, a focus on those superficial factors could raise red flags. Being able to point to real accomplishments, more specifically, tasks or projects that are relatable to needs that businesses have, is the best way for you to convey the value that you are capable of bringing to an organization. To do that, you must first understand what makes your audience tick; what your audience will find compelling.
So, to start out with, do your research. It shows respect for your audience, but better still, it is a clear demonstration of your commitment to doing homework before taking up someone’s time. It shows that you understand that time is valuable and that you value their time; it shows that you take the opportunity seriously.
Demonstrate a Willingness to Research — Dig Deep
Once you’ve learned more about your audience, and what is relevant to them, you should be able to identify aspects of what they do that you find interesting. If you don’t, then that is a good time to zoom out and analyze this potential business partner at a higher level.
Remember, you don’t have to be ‘passionate’ about what they do, necessarily.
Focusing only on what you are passionate about is a farce, in my opinion. As you push yourself to discover new things you will evolve, and thus your passions will change over time. You should be looking for learning opportunities; this is a chance to develop those highly specialized skills. Identify things that you feel you could be good at, areas where you can see yourself adding value. Learn as much as you can about the company and those aspects of their business. Find out who is involved in that area of the business. Research what makes them different from the other offerings in the marketplace; discover why customers use their service or product. You should be able to reasonable assert what the organization’s value proposition is, and if you cannot, then you haven’t done enough research.
Real research starts with consuming the information and fully digesting that material. It’s not about scanning and plucking out bullet-points, it’s about knowing the material so well that the key points flow naturally. It’s the feeling of your arm stretched so high to the ceiling in a room full of people that you are coming out of your chair, waiting to be called on to give your answer.
Demonstrate the Ability to Discover, Learn, and Improve
Now that you are armed with research and knowledge about the organization and your specific audience, and you’ve identified aspects of their business that you feel you could add value to, assess how much you don’t know about those areas and try closing that gap. Even if you are only marginally successful here, if you reach this point in the process, then the odds of piquing your audience’s curiosity have gone up.
Take this stage as far as you can take it. Find videos, read blog posts, read research papers, download software tools and play with them, experiment with their products; contact experts in their field to probe them with questions — you can always find someone on Linkedin and tell them that you are curious about their industry and would love to learn more from someone with a vast amount of experience. Who doesn’t like to be edified? 🙂
The most important thing here is to instill confidence in your potential business partner that you will put in a seemingly endless amount of effort.
Keep in mind that if you are attempting to work closely with entrepreneurs. They have probably put in a lot of this effort in their career already and they will be turned off to anyone who doesn’t look like they will work hard to keep up.
If you succeed here, though, this will compel the right business partner to want to teach you as much as they can. They will see you as an empty vessel waiting to be filled with knowledge and experience. When a good business partner sees this, it will energize them, and they will want to help you evolve and learn. They will see an opportunity to create more value in their organization through investment in you. With that investment in your learning will come all of the benefits most people covet in a career: more responsibility, more significant challenges, experiences your peers won’t have for years — if ever, highly specialized skills, and of course better compensation.
Demonstrate a Commitment to Finishing What You Start
The attributes mentioned above don’t count for much if people think that you are not a finisher. Having a track record for driving projects and tasks to completion may be what you want to be known for the most. Everyone gets weary at times, but what often separates winners and losers is merely a commitment to finishing what’s been started. This notion doesn’t mean that you can’t have ever quit something.
Seth Godin has some insightful commentary about when to quit in his book, “The Dip.” This book is also an excellent source of information to help you understand the importance of persistence and fighting through the adversity that comes with completing difficult challenges. This phenomenon of peak friction is what Seth dubs ‘The Dip’ because it is the low that one typically encounters before a parabolic rise.
Once you become familiar with this occurrence, it can serve as a signal that you may be on to something great.
In the meantime, until you have enough experience under your belt to feel this for yourself, study a few of the more famous entrepreneurial stories in American history. Every one of these stories has a ‘dip’ of their own where you will find solace. Accrue a few of these relatable experiences, and you will easily be able to speak to what your business partner can expect when you take on a project at their company. This sort of vision, the ability to look beyond the hardest parts of a challenge and focus on the final result, is rare among your peers.
If you combine the thoroughness of real research and the ability to learn and evolve with a relentless work ethic that powers your commitment to finishing — then you will be able to shine in front of your prospective business partner. Maybe that business partner will end up being a company that I helped found. Good luck!