Chasing Rainbows: Is There Really Ever a Pot of Gold?

Can you really reach the end of a rainbow? At 17 years old in the mid-nineties, I confidently thought so. Bear in mind that the internet was in its infancy then and I didn’t feel like consulting our family’s dust-ridden Encyclopedia Britannica collection to verify.

Perhaps I also missed science class on the day that explained how we are able to see the awesome and beautiful meteorological phenomenon of a rainbow composed of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet (ROYGBIV ) appear over a beautiful expanse after a fresh or hard rain. We are never really too old to enjoy them, are we?

I can still remember going outside on our elevated deck behind our house in Parker, Colorado after a late August rain and clearly seeing the end of a bright rainbow less than a football field away. Our backyard abutted a natural greenbelt with small pine trees, oak bushes and rolling hills.

The rainbow arc ended in a small group of young pine trees at the top of a hill. I could clearly distinguish the different hues on the trees and I envisioned running to that very spot to be bathed in the warm light. Never had a rainbow been so close.

I excitedly grabbed my two younger brothers, Bryant and Ryan, and demanded that they put on their shoes to chase the rainbow down. Just before we set out, I clearly remember my Dad looking at me incredulously after hearing my plan and with raised eyebrows simply said, “you won’t catch it!”

“But, it’s right there;” I exclaimed, pointing excitedly at the clear end of the rainbow. My Dad wished me luck (I recall cynically now) and with only one goal in mind, my two brothers and I ran as hard and has fast as we could towards our goal.

Sheer excitement and adrenalin coursed through me as I bolted towards the top of the hill. As I approached the rainbow however, it mysteriously seemed to move. I could still see the ending but it had now crossed a dirt road and it appeared two football fields away.

Determined, I shouted back at my brothers and off we ran again. My youngest brother, Ryan, quickly fell behind and I slowed my pace just a bit.  I could still see the rainbow in sight, but the closer we got it seemed to keep moving – just out of reach. 

We ran another few minutes to the spot where the rainbow had just seemingly moved to and all three of us were winded. Ryan could no longer keep up at all and elected to begin walking. Bryant and I decided that we needed to run faster because it was eluding us. Neither one of us wanting to show defeat, we both took off at a blazing pace.

 I remember being acutely aware of each breath as if it were yesterday and I willed myself to move faster, feet digging into wet earth, clods of dirt flying behind me. The bottom of my legs were soaked from the field grass that we were running through, but I’ll never forget the euphoria that I felt as a golden light encompassed our entire surroundings with an enormous rainbow in sight. Off I ran, panting harder and harder with each step, absolutely resolute to finally catch it. 

Little did I know at the time that the very formation of rainbows requires three things: sunlight, water droplets and most importantly, distance between the perspective viewer and the actual rainbow.  Each drop of water falling from the sky acts as a tiny prism as sunlight passes through it at just the right angle.  As light is refracted into each water droplet, reflected back and then refracted again towards the perspective of the viewer, meaning us, the result is that we see different colors always in the same pattern:  ROYGBIV.

This is due to the angle of refraction back towards earth (and to the viewer) where Red is the steepest wavelength, thus always being on top of the rainbow arc and then comes Orange and so on and so forth for each subsequent color thereafter. 

In order for us to see a rainbow however, we have to have enough distance perspective between us and the rainbow for us to see it. That is precisely why we cannot stand directly where we perceive it to hit the earth. It will in fact always move, so long as the proper light conditions exist together with water or rain droplets.

So why talk about rainbows?  I often reflect on this experience in business settings – more often than I would care to admit.   Have you ever had a situation in which someone, typically in sales, approaches you confidently states: “This deal is a slam dunk!”  Curious you might as why so; only to find out how “easy” the deal is after you conquer two or three impossible obstacles.

Why are we so prone to believe it?  Do we all, regardless of age and experience, look across the opportunity horizon to see a beautiful spectacle before us and chase after it like we would a rainbow?

I believe in many instances that we do. I’m not promoting that all great opportunities worthy of pursuit are rainbows. I would have hung up my selling career a long time ago if that were the case. I have however, developed a sense of when a seemingly “too-good-to-be-true” opportunity may in fact be a rainbow: something beautiful to look at under the right conditions that will keep eluding you the closer you try to catch it.  


Here is what I have found:

1.     If a larger than life business opportunity suddenly appears out of nowhere, ask yourself openly and honestly what it would take to obtain the deal? How many steps are actually involved? If it seems complicated with multiple dependent variables, it may be a rainbow. You need to find out quickly before proceeding further.

2.     These opportunities usually appear without any prior preparation and almost undoubtedly are given to you by a third party.

3.     If you find yourself having to convince everyone in the room that the opportunity would change the market and the only person agreeing with you is the organization that would receive compensation of some type – it is really starting to look like a rainbow.

4.     If in fact the opportunity is reliant are more than two organizations outside of your own to fully cooperate with one another for the deal to occur and any of the three prior statements apply, rest assured, you are now fully chasing a rainbow.


People have often asked me, especially as I have been in sales leadership roles, why I don’t get excited about seemingly great deals? Why can’t I see the opportunity that is ours to have if I can only get so-and-so to cooperate with another so-and-so to perform such-and such under an impending deadline? If that sentence seemed confusing, it’s on purpose because chasing rainbows is often the same.

You see, going back to that beautiful day when I was 17, I must have run for a total of 5 or 6 miles chasing that elusive rainbow and coming back back home. I could clearly see it. It was always just over the horizon and I had the strength, stamina and confidence to achieve my objective. No matter what I did though, it could moving further and further way until it disappeared entirely.

The rainbow lasted for about 25 minutes and I ran the entire time before turning around and running a defeated pace home. Despite my confidence, I lacked understanding that I now have.  I arrived home just as the sun was setting nearly an hour after I had originally set out. I was soaked, scratched and exhausted. My two brothers had turned back long before I did and I had personally discovered, how foolish it was to have chased after it in the first place.

So the moral of the story is this: As in life, rainbows are a beautiful natural spectacle to behold and we must enjoy the opportunity when they appear. They are to be looked at, not to be chased.

Next time a larger than life business opportunity suddenly appears out of the sky – ask yourself; “Am I chasing a rainbow?”  If you are, my experience is that you end up running after it only to come empty handed and exhausted. My suggestion – enjoy it from a distance and make sure to bring binoculars…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Should I franchise my business?

Many small business owners view franchising as an end-goal to expand their business either regionally or nationally or at least something to aspire to. It may be the right strategy for some, but with a strong emphasis on the word "may".

At its core, franchising is a growth strategy. A business owner must weigh the pros and cons of retaining full ownership and control of operating multiple outlets versus granting branding and operating rights to other business owners through an established franchise agreement. For some, its an easy decision to make, but for those thinking of franchising here are six questions to ask yourself to see if you are even ready to explore going down that road?

1. How long have I been in business?

While there is not an established time frame, if you've been in business for less than two years chances are you are not ready yet. There are of course exceptions to that, but for those of you for which the business you are contemplating on franchising is your first entrepreneurial venture and is less than two years old, wait.

Ideally, your business should be well established with at least three full years of run rate, if not more. In fact, the more the better. The principle reason is because your franchisees are going to seek direct guidance from you and as markets shift or competition in your industry space increases, your time-in-business experience will greatly matter.

2. Is my business profitable?

This should seem obvious, but in deconstructing that question further ask yourself these additional questions: (1) How long did it take?; (2) What led to my profitability?; and (3) Am I operating under unique circumstances to make it profitable?

Prospective franchisees will ask the first two questions a lot and the really experienced ones will ask the third. The first question is easy, but the second question is vital for you to understand if you thinking about franchising. If you can trace back your steps on becoming profitable to a specific set of deliberate action items - write them down. These steps will become the genesis of teaching others to becoming profitable themselves.

The third question is sometimes the hardest to answer because in many cases the answer is not what we would like it to be. Just because your business is profitable does not automatically mean that those that copy your exact model will experience the same results. Ask yourself if your profitability is the result of: a special lease arrangement that is highly favorable, a special employment arrangement (family members or friends are taking a smaller salary or none at all), or unique market circumstances (you sell canoes and you had a huge spike in business because your city flooded, your largest competitor went out of business and you inherited all of his customers, etc.)? If your profitability is the result of any one of those questions, be grateful for your circumstances but you may want to think twice about franchising.

If you do in fact choose to franchise, your profitability, the way in which you became profitable and your market circumstances will be put under a microscope. Always remember that. Your time-in-business will also play an important role because the more time and experience you have with your business, the greater capacity you will have to coach and advise your franchisees. 

3. Do I have an established set of processes and procedures (an established way of operating)?

This catches a lot of new franchisors off guard. In most cases, we say to ourselves "yes of course I have an established way of operating. I'm doing it!" That may be the case, but how equipped are you to teach your manner of operating to others?

 A good test is if you have had the opportunity to hire a manager or director to run your business or a business location successfully. The same process that you taught (and hopefully documented) needs to be expanded upon into a full time training program. Many new franchisors scramble to complete this step after they are well into their franchise agreement creation as they learn that it is a requirement to have an operating policies and procedures manual.  An old manual pulled out of the drawer may fill the legal requirement, but it is doubtful that it will fulfill the "operation reality" requirement.

If you are contemplating on franchising your business, this is often the place that you want to start. As you document your entire process on how to launch, operate and run your business you will immediately discover areas that can be improved and streamlined simply going through this process. Your operational agreement is much more than a business plan. It contains the entire scope of your business.  It is a great opportunity to involve current employees and make this a very hands on process. It will also help you to develop your full training program. 

4. Am I working full time 'in' my business or 'on' my business?

I imagine that we'd all like to say at some point that we are working "on" our business rather than the day-to-day operations but reality dictates otherwise. If you are thinking of franchising, your answer must be: "I am working on my business."  

Franchising, in many aspects, is almost a separate business from your own. You will eventually need talented people to handle regional or national marketing efforts, training efforts, sales efforts, franchisee development efforts, media and PR initiatives, etc. Don't get overwhelmed as a lot of these efforts will become natural and instinctual, but the fact remains that as you launch your franchise, your franchisees become your #1 priority in helping them to re-create your business in their individual markets. Your principle business will of course (and must) continue to run, but the decision to franchise is a decision to teach others to do what you have accomplished and you will need to incorporate operational, marketing and sales efforts to facilitate overall growth. 

5. Do I know who my target customer is?

Such a simple question, but I'll ask it in a different way. How do you know who your target customer is? If you know, your answer should be quick and definitive based on actual experience, feedback and results. If you think you know, but don't have an experience base to prove otherwise, this will present a challenge on many fronts.

Knowing who your target customer is essential in providing a business opportunity to franchisees who will depend on your experience in appropriately marketing to the target customer of your business. This is true in any industry and by helping your franchisees to launch with that knowledge will save a lot of time and money in growing their business. 

6. Do I have an effective and regular marketing strategy?

This plays into knowing who your target customer is, but nothing is more frustrating to a franchisee who feels that a national advertising fund or campaign falls short of the mark. Marketing strategy is much more than utilizing different time-tested marketing methods such as direct mail, mass email campaigns, social media, radio, television, billboards, public advertisement on buses and taxis, etc. 

Marketing strategy is much more so about using the right methods to communicate directly to your target customer.  For some businesses, the target customer may be virtually anyone within a relatively short driving distance (such as owning a gas station or a convenience store, etc.), but for others, especially service based businesses, your target customer might be a particular demographic (income, gender, age/generation, etc.) or even more challenging, a particular segment or psychographic within a demographic which further defines how particular consumers feel or emotionally respond to your product or service. In either case, having a definitive marketing strategy that is proven to attract your target customer will go a long way in positioning yourself to successfully franchise your business. 

Conclusion

Always remember that franchising is ultimately a growth strategy for your business and can be highly rewarding and exciting, but you must be prepared. Asking yourself these six questions will indicate your overall level of preparedness and can serve as a guide for you to get started. If you are positioned well and are prepared, you will save a lot of time, energy and headache and your franchisees will thank you for it. 

"They tried to bury us, not realizing that we were seeds..."

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Recently, a Mexican proverb that has been spoken among generations of Mexicans fighting oppression has gone mainstream on the internet. It was most noticeably utilized among many protesters in December 2014 in the Mexican State of Guerrero as well as in Mexico City and now practically everywhere throughout the country. Mexican citizens are still outraged at the fact that 43 male student-teachers from Raul Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers' College of Ayotzinapa (a small town in Guerrero, Mexico) went missing and were presumably killed after a confrontation that started with local police in the city of Iguala (located approximately 3 hours north west of Ayotzinapa in Guerrero), on September 26, 2014.

Evidently, the student-teachers had managed to commandeer several buses and were en route that fateful day to Iguala to hold a protest against student-teacher hiring practices at a conference event that was led by María de los Ángeles Pineda Villa, local President of the organization and the wife of Iguala mayor, Jose Luis Abarca Velazquez. 

Reports of exactly what occurred vary, but what can be ascertained is that at one point local police began chasing the buses after receiving reports that the buses themselves were hijacked (truthful or not). A chase ensued between the police and the student-teachers and the police open fired on the buses that resulted in 6 deaths (of both students and bystanders) and sent 25 people to the hospital with various degrees of wounds.

After the shootout, 43 students were rounded up and taken into police custody and were brought to the police station in Iguala. They were then transferred to a different city and ultimately and somehow handed over to a local criminal organization known as "Guerreros Unidos" or "United Warriors" who presumably killed them as recent evidence corroborates.

The reason that I share that information is because when I first read the Mexican proverb floating around the internet, I had no idea of the levity and struggle and even the oppression that are attached to it. Truthfully, I saw it as more of an inspiration and still do. In no way did I want to take away from its original and intended meaning however,  especially in memory of the 43 student teachers who undeservedly lost their lives standing up against corruption. I believe that in any quote or proverb given, it is of paramount importance to understand its origin (recent or otherwise).

I'd like now to focus on the individuals who wholeheartedly made signs and banners of the proverb itself because it has tremendous application for all of us. I imagine that those of you reading this blog post, in most cases do not have to worry about being kidnapped and turned over to a local gang where our very lives are at stake.

All of us however, do in fact face varying degrees of adversity and struggle on a regular basis. While we may not be fighting for our very freedom (politics aside),  we are often fighting personal battles to be heard. We are fighting to matter. We are fighting against naysayers who are quick to squash our ideas and dreams.

So why on earth should a topic like this appear on an intended inspirational blog for aspiring entrepreneurs?

It is because the intended message of the proverb itself illustrates the very essence of the entrepreneurial spirit. Make no mistake, your ideas matter! At some point in time, whether it be from a co-worker, a "friend" or even a complete stranger, we have had someone shoot down an idea that really mattered to us. Oftentimes, instead of fighting back, we begin to believe our naysayers. Why? They are literally and figuratively "burying" our ideas.

Let us all learn from the proverb and let our ideas take root. I'm not suggesting that every single idea that we have is going to turn into something big, but I am suggesting that to those ideas that we are truly passionate about, that we have done our research on, that we can't get out of our heads - we must nourish them and cultivate them through patience and care and if we are diligent enough, if we are patient enough, if our ideas are rooted in solid principles, then and only then will they grow.

All of us face naysayers. All of us face challenges and adversity throughout our lives. It is simply part of the human experience. We must never forget though of who we really are and hopefully one day, after a lot of hard work and patience, we will realize that were are all seeds and that "being buried" only enables us to grow....